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Piece of Maiden
Piece Of Mind - Iron Maiden
Member Name: Jarisleif
Piece Of Mind - Iron Maiden
Date: 26/01/12, updated on 27/06/12 (8 review reads)
Advantages: Iron Maiden in their prime
Disadvantages: Album fades towards the end
"Piece of Mind" is the 4th studio album by British heavy metal legends, Iron Maiden. It was released in 1983 on EMI Records and produced by Martin Birch. The line-up for the album was Bruce Dickinson (vocals), Dave Murray (guitar), Adrian Smith (guitar), Steve Harris (bass) and Nicko McBrain (drums). This was the first Maiden album with Nicko on the drum throne.
Nearly 30 years have passed since this album was released to me writing this review, and all the band members are present in Iron Maiden, albeit Bruce and Adrian have left and returned to the fold in-between those years, but this is the mainstay (now along with Janick Gers) of the band's history. The album cover depicts the band's mascot, Eddie the Head, in a padded cell and shackled in chains. Essentially, "Piece of Mind" should be Iron Maiden's defining album... but is it?
Opening song "Where Eagles Dare" begins by giving us a taste of what Nicko McBrain is capable of on the drums with a quick fill before the song kicks in, and Dickinson's vocals are on top form here as they are throughout the album. It's a song based on the novel of the same name written by Alistair MacLean in 1967 which was subsequently made into a film starring Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton. It's about a rescue mission of an American soldier in World War II from a Nazi Prisoner of War camp. I love the bridge on this song which sets the tone perfectly. If the song, Steve Harris said "The instrumental section is supposed to sound like a machine gun. It's not very loud in the mix but we wanted it that way so people who listened to it a couple of times would wonder what it was."
"Revelations" is up next and is a song that has on and off Maiden's live set list since they started playing it and the sole song writer Bruce Dickinson plays acoustic guitar during the first few verses. It's a song heavily influenced by the works of Aleister Crowley and it is thought Bruce Dickinson wrote the song because of Crowley's ideas of atheism and religion and how the two can be construed to be made more powerful by the mind. Steve Harris commented "To me it's sort of a heavy version of the Wishbone Ash feel and it comes together more live. That tends to be the way with us; usually the numbers are better live than on record. That has to do with the feel of the songs. Most of them were written to be played on the stage and not really for the recording studio." Musically, I really enjoy this song in the studio or live. It's not the best on the album but I think the stop-start guitar riffs that bring it in are really good and Dickinson's vocals are excellent.
"Flight of Icarus" is a song I always look forward to hearing when Maiden play live. It's a song based on two characters in Greek mythology, Daedalus and his son, Icarus, who made wings out of feathers and wax. Icarus took the wings and flew too close to the sun, the wings melted and he fell to his death. Bruce Dickinson co-wrote the song with Adrian Smith and he said that while it clearly deals with Icarus' wings, there is also an alternate meaning where teenagers rebel against their parents. Steve Harris commented about the song "It's a really good song but we much prefer it live as we tend to play it faster on stage. Looking back on it now we feel we could have played it at a faster speed on the album. This gives little extra touch but a bit more fire." There's a great solo from Dave Murray in the bridge which is backed up by some wonderful guitar riffs, but as Steve Harris pointed out, it does seem a little too slow on record. I do love the guitar parts leading to the outro of the song, too.
"Die With Your Boots On" begins with one of the best riffs I've ever heard and if it wasn't for the following song, it would be my favourite on the album. It's basic guitar playing but it's also complicated in parts as Murray & Smith chop and change throughout. Of the song, Steve Harris said "Adrian and Bruce came up with the main riff. Bruce came up with the lyrics and I came up with the chord sequence behind the verse and the cross section that goes into the main chorus. It has more chords than riffs which I suppose might make it strange as to why I really like it so much. It's a very powerful number live and I get off on the aggression of it." It's a song about the Cold War between the USSR and the USA when the very real threat of nuclear war was on the horizon.
