Right from jump, the Egyptian-style artwork sucks you in. I spent hours poring over every inch of my album, front and back! And then…the needle hits the record. The one-two punch of “Aces High” and “2 Minutes To Midnight” is a wake-up call, no matter how sleepy/hung over you may be. Adrian Smith and Dave Murray’s twin axe attack bears down on you like the air raid sirens mentioned in the former, and the solos shred steel like paper.
“Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra) is an instrumental in which all four instrumentalists get to flex their muscles a bit, and fits nicely in the track sequence. “Flash Of the Blade” is still one of my favorites from this record, not just for its searing intro and riffs, but because it’s used in one of my favorite childhood horror films, Creepers, from legendary director Dario Argento. Shame they never do it live.
Closing out side one is “The Duellists”. One of the great things about Iron Maiden songs/albums is that they take inspiration from different time periods to paint the picture, lyrically and musically, and this song is no exception. “He threw down the glove, you made the mistake of picking it up now you’re done” tells the tale from the viewpoint of an overmatched combatant, and is rife with vivid imagery. Bruce Dickinson’s vocals make you feel like you’re there.
“Back In the Village” is a four-on-the-floor, balls-out rocker that grabs you by the throat and does NOT let go for its full five minutes, Nicko McBrain’s rapid-fire drumming wreaking full havoc, before giving way to the masterpiece that is “Powerslave”. With a booming bass line for an anchor, courtesy of Steve Harris, it’s about an arrogant Pharaoh in his dying hours, who has been raised to think he’s a god and can’t understand why he’s about to die. He fights it in vain, feeling overwhelmed by the power of death, and thinks sardonically about his heir, vowing to return as a mummy.
Lastly we come to “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, inspired by, and based on the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Clocking in at 13 minutes plus, It gallops with a vengeance before shifting gears into something haunting and beautiful, complete with spoken word, then riding out the storm till the end. In an era where people use the word lightly, THIS is the true definition of EPIC. Having been lucky enough to catch it live on two separate occasions, I can attest to the sheer majesty of this song, both in that setting, as well as on vinyl. A fitting end to one of my “Desert Island” albums for sure. If you don’t own it already, I suggest picking this one up posthaste.
FAVORITE TRACKS: “Aces High”, “2 Minutes to Midnight”, “Flash Of the Blade”, “Powerslave”, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”