Underrated Iron Maiden: The Most Overlooked Song From Each Album
Iron Maiden either invented heavy metal or perfected it. Third options are hard to come by when talking about the legacy of the innovative, influential and world-conquering band.
Fans from Birmingham to Brazil have their favorite Maiden tunes. And they are usually the same ones: “The Trooper,” “Run to the Hills,” “Ace High," “Fear of the Dark.” But between those favorites and concert staples, Maiden released dozens of great deep cuts. Below we take a look at the most overlooked songs in the band’s extensive catalog.
From: Iron Maiden (1980)
Lots of people like to talk about how Maiden predicted the rise of thrash on their debut or how they melded punk with metal or how it added classical tones to hard rock. But “Strange World” does none of that. This rock ballad sounds like an outtake from Pink Floyd’s Animals, complete with a guitar solo that feels like David Gilmour doing that blues-meets-space-rock thing he does so well. Bassist Steve Harris wrote a hundred great songs after this, but he never replicated the one-of-a-kind vibe of "Strange World."
From: Killers (1980)
Remember when Iron Maiden used to do instrumentals? That seems like a long time ago, mostly because it was. Of the instrumental romps the band stuffed on its first few albums, the fastest and most furious has got to be “Genghis Khan.” It crams everything they do so well into three minutes: There’s galloping, a twin-guitar attack, breakneck time changes and a bass so low it will rattle your bones.
From: The Number of the Beast (1982)
Undervalued songs on The Number of the Beast are hard to come by. Fans rightly consider the title track, “Run to the Hills” and “Hallowed Be Thy Name” to be the classics; they also rightly judge “Invaders” and “22 Acacia Avenue” as both strong and subpar). But “The Prisoner” belongs up there with the band’s quintessential compositions. The cowrite between Harris and guitarist Adrian Smith shows off three distinct-but-interlocking sonic turns that have come to define Maiden. It opens with a stomping plod not unlike Black Sabbath at their most stomping. Then it moves into proto-thrash that nods to both hardcore and Judas Priest. Finally, the track almost goes pop with an anthemic sing-along chorus. Pure glory!
“To Tame a Land”
From: Piece of Mind (1983)
Sometimes Piece of Mind feels like Iron Maiden’s most uneven album (“Quest for Fire” gets a C grade). Most of the time, strong songs seem lackluster because they sit next to masterpieces such as “The Trooper,” “Revelations” and “Die With Your Boots On.” But it’s hard for Harris to go wrong when he decides to pull out his dogeared copy of Frank Herbert’s Dune and write an absurd, almost-eight-minute tribute to the novel's House Atreides. Bonus points: In a catalog full of twin-guitar attacks, this pairing is as ferocious as a sandworm.
“Back in the Village”
From: Powerslave (1984)
Like its predecessor, Powerslave has so many standout tracks that the others can seem weak. They are not weak. They are glorious. Continuing Harris’ obsession with “The Prisoner” and the British TV show of the same name, “Back in the Village” finds the bassist teaming with singer Bruce Dickinson for a track with a blistering opening riff, relentless charge of drums and bass and the singer bellowing cryptic lyrics like “No breaks on the inside/Paper cats and burning barns/There's a fox among the chickens/And a killer in the hounds.”
“Alexander the Great”
From: Somewhere in Time (1986)
It’s nuts how much you can learn about Alexander the Great in eight and half minutes. (Iron Maiden make excellent history teachers, BTW.) It’s also nuts this isn’t a Top 10 Maiden song. Constantly passed over on set lists for better-known epics such as "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," “Phantom of the Opera" and “Seventh Son of Seventh Son,” “Alexander the Great” and its Hellenic sweep could be the overture to a heavy metal opera.
From: Seventh Son of Seventh Son (1988)
Those looking to prove Maiden could do prog hold up “The Prophecy.” Those trying to convince the world that the band’s guitar lines rival classical compositions also point to “The Prophecy.” A rare Dave Murray cowrite, the guitarist and Harris collaborated on this overlooked track from one of Maiden’s best albums. Get baroque with that cool acoustic outro.
