Iron Maiden Biography
Iron Maiden is a heavy metal band from east London, England, formed in 1975 by bassist Steve Harris, formerly a member of Gypsy's Kiss and Smiler. They are one of the most successful and influential bands in the heavy metal genre, having sold more than 100 million albums world-wide.
Iron Maiden's work has inspired other sub-genres of heavy metal music, including power metal and speed metal. They are cited as major influences by (amongst others) the thrash metal band Slayer, pop-punk band Sum 41 and jam band Umphrey's McGee.
Iron Maiden have so far released 13 studio albums, 2 'best of' compilations and 5 live albums. With a string of festival appearances arranged for 2005, they show no sign of stopping yet.
The Early Years
Harris and Murray went through a ridiculous number of bandmembers throughout the 1970s, paying their dues on the mostly punk club circuit in London's rough East End neighbourhood. Though Maiden were a metal band influenced by Deep Purple, Yes, Wishbone Ash, and Black Sabbath, they did possess a fast, punkish style in the early days. Original singer Paul Day was much punkier than his replacement, the outlandish Dennis Wilcock, a huge Kiss fan that used fire, makeup, and fake blood onstage. By 1978, Harris and Murray had estabilised the Iron Maiden line-up with the addition of drummer Doug Sampson and vocalist Paul Di'Anno.
If the band had sounded punk before, they did even more so with the arrival of the short-haired, fiery Di'Anno. For years, the band had been pressured by record labels to cut their hair and sacrifice their complex metal sound in favour of a more punk image, but with Di'Anno at the forefront, the band could mix the two into a potent stew of classical themes, galloping metal rhythms, and speedy hardcore riffs.
Iron Maiden was a sensation on the English rock circuit by 1978. The band had been playing for three years and gained a tremendously loyal following, but had never recorded any of their music. On New Year's Eve 1978, the band recorded one of the most famous demos in rock history, Soundhouse Tapes. Featuring only four songs, the band sold all 500 copies immediately, and did not reprint the demo again until 1996 (original copies sold for thousands of dollars). Two of the tracks on the demo, 'Prowler' and 'Iron Maiden', went straight to number one on the English metal charts.
In several of the early Iron Maiden line-ups, Dave Murray was joined by another guitarist, but for most of 1977 and all of 1978, Murray was the sole guitarist in the band. This changed with the arrival of Tony Parsons in 1979. Drummer Doug Sampson was also replaced by the dynamic Clive Burr. In November 1979, the band landed a major record deal by signing to EMI, a partnership that would last for nearly 15 years. Shortly before going into the studio, Parsons was replaced by guitarist Dennis Stratton. Initially, the band wanted to hire Dave Murray's childhood friend Adrian Smith, but Smith was busy singing and playing guitar for his band Urchin.
Iron Maiden was released in 1980 to critical and commercial success. The band went on to open for Kiss on their 1980 Unmasked tour, as well as opening select dates for the legendary Judas Priest. After the Kiss tour, Dennis Stratton was fired from the band as a result of creative and personal differences. Finally, the timing was right for the arrival of Adrian Smith.
Smith brought a melodic, whimsical sound to Iron Maiden. His bluesy, experimental sound was the complete opposite of Murray's speedy, lightning fast style. One of Iron Maiden's trademarks is the double 'twin lead' harmonising guitar stylings of Murray and Smith, a style pioneered by Wishbone Ash and The Allman Brothers Band, but taken to a whole new level by Iron Maiden.
In 1981, Maiden released their second album, titled Killers. This new album contained the first hit songs for the band and they were introduced to audiences in the United States. It was at this time when the band was the star attraction of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, in which bands from England flooded the market of the United States. Killers remains one of the bands fastest and heaviest albums, and remains a favourite among hardcore fans.
The Classic Lineup
As a group, Maiden were never into partying or drug use, being extreme perfectionists both on the road and in the studio. However, just as the band were beginning to achieve large-scale success in America, Paul Di'Anno exhibited increasingly destructive behaviour, and his performances began to suffer. In 1982 the band replaced Di'Anno with former Samson vocalist Bruce Dickinson.
Dickinson provided much better interpretation of their songs and possessed an astonishing vocal range. Dickinson's debut with Iron Maiden was 1982's album The Number of the Beast, which is recognised as a classic of the heavy metal genre. This album was a world-wide success providing classic songs as The Number of the Beast and Run to the Hills. For the first time the band went on a world tour, visiting the United States, Japan and Australia. However, the band was marred by controversy coming from religious groups that claimed Iron Maiden was a Satanic group because of their dark lyrics which supposedly spoke of Satan. In actuality, it was only one song ('The Number of the Beast'), an anti-Satanic song about a bad dream. The band denied these rumours and no Iron Maiden studio album to date has ever carried an 'explicit lyrics' stamp. (The live box set 'Eddie's Archive' does, though, as does the 'Two Minutes To Midnight' single)
After the enormous success of The Number of the Beast, the band became worldwide superstars. Before heading back into the studio in 1983, they replaced Clive Burr with heavy drummer Nicko McBrain and went on to release four albums which went multi-platinum world-wide: Piece of Mind (1983), Powerslave (1984), Live After Death (1985) and Somewhere in Time (1986). The band gathered huge audiences everywhere they went, especially in South America, Asia, Australia, and the United States, where they still draw huge audiences on tour.
