Monday, May 3, 2010

Talkin' Eds - Piece of Mind (1983)

1981 in Heavy Metal

AC/DC - Flick of the Switch
Accept - Balls to the Wall
Alice Cooper - DaDa
Black Sabbath - Born Again
Blue Öyster Cult - The Revölution by Night
Def Leppard - Pyromania
Dio - Holy Diver
Dokken - Breaking the Chains
Europe - Europe
Girlschool - Play Dirty
Hanoi Rocks - Self-Destruction Blues / Back to Mystery City
KISS - Lick It Up
Krokus - Headhunter
Manowar - Into Glory Ride
Metallica - Kill 'Em All
Mötley Crüe - Shout at the Devil
Motörhead - Another Perfect Day
Ozzy Osbourne - Bark at the Moon
Pantera - Metal Magic
Queensrÿche - Queensrÿche (debut)
Quiet Riot - Metal Health
Ratt - Ratt (EP)
Saxon - Power & the Glory
Slayer - Show No Mercy
Suicidal Tendencies - Suicidal Tendencies
Thin Lizzy - Thunder and Lightning
Twisted Sister - You Can't Stop Rock 'N' Roll

Newly-formed acts include: Bon Jovi Helloween Living Colour Lizzy Borden Mayhem Megadeth Metal Church Morbid Angel Poison and Queensrÿche

Some obvious picks from fellow NWOBHM-ers Def Leppard, Saxon and Motörhead. Elsewhere the old guard fumble along with the remnants of Sabbath in Dio and Ozzy, some European acts emerging (Accept, Dokken, Hanoi Rocks, Europe!), and the 'future' - glam metal (Poison, Mötley Crüe) and speed/thrash (Metallica, Megadeth, Pantera, Slayer) making early overtures. Maiden's sun is still at its height, but change is assured. KISS have even taken off their makeup...

The Line-Up

Having Number of the Beast under their belts Iron Maiden toured the album, but lost drummer Clive Burr along the way, seeingly another casualty of the gruelling tour and demands of the band. His replacement Michael 'Nicko' McBrain once again changes the sound of the band - where Burr's drumming is precise and well in line with the rhythm section, McBrain's obvious skills (he's regarded as one of the greats of heavy metal drummers) and innovation lend a more exploratory attitude to his style. There's been much discussion of the opening drum roll to the album's first track - McBrain hits every drum in an extremely tight triple roll, suffice it to say it's an effective and memorable starting volley, and ushers in THE classic Maiden line-up. Technically the album is another masterpiece, although the version reviewed here is from the 1998 remasters themselves, which balances some of the additional sound effects (the machine guns of Where Eagles Dare, for example) further.

For me Piece of Mind was almost an unknown quantity. Prior to The Best of the Beast I’d not heard anything off it, but The Trooper made an immediate impression - the album's other single The Flight of Icarus less so initially, but I've come to enjoy its coda greatly, and its video is notable for actually being something out of the ordinary for Maiden - no live footage, but studio film and other imagery combined. Prior to this the album was a tee shirt worn by a school mate - I think I may have assumed it was based on an EP, as mine (Maiden Japan) had been. Having bought the album proper then I've come to it with some prejudices still intact. I don't think Tim's going to like some of what I'm about to say!

The Album

With Beast having been the greatest success for Maiden to date, Piece of Mind continues the pace of one album per annum, surely the work of young men with energy and drive, and to be sure Piece marks something of a continuation of Beast's sound, with some notable developments. The songs are developed more in places, sometimes incorporating other musical works (To Tame a Land) and attempting new tricks (actual backing vocals on Die With Your Boots On, and some songwriting input by Bruce Dickinson). Lyrically though, the steps forward are marked with a few staggers; for every solid work (Where Eagles Dare, The Flight of Icarus, The Trooper) there's a real clunker (Boots again, Quest for Fire, To Tame a Land). There's no theme to the album again, but the songs largely come from various narratives, whether historical (Sunlight on Steel, Trooper) or from popular literature (er, almost all the rest). Revelations takes chunks of C K Chesterton and Crowley, and Boots nods towards Nostradamus a few times, but this isn't an album you'll listen to for the lyrics, especially in the leaden Quest ("for Fii-yurr!"), a low point for the album and band with its screeching vocals, Neanderthal beat and an opening line ("In a time/when dinosaurs roamed the earth!") coming more from an Amicus movie than the actual novel and film. Quest to me has at least a kitsch quality which helps, but if I must appreciate the album on that level as the sort of thing I'd have been into at thirteen or fourteen with its sub-Dungeons and Dragons imagery in Revelations and Still Life, then I find it also interferes with the stronger, more mature tracks, those being the three mentioned earlier, and Sunlight on Steel which, while it re-uses the Trooper galloping bass a little too soon, fair moves at an enjoyable lick. It's good stuff.