From: No Prayer for the Dying (1990)
Almost universally thought of as the worst Iron Maiden album with Dickinson, No Prayer for the Dying contains several underrated tracks because nothing on the LP is actually overrated. Often considered either too straightforward, too pop or too simple, the record does feature some complex, prog-leaning and strange works like “The Assassin.” Its heavy low end and screaming, intertwined guitars provided an antidote to those who couldn’t stomach “Bring Your Daughter … To the Slaughter.”
From: Fear of the Dark (1992)
Should Iron Maiden have written more ballads? Before you answer, listen to “Wasting Love." The Dickinson-Janick Gers collaboration has some dark pathos, huge vocals and a magnificent middle section leading into a towering guitar solo. A regular in the set list on the album’s tour, it has since disappeared.
From: The X Factor (1995)
Blaze Bayley’s debut LP with Maiden went on for so long that many fans tuned out by the time this closing track rumbled in. But for those who loved that Maiden began leaning further and further into progressive rock, they were rewarded with the eight-minute “The Unbeliever.” A Harris-Gers tag team, the track feels like an attempt to triangulate Yes, Metallica and Led Zeppelin. Not something many would try but a fun indulgence.
"Lightning Strikes Twice"
From: Virtual XI (1998)
The Blaze Bayley years never felt quite right, but they shouldn't be entirely discounted. After two decades of shredding, Murray and Harris came up with a middle instrumental passage unlike anything the band had done before on “Lightning Strikes Twice.” Weaker than most of what the band did with Dickinson, but probably better than you remember.
“Brave New World”
From: Brave New World (2000)
The band’s reunion record with Dickinson and Smith (and debut as a septet) had to deliver. It met the hype with a set of songs stronger than anything Iron Maiden release in at least a decade. The title track stunned. Dickinson, Harris and Murray come together to produce an opus packed with nuance, bombast, lyrical passages, thundering crescendos, neo-classical touches and a fist-in-the-air chorus. It’s the album's most underrated track because it’s the band’s most underrated track.
From: Dance of Death (2003)
The grand sweep of “Montsegur” can’t be denied. Inspired by the 1243-44 siege and fall of the citadel Montsegur (of course the band has a song about this bloody series of battles), the song features Dickinson, Harris and Gers collaborating on a six-minute warhorse full of intricate parts and dramatic stylistic shifts. In his long history of histrionic, awesome vocals, Dickinson out Dickinsons himself here. And yet the band has never played it in concert.
“Brighter Than a Thousand Suns”
From: A Matter of Life and Death (2006)
More than a quarter century into their run, Maiden shocked some fans by making an album this strong. Led by a surprising number of cowrites by Dickinson, Harris and Smith, A Matter of Life and Death was filled with long, complex meditations of the evils of war and inevitability of death. You can’t get more evil or deadly than nearly nine minutes on the fury of atomic annihilation. Packed with overlapping, rising and falling guitar lines, rhythmic shifts, classic operatic vocals and lines such as, “Whatever would Robert [Oppenheimer] have said to his God/’Bout how he made war with the sun?,” the tune showed off a group still pushing toward creative peaks.
From: The Final Frontier (2010)
Anyone looking for an aesthetic sequel to “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” found it in “The Talisman.” Storm clouds! High seas! Fleet-fingered guitar squeals! On an album of very long songs, this one clocked in at a whopping nine minutes. It also reconfirmed that Gers, who wrote the song with Harris, will always have a place in the band.
“The Man of Sorrows”
From: The Book of Souls (2015)
This Harris-Murray song gets a little lost on The Book of Souls. Stuck near the end of Side Two up against the 18-minute album closer “Empire of the Clouds,” the mid-tempo track probably isn't any fan's favorite Maiden song. But the guitarists lay down a clean line of harmonies, crash a bluesy solo into a shredding section and get downright dreamy on the outro. Don’t let the plod fool you - the song has loads of fury and fire.