Iron Maiden is the premier action-hero heavy-metal band of all time. Unlike many of their contemporaries, ranking their albums is not easy. Yes, they’ve made plenty of classics. Yet, they keep chasing their finest hour, adding new, generally impressive material to their discography.
They’ve had some duds too. How could a band with such activity manage to avoid that?
Diving into their discography is like being drowned by the weight of too many pearls (and a few turds too). Trying to save their Iron Maiden albums from a fire is bound to get you burned alive.
These are Iron Maiden’s albums ranked from worst to best as of late 2022 in their Ed Hunter-endorsed glory. I have a feeling we’ll have to make some additions to the list soon enough.
17. Virtual XI (1998)
This one marked a significant shift in the band’s sound, with a heavier emphasis on electronic elements and industrial influences.
The band was keeping up with the times. But they were also entertaining themselves. Virtual XI is a reference to fantasy football, which some that the West Ham-devoted band members were very keen on.
It also marked the second release with former Wolfsbane singer Blaze Bayley.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with this record, but nothing particularly appealing either.
It’s unlikely that Bayley is the problem. Yes, his vocal tone is much different from Bruce Dickinson’s operatic style.
Maiden had been one of the most successful heavy metal bands for many years. They were now going through the motions.
While it received mixed reviews upon its release, it has since gained a cult following for its unique blend of heavy metal, quasi-industrial-rock, and horror elements. Highlights include “The Clansman,” “Futureal,” and “Lightning Strikes Twice.”
16. No Prayer for the Dying (1990)
By the early 1990s, Iron Maiden had succumbed to a fate familiar to their heavy metal peers, such as Judas Priest and Black Sabbath.
Nothing utterly dramatic had happened other than the fact that their proverbial steam had out. It made Steve Harris’ songwriting ideas less interesting and the band’s performances less lively. The band’s loyal audience wasn’t very keen on things either.
Maiden was also down one guitar hero, with Adrian Smith leaving the group. The highly animated Janick Gers would replace him. Luckily, the new lead guitar player would be quickly accepted by fans.
No Prayer for the Dying was the Iron Maiden album that marked a significant change in the band’s sound. Gone were, for the most part, the proggy song structures and the metal-opera direction. It was a more aggressive, muscular sound with lyrics criticizing the political elites.
“Bring Your Daughter… to the Slaughter” is the exception, of course. A Halloweeninsh, over-the-top number, this would remind the fans of the group’s 80s hey-day. It would also prove to be one of the band’s biggest hits. Maiden could still hit the charts occasionally.
“Holy Smoke” and “Hooks In You” are two other strong cuts. They further work on the anti-religious sentiment.
No Prayer for the Dying is one of Maiden’s poorest releases. However, it’s not a terrible record. This goes a long way in explaining the public’s affection for Iron Maiden’s discography.
15. The X Factor (1995)
If Maiden were hoping to find their proverbial X Factor in the choice of a new singer, they were mistaken.
It’s not that Blaze Bayley is doing a bad job. The singer wholeheartedly embraces this opportunity of a lifetime.
It’s just that things have changed. Classic heavy metal is going through a serious slump. The band’s been working at a furious pace, practically, since its inception.
And Steve Harris has been going to his familiar bag of tricks a few too many times.
Despite its divisive nature, this album has gained a dedicated following for its emotionally charged lyrics and powerful performances. Standout tracks include “Sign of the Cross” and “Lord of the Flies.”
It also contains “Man on the Edge,” arguably the most famous song that the band would record during this era. It’s the one they still occasionally spin in live performances.
14. Fear of the Dark (1992)
Unlike some of their famous peers, even at their worst, Iron Maiden could come up with one or two bonafide classics.
In this case, it’s the title track that’s worthy of the most attention. Indeed, it’s garnered a life of its own outside of the record.
