Deep Tracks – Iron Maiden Edition
Digging for Deep Tracks in the Maiden catalog can be a challenge. With classic albums like Number of the Beast serving nearly as “Best of” collections anyway, finding tracks that even casual listeners are not familiar with is a task. That said, we’re going discography spelunking, so grab your headlamp and some rope.
I have been listening to Iron Maiden since 1986’s Somewhere In Time. This was the pinnacle of their output during the 80’s. The songwriting on this album is top notch, and the production is clean, bringing all facets of Maiden as a band together. Amazingly, the band hit another peak in 2000 with Brave New World. After spending considerable time apart, they sounded fresh and exciting again.
My job here is not to remind you of all the great tunes that Steve Harris and co. have given us over the years but to open up your brains a little with some gems that may get overlooked for your usual Maiden playlist. Digging deep into the corners of a band’s output can serve a couple of different purposes. It helps to give the listener some context of what the band is attempting to convey. Albums tend to have similar ideas and musical tidbits that run throughout. Maybe you will hear something about a deep track that makes you think of one of your favorite “Best of” tracks. Like, “Wow, that chorus on (Deep Track) sounds like (Best of)!” Also, you score big Maiden Nerd points when you know that “Sign of the Cross” is the opener to Virtual XI. These Maiden Nerd points are exchangeable at bars when you need to impress the ladies.
First on the agenda is the opening track of the aforementioned Number of the Beast. “Invaders” is a great example of Maiden in early form, closer to the more aggressive punk influences than the epics of later years. With the aggressive intro and the no frills structure, the song moves quickly and sets the stage for the rest of this album. While songs like “Number of the Beast” and “Hallowed be Thy Name” get all the deserved attention, “Invaders” holds its own in the Maiden catalog.
Moving along the way to 1990’s No Prayer for the Dying, we find the worthwhile track with the unfortunate name of “Public Enema Number One”. This whole album can be looked at as a string of Deep Tracks. After the synth heavy 80’s came to a close, Maiden took a different approach to their production and songwriting. Gone were the slippery smooth production and electronic elements, and in their place was a more raw approach to the recording process. Although this mostly added up to a lackluster reception from Maiden fans, including me, there are a few playlist-worthy tunes on this album. “Public Enema Number One” has a chorus that is catchy and stays with you. The lyrics stand out because of the contemporary theme as opposed to the history lessons of 80’s Maiden.
No discussion of Maiden is complete without including the dreaded “Blaze Era”. There are some surefire duds in this part of the catalog, but “The Clansman” is NOT one of them. Taking the Epic Maiden staples of quiet middle sections and long crescendos and combining them with familiar source material, (Braveheart), Harris crafted a great tune that even features the famous William Wallace war cry, “Freedom!!” Blaze deserves some credit for carrying a song like this the way he does. No, he is not Bruce, but he doesn’t try to be on this song. He owns it, and owns it well. In fact, “The Clansman” was a staple of the live Maiden set for years after. For that version, check out the Rock In Rio disc.
Moving on from the Blaze Era, Iron Maiden made a huge “comeback” in 2000 with Brave New World. “The Fallen Angel” is one of the most rocking examples of how tight and creative Maiden can be. With Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith rejoining the band after extended absences, Maiden proved that they could still kill us as a 6-piece band without mucking up their sound. Listen to the guitar riffs under the chorus. That pull-off riff underneath the vocals is still a technique that is copied to this day. They may not have invented it, but they sure owned it. I put this album and this track up there with anything they produced in the 1980’s.
Finally, I am going to dive deep into 2003’s release, Dance of Death. I want to give credit where credit is due to Maiden’s skin-banger since 1983, Nicko McBrain. He finally receives a songwriting credit on an album, and also decides to bless us with his double-bass pedal prowess. “Face in the Sand” once again abandons the history lesson lyrics and deals with current events of the time, namely the Gulf War. The lyrics may be current and topical, but the heavy use of synths and the beginning of the song bring us back to a time in the mid-80’s when this was a staple for Maiden. I love the inclusion of the keys. It adds a dynamic that allows for all three guitarists to come in and out of the tune tastefully and to contribute lines that improve the whole.
Now that you have seen and heard my 5 choices for Iron Maiden’s best Deep Tracks, tell me what you think. Are these too “mainstream”? Too Deep? Is my Maiden knowledge too elementary? Do you not want any extra Maiden Nerd points? Then I will take them.
(Photo Via WikiMedia Commons)