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Rivaled only by Black Sabbath and Judas Priest in regards to influence and impact on the early development of heavy metal, Iron Maiden took the burgeoning musical style to a new and very unique level, starting in the UK in the late-1970s, and soon after, all over the world. Formed in 1975 by bassist Steve Harris and gradually rising within the country’s nascent heavy metal scene that would come to be known as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, the band developed a clever hybrid of gritty heavy metal that reflected their East London upbringing and a strong progressive-rock tendency, with UFO and Jethro Tull serving as important signposts.

Built around twin guitar harmonies and Harris’ uniquely melodic upper register basslines, Iron Maiden took the flamboyance of Judas Priest’s landmark Sad Wings Of Destiny and brought in more energy, more aggression, more intricacy, which was immediately apparent on the band’s self-titled debut album in 1980. Thanks to some key lineup changes — the additions of singer Bruce Dickinson, guitarist Adrian Smith, and drummer Nicko McBrain solidified the “classic” Maiden lineup alongside Harris and guitarist Dave Murray — shrewd marketing that future metal bands would copy for decades, and visionary management, the band would quickly become one of the biggest acts in the genre in the mid-1980s. However, that’s only one third of a remarkable story. The 1990s would be as creatively and commercially dismal as the 1980s were successful, but the band would rebound in an astonishing way in the 2000s with a series of strong albums and groundbreaking world tours. Today, with a new generation having caught on to their timeless music, the band is more popular globally than they ever were before, one of the biggest moneymakers in the music business.

Like any other band that’s been around for well over three decades, it’s easy at first to separate the good albums from the worst, but with Maiden it quickly becomes an interesting conundrum when it comes to ranking them. The fact is, as sterling as their reputation is, there is no such thing as a perfect Iron Maiden studio album. Either an album has at least one little bit of gristle, or just isn’t as prime a cut as others, which is why when you ask longtime Maiden fans to name which album is best, you’ll likely get some strong differences in opinion. The fun thing about Iron Maiden is that the music means so much to people, that the fans’ choices of their favorite is often the first Maiden album they ever heard. For yours truly, a fan of 30 years and counting, that’s Powerslave; it is my personal favorite Maiden album, hands down. But it’s not their best, and the challenge of this massive list, which has been months in the works, has been to remove all sentimentality and assess this band with a strictly objective critical ear.

Will certain rankings ruffle a few feathers? Knowing the passion of metal fans, most likely (sorry kids, “Fear Of The Dark” is a terrible song). But the great thing about lists like these is that they provoke discussion, and there’s no better discography to dissect, celebrate, criticize, and discuss than that of the greatest heavy metal band that ever walked the earth. Okay, now that’s my personal bias speaking. Enjoy. Start the Countdown here.

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Postscript: Because there will be some nitpicky fans that will likely demand to know why the live releases aren’t ranked in detail, here you go.

1. Live After Death (1985)
2. Rock In Rio (2002)
3. En Vivo! (2012)
4. Beast Over Hammersmith (2002)
5. Maiden England ’88 (2013)
6. Maiden Japan (1981)
7. Flight 666 (2009)
8. BBC Archives (2002)
9. Death On The Road (2005)
10. A Real Dead One (1993)
11. Live At Donington (1993)
12. A Real Live One (1993)

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Comments (62)
  1. Yessssss!!! Been waiting for this one. Adrien Begrand is the best.

  2. Nice list! Love the fact that you included live albums at the end (still waiting on that Genesis list, and when it comes, I expect live albums to be there as well).

    Much agreed with your #1 choice, though for arguments sake I would’ve put “Somewhere In Time” higher.

  3. I would argue that Powerslave is the best, but I really have no major qualms with this. The top 6 is pretty much dead on. I might move Brave New World up a little more, but from top to bottom this is pretty solid. Good work.

    • Thanks! Ranking these records was a lot harder than I expected, the differences in quality among the top five especially are miniscule.

    • I came to say pretty much the same thing. Powerslave is tops for me but can’t argue with this list. And I too would slide Brave New World up a notch. Thank you for this!

  4. 1. Powerslave
    2. Piece Of Mind
    3. Number Of The Beast
    4. Killers
    5. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

    I actually like “Losfer Words.”

    And yeah, let’s get on that Genesis list.

