Nine Circles ov…the Iron Maiden and Judas Priest Reunions

judas priest rob halford iron maiden bruce dickinson

It’s been a couple of weeks since the release of Firepower, and none of us can stop listening to it. Seriously. The eighteenth studio album from NWOBHM legends Judas Priest, has given the world many things. It’s given listeners one of vocalist Rob Halford’s strongest vocal performances in years, and the band’s best album overall since 1990’s Painkiller. It gave the band a No. 5 debut on the Billboard 200 — their highest chart U.S. chart position ever. And most importantly, it’s given the vast metal blogosphere a treasure trove of ideas for new #content.

Unfortunately for you — or perhaps “fortunately,” depending on what you think of us — we were not immune from that last gift.

Firepower marked the ninth album released by either Priest or that other NWOBHM band you often hear about, Iron Maiden, since the bands reunited with their legendary frontmen — Halford and Bruce Dickinson, respectively — in the early aughts. (Maiden’s released five to Priest’s four, albeit with a four-year head start.) And since this particular segment also comes in nines, we figured we’d feed that insatiable #content beast by ranking all of them here in one, combined list.

Notice the “we” there? Yep. Unlike most entries in the “Nine Circles ov…” canon, this won’t just be one person’s list, but rather a team effort. Why’s that? Well… because pretty much the whole team was high on Firepower, and wanted in on this in some capacity. So we asked everyone involved to come up with their own, individual lists for the nine albums, then calculated each album’s average position to determine our final, full-team rankings. And then, obviously, we each picked a couple and wrote about them. Because that’s what we do.

All of that (and more!) is below. So up the Irons, call for the Priest, and click on through to check it out! Continue reading

Stage Dive: Favorite Metal Comeback Album?

Little bit late on this one, but hey! That’s what happens when you spend six hours editing and laying out a newsletter at work. (No word of a lie, that was my day today. Brains were mush by 2 PM.) Anyway, it’s Wednesday, so let’s get right to a new Stage Dive topic. We’ve got one that’s especially relevant this week, so let’s waste no further time. Our question is:

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE METAL COMEBACK ALBUM?

Def Leppard's "Hysteria" would have been an acceptable response if I'd asked for best POP comeback album. But nope, not the case.
Def Leppard’s “Hysteria” would have been my response if I’d asked for best POP comeback album. But nope, not the case.

I say “especially relevant” because as I type this, I’m listening to a rather excellent new album from UK industrial metal legends Godflesh–their first studio album in 13 years, and one that I’m very much looking forward to discussing on this week’s podcast. This, of course, is to say nothing of the fantastic comebacks we’ve already seen from Eyehategod and Behemoth this year, the forthcoming At the Gates record (itself a mere 19 years in the making) and the stellar returns we saw from Carcass and Gorguts last year. Seems like a great comeback records are all the rage, you guys!

But after a bit thinking a bit on this topic, I can really only answer this question one way. As much as I’ve enjoyed all of the above records–at least the ones that are available, anyway–my FAVORITE metal comeback album would have to be Iron Maiden‘s Brave New World.

iron-maiden-brave-new-world-album-cover

Technically, I guess this wasn’t so much a “comeback” album as a “return-to-form;” for better or worse, after vocalist Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith left the band in the early ’90s, Maiden decided to carry on with new Blaze Bayley and Janick Gers, respectively, rather than breaking up. I won’t pretend I’m old enough to have been around during the band’s ’80s heyday, or that I appreciated Dickinson and Smith’s return to the band nearly as much as anyone who was a fan back then. Hell, I wasn’t even listening to metal when this thing came out. But at the time I got into Maiden, this was their then-most-recent album, and thus the one I was drawn to after familiarizing myself with all the “Troopers” and “Wrathchilds” (“Wrathchildren?”) from their earlier discography.

And if I’m being honest…no, this thing isn’t perfect: “The Mercenary” is one of the stupidest Maiden songs ever; “Dream of Mirrors” is four or five minutes longer than it needed to be; I’ve never liked “The Nomad” as much as a lot of people; etc. etc. Is this the best comeback album a metal band’s ever put out? Hell no. But flaws and all, it’s my favorite. Why?

Because “The Wicker Man” is on a shortlist of Maiden’s best album opening tracks ever. Because “The Fallen Angel” is underrated as all hell and at the time was one of the band’s best pure rockers in several years. Because “Blood Brothers” is one of the prettiest, most moving metal tracks you’ll ever hear (even Gers’ solo is mint!). Because the tour supporting Brave New World yielded the band’s infamous Rock in Rio performance and DVD, which I watched religiously as an angsty middle schooler daring to be different. Plus, even if I can’t personally claim to have appreciated it at the time, can anyone deny the importance of the return of Dickinson and Smith to the fold?

Sorry, I’m not having it any other way. When you talk about comeback albums, Brave New World will always be the one I think of first. It’s not the best one we’ve ever seen, but it sure as hell isn’t one you can undermine lightly.

You know what to do now. Share yours in the comments and keep the discussion going!

-Dan

Live. Love. Plow. Horns Up.

