In 1999, Iron Maiden is a household-name in every part of the world. After 20 years and almost 50 million album sales, Maiden is now rightly regarded as the 'classic' rock band in every sense: modern masters of that most emotionally extreme and technically dazzling form of rock music - the black sheep they call heavy metal. A genre Maiden single-handedly reinvented for the Eighties, when they released their first single, the punk-metal collision, 'Running Free', and their uncompromisingly raw debut album, 'Iron Maiden', in 1980. And a genre which is once again currently enjoying a vast renaissance worldwide with Maiden very much involved as always.
Back in the early eighties, Maiden was the band at the forefront of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal - a short-lived media-led phenomenon that would propel them onto the world stage. "People always used to call us punk-metal when we first started getting reviewed in the music papers in Britain," bassist and founding member, Steve Harris, recalls with a rueful smile. "But I think that was partly to do with the fact that our singer then, Paul Di'Anno, had quite short hair and the fact that we used to play so fast. We used to come across as really aggressive. But that was never really a punk thing to me - that was a pure metal thing. We used to frighten the life out of the punks."
Despite receiving no radio play whatsoever, 'Running Free' their debut single leapt into the UK Top 40. When the band were then offered their first appearance on Top Of The Pops, the UK's biggest weekly TV chart show, Maiden refused to do it unless they were allowed to play live - something no artist had done on Top Of The Pops since The Who demolished the studio during a performance of their 'Quadrophenia' hit, '5.15', in 1972. The BBC execs were skeptical but eventually relented and such precocity was rewarded when their debut album, 'Iron Maiden', was released a few weeks later and immediately crashed into the UK albums chart at No.4!
It was this take-no-prisoners attitude the band started with, and still adopt to this day, which has served them so well throughout their career. Since then, every one of the 11 studio albums and three live albums that Maiden have released have been major Top 10 successes both at home in the UK and more than 25 other countries around the world, including over 20 hit singles - a fact that sometimes gets overlooked as so few of them have ever been played on radio - and no less than five consecutive million-selling albums in America.
Along the way, despite numerous line-up changes the quintessential Maiden sound -the rumbling-earth bass, searchlight guitars, spatter-gun drums and lion's roar vocals -remained mercifully undimmed throughout. Their second album "Killers" followed in 1981 which saw the band paying first time tour visits to America, Canada and Japan. The album achieved the band gold album status around the world but at the end of the tour singer Paul Di Anno left heralding the arrival of Bruce Dickinson.
1982 was to exceed all expectations for the new line up. After a couple of warm up shows with Bruce the band went in to record the legendary "Number of The Beast" album. This blew away all competition to enter the UK Chart at No.1 while the classic Maiden track, "Run To The Hills", got the band their first UK Top 10 single. This success was mirrored across Europe and also the American charts. The grueling 180 date, 8 month 'Beast on The Road Tour' again broke new ground for the band as they did shows in Australia and New Zealand and saw the band headline their first sold out US Show at the New York Palladium proving a portent of things to come. Once again there was a band casualty with Clive Burr ,the bands drummer, leaving to make way for the now infamous drummer/prankster/head case Nicko McBrain.
The band immediately started work on Piece Of Mind which they recorded in Nassau in the Bahamas The album went in the UK charts at No.3 when the band started their "World Piece Tour" in the UK. As before there was to be no let up in pace and Maiden found themselves playing to larger and larger audiences selling out everywhere and gathering more momentum in America with their first - of many - full scale arena headline tour. Powerslave was recorded in Nassau in 1985. The "Slavery Tour" was to give fans a massive stageshow of lights and production featuring Eddie, the bands hugely popular mascot and icon, now being transformed from a walk on part to a huge twenty foot mechanized monster. The groundbreaking tour started behind the Iron Curtain in Poland which was the first time a major band had taken full western production behind the Iron Curtain. By the third week of the tour the album itself was released, going straight in the UK Album Charts at No. 2.
The band found themselves breaking records everywhere playing the Rock In Rio Festival to 200,000 fans, selling out Radio City Hall in New York five nights running (illness preventing it from reaching seven) and the first act ever to sell out Long Beach Arena (Capacity 13000) for 4 consecutive nights. This Long Beach success was captured in the bands next release "Live After Death", Maidens first Double Live album and video at the same name. The Live album charted at No.2 and the video went to No.1 in the video charts and remained there for some time. These releases are still regarded by many as one of the best live albums/videos of all time.
"Somewhere in Time" was released in September 1986, this time recorded in both Nassau and Munich. This album marked a slight change in their style with the inclusion of keyboards for the first time but in no way diluted Maidens classic style. The first single released off the album "Wasted Years" reached the UK top twenty and was a track written about the rigors of their previous tours. The album continued to go gold or platinum in practically every major territory. The live show as before was a dazling spectacle. The highlight featured Eddie, this time an understage inflatable and portrayed as a cyborg from the cover artwork, lifting the band off the stage with his two hands and sending Nicko and drumkit skywards balanced on his head. "Somewhere On Tour" again started in Eastern Europe and included six sell out nights at the Hammersmith Odeon before again spending the spring of 87 touring through the US and finishing in Japan some eight months later.
