How Isolation and Stability Helped Iron Maiden Craft a Masterpiece in ‘Powerslave’
In hindsight, there’s little doubt that Iron Maiden delivered a heavy metal landmark with their fifth album. But at the time Powerslave was released on Sept. 3, 1984, Iron Maiden had spent little time thinking about anything beyond the immediate task at hand.
Within weeks of wrapping up their triumphant World Piece Tour in December 1983, Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson, guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, bassist Steve Harris and drummer Nicko McBrain were already composing and fine-tuning new songs during a February spent ensconced in the isolated English Channel island of Jersey.
Between March and April, they decamped to the Bahamas and its Compass Point Studios for principal recording with producer Martin Birch, followed by final mixing of the raw goods at New York City’s Electric Lady in May. And as the musicians shifted their attention to rehearsing for what turned out to be their most ambitious world tour yet, it was certainly not lost on them that Powerslave marked the first time that the band had managed to maintain the same lineup for two consecutive albums.
Such an unfamiliar taste of stability undoubtedly helped to focus Iron Maiden’s creative process and took their mutual instrumental affinity to the next level. The songs on Powerslave spanned the length and breadth of the group’s ability and imagination, alternating captivating bursts of concise metallic power with extended progressive experiments in equal measures.
Moreover, the lyrics invited fans along on a wild ride across history, literature and action fantasy, taking them inside the cockpit of a World War II flying ace for the exhilarating opener "Aces High," then all the way back to ancient Egypt and into the golden slippers of Pharaoh for the magnificent title track. It also took them behind the face mask of Bruce Dickinson – a fencing enthusiast – for both "Flash of the Blade" and "The Duellists," and then straight back into the Cold War-tormented everyday lives for "2 Minutes to Midnight" (the album's first single) and the paranoid chaos of "Back in the Village."
Watch Iron Maiden's 'Aces High' Video
It was a formidable lineup of future metal standards, yet they served a foundation role for Harris’ album-capping magnum opus "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," which he had based on the epic work of the same name by 18th century poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge – and then meticulously expanded and arranged until it reached an astonishing, vinyl-busting 14 minutes of mega-metal glory.
Powerslave was then wrapped in a wonderfully evocative and unforgettable piece of cover art devised, as always, by longtime Iron Maiden artist and Eddie creator Derek Riggs. That completed the album’s carefully developed audio/visual picture, and set the stage for the World Slavery Tour.