  5. I’ve been waiting for this one too, and glad to see you got one of my favourite metal writers to do it. Can’t say I fully agree with the rankings, but that’s no surprise – if you asked 100 Maiden fans to rank these albums, you’d probably end up with 100 different lists. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, No Prayer is Maiden’s most underrated album. Certainly not a classic, but far from their worst – WAY better than Fear of the Dark, for one thing. Oh, and the DiAnno albums should be lower. And Powerslave should be #1. See what I mean? :)

  6. I feel bad for liking Fear of the Dark (the song) now.

  7. Paschendale is an awesome song- and I think up there with their best. These guys are really cheesy, but there are some good songs in there.

    • “These guys are really awesome, and have written some of the greatest songs of all time” is what you meant to write there. :-)

      • I can list quite a few of their songs that I love unironically:

        These include: Wasted Years, Paschendale, Run to the Hills, Aces High, Powerslave, Strange World.

        Steve is just so damn cheesy. You have just got to laugh ALEXANDER THE GREAT PAVING THE WAY FOR CHRISTIANITY!!!! And listen to Bruce on economics! Adrian is a super tasteful guitar player and the way he and Dave play of each other with their different styles makes the band. These guys are great for their fans and consummate professionals live. I am just so glad they don’t have a Piers Anthony concept album. I mean, COME ON, Steve. I will admit that Dio was even cheesier, RIP.

        I stand by my argument for Paschendale in their top 10 songs!

        • I will downvote any comment that even suggests that Iron Maiden is to be enjoyed ironically.

          I will downvote any comment that even suggests that anything is to be enjoyed ironically.

          • Well, I think it is pretty clear that this band is an easy badge of something. Sorry about opinions!

            It is my opinion that some Maiden songs are lyrically super not good, but the whole entire package is a lot of fun and can be enjoyed even if Steve Harris is deadly serious about some topic while the listener is less so.

            It is also my opinion that when Maiden is in their super British steeped mode like the way they deal with WWI and WWII that their gusto really shines and I can appreciate those songs on a serious level. I cannot appreciate Alexander the Great on a storytelling level.

            This is my friend’s favorite band of all time and I appreciate this band through his eyes and I criticize them through my own. I would make up fake Iron Maiden songs about various sci-fi or fantasy tropes before I knew if there were real ones on those topics. This was funny because I said to him THERE HAS GOT TO BE A DUNE SONG. And I am sure he queued up or brought “To Tame A Land” to my attention.

          • I get with Pinko is saying. Maiden isn’t the best example but he’s right about Dio. I fucking love Dio and there’s no doubt it’s fucking cheesy. Just watch any of the the old videos and there’s no denying it. Somehow these early 80′s metal bands were able to straddle the line between camp and being fucking incredible at the same time. WASP, early Motley Crue, King Diamond, etc. And I’ll throw GWAR in as an example of something meant to be enjoyed entirely ironically.

          • I still stand by my assessment that if you can only enjoy something through an ironic filter, you are doing life wrong. Step away from irony and embrace the ridiculousness and know that something can be flamboyant and fantastical without needing your emotional distancing.

          • C-man. I didn’t say I liked the songs I liked ironically.

          • The beauty about some lyricists–the lot of Maiden–Ronnie James Dio, that Pinko Punko finds “cheesy” and that Carson finds navigating “ridiculousness,” is that buried in all the preposterousness, Ronnie James Dio still expressed some TRUTH about human living that Bob Dylan or Elvis Costello or Tom Waits or Nick Cave could EVER, EVER get at using more ironic, sarcastic, or earnest approaches.

            Life is not rational or logical. It is absurd. Ridiculous trumps ironic at every turn.

          • Damn editing. “Could NEVER EVER…”

        • I get it too and don’t disagree necessarily (notice the little emoticon thingy). However, “Iron fucking Maiden” is my response.

          Good day, sirs.

          • DF- From my buddy when I sent him the link to this writeup:

            “Obligatory: Maiden rules.”

          • PP – exactly! There are very few bands for whom I feel that is enough. Maiden is one. This write-up is amazing and, man, did it bring me back to 13 year old me, but…MAIDEN!!!!!! See I couldn’t even finish my thought.