While this album may not be the band’s most critically acclaimed, it is certainly their most commercially successful, reaching the top of the charts in several countries. It also features songs like “Be Quick or Be Dead” and the excellent “From Here to Eternity.“
Despite its widespread appeal, many fans and critics consider this album to be a departure from the band’s earlier, more heavy metal sound. Not all songs have aged very well.
Change was in the air, of course. Bruce Dickinson would depart the band soon afterward. He would pursue, among other things, a more alternative-rock kind of direction.
It would also be Adrian Smith’s final album with the band for a while. It was the end of an era. And it looked like curtains for what fans knew of Iron Maiden.
13. Dance of Death (2003)
It’s never a good idea to judge Iron Maiden on their visuals alone. This time though, the artwork for Dance of Death does a pretty good job of surmising the record.
Excitement ran high for this. Brave New World had been received enthusiastically. The band does more of the same here, yet without the same vigor.
The songs aren’t quite as memorable, either. Most of them sound like tunes left on the cutting room floor for previous records.
As the artwork might suggest, this is everything Maiden should be, in great quantity but presented without the required level of detail.
Still, there are highlights too. The title track, “New Frontier” and “Montsegur,” are good tracks.
It’s not one of the band’s best or worst records. Most importantly, though, unlike the period during the 1990s, it’s also not symbolic of the band’s waning powers.
Dance of Death proves that Iron Maiden could always be trusted to provide new content often.
12. A Matter of Life and Death (2006)
Iron Maiden’s reunion with Dickinson and Smith caught fans by surprise. The success of the reunion caught the band by surprise.
It must’ve also left them with a few questions to answer. Do they double down on the direction taken on Brave New World back in 2000? Or do they continue experimenting as they’d done throughout much of the 1990s?
Long-time fans of the band might not always appreciate the band’s ability to release new material consistently.
This happens, perhaps, because, during the 2000s, it looked like Maiden had returned to their old ways. They were busy playing in football stadiums throughout the world.
Meanwhile, Maiden albums were occasionally great and sometimes just sounded like meat-and-potato Maiden.
A Matter of Life and Death falls somewhere in the middle. Highlights include “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Bregg,” and “The Longest Day.”
Other high points include “These Colours Don’t Run” and “For the Greater Good of God.”
It’s a rockier, more aggressive album. Often it plays into the band’s strengths. But the attempt to mix directness with prog-rock aspirations doesn’t always work.
Its shortcomings, however, wouldn’t be lost on the band. On future releases, they’d try and repair the mistakes made here.
As for touring the world to packed houses, this wasn’t going to be affected by any new release at this stage.
11. The Final Frontier (2010)
Iron Maiden was now a legacy act. Just try telling them that!
While most ticket buyers were content to hear the hits, Steve Harris was still anxious to try his hands at new ideas.
To their credit, the band members sound energized and genuinely jazzed by playing the material.
The Sci-Fi theme of the record lends to many adventure-metal songs of which Harris and Dickinson are masters.
This album represents a departure from the band’s earlier sound, with a more experimental and progressive approach to songwriting. It features some of the band’s most ambitious and unconventional tracks. These include “El Dorado,” “The Talisman,” and “The Man Who Would Be King.”
Despite its divisive nature, this Maiden album has garnered praise for its bold artistic vision and technical proficiency.
10. Senjutsu (2021)
Few rock bands are quite as stubborn as Iron Maiden. Few bands work as hard to prove their critics wrong.
Sure, U2 might get Apple to freely distribute their album. But they retreat the first time they glance the torches and pitchforks.
Yep, Maiden NWOBHM contemporaries such as Saxon still release records. But they don’t mind playing the hits for nostalgia-sakes.
Iron Maiden, on the other hand, is determined to release new, ambitious music and to present it to fans of the band. They won’t take no for an answer and are even willing to risk their reputation doing so.
Senjutsu is another fictional adventure movie soundtrack from Iron Maiden. It spans two albums, as its predecessor did. And it sounds quite energized.
