Killers Turns 40

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Iron Maiden – Killers

Released February 2nd, 1981 on EMI Records

Produced by Martin Birch

Peaked at #78 US, #12 UK

Singles:

“Twilight Zone” (#31 UK)

“Purgatory” (#52 UK)

Before Iron Maiden, the jet-setting superstar standard-bearers for heavy metal through the late 80s and into the 90s, there was Iron Maiden, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal Band. The United Kingdom circa 1979-1981 was a gigantic mess; a brutal recession, the specter of deindustrialization, and ineffectual social policies from governments of all stripes combined to create a landscape awash with unrest and high youth unemployment. It got so bad that by 1981 there were multiple riots (see Brixton and Toxteth for examples) caused by sheer misery. If you were just coming into the job market there was nothing for you, not even the unskilled labour your father had gotten by on. It’s little wonder, then, that the punk movement took hold in a real way in Britain. The NWOBHM was an outgrowth of this as well. If the punk scene wasn’t quite what you were looking for but you were still young, unemployed, and looking for companionship, something to do, and the chance to earn a little bit of coin, you could always start a hard rock band and see where that took you. Lots of kids did it: see Saxon, Tygers of Pan Tang, Venom, Samson, Cloven Hoof, Diamond Head, Blitzkrieg, Angel Witch, Praying Mantis, and every other band Metallica ripped off in the early Eighties.

Among all these bands were a few who would rise above the muck and misery of their peers and make something of themselves. Two of them were, of course, Def Leppard and Motorhead. A third was Iron Maiden. Formed in 1975 on Christmas Day, the band went through several lineups before releasing a self-titled debut in 1980 with Steve Harris and Dave Murray (who were the core members of the band), drummer Clive Burr, and vocalist Paul Di’Anno. Killers is the second and last album from that lineup.

Killers is an interesting artefact of the early days of one of the best-known bands on Earth. At first blush it has all the trappings of all of the more well-known Maiden albums. Eddie’s on the cover, after all, and the gallop of those guitars is still thrumming through all of the songs. It’s largely obscure now, though; of these tracks, only “Wrathchild” is still played at Iron Maiden concerts. Part of the reason is that a lot of the songs on Killers are left-overs from the initial burst of writing in 1978-1979; the strongest songs made it onto Iron Maiden and the remainder went toward shoring up their second album. “Prodigal Son” and “Murders In The Rue Morgue” were the only two written specifically for the album. Another reason is likely that these songs are all recorded with Di’Anno as the vocalist; Killers was the last Iron Maiden album to be fronted by him. The follow-up, an obscure little album called Number Of The Beast, would feature the larger-than-life voice and personality of Bruce Dickinson, who would go on to be on to be, alongside Eddie, the face of the band. Di’Anno’s vocals are fine; among the standards offered by NWOBHM bands they’re above average. That he doesn’t hold a candle to Dickinson shouldn’t be seen as a slight on him, because who else could compare? There are allegedly some people out there who prefer Di’Anno to Dickinson, however; these people should be pitied and shunned whenever possible.

In the end, Killers is a snapshot of the band in their last moment as a regional workaday act; their next album would shoot them into the stratosphere, where they would stay until at least the mid-1990s, although many would no doubt claim they never came down.

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