1980 was a watershed year for heavy metal. Just have a look at some of the important albums that were released in those twelve months; elsewhere future big-hitters are steadily adding to their back catalogue...
• AC/DC - Back in Black
• Accept - I'm a Rebel
• Alice Cooper - Flush the Fashion
• Angel Witch - Angel Witch
• Black Sabbath - Heaven and Hell
• Blue Öyster Cult - Cultösaurus Erectus
• Def Leppard - On Through the Night
• Gillan - Glory Road
• Girlschool - Demolition
• Iron Maiden - Iron Maiden
• Judas Priest - British Steel
• Kiss - Unmasked
• Krokus - Metal Rendez-vous
• Motörhead - Ace of Spades
• Ozzy Osbourne - Blizzard of Ozz
• Queen - The Game
• Rush - Permanent Waves
• Samson - Head On
• Saxon - Wheels of Steel
• Saxon - Strong Arm of the Law
• Scorpions - Animal Magnetism
• Thin Lizzy - Chinatown
• Tygers Of Pan Tang - Wild Cat
• UFO - No Place to Run
• Van Halen - Women and Children First
• Whitesnake - Ready An' Willing
In other news, Led Zeppelin have played their last gig (or at least their last with John Bonham), and the hard rock firmament is shifting with quiet years from contemporaries Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal, or NWOBHM, is now a few years old and becoming less of a groundswell scene and more of a tangible movement - many of the leading names (Motorhead, Saxon, the Tygers, Def Leppard) are included above, and of these Iron Maiden formed five years previously with a greatly different line-up, have become on of THE acts to watch.
L-R Steve Harris (bass), Dave Murray (guitar), Paul Di'Anno (vocals), Clive Burr (Drums), Dennis Stratton (Guitar)
Despite it not being their first release Maiden’s album debut has an embryonic sound, arguably as influenced by punk as early Heavy Metal. Lead man and alleged ‘barrow boy’ Paul Di'Anno carries a boot boy swagger to his vocals in stark contrast to the broader range and polish of his later, more famous replacement, Bruce Dickinson. Despite this, Di’Anno’s approach gives this first album an edge of menace that’s unheard in later albums; teetering on post-adolescent assuredly, but less tendancy towards the cartoonish that befell later albums. This sounds like the band that was said to be punchy and cocksure, and for a band in its youth it’s a fitting style. The signature twin guitar approach is less evident here, possibly because this incarnation of the band is missing the vital Adrian Smith, who would join the set of Killers. Instead, the almost forgotten "d’Ennis" Stratton fills the role – capable, but unmemorable.
Influences range from early 70s hard rock to a healthy dose of prog; there's a break in Phantom that sounds as thoough it owes something to BOC, and Murray's Hendrix adulations is evident as well. On the whole it's varied though, enough to keep the interest up. Steve Harris' bass is, it shall be said, a little understated this early on, and on the whole the production sounds... minimalist, probably as much a sign of its budget as its era - there's a lot of drum and guitar, the bass and vocals play second tier.
As indicated above Iron Maiden sounds at times like an audition piece for extended guitars, with Di’Anno coming and going with verses in longer tracks (Phantom of the Opera, Strange World) seemingly to break up the noodling. On the occasions where he does get to sing in extended pieces he can be at times shouty (Sanctuary) and surprisingly vulnerable (Remember Tomorrow), embodying that weird dichotomy of young male vocalists in rock – the self-assured rebel who takes no prisoners but occasionally just needs a hug.
I like this album, probably more so than its follow-up. Prowler is a hugely energetic opener with some cool wah-wah lead, and Running Free is the anthem I remembered it to be when I first heard it. Remember Tomorrow drops out when the vocals are tested, but in doing so allows a sort of unstaged vulnerability that is rare in Heavy Metal. Shortly after joining a live version was recorded with Bruce Dickinson's vocals overlaid atop Di'Anno's, and while the new lad can hit the highs his bravura delivery doesn't sui the song. Phantom of the Opera was a Lucozade ad! And the lead-in from instrumental Transylvania to Strange World is pretty and subtle, carrying echoes of (shudder) The Moody Blues. Things sort of peter out toward the end with Charlotte the Harlot (God knows why I liked to sing along to this. I was thirteen) and the title track sounding a bit tacked on. On the whole the production isn’t lavish, but plays loud well enough – it would be an album away (two for full effect) before the masterful hands of Martin Birch would be near the consoles at least.
Eddie makes his debut at his wildest and most unkempt. The location is apparently an East End street, and it fits with the general feeling of the band at the time – a hint of the supernatural and of horror in an entirely suburban (but no less intimidating) setting. The theme continues with the covers of singles Running Free (Eddie in semi-silhouette stalking hapless titular runaway) and controvesial Thatcher-baiting Sanctuary. He's a menace in these early portraits, though the least said about the cover of Maiden's Skyhooks cover Women in Uniform the better, probably. My CD version comes from the 1998 remaster, so Derek Riggs’ Eddie portrait on the cover is also retooled not with the mascot’s pin-point ‘wired’ white eyes, but red glowing points (so wrong) and halos around the street lamps. On the back the band stand against a white wall looking young and brattish, and far from the gods of Heavy Metal they’d be.
Tracks via YouTube
Sanctuary (1998 rerelease only)
Remember Tomorrow (and a version sung by Bruce)
Running Free (historic Top of the Pops appearance)
Phantom of the Opera
Strange World (live recording from Maiden Japan)
Charlotte the Harlot (Live via home video at the Ruskin Arms 1980)
Iron Maiden (studio version only)