Iron Maiden - Killers (1981) - More improvements but also more flaws - 70% (05/03/15)
There are many reasons why Iron Maiden’s second full length studio record “Killers” has become an iconic album with a huge impact on both the band’s career and the young heavy metal genre in general. First of all, there is of course the memorable close-up album cover of band mascot Eddie who looks much more charismatic than before and has since become the most popular mascot of an entire genre. The production on here is clearer, more dynamical and tighter than on the debut that suffered from an average sound quality. The song writing has also become more consistent. While the debut record included a lot of experiments and lacked a clear concept, “Killers” has a clear guiding line despite a more elevated number of tracks and a few interesting exceptions. Talented guitarist Adrian Smith has replaced Dennis Stratton who wasn’t the right choice for the band since he was not only older than the other band members but also less into the heavy metal scene in general. Even though this record is probably the least impressive with Adrian Smith’s participation, his uniquely emotional and more technical guitar play already adds a new dimension to the sound and complements Dave Murray’s melodic but less experimental leads in a good way. Paul Di’Anno’s vocals sound even more confident than on the debut album and he probably delivers the best performance of his career. The rhythm section with Steve Harris on bass and Clive Burr on drums also takes more space than on the first album. This album is much straighter, harder and dirtier than the first strike and mixes the best elements of heavy metal, punk rock and rarely but efficiently employed progressive or psychedelic rock influences.
In my opinion, there are also several negative points to mention. While the flow of the record is clearer and straighter than on the predecessor, the working formula gets somewhat redundant after a while. To be fair, I’m not talking about the two instrumental tracks even though I think that especially “Genghis Khan” is bland and boring and that I would have expected something more epic when a track is named in honour of one of the most important historical and historic characters of all times. A good example would rather be “Another Life” which starts with promisingly dynamical drum loops, emotional guitar leads, a tight rhythm section and a charismatic and variable performance by Paul Di’Anno. The problem is that the song repeats itself after only one minute. In three minutes and a half, the track only includes four lines of lyrics which are repeated three times. I don’t really understand why the band didn’t write three short verses with different lyrics as the rest of the track is really great. “Innocent Exile”, “Purgatory” and “Drifter” have similar problems and especially the latter two are rather disappointing tracks. “Purgatory” is a really bland fast heavy metal track and by far the band’s worst single choice. The equally fast and short bonus track and single “Twilight Time” is already much better due to its melodic and psychedelic chorus and even the often criticized Skyhooks cover “Women in Uniform” is a great party tune performed with groove and passion. Album closer “Drifter” is by far the least impressive of its kind in Iron Maiden’s entire discography. The track is too long and repetitive for its own good and the breaks or solos after each verse are destroying the flow of the tune.
On the other side, the record also includes a few aggressive, consistent and short heavy metal anthems that work very well such as the charismatic “Wrathchild” with its charismatic galloping bass guitar and one of Paul Di’Anno’s angriest vocal performances ever. “Killers” is a track that took some more time to grow on me due to its long and psychedelic introduction but what follows is a fast paced yet atmospheric heavy metal anthem with haunting lyrics and vocals. Ironically, my personal highlights on the record are the two tracks that don’t really fit in. “Murders in the Rue Morgue” is in my opinion probably the very best song written while Paul Di’Anno was in the band. The track starts with great psychedelic guitar harmonies that give the song a fitting mysterious atmosphere before the tune gets faster and explodes into a passionate and speedy heavy metal banger with angry bumblebee bass sounds and powerhouse drumming. The track is not only aggressive and fast from then on but includes the most vivid melodic guitar solos on the entire album and Paul Di’Anno’s most diversified vocal effort where he shows off what an underestimated and powerful singer he was back then. The other outstanding tune is definitely “Prodigal Son”, an epic and mystic piece dominated by acoustic guitars and laid back vocals in the key of the two ballads from the debut record. The song has this certain something which gives it an incredibly longing yet slightly occult atmosphere which could come from the greatest progressive rock bands of the late sixties or early to mid-seventies such as Pink Floyd, Genesis or even early Rush. The track sounds nothing like any other Iron Maiden ballad and is maybe the most experimental track ever written by the band. It’s a track that really inspires and touches me and which proved back then that this is not just a short-living and exchangeable product of its time but a band that would go on to change the world with its music over the next thirty-five years and beyond.
All in all, Iron Maiden’s “Killers” must be seen as a step forward for the band as Iron Maiden forged its own identity and niche in rock music with this release after the more eclectic debut release. Both the dynamical production and the cohesive play of the band sound much tighter than before and the different instruments harmonize much more and complement each other better than on the predecessor. Due to some obvious flaws in the inexperienced song writing and an unusually elevated number of filler tracks that sound like they had been written in ten minutes each, this is still one of the weakest outputs in Iron Maiden’s groundbreaking, innovating and massive discography. From my point of view, the album is one step forward and one step back at the same time for these reasons and personally, both the debut album and its follow-up are pretty much on the same level. This album is recommendable for fans of the early New Wave of British Heavy Metal and those who like faster genres such as punk rock, speed metal or even thrash metal. Occasional heavy metal fans should rather go for the more important “The Number of the Beast”, “Powerslave” and “Somewhere in Time” among others.« Beyond the Black - Songs of Love and Death (2015) - Commercial plastic pop masked as symphonic metal - 28% (02/03/15)Ensiferum - One Man Army (2015) - They need some serious help for their songwriting - 58% (05/03/15) »
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