A closer look inside the epic Iron Maiden album, Powerslave.
September 3rd, 1984: Iron Maiden released Powerslave, their fifth studio album and the third straight masterpiece recordings with Bruce Dickinson at the helm.
Certainly there must come a day when every heavy metal band peaks. When they can’t seem to grow, continue to be more successful, to put together world tours any more epic and grandiose than the previous. To quote Aragorn’s battle speech, “It is not this day!”
Following up the two previous mammoth tours that were The Number Of The Beast and Piece Of Mind, Maiden could have easily been forgiven for “taking their foot off the accelerator”. Instead, Iron Maiden went spandex shopping, readying up to embark on one of the biggest, baddest, most extensive and legendary tour in history.
But in order to do that, they needed an equally epic album, something so different it smashed you right in your Iron Maiden loving face, they needed Powerslave. Recording once more at Point Studios Bahamas, Iron Maiden’s fifth album, Powerslave was also the band’s first to feature the same line-up as its predecessor.
Powerslave contained a slew of compact, punchy classics such as “2 Minutes To Midnight” and “Aces High”. Also an amazing instrumental that is often overlooked, the hard, bass driven 4:15 so brilliantly named “Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra)”. But perhaps the most important tune was Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, the song really showcased the historical and literary approach to lyricism that Iron Maiden followers could always count on. Clocking in at nearly fourteen minutes, Mariner was the longest song in their repertoire until the arrival of 2015’s Empire Of The Clouds.
Iron Maiden founder 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
The galloping bassist continued: “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.”
Powerslave provided Iron Maiden with their second consecutive million-plus selling album in the States, where it reached Number 21 in the charts.
It was a huge success, however, and it gave the band the platform to launch the vast World Slavery Tour. Running for more than 11 months – from August, 1984 to July, 1985 – it ran 189 shows and included their first tour 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. Also playing the inaugural Rock In Rio festival to an estimated crowd of 350,000. 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.
Bruce Dickinson said that those Iron Curtain shows were some of the most pivotal he’s ever played in his life.
“We were the first really full-on, high-profile band to go,” Dickinson recalled. “We represented that feeling of, ‘Wow! We’re a free country!’ It was nothing to do with rock‘n’roll, it was all about the freedom from communism. It was a moment of hope and I felt like we were this beacon.”
The frontman added in naming Rock In Rio as another life-changing moment…
“You can’t do shows like that too often, because you’d be fucking 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 whole tour was an extraordinary achievement, but it was one that took its toll on the members of Iron Maiden. The extremely demanding schedule had everyone feeling burned out, although Bruce insisted that there were no internal tensions. “At no point on the tour did we ever get to the point where anybody hated each other.”
“We held that end of it together very well. Because we all realized what each of us was going through, and if someone threw a tantrum – which we all did at some point – it was, ‘Shall we leave the room and let him wreck the place and come back later?’ Because everyone was going through it.”
“The worst part is after you’ve been on the road for six months and you suddenly realize you’ve got another six months to do,” – guitarist Adrian Smith.
“It’s like doing time. You’re kind of in your own cell anyway, a little cocoon, either in a plane or a hotel or a bus, and there’s security guards. It really cuts you off from real life.”
The tour was really difficult to live through for the band, but for the fans it yielded one final surprise in the shape of live double album Live After Death, still widely regarded as one of the finest live records in heavy metal or any other genre for that matter.
From the Winston Churchill opener to Aces High to Bruce’s now iconic exhortations of ‘Scream for me, Long Beach!’, not to mention adrenaline injected renditions of all their classic songs up to that point, it remains the next best thing to time travel if you want the experience of Iron Maiden in their most glorious eras.