            \m/

  8. Live after Death goes on the shortlist of greatest live albums (metal or not) ever released. It’s easily up there with the Allmans Live at Fillmore East, Live at Leeds, Okonokos, and few others. It’s greatest hits album for their classic period with many of the songs coming across better than the album versions. The Churchill Speech to open it up leading into “Aces High”, the incredible live version of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, Bruce Dickinson’s between song banter: “Scream for me Long Beach!!!!” Just amazing.

  9. My sixteen year old self wants to debate you so hard about why S/T is so high and “Seventh Son” so low, but mostly I’m just glad this happened!

    I would also have to say “Powerslave” as a personal favorite just because you can’t beat that opening 1-2 punch. Plus, the badass heavy metal tribute that Coleridge has always deserved, only to be out-ranked by Mastodon’s “Leviathan” on my list of heavy metal homages to nautically themed literary masterworks.

    • The influence the debut had on the genre is huge. That, ‘Lightning to the Nations’, and ‘Angel Witch’ were seismic shifts for heavy metal. Plus there aren’t many debut albums outside ‘Black Sabbath’ and ‘Kill ‘em All’ that see a young band sounding as fully realized as Maiden do. But I do love Seventh Son, no question! Like I wrote, it’s front-to-back their most consistent album, but the highs on the top five albums are all just a notch higher. It’s a challenge to weigh these albums against each other, especially considering each has its own quirky flaw.

      • Adrien, I agree with your assessment of the first seven albums as all individually flawed in their own ways, but in my opinion, Seventh Son has the worst song on any of those albums. Can I Play With Madness is absolutely embarrasing to listen to.
        I contend that Somewhere in Time is the most consistently good of their first seven.

        • i’ve always enjoyed “can i play with madness”. i like the vocal harmony in the intro, bruce is really into the lyrics and it’s fun to tell anyone who wants to know the truth that their soul is going to burn in a lake of fire.

  10. The comments section for this one should be subtitled “There Will Be Blood.”

  11. 1. the song “fear of the dark” single handedly elevates the entire album. why? because there are very few songs in this world that can get 100,000 people plus singing in unison. that song live is very powerful. “wasting love” is pretty good too for a mellow maiden cut.

    2. the first seven albums can be listed in any order (starting at number 1 of course) and i would be happy.

    3. as far as the post reunion albums i always though that “brave new world” was the strongest. i love “ghost of the navigator”.

    4. the blaze albums are pretty poor. however, i did see them on the x-factor tour in 1996 and it was incredible. blaze showed that he had the goods if not the stamina.

  12. I have never in my life listened to Iron Maiden. Should I start?

  13. Great write up.

    My 2 cents:

    1. Iron Maiden
    2. Piece of Mind
    3. Powerslave
    4. Seventh Son
    5. Somewhere in Time
    6. Number of the Beast (I know I am in the extreme minority here)
    7. Killers

  14. Yes! I love Iron Maiden!

  15. Oh man, I’ve been thinking a lot lately that you should start doing some metal in these lists and that Iron Maiden was a great place to start. Metal was the first type of music that I ever fell i love with, and it kicked off my lifelong passion. The first Maiden album that I heard was Somewhere in Time, so naturally it is my favorite, but I can’t really argue with your top 5. Brave New World could be a lot higher though…I think that’s the best of their later albums and rates pretty well alongside their early stuff.

    So since you’ve been reading my mind lately, I can only assume that lists by Priest, Slayer and Mercyful Fate/King Diamond will soon be following…

  16. just noticed “maiden japan” at 6 for the live albums. that’s number 2 for me. i’ve always had a soft spot for that live version of “remember tomorrow”.

  17. Wow. This list is all jumbled up. i agree with number one and the top 8 are okay but “Piece…” is number 2. “Powerslave” was weak and a huge disappointment when it came out. Good tour but lackluster album. And “No Prayer…” was actually not that bad. “Tailgunner” was a cool song at the time. That album was also a nice surprise because a lot of people thought Bruce was gone after his first solo album which kind of helped that release do well on the charts. And “Fear…” was pretty decent too. I would say that was probably the band’s last good album. That’s why your list is sort of odd. Eddie wouldn’t even stick around for the last several releases.

  18. Iron Maiden album covers from worst to best? My top vote goes to Killers.

  19. I’m another one who has posted in multiple other album lists that the Maiden one needed to happen. Between this and the Metallica one, Stereogum, wow…just wow. And Adrien already knows how much I appreciate his work. So this is just above and beyond all hope.