It’s true, not all of the songs on here hit the mark. However, with so much material being released by the band in recent years, this is, perhaps, to be expected.
“Hell on Earth,” “The Time Machine,” and the title track are highlights.
Once again, the songs are long and intricately arranged. Once again, Harris welcomes the contribution of practically every member. Again, it sounds like a prog-metal record at times.
Maiden isn’t fighting for survival. They’re the hard-rock Indiana Jones still swinging across tall cliffs and, seemingly, loving every minute of it.
9. The Book of Souls (2015)
Iron Maiden was never a typical heavy metal band and thus not one to be pigeonholed even late into their career.
The Book of Souls finds a group struggling to regain its form and, largely, succeeding.
Mind you, it’s hard work and not something that most of their contemporaries would attempt. This is a double album where no less than three songs are over ten minutes long.
The band demands a lot from its audience. Unlike some of the other post-reunion albums, they have the material to back up their claims.
Highlights include “The Red and the Black,” “Empire of the clouds,” and “Death and glory.”
This is rock opera for the ears, a feast for fans still willing to put on their headphones, close their eyes, and let themselves be transported to lands of exciting adventure.
Dave Murray steps up to the plate often here. Still, throughout, Murray weaves leads excellently with guitar-hero partners Adrian Smith and Janick Gers.
8. Brave New World (2000)
Iron Maiden used this album to prove that they were not written off.
It’s an amazing achievement because, frankly, most fans and observers could be forgiven for doing just that.
This album marks the return of vocalist Bruce Dickinson and the departure of Blaze Bayley. It features a more traditional heavy metal sound. It includes complex guitar work and epic song structures.
There’s ambition, sure. Still, seemingly miraculously, the band once again has found the creative spark to back this up.
Standout tracks include “The Wicker Man,” “Blood Brothers,” “Out of the Silent Planet,” and the excellent title track.
Few heavy-metal bands produced comeback records of this quality. It would confer Maiden a kind of classic rock status throughout the world, a sort of metal-Queen.
The band would spend the next decades successfully touring the world. This was due in no small part to the warm reception received by this album.
7. Killers (1981)
Maiden had proven that they could outplay most metal bands and out-rock most punk bands. But could they record songs hard-rock songs destined for the radio?
This album marked a significant shift in the band’s sound, with a more polished and mainstream-friendly approach to songwriting. It would also be the last to feature the brilliant original vocalist Paul Di’Anno.
Standout tracks include “Wrathchild,” “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and “Twilight Zone.”
It’s a rougher sound than what the band would soon explore. However, all of the famous elements of Maiden’s sound are here.
Songs often feature singalong choruses, double lead guitar duels, and free-spirited lyrics about fantastic adventures.
6. Iron Maiden (1980)
This is an excellently promising start and a fan favorite.
For all the success that Maiden would reach in a few years’ time, Iron Maiden finds their sound fully formed.
This is a classic of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement. It was a style paying tribute but also one-upping hard-rock behemoths like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin.
It features some of the band’s most raw and ferocious tracks. These are “Prowler,” “Running Free,” and “Phantom of the Opera.”
Despite its rough production and lack of polish, this album has gained a dedicated following for its energy and enthusiasm.
Fans of the band’s latter-day period may be surprised by this record. It’s a confident affair that does very little to resemble the records that would follow it.
Paul Di’Anno does an excellent job here, bringing his punkish rasp to the forefront. In terms of pure, manic energy, Iron Maiden would never quite equal the performance of their debut.
5. Somewhere in Time (1986)
There comes a time in the life of every genius when they begin pushing benefactors a little too far. This might be that moment for Steve Harris.
Somewhere in Time is an excellent album. Rarely has the band assembled a greater collection of songs.
However, appreciating it hinges on your ability to accept the band’s growing love of grand themes and expansive song structures.