All of these albums contained complex riffs, multiple time changes, and classically based themes. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Iron Maiden generally avoided songs about drink, drugs, sex, or women. The band's lyrics are steeped in English literature ('The Rime of the Ancient Mariner') and history ('Alexander the Great, 356-323 BC'). The band's music was often referred to as 'intelligent metal,' and was on an entirely different intellectual plane than most other metal acts of the 1980s.
In 1988 the band tried a different approach for their seventh studio album, titled Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. This was a concept album featuring a story about a mythical child who possessed clairvoyant powers based on the book The Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card. It was the most experimental Iron Maiden album to date, and is often regarded as the creative zenith of the band and the end of Maiden's 'golden years.'
For the first time in seven years, the band suffered a line-up change with the major loss of guitarist/vocalist Adrian Smith. Former Gillan guitarist Janick Gers was chosen to replace Smith, and in 1990 they released the poorly received album No Prayer for the Dying. This album went back to the heavy style of the band but the lyrics were more simple and the music was not as challenging as previous efforts. Vocalist Bruce Dickinson also began experimenting with a raspier style of singing that was not well received by fans. However, the album was a huge commercial success and spawned the number one hit single 'Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter' from the horror movie A Nightmare on Elm Street 5.
Before the release of No Prayer for the Dying, Bruce Dickinson officially launched a solo career to coincide with Iron Maiden (Gers was his guitarist). He continued to tour in 1991 before returning to the studio with Iron Maiden for the smash hit Fear of the Dark. Released in 1992 it had several songs that were popular among fans, like the title-track and Afraid to Shoot Strangers, a critical song about the Persian Gulf War.
Even though metal was out of date in 1992 and grunge was ruling the airwaves, Maiden continued to sell out arenas in the US and throughout the world. Still, Dickinson continued with his raspier vocals and much of the lyrics on Fear of the Dark were a downgrade from their previous successes. In 1993, Iron Maiden suffered a huge loss when Bruce Dickinson left the band to further pursue his solo career. However, Bruce agreed to stay with the band through the end of the year, resulting in a pair of live albums released in the fall.
The band auditioned hundreds of vocalists and finally chose young gun Blaze Bayley in 1994, formerly of Wolfsbane. Bayley proved to be a worthy vocalist, but he did not have the range Dickinson possessed. After a three year hiatus, Maiden returned in 1995 with the hour-long album The X Factor. Widely regarded as Maiden's worst album, the album's failure cannot be solely attributed to Blaze Bayley. Chief songwriter Steve Harris was going through serious personal problems, and many of the songs were dark, depressing, and slow (the album contained four songs about war). There were highlights, though. The anthemic 'Blood on the World's Hands' featured excellent acoustic bass work from Harris, and the 11-minute epic 'Sign of the Cross' stands head to head with any of the band's classic extended pieces.
The band spent most of 1996 on the road before returning to the studio for the much improved Virtual XI (1998). Bayley's vocal performance was leaps and bounds above his X-Factor showing, especially on 'The Educated Fool' and the reflective ballad 'Como Estas Amigos.' Oddly enough, one of the only low points of the album was the hit single 'The Angel and the Gambler,' which was all many people heard of the album, thus deciding not to buy it: Virtual XI was not a high selling album.
Return Of The Classic Lineup
In early 1999, Bayley was let go from the band. Months later, the band shocked the world when they announced that both Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith were rejoining the band, which meant the classic 1980s lineup was back in place. Even more exciting was the announcement that Smith's replacement, Janick Gers, would remain in the band. Iron Maiden now had three guitarists. This led to a reunion tour that gathered huge audiences all over the world.
In 2000, a new period, known commonly as 'the progressive years', began for the band when they released the album Brave New World. The songs were longer and the lyrics spoke about both dark themes and social criticism. The band gained a new fan base when they began exploring the genre of progressive metal. Brave New World, by almost all acounts, was the best Iron Maiden album in over a decade. The world tour for the album ended in January 2001 with a show at the famous Rock in Rio festival. It was a return to glory for the band, as many of their older fans now had bands themselves, and their influence could be heard through several forms of rock music in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The band continued with their progressive trend in the album Dance of Death released in 2003. The album went platinum in several countries and left no doubts that the band was still a heavy metal sensation. In fact, many fans say that Dance of Death surpassed Brave New World in creativity, and remains their best album since 1988's landmark Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.
As of 2005, Iron Maiden has announced a tour for the up-coming year to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the release of their first album and the 30th anniversary of their formation. The band plans to hit the road to support a new DVD entitled The Early Years, where the band will celebrate the music from its 1975-1985 period.
This biography is published under the GNU Licence
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