"The Trooper" is my favourite song on the album and is probably one of my favourite Iron Maiden songs of their entire discography. I like everything about this song from the opening to the galloping guitars with a good dosage of brilliant vocals from Dickinson and wonderful solo playing by Smith & Murray. I especially like the way the two guitarists play the same main riff but with slightly different pitches. It's a song about the Crimean War between 1853-56 and Lord Tennyson's poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade", published in 1854. Steve Harris said "The opening is meant to try and recreate the galloping horses in the charge of the light brigade. It's an atmospheric song." When Maiden play this song live, Dickinson will don a British officer's uniform from that time period and wave the British flag on stage. That is something I really look forward to when I see the band in other countries.
"Still Life" is a hidden gem amongst Iron Maiden songs. It's rarely played live but it's become something like a cult classic amongst fans. It begins with a drunken message from Nicko but played backwards. When played forwards it says "Hmm, Hmmm, what ho sed de t'ing wid de t'ree bonce. Don't meddle wid t'ings you don't understand" which is apparently in reference to, or making a bad impression of Idi Amin, the former Ugandan dictator. It's a song about the fear of drowning and was based on a short story by Ramsey Campbell, entitled "The Inhabitant of the Lake". Steve Harris commented "It's basically a story about a guy who is drawn like a magnet to a pool or water. He sees faces in the lake. He has nightmares about it and in the end he jumps in and takes his lady with him. It's a very enjoyable number to play because there's a lot going on. Again we're creating a mood and coming in with a very heavy guitar sound." I especially enjoy both solos in the song and the togetherness of the rhythm section is enjoyable to hear.
"Quest For Fire" is a song about the life of a prehistoric tribe and how they lose their 'fire' which has become symbolic to them. They send a brave warrior out into the wilderness to recapture the fire or find the tribe a new burning light, defeating many enemies along the way. I think the lyrics have a double take though, in that the tribe is mankind in general, ever learning about life. When a challenge is put in front of us, we learn to adapt and overcome. It is probably the weakest song on the album but that doesn't make it a bad song. There's an interesting hook at the end of the opening riff but Bruce's vocals aren't taking the song seriously and the chorus is awful.
"Sun and Steel" is a song about Miyamoto Musashi, a Japanese samurai born in the 16th century, who was devoted to the art of swordsmanship and spent a lot of time perfecting it. Steve Harris said "Bruce wrote the lyrics to that. It's basically about a Japanese guy who builds himself up to a peak of fitness and wants to kill himself hara-kiri style. I think it would be a good live song but we have never played it on stage." It's become noticeable over the years that Bruce writes a lot of lyrics based on his own interests and hobbies, and this song probably came about because of his love for fencing. For me, the song just doesn't hit the spot. The classic Maiden chugging riffs are there but I think it's too 'nice' of a song for Maiden and it really is no surprise that it's never been played live. I'm not sure if it would be well-received at all.
The album ends with "To Tame a Land", a song which Steve Harris proudly proclaims it's the best song he's ever written. Personally, I could name many more that I think are better, but who am I to argue with the bass master? It begins slowly and builds into a great rhythm that sets the tone for the rest of the song and ends with the same soft approach it started with. It's a song that was originally to be called "Dune", and it's based on the novel of the same name by Frank Herbert. The story goes that Herbert threatened to sue the band and stop the album coming out if they gave it that name. If I was Steve Harris, I'd have altered the lyrics because I'd not have wanted a song associated with the guy any more after that.
In summary, it's difficult to say in words how good Iron Maiden were back then, but if you bought this album when it was released, as I did, you would play it day in, day out or until your record player stylus broke, or your tape recorder ate the tape. Personally, I think if Maiden had taken the best of this album and the best of "The Number of the Beast" and released it in one, they would have had a world-beater. Instead, there aren't many albums out there without one or two songs that don't fit. I'd easily recommend this album to anyone. Any band would struggle to put out something as good as "The Number of the Beast" as its successor, but Iron Maiden have pulled it off here in a big way.
1. Where Eagles Dare
3. Flight of Icarus
4. Die With Your Boots On
5. The Trooper
6. Still Life
7. Quest For Fire
8. Sun and Steel
9. To Tame a Land
My rating: 8/10
Summary: The natural successor to "The Number of the Beast"? It could be.