This album marked a significant change in the band’s sound, with the heavy use of synthesizers and a more futuristic aesthetic.
Highlights include “Wasted Years,” “Heaven Can Wait,” and “Stranger in a Strange Land.”
And, while there are a few duds here, the record shows that Iron Maiden was far from the run-of-the-mill heavy metal bands earning MTV acceptance.
Maiden, of course, would not receive similar treatment from the music network now responsible for creating stars. This was despite the band’s enduring success in terms of album and ticket sales.
It would push the band inward, looking to offer its dedicated following more of what they were expecting. This would be a strategy that would occasionally work spectacularly, but not at all times.
4. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)
Iron Maiden had just about climbed the heavy metal summit during the 1980s. What could follow would either be a step at the very top or a sharp fall.
Both would happen soon enough. Still, first, they recorded one of their finest records, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.
This is a concept album, arguably Maiden’s sole one. It tells the story of a seventh son of a seventh son, who is said to possess special powers. It is known for its complex and layered songwriting.
This is Iron Maiden at their most prog-rock-inspired. And, while it’s very ambitious, the band still has the energy and the songs to back up their vision.
The album is notable for its use of keyboards, which give it a more epic and atmospheric sound. The songs tend to be longer and more complexly orchestrated.
“Can I Play With Madness” and “The Evil That Men Do” are excellent singles and highlights of the album.
Meanwhile, songs like “Moonchild,” “The Clairvoyant,” and the title track do a good job of moving the story along.
3. Piece of Mind (1983)
The Satanic Panic had made Iron Maiden’s wacky metalheads easy scapegoats.
If anything, however, their vision always tended toward the adventure-novel variety of scares and thrills. Piece of Mind proves this.
This album marks the arrival of drummer Nicko McBrain, who replaces Clive Burr.
It also features some of the band’s most memorable and enduring tracks. Some of these are “Flight of Icarus,” “Die with Your Boots On,” and “The Trooper.”
This album is known for its technical proficiency and catchy hooks, and it solidified Iron Maiden’s place as one of the premier heavy metal bands of the 1980s.
In fact, it’s hard to imagine a heavy metal band earning more success at that time. The band’s image as outlaws had made them very popular with kids.
But, it was their songs and their undeniable playing abilities that helped them play to large audiences throughout the world.
2. Powerslave (1984)
Critics of Steve Harris’ work during the 1990s are advised to remember the man’s record during the early 1980s. It’s a nearly perfect batting average or the equivalent of winning the Premier League every year.
This album is loosely a concept record that tells the story of a Pharaoh’s journey through the afterlife. Not all tunes fit that theme exactly, but almost all of them are thrilling.
It is known for its epic and grandiose production, as well as its technically impressive guitar work. Standout tracks include “Aces High,” “Two Minutes to Midnight,” and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.“
This also shows that Maiden had ambitions beyond writing catchy tunes about the devil. There are elements of prog-rock. This is best observed in the over 13-minute run-time of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
Still, there’s an almost punk-rock energy on some of the songs that bring to mind the urgency of their first records.
Iron Maiden were kings of the rock world, and, believe it or not, heavy metal was one of the most commercially appreciated genres in all of the worlds. Their World Slavery Tour proved it.
It sounded like nothing could ever change. Oh, what a way to tempt fate!
1. The Number of the Beast (1982)
If there’s an album that defined what Iron Maiden was seen as in the eye of the public, it’s The Number of the Beast.
It’s an almost flawless record that mixes memorable hooks with the rebellious and cheeky imagery of the band as would-be compadres of the Horned One.
This album is rightfully considered a classic of heavy metal and is often cited as the band’s breakthrough release.
It features some of the band’s most iconic tracks, including the title track, “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” and “Run to the Hills.”
Most of these songs are still played live today. The majority are included in compilations dedicated to the band.
It would be a high mark that the band would struggle to reach. For a while, at the very least, however, they would manage just that.