Today we are going back to 1981 to our second foray into the metal scene. Between when they helped start the New Wave of British Heavy Metal with Iron Maiden in 1980 and when they gave the genre it’s defining works with the trio of The Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, and Powerslave in 1982-84, Iron Maiden released Killers. The sometimes overlooked and underrated album was the second and last to feature vocalist Paul Di’Anno, who would be booted out following their tour supporting the album because of unreliability and drug use. Adrian Smith, who would team up with Maiden’s other guitarist Dave Murray to record some of heavy metal’s best songs, debuted on the record.
Iron Maiden’s second album begins with the short instrumental song The Ides of March. The song establishes the band’s sound for the rest of the album. The recording quality has improved since their debut record but the harsh edge can still be heard in the guitar tone.
The second track on the album has also proved to be the most enduring hit. Short for Iron Maiden fare, Wrathchild shows off perfectly the transition that the band was undertaking in the Killers album. As I mentioned before with the changing tone, the band was moving away from the biting punk-metal sound into a more conventional heavy metal tone that would define their most famous work. It only became conventional because Iron Maiden made it the standard for the rest of Heavy Metal to follow. Wrathchild was written years before its inclusion on the album, dating back at least to 1979 when it was on the very first Metal for Muthas compilation.
The third track, Murders in the Rue Morgue, is another one of the few songs written before the Killers album session. Murders is based off of the same titled poem by Edgar Allen Poe and features similar thematic material in the writing. Iron Maiden has very frequently written songs inspired by old books, poems, films, and television shows including some of their best work.
The fourth track on Killers is the short and rushing Another Life. Featuring one of the fiercest guitar solos on the album, another life is one of the perfect examples for highlighting the importance of including Adrian Smith in the Iron Maiden double guitar assault. Every great Maiden album since has always included him and Murray teamed up.
Following up Another Life is Genghis Khan. The song itself is notable for being the second instrumental on the album, no other Iron Maiden album had more than one, and after 1984 the band would not release another. There is perhaps no other song that illustrates the influence that Progressive Rock had on Iron Maiden with its instrument harmonizing and studio explorations. It is the pinnacle of this form of creativity for Maiden, who would slowly adapt themselves for the longer more lyrically oriented era that would dawn following the album.
Steve Harris’ thumping bass guitar starts off the relatively slow paced Innocent Exile. Despite the slower playing speed, the song takes its power from the interplay of the bass and electric guitars, as Harris, Murray, and Smith weave in and out of lead and rhythm sections to provide the song with the signature Iron Maiden dynamism.
Already we reach the seventh and title track of the album. The song Killers begins with an agile bass and drum intro that slowly builds over a minute and crashes into the verse. Like much of their early work, the song and the album were controversial among more the conservative (or at least more sensitive) areas of the British press. The song itself tells of a serial compulsive thrill murderer who hunts his victims down in the dead of night. One of the most intense tracks on the album, it features some of drummer Clive Burr’s finest recorded work. Killers is the only song written for the album that has a co-writing credit Paul Di’Anno. Bassist Steve Harris wrote every other song written specifically for Killers.
What I mean by this is that, depending on what version of the album you listen to, a song by the name of Twilight Zone (written by Harris and Murray) is included. Twilight Zone was written as a single and not originally meant to be on the album. It isn’t on the British release, but follows the song Killers on the American and Canadian editions. It follows Purgatory as the tenth song on the CD reissue. For a metal song, it has an impressive beat and showcases Di’Anno’s vocal range.
Hey everybody, it’s a song on a metal record with acoustic guitar! Some may say blasphemy, but quite often the bands that define a genre break that genre’s rules. Prodigal Son is the longest song on the album at six minutes and twelve seconds. This makes it the shortest ‘longest song’ on any album, as Maiden usually has at least one track that pushes the eight minute mark, with a few going over ten.
Purgatory is the rushing and furious penultimate track, featuring rapid-fire lyrical delivery and instrumentation. This was the fourth and final song written before the Killers album sessions.
Drifters is the final song on the album and closes it with a bang. Containing just enough pop sensibility within a thunderous armor, it’s a catchy yet completely metal rush of a track. Once again, Iron Maiden’s progressive side exposes itself with a short slow then fast interlude in the middle of the song. The track ends with the crashing of cymbals and a lashing howl of Paul Di’Anno, the last we would hear of him as the singer of Iron Maiden. But in his wake we would meet perhaps the greatest metal singer of all time, the legendary Bruce Dickinson, who would be the final piece in the puzzle and usher the band into metal superstardom.
In all, Killers is a very different beast than the band that Iron Maiden would develop into. It is very much a transitional work, but still much more reflective of their early career than the band they would develop to be. Like I mentioned before, their initial self-titled album, and their following few releases are much better known when compared to Killers. Nevertheless, Killers is an album that would do you well if you’ve never listened to it. It draws from a variety of styles (rare for metal) and represents the most legendary metal band of all time still attempting to discover their unifying sound, and lineup for that matter.