10 Most Epic Iron Maiden Songs
Much like Homer's poems The Iliad and The Odyssey, the Most Epic Iron Maiden Songs continually push the boundaries of instrumental technique and poetic storytelling. Although they emerged out of the scrappy and far-from-ambitious New Wave of British Heavy Metal, armed with no-nonsense headbangers like “Prowler” and “Running Free,” it didn’t take long for bassist and driving force Steve Harris to start testing his songwriting limits with ever more ambitious and elaborate numbers that add a dose of progressive rock virtuosity to their particular brand of metal. Since the return of singer Bruce Dickinson in 1999, Iron Maiden albums have been inevitably dominated by epic tracks. So set some time aside -- the shortest track clocks in at just under eight-and-a-half minutes -- sit back, and get ready to dig in as we select Top 10 Most Epic Iron Maiden Songs, both in terms of thematic grandeur and sheer girth from throughout their near-four-decade career.
We start our survey of Iron Maiden’s Top 10 Most Epic Songs with The X Factor’s opening statement, “Sign of the Cross.” Here, Harris seemed bent on helping new singer Blaze Bayley overcome the still fresh wound of Bruce Dickinson’s departure with a towering testament to twaddling madness, inspired by Umberto Eco’s best-selling medieval novel, The Name of the Rose.
A Matter of Life and Death is one of Maiden’s most epic-choked LPs, and “For the Greater Good of God” outlasted all the rest at nearly nine-and-a-half minutes of intense denunciations on the dubious motivations driving organized religion and abusive televangelists, in particular. Composed, again, by Harris on his own, the song’s intricate arrangement unspools just beautifully, displaying a flowing complexity befitting of the bassist’s well-known passion for ‘70s prog-rock.
No, 1998’s Virtual XI was nothing to write home about, but in “The Clansman,” singer Blaze Bayley’s talents were given one of their best showcases during his brief time fronting Iron Maiden, thanks to Steve Harris’ anthemic and, yes, epic, interpretation of the hit Mel Gibson movie, Braveheart. Tellingly, this was one of the precious few Blaze-period tunes that were given occasional live airings after Bruce Dickinson’s return to the fold.
At an astonishing 18 minutes, “Empire of the Clouds” is obviously Iron Maiden’s new, undisputed champion where absolute, monstrous length is concerned; but we’d like to reserve our fair and full judgement on Bruce Dickinson’s sprawling contribution to The Book of Souls until it can prove itself over time. Until then, “Empire of the Clouds” will have to content itself with the long-held notion that “size does, in fact, matter.”
We head back to the Middle Ages, blurring the line between history and fantasy, with our next selection for Iron Maiden’s Top 10 Most Epic Songs, “Isle of Avalon.” And maybe the biggest surprise here is that this most proudly British of rock bands waited all of 15 albums to tackle their nation’s most famous ancient legend. When they did it was with wonderfully rich poetic imagery, used to describe the mysteries of birth, death and rebirth on this mystical isle of the dead.
We feel more confident about bestowing early top kudos upon The Book of Souls’ other epic beast, “The Red and the Black” — though Blue Oyster Cult fans may be scratching their heads over that familiar title. Thanks to a positively doom-laden first half, which duly accelerates as the band’s energy mounts, and mounts and mounts, this 13-minute colossus shows all the potential of becoming a modern-day Maiden classic.
For 20 years, Piece of Mind’s fast-charging favorite, “The Trooper,” held pride of place as Iron Maiden’s all-time best battle-inspired composition. Bu then 2003’s Dance of Death delivered the equally spectacular (but twice as long) “Paschendale.” Play them back-to-back and we’re sure you’ll agree that, from the Crimean War’s Battle of Balaclava (1854) to World War I’s Battle of Passchendaele (1917), no band conveys the horrors and heroism of war with more talent and class than Iron Maiden.
A relative “lightweight” this may be, lasting a “meager” eight-and-a-half minutes, but Somewhere in Time’s “Alexander the Great” also exemplifies the perfect balance of progressive heft and weighty subject matter that goes to the very heart of Iron Maiden’s most epic songwriting. What’s more, in telling of Macedonian king Alexander’s legendary exploits in such detail, Iron Maiden likely helped a fan or two compile all the information necessary for their ancient history homework assignments.
Iron Maiden’s mystical magnum opus, “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” gave this ancient piece of folklore its ultimate musical interpretation, conveniently weaving in all things “seven” as a reference to the fact that this too was the group’s seventh studio release. But “Seventh Son’s” genius naturally falls back on the music, which proceeds from a deliberate march to a full-throated singalong to an eerie, atmospheric mid-section before gaining weight over the traded guitar solos on its way to a galloping harmonized conclusion.
Still hanging tough as the second-longest song in Iron Maiden’s formidable canon, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” also remains unchallenged and undefeated as the very benchmark of extended heavy metal songs. Therefore, the Powerslave-closing colossus inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s supernatural epic poem was the optimal choice to crown our list of Top 10 Most Epic Iron Maiden Songs. Nowhere else in metal will you hear such a stunning dynamic range as the song travels from riff-driven head-banging to veritable silence (interrupted only by Harris’ pulsing bass) and back again to a cataclysmic climax that’s simply, well, epic.