1988 brought "Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son", Maidens' first and only concept album. This wasn't the original idea at the outset, but in writing and followed by rehearsals it seemed the material had a common theme running through out. The first single "Can I Play With Madness" went to No. 3 in the UK Charts and was followed by 3 other singles from the album all reaching the Top 10 - quite a feat without Radio support. The "Seventh Tour of a Seventh Tour" saw them begin in the US. The high spot of the tour was to be the headlining of the legendary "Monsters Of Rock Festival" at Castle Donington which with support by the likes of Kiss, Dave Lee Roth, Guns and Roses and stablemates Helloween, they played to a all time record breaking 107,000 fans. The "Monsters" festival also had repeated success in Europe after which the band continued back to the UK to complete the tour with sell out shows at Wembley Arena for 2 nights the Birmingham NEC, 2 nights and 4 nights at the Hammersmith Odeon.
The band had previously decided to take the whole of 1989 off however, unable to rest, Bruce and Adrian spent their time recording their first solo albums and November 1989 saw the group team up again for the launch of the "Maiden England" video. In January 1990 work had barely begun on the "No Prayer For The Dying" album when Adrian decided to leave the band, this being their first personnel change for some seven years. Bruce meanwhile had been working through the previous summer with ex-Gillan and White Spirit guitarist, Janick Gers who after auditioning was invited to join.
The new line-up recorded the album in the UK at Steve's own Barnyard studio. Released October 1st the album entered the UK Chart at No.2. This album was to finally bring the band their first elusive No.1 single with "Bring Your Daughter to The Slaughter" going straight to No.1 for Christmas 1990.
Work on "Fear on The Dark" started early in 1992 and Eddie went through a transformation as for the first time artist Derek Riggs did not supply the cover art but instead the band took a more sinister image drawn by Melvin Grant. "Fear Of The Dark" was to be the bands third No.1 album and with an elaborate show the band hit the road again starting this time in Scandanavia. Again the opportunity to play Castle Donington came to the band. The show was filmed and later released on video while several other shows on the tour were being recorded for a possible live album. Finishing in Japan in November the band returned unaware of what was lurking around the corner.
In March 1993 Bruce announced his departure feeling he had got to saturation point with other projects and the band set to work on finding a replacement while doing a final "Real Live Tour" tour with Bruce. The band visited Moscow for the first time and received an amazing reception and went on to complete 44 shows across Europe. Bruce's final show was to be a live pay-per-view televised spectacular "Raising Hell" featuring the magician Simon Drake performing grisly tricks interspersed with live performance by the band. This included Simon playing a guitar solo with guitarist Dave Murray severed hands and Bruce being decapitated!
After an intensive search Blaze Bayley of Wolfsbane was announced as Maidens new vocalist. The band and Blaze had already crossed paths as Woltsbane had supported Maiden on 1990 UK Tour. This new partnership started work on the darkly smoldering "X Factor" album, again recorded at Steve's Barnyard Studios but with Steve himself co-producing it with Nigel Green. The X Factour started prior to the album launch in October 1995 with shows in new territories Israel and South Africa. The album itself went to No.8 in the album chart while the band continued to tour comprehensively in Europe and the UK, highlighted with the bands Brixton Academy show before they continued throughout Western Europe, America, Japan and headlining many major festivals including the "Monsters of Rock" in Sao Paulo to 50,000 fans.
1997 saw work start on Virtual Xl, aptly named, this being their Eleventh Studio album. The cover artwork supplied by Melvin Grant depicted a boy watching a football match through a Virtual Reality headset while being surrounded by Armageddon and Eddie. This being a comment on technology taking over everything and the concern society shares as we approach the Millennium. This sentiment was also reflected in the material on the album with tracks such as "Futureal" and "When Two Worlds Collide". The football theme was carried through as Maiden, always being massive football supporters, decided to promote the album launch with their own Football tour, 1998 being World Cup year. The band set to work on putting together a dream team of world professionals such as Paul Gascoigne, lan Wright, Faustino Asprilla, Marc Overmars, Patrik Viera and Stuart Pearce, Stuart being an immense Maiden fan. A Virtual Xl team which featured ex-England stalwarts Terry Butcher, Tony Woodcock, Neil Webb and Paul Mariner toured throughout Europe playing games against teams with similarly famous names like Anders Limpar in Sweden, Gentile and Altobelli in Italy and even meeting up with the great Eusebio in Portugal.
The first single "The Angel and The Gambler" featured an amazing video, seeing the band placed in a completely computer generated environment depicting Eddie in his new guise along with characters that appear in "Ed Hunter", the forthcoming computer game. Their successful nine month 'Virtual World Tour" saw them in Europe, Japan, North America and finally South America.
And so to now January 1999.
With the departure of Blaze Bayley, the return of both Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith brings a new twist to the Maiden tale. Now a six piece with a formidable three guitar onslaught, plans are currently taking shape for a Spring release of "Ed Hunter", touring in July/August/Sept., recording a studio album at the end of the year and a full World Tour in 2000.
Metal is currently enjoying a World wide resurgence in popularity and Maiden will once again be in the vanguard. And that's where they intend to stay for many more years to come.