This week I’m going back to the second album from the band that would go on to become my favorite musical act ever. The album got solid reviews from critics and fans but would be the end of a brief beginning era for the group, who would soon re-tool and launch their signature sound on several coming albums through the 1980’s.
Iron Maiden – Killers
Released February 2, 1981 via EMI Records (U.K.)
My Favorite Tracks – Murders In The Rue Morgue, Wrathchild, Purgatory
This album has several versions – for this write-up I am using what is up on Spotify, a 2015 remaster that mirrors the initial British release. I have the original U.S. release on vinyl and a 1998 reissue on CD that feature the bonus track Twilight Zone, but for purposes of simplicity I’ll be covering the UK version. Other territories in the world got other versions of the album with slightly altered track listings.
Iron Maiden would see the first of a few significant lineup changes prior to recording Killers. Guitarist Dennis Stratton left the group due to disagreements with bandleader Steve Harris and manager Ron Smallwood. Stratton was replaced by Adrian Smith, who would go on alongside Dave Murray to establish Iron Maiden’s signature twin guitar attack through the rest of the 1980’s.
Killers was written almost entirely by Steve Harris, with a few notable exceptions – the title track is co-credited to singer Paul Di’Anno, and there is some funny business with the opening instrumental in terms of songwriting. Most of the songs except for two were written before the band recorded their self-named debut a year prior.
The Ides Of March
The first of two instrumentals on the album, which is a curious choice for the group. The song itself is fine and serves as a good intro to the album.
There are questions raised over the songwriting credits to this. Harris is the only credited songwriter for the song on Killers. However, a very similar-sounding instrumental called Thunderburst appears on fellow NWOBHM group Sampson’s 1980 album Head On. It credits the Sampson band members (including one Bruce Dickinson) as well as Steve Harris. It was Samson drummer Thunderstick who served as the common link – he had been in Iron Maiden in the late 70’s before that group recorded and apparently brought this instrumental over to Samson. It is a bit of interesting trivia if not much more, though there have been several other questions about where Steve Harris got songs from over the years.
The “signature song” from Killers, this is the only song from the album that is still consistently performed live by Maiden. It opens with a trademark bassline from Steve Harris and gets down and dirty with a sound that still suits Paul Di’Anno but does seem to be morphing more into the business the band were about to get to after Killers. It features plenty of lead guitar flourishes and establishes the trademark rhythmic drive that the band would stake their name on. The song was one of two singles from the album, released as a “double A-side” with the US bonus track Twilight Zone.
Murders In The Rue Morgue
This is one of the two songs written specifically for the Killers recording sessions. It is an excellent tune that turns up the pace and fits with the “proto-punk/metal” hybrid the band had on offer on their debut. It is perfectly suited to Paul Di’Anno’s brash singing style. It’s a bit of a shame this song is kind of lost to time as it would be a joy to hear it today.
This upbeat number hits home with more trademark Smith and Murray guitar work. The song rolls away with Di’Anno’s typical delivery and stands out a bit amongst the rest of the “leftovers” that Killers is home to.
The album’s second instrumental and apparently not one ghostwritten by a former member. I don’t mind the track at all but it doesn’t necessarily stand out and feels like a bit of padding for a record with a lot of songs but a fairly lean running time under 40 minutes.
It’s another song that, while not exceptional, does possess the hallmarks of that early Maiden sound and puts in a workmanlike performance on the album. It’s certainly fitting for the band at the time and it makes for a worthwhile listen.
The title track has always stood out a bit, as many of Maiden’s title tracks do. The tune gets a little time to build rather than being a brief attack like so many of the other songs. It displays a bit of both where the band was and where they were going. It’s another song that wouldn’t hurt by the occasional inclusion on a live set, though this album as a whole seems to be left aside for consideration anymore.
Up next is what stands out as the biggest departure sound-wise for Iron Maiden. Nothing across the rest of their 17-album catalog sets itself apart nearly as much as Prodigal Son does, save for perhaps the B-side Burning Ambition that was never released on an album. It is also the other song besides Murders… that was not written well ahead of time.
The songs is about someone who has consumed himself through the use of black magic or other mystic arts. It rolls more in the vein of a 70’s rock tune as opposed to the heavy metal that the band were playing at the time. It has an almost folk-like undertone to it. Many in the fanbase are very turned off by the song, I myself find it a nice inclusion though I certainly see where it sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of the band’s work.
If the prior track is the band’s biggest departure from their sound, Purgatory is the biggest and brightest display of what Iron Maiden had on offer in the early 80’s. The blistering track slams through with those now well-known bass and guitar lines that just seem to roll off the instruments for the band. This song was released as the album’s second and last single. And in a bit of trivia – the artwork Derek Riggs originally drew for Purgatory’s single was held back by the band and used as the cover for The Number Of The Beast.
The album and the Paul Di’Anno tenure of the band concludes with Drifter. It’s a fast and fine rocker that wouldn’t have been out of place on the debut. It wraps the up the album nicely.
Killers stands out as a record perhaps greater than its status as a collection of Steve Harris’ leftovers. Though the Paul Di’Anno era is widely revered in Maiden fandom, this album does tend to fly under the radar at times. The record did not perform as well in the UK charts as Iron Maiden did and only one song remains today as a typical inclusion into the band’s live set. Di’Anno would soon be booted from the group for a number of reasons and the band would go on to new heights with his replacement. I don’t spin this album as much as others from the catalog but I never find myself being upset when I do play it.