(Raging Pages) Neil Daniels/Killers: The Origins of Iron Maiden, 1975 - 1983
published: 9 /
In her book review column 'Raging Pages', Lisa Torem examines Neil Daniels' new biography which examines the early years of heavy metal giants Iron Maiden
It seems only fair that after June’s Raging Pages about Detroit punk that we’re obliged to brand some oozing metal. You may remember that we launched the column with Neil Daniel’s ZZ Top book, 'Hell Raisers and Beer Drinkers', but, as he’s an author whose work defies boundaries, we’re happy to feature Neil once more for an analysis of 'Killers: The Origins of Iron Maiden: 1975-1983'(Soundcheck Books).
Although Iron Maiden eventually became one of the most successful heavy metal bands of their time, their formative years were flanked by frequent line-up changes and an ongoing struggle for identity. In Neil Daniel’s book, the acclaimed British author underscores the band’s often rocky ascent through first-person source material, scores of memorabilia, a foreword by Ron Thal (Guns N’ Roses) and an afterword by Tim Owens (ex-Judas Priest vocalist). Photographs by iconic Chicago-based photographer Paul Natkin and compelling, straightforward anecdotes also complement the natural flow.
It was British bassist, Steve Harris, who assembled the band in the mid ‘70s and who served as chief songwriter. 'Iron Maiden (1980) and Killer (1981), which featured lead vocals by Paul Di’Anno, and then the Bruce Dickinson gems, 'The Number of the Beast' (1982) and Peace Of Mind' (1983), get a thorough grilling, and, since he eventually departs but then rejoins the band Dickinson's role is particularly paramount and he’s granted a fair portion of face time. His immense love of classic rock and his outsider personality put his persona into perspective.
But what happened to his predecessor? In the early 1980s, Paul Di’Anno’s no-shows, addictions and chronic throat problems alarmed Harris so much that he was “dropped from the band” at the end of 1981. Daniel’s reminds us that “the wheels were going to come off sooner or later,” and Di’Anno’s adamant admission that he didn’t like the heavy metal musical direction the band was heading for, at that point, now comes as no surprise - although it’s suggested that the press had a field day chronicling their differences.
But Daniels doesn’t stop at the exodus. Di’Anno’s post-Maiden projects, especially his band, Killers, enjoyed a “cult following,” and, like it or not, Di’Anno continued to “give them what they want” in terms of honouring the Maiden catalogue. Daniel’s explains clearly Di’Anno’s “contradictory opinions” – his strong desire to move in another creative direction and his desire to please the fans that stood by him as he rose to success.
Maiden’s “Line-Up History’ illustrates that between the aforementioned years there were no less than three lead vocalists, four percussionists and more than seven guitarists - just that statistic alone drums up a myriad of queries and, although much has been written about the band’s latter years, Daniel’s decision to concentrate on this formative era was an intelligent one. Through this “less is more” approach, he gathered numerous humorous and insightful responses from colourful sources, including piercing interviews with former band members. He also pulls from previously published interviews in popular magazines and adverts from classic trades like 'Melody Maker' – this symmetry lends itself to a lively format.
The quotes often reflect simpler times, such as when guitarist Dennis Stratton reminisces about listening to a Led Zeppelin tune, “just trying to find the notes” before the age of the internet. The band members have strong musical preferences. Harris hates punk yet its rise and contrast to metal is too important to ignore. Daniels describes the confusion and tension of the era to a tee; name checking the corresponding movers and shakers. At other times, he employs the expertise of American writer Ray Van Horn Jr. to draw astute conclusions about Maiden’s relationship with American roots music. It’s an unexpected digression but a satisfying one.
True, Daniels authored an earlier book in 2012, 'Iron Maiden: The Ultimate Unauthorized History Of The Beast' (Voyager Press), so he had already been steeped in their dramatic saga, but that precursor, which is equally comprehensive, remains a stand alone.
In one clever section, Bob Nalbandian, of 'Headbanger', recollects being entranced by Maiden via the then groundbreaking MTV in the 1980s – further on, other writers, like Joshua Wood ('Metal-Rules') discuss Canada’s “love affair” with Maiden and label owners. But the downside of touring and sudden fame is given its due, as well: bad food, ill health, chilly and dysfunctional coaches, vocal exhaustion and rivalries with bands like Judas Priest plague the ambitious metal makers – Stratton and prog rocker Harris lock horns when it comes to studio arrangements, but the balanced first-person accounts truly serve to arouse our empathy.
Daniels becomes more generous with praise for the band mates as the story unfolds. When the over-prepared Bruce Dickinson auditions with more songs than needed, his enthusiasm and hard work are immediately and greatly acknowledged and he is immediately taken under wing. Harris appreciates the singer’s sense of style and natural vocals – they’re compatible in their visions, they click. But when the pressure of completing a third album develops, new tensions mount. Daniels sits us down in the studio and into the ears of the production team vis a vis a song-by-song mental workout.
Despite the pressure, an important transformation takes place – the songwriting becomes a family affair and we’re witness to the collective spirit.
This relatively short book is extended and enhanced by a series of appendices: Metal Heads Talk Maiden has a riveting, conversational tone and is a logical extension to the main text. There is a detailed discography, bibliography and “gigs list” and the midsection photos included are varied, muscular and include the Maiden mascot “Eddie”.
I recommend this book for raging headbangers and timid wannabees alike. Even a neophyte will come off sounding like an expert after reading Neil Daniel’s well-researched and absorbing analysis of these alluring metal giants.
Neil Daniels is co-author of 'Dawn of the Metal Gods, My Life in Judas Priest', has written books about Bon Jovi, Journey, Robert Plant, UFO, ZZ Top and too many other rock and metal bands to mention here. A film devotee, he will soon be publishing a book about American actor Matthew McConaughey. More information can be found at www.neildanielsbooks.com and www.soundcheckbooks.co.uk.
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