The Horns Up Top 10: Iron Maiden

Morning, everyone! Dan here. You may have noticed a lack of Subgenre of the Week entries lately. Well there’s a reason for that–those segments were kind of a drag to put together and never really took off. So after a bit of time retooling, we want to welcome you to a new Monday segment here on the Horns Up blog, where we’ll be doing weekly Top 10 playlists for bands we love. Bear in mind that these will be our personal Top 10’s–not necessarily “essentials” or Greatist Hits-type lists, but rather the songs that we appreciate most from these bands. We’ll cover both popular artists and lesser knowns, featuring both setlist staples and, in many cases, deeper cuts.

And what better way to kick off this new segment than with a top 10 from some true legends of the metal genre? For this first edition of the Horns Up Top 10, we’re going to take a look at the mighty Iron Maiden.

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This isn’t a band that needs any introduction, but I’m going to try and give you one anyway. To call Maiden anything less than gods of the heavy metal genre borders on blasphemy. And they’re one of the biggest reasons why I became a metal fan. (Maiden and Priest were the first to sway me over to the genre…thanks, V-Rock station in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City!) In their almost 40 (!!) years of existence, the band’s churned out classic after classic, from “Hallowed Be Thy Name” to “Powerslave” to “Fear of the Dark”–shit, “El Dorado,” the lead single from The Final Frontier, earned the band its first Grammy Award…in 2011!

But to whittle the band’s extensive catalogue down to just 10 songs? That’s never an easy proposition. I’ve done my best here, and written up little blurbs for each of my picks in an attempt to justify their inclusion. I haven’t ranked these, as it was hard enough just picking them, but in any case, the playlist is as follows:

“Aces High” (from Powerslave, 1984)

Is there a better album-opener in all of Maiden’s catalogue? No, there is not. That pace? Those guitar solos? That inimitable Bruce Dickinson song-closing scream? This is four minutes and 30 seconds of pure heavy metal gold, and no Maiden Top 10 list should EVER omit it.

“Murders in the Rue Morgue” (from Killers, 1981)

My single favorite track off the Killers album (apologies to the title track and “Wrathchild”). For the first minute, you think you’re getting a slower, moodier number, and then without warning it turns into one of Maiden’s punkiest–and catchiest–songs to date. Mock the Paul Di’Anno era at your peril.

“Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (from Powerslave, 1984)

It wouldn’t be fair to call this Maiden’s first epic, but it’s certainly their most significant. At 13 and a half minutes, it’s the longest song in their catalogue–and yet Steve Harris managed to construct the song so as to never really lose the listener. (The source material–an adaptation of Coleridge’s poem of the same name–helps there, too.)

“Stranger in a Strange Land” (from Somewhere in Time, 1986)

This has always been my favorite from Somewhere in Time. The–I don’t know if you’d call it a pre-chorus? This thing’s a bit strange, structurally–but, the “what became of the man that started / all are gone and their souls departed” section might just be my favorite moment in any Maiden song. That’s enough to earn this thing a spot on my list.

“Revelations” (from Piece of Mind, 1983)

Bruce Dickinson’s first solo songwriting credit in Maiden, and what a debut. The terrific, melodic verses and a tremendous vocal performance from Dickinson already earn this one its stripes among Maiden’s best, but the terrific solo section (those harmonies!) really takes it the extra mile. A classic by any definition.

“Blood Brothers” (from Brave New World, 2000)

The best track on Maiden’s very-strong Dickinson-and-Smith reunion album, “Blood Brothers” is memorable for several things: its anthemic chorus, its heart-wrenching lyrics, and most notably, a Janick Gers guitar solo WITHOUT senseless noodling. It’s the true standout track on a pretty tremendous album.

“Infinite Dreams” (from Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, 1988)

“Infinite Dreams” represents the final hurrah from Maiden’s first “classic lineup” and stands up as one of the best tracks on the Seventh Son record–if not the best. It’s proggy and complex without being unappealingly so, and the instrumental sections in the middle and bridge are executed to perfection. Dickinson’s incredible banshee howl in the middle doesn’t hurt this one’s cause, either.

“Paschendale” (from Dance of Death, 2003)

An absolutely stunning, war-themed piece from Adrian Smith and Steve Harris, “Paschendale” succeeds in evoking the chaos of battle. The solo section is positively drool-worthy, and Dickinson’s belting of “blood is falling like rain” might just be his finest hour as a vocalist. This is Maiden at the peak of their post-reunion powers, without any question.

“Phantom of the Opera” (from Iron Maiden, 1980)

It would be fair to call this one Maiden’s first epic. On a debut album that’s never afraid to hide its punk leanings, “Phantom” stands out as a completely and unabashedly heavy metal song. More intricate and frenetic than anything else the Di’Anno era gave us, it stands out as Harris’s first opportunity to really show his mettle as a songwriter. He did so, and Maiden was all the better for it.

“Hallowed Be Thy Name” (from The Number of the Beast, 1982)

If you actually need an explanation as to why “Hallowed Be Thy Name” is included on an Iron Maiden Top 10 list…shame on you. Listen to the goddamn song and figure it out for yourself.

The Horns Up Top 10 on Spotify

That’ll wrap things up for this week’s Top 10. Check back next week for more, and feel free to leave a comment with suggestions for future Top 10 bands!

-Dan

Live. Love. Plow. Horns Up.