Ranking Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson Albums

For some reason, this last week I’ve been listening to these old metal bands. Many don’t hold up but some do. Metal was the music permeating rural western Wisconsin when I was growing up.

We had cassettes and among those were always several Iron Maiden albums. But no one had the same Iron Maiden tapes in their cassette case eliciting constant conversations when driving to school, through the coulees, and drunk around bonfires about which albums are the most worthwhile.

I’m not a metal head. It was a kind of background noise when I was a kid. Yet, I thought it’d be fun to rank the best Iron Maiden albums, and for me, Iron Maiden isn’t Iron Maiden without Bruce Dickinson. Here are all twelve albums chronologically. My ranking is at the end, so if you want you can scroll down to the bottom to check it out.

 

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The Number of the Beast, 1982

For me, Iron Maiden is voiced by Bruce Dickinson just like Black Sabbath is only Black Sabbath with Ozzy Osbourne. Iron Maiden’s first two albums weren’t bad but nothing really to write home about. Yet main songwriter and bassist Steve Harris had already been building a sort of rollicking metal sound so when ‘Run to the Hills’ was released, the band arrived. The galloping edge of the song with new singer Bruce Dickinson’s vocals makes this song iconic. Unfortunately, the rest of the album is still kinda middling metal.

*

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Piece of Mind, 1983

I don’t like this album. Yet this spawned nearly all the t-shirts guys wore in middle school and high school. I’m not overly impressed with ‘The Trooper’ or ‘Die With Your Boots On’ (which put me in the minority), but you can hear the band moving towards something really good which would surface until albums later.

*

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Powerslave, 1984

I can’t in all honesty say I like this album. I’m not wild about the cover art and nearly all the songs are forgettable with the possible exceptions of ‘2 Minutes to Midnight’ (i’m always a sucker for anti-nuclear war 80s metal songs) and the over-ambitious ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner.’

*

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Somewhere in Time, 1986

For me, this is the Iron Maiden album. The album kicks off with the stellar title track, then loses zero energy going to the hit ‘Wasted Years.’

‘Heaven Can Wait,’ ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,’ and ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ maintain a relentless onslaught, although ‘Alexander the Great’ does get away from them a bit. This album, these songs are peak 80s heavy metal–earnest and still a bit Spinal Tap–but also just damn good if you look beyond the hair, spandex, and lack of sleeves.

 

*

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Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, 1988

This record, I dunno. The first two tracks feel silly but I’ve a real distaste for prog-rock and this album feels like it. A legit concept album unlike the accidental concept album that was the superior Somewhere in Time. I’ve always felt that is album attempted to do too much and rev up what worked on Somewhere in Time but failed. Too many cooks in the kitchen as it were. The music is full of these wonderful moments but they’re sewn together in underwhelming ways. Still, I’m a sucker for ‘Can I Play with Madness.’

 

*

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No Prayer for the Dying, 1990

After going too big with Seventh Son, it seems as though Iron Maiden decided to swing hard in the opposite direction. This album feels like a deliberate cliche. While ‘Tailgunner’ might be tolerable, ‘Holy Smoke’ is just stupid but not nearly as ridiculous as the ‘hit’ ‘Bring Your Daughter…to the Slaughter.’ What this album taught us is that Bruce Dickinson isn’t a good songwriter. Or, rather, when he misses, he misses like a metal God. Whereas previous albums had a definite tone, this just feels generic. This could be understandable, Iron Maiden had been relentlessly touring for the passed five years, so I suppose I ought to cut them some slack.

*

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Fear of the Dark, 1992

Honesty, for me this was the last real Iron Maiden album. It came at a time when heavy metal was over, killed by the ubiquity of glam rock and the sudden surge of grunge. Metal dissolved in the early 90s. The heavy metal that arose to take the place of 80s metal was unsatisfying and often too gimmicky. Metal balkanized. Fear of the Dark didn’t cause this but did feel like an unofficial swan song for the genre.

The album artwork was clearly subpar and the songs, well, they just felt like shadows. Continuing the rather poor songwriting from No Prayer, the Dickinson teams up with new guitarist Janick Ger to pen some stinkers most notably the power ballad ‘Wasting Love.’ But even Harris’ tracks are odd like ‘From Here to Eternity’ which sounds like if AC/DC decided to be serious. However, the title track is quality.

*

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Brave New World, 2000

Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith return as Iron Maiden puts together a comeback album. Well, half of one. The second half of Brave New World bores but on a whole is still better than most of the band’s 90s output.

 

*

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Dance of Death, 2003

Aside from its profoundly awful cover art, Dance of Death isn’t a bad album. Much like Brave New World, the band is simply staying the course. Only with this effort, everything sounds rather blase.

*

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A Matter of Life and Death, 2006

Another album cover that looks like a parody. Taking war as subject matter nestles this album snugly in a beloved heavy metal trope. Unlike the previous two reunion albums, A Matter of Life and Death actually sounds different than your standard Iron Maiden. That difference is a more palatable kind of metal both vocally and musically. In its weaker moments, something about this album reminds me of lesser hard rock bands of the early 90s. Yet, the band shirks that off and manages to make their heaviest sounding album since the late 80s. The final third of the album decides to get more conceptual without going prog-rock and feels like it’s close to landing. 

*

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The Final Frontier, 2010

With The Final Frontier, the band built on the heavy sound of A Matter of Life and Death to make an even harder, churning record. The opening track is over eight minutes long and the second half is roughly 45 minutes long. I think this is the kind of album Dickinson had in mind when he wanted the band to do an acoustic/electric mix prior to recording Somewhere in Time. Honestly, this album sounds like it could have come after Seventh Son.

*

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The Book of Souls,2015

After the strength in The Final Frontier, The Book of Souls feels like a bit of a retreat. Not that this is a bad thing. ‘Speed of Light’ is a solid track, ‘The Red and The Black’ has a touch of a touch of The Cult in it, which I like, as well as a serious run time, and ‘Shadows of the Valley’ is pretty classic metal. Slowly, Iron Maiden have become a band whose songs live in the 6-10 minute range and for the better. This is also the first album you can hear the age in Dickinson voice so the move to more music certain balances that out. But somebody need to show this band how to make a music video that isn’t just live footage or animation that would make Lawnmower Man look good.

**

Ranking

  1. Somewhere in Time

  2. The Number of the Beast

  3. The Final Frontier

  4. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

  5. A Matter of Life and Death

  6. The Book of Souls

  7. Powerslave 

  8. Piece of Mind

  9. Dance of Death

  10. Brave New World

  11. Fear of the Dark

  12. No Prayer for the Dying

 

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