I want to like Piece of Mind though, and in fact a good many people do, regarding it as one of Maiden's finest albums, for some the best. I just find it disjointed - in places a victory lap after the triumph of Beast, but perhaps a little self-indulgent as well. To Tame a Land and Quest simply re-tell the stories of Dune and 'Rosny's original novel (more likely the movie) and indicate the list-making aspects of a few later compositions; Revelations being one man's mash-up of some ropey metaphysics is almost impenetrable and again works for me best as phantasmagoria rather than an attempt to actually say anything deep. Perhaps that's an unfair accusation, some HAVE found depth in the song, but they've clearly had to work at it and I need to remind myself that This. Is. Heavy. Metal. and not really anything more. I don't think that's what we're supposed to be doing with this.

Cover Art

It's a full-bodied Eddie for the first time, and the first of many torments our hero is put through, this being a lobotomy and straitjacket (now get out of that one, my lad!) Derek Riggs provides another iconic cover with more sickly yellow as its highlight hue - he's well on a roll at this point, and his album covers seem to improve exponentially with each release. There's still some continuity with previous covers - that distinctive sky appears on the back cover seen from inside Eddie's ubiquitous padded call although the shape of the opening and the buttoned wall lining make it look a little more luxurious than yer average psych unit - I used to wonder whether he was in some form of aircraft, hence the sky and no land being visible. Perhaps it's a flying panel van?

Album tracks
Where Eagles Dare (album track)
Revelations (Live in Dortmund)
Flight of Icarus (Live in Dortmund)
Die With Your Boots On (Live in Hammersmith)
The Trooper (official video)
Still Life (Live in Ipswitch)
Quest for Fire (album track)
Sun and Steel (album track)
To Tame a Land (Live in Hammersmith - with back story by Bruce)


  1. [Posted for Tim as his wordage is tres copious]

    I see Piece of Mind in a similar vein to Killers and Somewhere In Time; the album-in-between-a-major album that often get overlooked.

    While being a very relaxed album (the result of recording in the Bahamas?) Piece of Mind is still a mixed bag; for every 'Where Eagles Dare', 'Revelations' and 'The Trooper', there's a 'Quest for Fire' and 'To Tame a Land'. But at this stage of the game Maiden have nothing to prove, and with this album they act like they know it.

    The first half is solid, with well constructed songs and good hooks, and the book and film influences are more to the front; we have greek mythology, Crowley, Dune and Alfred Lord Tennyson all putting in an appearance, which I put down to a growing confidence of the band to keep branching out lyrically.
    Nicko really pushed the band in a different direction, being more technical than Clive and not following the patterns the guitar/bass/drums set down... Like the booklet sez, Life in Maiden would never be the same...

    As for the songs, well 'Where Eagles Dare' has a great intro, some nice interplay between the guitarists and an echo of Di'anno in Bruce's vocal line. 'Revelations' recalls the earlier experiments of The NUmber of the Beast but executed more confidently; the pace isn't fast, but the medium tempo of the song suits it.
    'Flight of Icarus' continues the trend, slightly rewritten from the source material with a bassline sounding very like 'Eye of the Tiger' (to me at least anyway. But Oasis got away with more blatant plagurism 10 years later so why not Maiden?) Some nice flowing solos from Dave and Adrian tie it all together. It's epic without being too overwrought ('In the name of God my father I fly'. Okay maybe not).

    'Die With Your Boots On', I love the pre-chorus which almost overshadows the main one. Feels this one could've been a single with a bit of editing. Probably the most understated song on the album.

    'The Trooper' - what can you say about a track which, along with 'Run To The Hills', pretty much definied Maiden in the eighties. The drums, the melodies, the charging bassline, and riffs (this is where Aces High got its verse idea from). It was a good idea to have the clean breaks with just Bruce singing, it gives the right lyrical emphasis where it's needed. Despite the frantic pace the whole thing feels quite jaunty and is tight especially post solos, all this topped off with a sing along chorus to practice your scales on.

  2. [Tim's commenatry cont'd]

    The second half of Piece of Mind is okay, but it feels like it's treading water or perhaps the first half of the album has so many strong tracks in a row that anything after comes off as second best.

    'Still Life', a hint of the prog of old from the first two albums and a little bit of '22 Arcacia Avenue'. This has a nice story running through it.
    'Quest for Fire'. Er, Bruce, haven't you already used this vocal melody? This song is just silly and the first instance of filler on a Maiden album. (Mind you this was 1983 and metal in the 80s was going through a cartoonish, pre-glam metal phase so maybe the band were trying to keep up?) Skip.

    'Sun and Steel' is a fun ride, but seems in such of a middle and uses the old Placebo trick of repeating the chorus ad-nauseum. I don't mind when Placebo do it, but with Maiden it feels they're padding the song up to pass the 3 minute mark when they're capable of more.

    Finally 'To Tame A Land', not a bad way to finish the album up. There is the requisite epic build up, solos weaving all over the place and a sub-dued Harris bassline holding it all down... But I think the 16yo Harris is showing through when a song is influenced by a contemporary sci-fi series (of the time anyway). Good on him for keeping with the times, but he's done better.

    So overall a solid, but less cohesive album than it's predecessor, (and with all the team in place its arguably the first album of the classic 80s Maiden sound). It's easy to see why, in 1983, Kerrang named it the Best metal album ever released. And who's going to argue with the Womans Weekly of Metal magazines?