For me, it is difficult to compare different types of music. There exists so much compelling and powerful music, much of which is stylistically and lyrically unique, making meaningful value judgments virtually impossible. One cannot rightly say, for example, that Iron Maiden is better or worse than 80s Metallica – their respective styles are so radically different that they are hardly in competition.
What is it about certain music that seems to resonate within a person? No doubt it is different for everyone. For me, good music just has a sort of a feeling which is incredibly difficult to describe. It is a sort of melancholy surreal type of feeling, although these words are inadequate. Perhaps it is the ability to immerse you in the song, to transport you to another realm. Musical complexity is not always a factor, and neither is the relative musical skill of the musicians. None of my comparisons are particularly concerned with the musician's skill or a song's complexity. I have no real interest in who has the greatest voice range or who can play the rippingest guitar solo. I am concerned only with the song itself, and how it resonates inside the listener.
So, why Iron Maiden? Given my difficulty in expressing the essence of the "feeling" of good music, I will try to explain with some specific things. For Iron Maiden, the biggest thing is undoubtedly their incredible range of subject material. In this area, they tower above all other bands the way that Eddie towers above the damned on The Number Of The Beast album cover. Iron Maiden provides a refreshing escape from the tired themes of sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll which dominated the hard rock landscape of the 80s. Much of Iron Maiden's material was inspired from literature, movies, history, science-fiction, and folklore. The broad, intelligent, and insightful themes are as spellbinding today as they were when I first discovered them nearly two decades ago.
When you know that your time is close at hand
Maybe then you'll begin to understand
Life down there is just a strange illusion
– Harris, 'Hallowed Be Thy Name'
Another common feature of Iron Maiden's material is their non-conformity to the prevailing standards and popular forms. When the rest of the scene was churning out 3 minute songs of the standard formula (2 choruses, guitar solo, final chorus), Maiden was writing long and complex tracks, perhaps the most famous of which is the 13:45 minute epic ballad "The Rime Of TheAncient Mariner". Much of this musical depth can be directly attributed to Steve Harris's masterful song writing and flair for poetry.
A final and less tangible characteristic of Maiden is their unique depth of sound. This again is very difficult to describe. It is not the clean metallic power chords of Judas Priest and Accept. Neither is it the speed and conciseness of Metallica, nor the simple pounding rhythms of Black Sabbath. Maiden's songs tend to be much more riff-based, with the strong rhythm support possible in a talented guitar duo. Complex melodies shift into masterful guitar solos, without sacrificing the driving power of the metal chords and bass. Their songs seem to retain a rough edge, not unlike that of a live performance. Indeed, Maiden has always considered themselves to be at their best in a live environment, and their 1985 Live After Death stands among the best live albums ever recorded.
So, does everything I have just written explain the incredible power of Iron Maiden's music? The only honest answer is no. What exactly is it that has inspired near-religious devotion ever since my early teen years? They have so far produced 11 original studio albums and several other live recordings, with material spanning three decades. Such staying-power is very rare in the music business, and equalled by only a very few other bands. What can account for it? Again, I don't know.
What I can do, however, is describe the music that has the greatest impact on me, that speaks to me the most powerfully, or has influenced me to the greatest degree. And for me, that music is Iron Maiden.
Bæleron, June 1998