    Still waiting on the Motörhead one! :)

  20. Number of the Beast ftw!

  21. Seventh Son is the best maiden album. The author says “If you ask me to name the one Iron Maiden album where I find the least fault from track to track, start to finish, it’d be Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son”, but seemingly ranks it lower because there aren’t any “bracing tracks” like The Trooper. Well, this isn’t SONGS from best to worst, it’s albums. And Piece of Mind has way too much filler.

    That said, a lot of their “classics” like The Trooper strike me as cheesy pop-metal stuff anyway. Moonchild over that all day, either that or I’ll go back to listening to Stained Class.

  22. This site is never gonna do one for Prince, is it?

  23. Oh Stereogum. Just when you DIDN’T think you’d wake up and read about every single one of Iron Maiden’s albums, along comes you.

  24. I do like The Number of the Beast but ‘Invaders’ is such a terrible song. The melody during the chorus is so annoying. To me, ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh’ and ‘Killers’ deserved a higher place. Also, I have some indulgence over The X Factor. Blaze Bailey is not a very good singer, but ‘Fortunes of War’ and ‘The Aftermath’ are among Harris’ very best songs.

  25. Great list! I’m only a novice Maiden fan, but there’s no denying them the power of their classics.

  26. Turns out the only two Maiden albums I’ve heard are the best two.. who’d of thought?

  27. Have long since stopped listening to metal and am a complete pretentious fuck face and only listen to the newest and hippest music out. That being said went and saw Maiden live last year on a whim. Simply coldn’t believe how much they still kick ass.

    If there’s an equivalent to “hipster” in the world of Metal it’s gotta be fucking Maiden. Another cool thing…..when I go to indie shows everybody is trying to wear the gear of a band slightly more obscure than the one you are about to watch. When I was a kid and went to metal shows everybody wore a shirt of a band that was a little heavier than the one you were about to see. When I went to see Maiden last year EVERYBODY wears Maiden gear. And it’s entire family units. Just plain crazy how much love Maiden still has out there.

  28. Future Worst To Bests:

    Rush (Get Adrien to do that one too)
    King Crimson
    Genesis
    Steely Dan (I know a guy name Me who could write the shit out of that)
    Weezer (I wonder what one and two would be)
    Magnetic Fields
    Mastodon
    Slayer

  29. Rush!

    18. [Test for Echo] – can’t say I know this one well
    17. [Vapor Trails] – or this one
    16. Clockwork Angels -not the return to form it’s been hyped to be.
    15. Counterparts – The grunge album; sonically, it holds up surprisingly well.
    14. Roll The Bones – On the one hand there’s the awful title track; on the other hand there’s Bravado
    13. Power Windows – the most 80s sounding 80s Rush album (not meant as a compliment)
    12. Rush – The Peartless debut with a couple of classics
    11. Caress of Steel – They bite off more than they were ready to chew.
    10. Hold Your Fire – Thin, but Force Ten and Time Stands Still are a helluva 1-2 punch
    9. Presto – Underrated – the last “good” Rush album from start to finish.
    8. Fly By Night – The best of their pre-2112 work by a mile.
    7. Grace Under Pressure – The last “very good” Rush album.
    6. Signals – Underrated – The last “classic” Rush album.
    5. A Farewell To Kings – One of their best.
    4. Permanent Waves – Starts off with two of their best songs and keeps going strong from there.
    3. 2112 – Their first classic. 36 years down; 98 to go!
    2. Hemispheres – Rush at their proggiest.
    1. Moving Pictures – Not a frame is wasted on this stone-cold classic.

  30. This list is amazing, and really accurate reasoning, except that there’s NO WAY either Blaze album ranks above any Bruce album, even No Prayer, as bad as it is. No Prayer is full of cool riffs, even if there’s no great songs. the intro to Mother Russia is cool as hell. X and XI contain almost nothing of any interest at all. Going through my own rankings, I want to put the first 5 albums in spots 1-5, but Seventh Son is too good front to back to not at least beat out Killers. in any case, excellent read. Priest next! my list: XI, X, No Prayer, Final, Dance, Fear, Matter, Brave, Somewhere, Killers, Seventh, s/t, Piece, Powerslave, Number.

  31. Thanks for this! It is superb.

  32. This was excellent! Great job.

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