Iron Maiden’s Powerslave 35 Years Old

Text by Phil Ashdown.

Image from the official Derek Riggs website.

September 3rd, 1984: Iron Maiden released Powerslave, their fifth studio album and the third straight recording with vocalist Bruce Dickinson.

Can it really be 35 years? For me Powerslave is a personal favourite for a number of reasons.

It was their first album to feature exactly the same recording line-up as the previous one, the superb Piece Of Mind that introduced drummer Nicko McBrain. The band were on a bit of a roll following their meteoric rise from the pubs of the Eastend in just four years and needed to keep the momentum going and even stretch themselves a little. Well, they certainly achieved that. Recorded at Compass Point Studios in The Bahamas, again with Uber-producer Martin Birch at the controls Powerslave contained some of the band’s best straight ahead rockers, opening with the knock-out one-two of opener Aces High, inspired by the Battle Of Britain and 2 Minutes To Midnight, based on the Doomsday clock counting down to potential global disaster through political confrontations. Following these is an often overlooked instrumental, the superbly titled Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra) then Flash Of The Blade,The Duellists and the follow up to Number Of The Beast’s The Prisoner, namely Back In The Village. Barely leaving the good listener time to get their breath back the Dickinson penned Powerslave follows with one of the singers finest songs and vocal performances to date. The song brings to life the ancient Egyptian themed artwork to great effect…… but more on that later.

2 Minutes To Midnight was released as the first single from the album, peaking at number 11 in the UK. The B-side was Mission From ‘Arry and was an actual argument between Nicko McBrain and Steve Harris, secretly recorded by Bruce Dickinson.

Aces High was the second single to be released, peaking at number 20 in the UK.

Arguably the most important tune was the epic Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, a Steve Harris classic that really showcased his ambitions for the band which drew on his personal interest in historical literature, quoting lines from the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem he was taught in school. It clocks in at just under fourteen minutes and its sheer scale is astounding as it ebbs and flows like the roaring seas in the tale itself. The track contains several distinct sections with differing moods and would become a fan favourite, particularly after they performed it on the accompanying World Slavery tour.

In Kerrang’s review at the time Mick Wall said that opener Aces High is ..” a great introduction to an even greater album. It’s a grower. And albums that grow have a happy habit of turning into life-long addictions.” He certainly wasn’t wrong there as I still listen to the album regularly and enjoy it as much now as I ever did. Also on Maiden’s current world tour they open with this number beneath a near- life size floating Spitfire. Bushell continues to heap praise on the album and when describing Rime… he says “The number twists and turns in and out of the light of a distant star; it blisters and burns and uh, radiates with the force and the power of a nuclear reactor on wheels.”

Steve Harris was quoted in a recent Kerrang! interview as saying…

“It’s okay to write simple pop songs. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if kids went out and checked into Coleridge just because we wrote a song about it, then that’s really something,” – Steve Harris

He continues.. “The same sort of thing happened with To Tame A Land on the last album. The amount of people who went out and read Dune by Frank Herbert, which inspired it, was amazing.”

The album reached Number 2 in the charts in the UK and 21 in America as well as Top 10 in many European countries.

The artwork was once again created by artist Derek Riggs and was printed on a lovely lightly textured sleeve during its first pressing run. In these pre-internet days the cover art was only revealed the week before release in the music press (Sounds, Melody Maker and New Musical Express) or heavy metal bible Kerrang! It featured a fantastically detailed painting of an ancient Egyptian pharoah’s tomb with a colossal ‘Eddie’ sitting majestically in the centre guarding the entrance. If you look closely at the album sleeve, you’ll spot artist Derek Riggs put his logo into the painting. It’s right above the pyramid entrance. The phrases ‘Bollocks’, ‘Indiana Jones Was Here 1941’, ‘What A Load Of Crap’ and ‘Wot, No Guiness?’ are also used on the cover. Written in hieroglyphics. Oh, and there’s also a drawing of Mickey Mouse. I personally think it remains Derek Riggs’ finest work for Maiden and could only be made better if the album had been given the gatefold treatment.

The vast World Slavery Tour ran for more than 11 months, starting on August 9, 1984 in Warsaw and ended at Irvine Meadows in California on July 5, 1985 – 331 days and 187 gigs.

The Warsaw shows were their first in what was then the Eastern Bloc (documented in the video Behind The Iron Curtain), a four-night stint at the Hammersmith Odeon, stretches in Japan and Australia, and their first-ever show in South America, playing the inaugural Rock In Rio festival to an estimated crowd of over 300,000, supporting Queen. All this with a spectacular stage show themed around Egyptian imagery of the album artwork and featuring enormous sarcophagi, pyrotechnics of apocalyptic proportions and a 30-plus-foot mummified Eddie. The tour was so immense that it nearly destroyed the band. To quote Bruce Dickinson on the Rock In Rio show…

“You can’t do shows like that too often, because you’d be f++++g dead! I was so drained when I finally calmed down after it. I remember thinking afterwards that I couldn’t have done more, there was not a single cell in my body that wasn’t exhausted… We conquered an entire continent overnight with that one show. That was extraordinary.”

The tour’s punishing schedule may have been difficult for the band and crew, but for the fans it delivered one final diamond in the shape of the double live album, Live After Death, still widely regarded as one of the best live albums of all time. Three sides of the record were recorded at Long Beach Arena in California with side four being taken from the Hammersmith gigs.

I remember queueing outside the Hammersmith Odeon to buy tickets with a friend of mine, for four hours and they sold so many so quickly that they had to use blank tickets and stamp them on the back with the appropriate band name and date!

The whole stage production was huge, with an amazing lighting rig that rose, fell and tilted throughout and was just inches above the band’s heads during the quiet passage of Rime….

Clearly a fan, Garry Bushell was dispatched to review the gig for Sounds stating “We get over 100 minutes of mummifying marathon metal before the encores.” He continues ..”With such boundless energy and die-hard dedication it’s no real wonder that Iron Maiden have built themselves into the biggest non-commercial rock band in the world.”

Press advert for Live After Death – £51.08 in today’s money*

Taking inflation over the 35 years into account

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