Retrospective: Iron Maiden’s “Piece of Mind”

iron-maiden-piece-of-mind-1983-album-cover

That. Damn. Intro.

There are plenty of moments on Iron Maiden‘s fourth album, Piece of Mind, that could qualify as life-changers: the war anthem, “The Trooper;” the stupidly catchy “Flight of Icarus”…you name it. But for my money, it’s hard to look past Nicko McBrain’s stellar drum-fill intro in “Where Eagles Dare” as the true spark of something special. It was his first moment in the band—and, since the album was my first acquisition from their illustrious discography, one of the first few songs of theirs I ever listened to—and what a glorious damn start it was.It’s the kind of song you find yourself listening to over and over again on an album that’s full of them. I mean, can anyone listen to this track—to Steve Harris’s rumbling bass, to Adrian Smith and Dave Murray’s harmonized leads during the bridge, to Bruce Dickinson’s unrestrained howls—and not completely fall under the spell? It’s six minutes you’ll find yourself repeating over and over again, discovering new intricacies with each listen. And then?

And then there’s “Revelations”—one of only four songs in the band’s catalog to be penned solely by Dickinson, and for my money, one of the best they’ve ever released, period. The slower, harmonized leads toward the beginning of the song are some of the prettiest you’ll hear from Maiden, and the solo section crescendos into an adrenaline rush we never knew we wanted. It switches feel frequently, and always in an absolute whirlwind, yet every successive part comes together tastefully and cohesively to become something truly wonderful.

Piece of Mind really doesn’t let up all that much through its first half-hour—even if some songs are better than others. And sure, the late-album combo of “Quest for Fire” and “Sun and Steel” is unquestionably a downturn—and probably the reason the album’s not more frequently cited alongside metal standards like Powerslave or The Number of the Beast in discussions of Maiden’s best work, if we’re being honest—but the band recovers nicely to wrap up with the proggy, Dune-inspired “To Tame a Land.” Having kicked things off with a couple of epics, it only makes sense that they’d close with one, too. Admittedly, it’s not up to the same level as “Where Eagles Dare” or “Revelations,” but then again, few songs are.

To be perfectly transparent, I think the only time Piece of Mind was ever my favorite Maiden album was when it was the only one I’d heard; when I followed up and bought Powerslave, the window pretty much shut on it. If I had to rank the band’s pretty-much-untouchable ’80s catalog, I’d probably put it near (or at) the bottom of the list. That’s what’s so great about a band like Maiden: sustained runs of success like that—where even an album with the kinds of soaring highs that Piece of Mind achieves can be your least favorite of the bunch—are hard to come by.

I’ll never forget the first time I came across it—as a 14-year-old in the CD section (remember those?) of a Walmart in suburban Pennsylvania. I couldn’t not pick it up…and when I did, there was no looking back. Sure, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and “2 Minutes to Midnight” may have introduced me to Maiden, but Piece of Mind got me hooked on them. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.

Keep it heavy,

-Dan

Live. Love. Plow. Horns Up.

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