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Let’s Argue About Iron Maiden Album Art

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Last week our homeslice Anso D-muthafuckin’-F got people arguing about which Maiden album is the worst in their discography. But that seems so silly to me, when, clearly, the correct answer is, “Anything from the Blaze Bayley era.” Seriously, I think the band’s post-Brave New World material (including the new single, “El Dorado,” which does nothing for me) should have been released under the name “Iron Mehden,” but it’s all still better than anything from The X Factor, which sounds exactly like 8,000 terrible unsigned bands from New Jersey, all of whom have e-mailed us or mailed us their life-shortening demos.

No. That discussion is a waste of time. Sorry. Clearly, what we should be focusing on is that which will define the band’s legacy long after they are gone: their album art.

Now, the art for “El Dorado” is fucking awesome. Sure, we’ve seen the whole vintage comic thing done before, but, still, it’s been executed here with such expert bad-assery that I don’t even mind that Space Monster Eddie barely looks like Eddie, and is kind of a lame riff on the Predator:

iron maiden - el dorado - the final frontier

In fact, the “El Dorado” cover art is way, way cooler than the actual The Final Frontier cover art itself.

I like the intention behind this cover; I like that Space Monster Eddie (let’s just call him “SME”) is actively participating in a malicious activity. It’s like a watered down version of a death metal cover in that regard, and I’d actually be all for a Maiden cover that looks like an old Cannibal Corpse cover, only with Eddie instead of whatever. The specks of blood floating out into space are certainly a very nice detail, as is SME’s drool. But the style of it is weak.  All the purple and blue is too soothing, and there are no hard angles – the design of everything is round – which gives it a very cartoony feel.

Compare that to Derek Riggs’ cover art for The Number of the Beast, the layout of which the Frontier art so clearly echoes:

The image is at a slightly dutch angle, which already gives it an off-kilter feel; the album title is written in dripping blood, and is itself not-level; the lighting and even the shade of blue is much harsher; Eddie is not just Satan’s puppet master, but he towers so very large over the Prince of Darkness, really driving home the concept that people should be more afraid of Eddie than The Devil; and because Eddie is a humanoid, he can smile as he helps to wreak havoc, which makes him that much more fucked-up, and the fire can reflect in his large eyes. SME’s alien mouth and beady little eyes are incapable of expression, so we have no idea if he’s enjoying the performances of his dastardly deeds or not. He might be thinking “Is it five o’clock yet? I’ve had a long day and could really use a beer.”

In a post-death metal world, Riggs-era Maiden covers like the one for Beast don’t really seem scary – but they’re a big part of why I ever started listening to Maiden in the first place. That might seem superficial, but I’d point out that the reason I’m still listening to them is because so many of their songs are made of pure awesomeness. But when I was ten years old, the cover for Killers seemed legitimately dangerous. I remember my mom taking me to the record store and saying she’d buy me something, and I really wanted Killers even though I had no idea what Maiden sounded like, just because the album art was so incredible. But I was afraid to ask my mom to buy it for me – it seemed like asking her to buy me porn. I had to save up allowance money and go get it myself, and even then, as I approached the register, I remember thinking, “This guy might not let buy this.” I ran from the store afterwards, as though I’d just purchased illegal contraband.

It’s for that reason that the first three Riggs-designed Maiden covers are still my favorites; they just seem legitimately nasty. Look at the cracked out corpse Eddie started out as and how, as on the Killers cover, the primary lighting source is a street lamp that bathes him in this really unpleasant, sulfuric yellow (a design theme which started with Eddie first almost-appearance, in Riggs’ art for the single “Running Free”):

I really like the Piece of Mind cover, too (which keeps the yellow light). Objectively speaking, I think that a lot of the covers since Powerslave have been too schticky to really feel menacing, which makes sense, because by this point a) the band really had to have him on every cover, even if no one had a good idea for what the fuck to do with him, and b) he was consequently going to become kind of a lovable mascot, the same way all great monsters seem to lose their mystery and become a joke after awhile (all the old Universal Monsters, Freddy, Jason, Chucky, Pinhead, Hannibal Lecter, George W. Bush, etc., etc.).

That being said, I’ve been listening to Maiden since before I really thought about these things, so I still really like all those covers from the initial Riggs/Dickinson era. I didn’t even think about Fear of the Dark being maybe a little hokey when I was a kid; I just thought it was Eddie and it was Maiden and it was therefore awesome. I was kinda like a modern day AC/DC fan that way.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I appreciate most Maiden covers to some extent or another (including the ones from the Bayley era, and the ones for the Dickinson albums I don’t like that much such as A Matter of Life and Death, and, of course, the abso-fucking-lutely classic one for Live After Death). But there is one which I would argue outright sucks:

Holy crap, that is just awful. Cheap and awful. Did one of the band member’s kids do that in his third grade computer glass? I can’t believe that Maiden ever allowed it to be released. What an embarrassment to their legacy of truly memorable album covers.

So, yeah. Sending your monster into outer space is usually a sign that your monster may be ready to retire (ask Jason Voorhees or Pinhead), but  I’m aware that The Final Frontier could be way worse, too.

But I also know it could be way better.

Jump in below with your thoughts on Maiden’s best and worst covers, and the art for Frontier and “El Dorado.” And I haven’t even gotten into merch or single covers, so feel free to include those in the discussion. I’m super-curious to hear what you folks have to say on the subject.

-AR

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