Iron Maiden is very much the ‘family band’ in my household. While all four of my kids like Black Sabbath and can all claim fandom on a handful of other metal acts, Maiden stands the tallest among them all. They are the only band (sans local acts) that all four of my kids have seen live. They are also the only band that the six year-old can name song titles and correctly sing lyrics for. We start every Metal Dad Radio Show with a Maiden song as tribute and several long road trips have included hours-long Maiden sing-a-longs (much to my wife’s chagrin).
When I returned from seeing Maiden for the seventh time (and first time for the little guy) a few weeks ago I was sharing with my kids how I thought the last three tours I’ve seen them on over the last seven years were the best, and that for my money Maiden is clearly the best band in the world today. Period, end of story, thank you for coming. It was under this backdrop that my 13 year-old (The Candyman for you radio show listeners) decided he was going to sit down and listen to every single Maiden album, front-to-back, in chronological order. He had never done that with several of their newer releases and he was excited to give the entire studio discography a go. I offered to join him (doing roughly two albums per day) and that quickly turned into us making our own lists of how we would rank all 16 of their studio albums and comparing them. Below are the results.
A couple things to keep in mind. This is not a “greatest” or “best” list. We claim zero musicology degrees among us and are simply ranking these albums by our own personal opinions, from our least favorite to our favorite. This is also an interesting look at how someone who has been listening to Maiden for over 30 years views their albums compared to someone who was born in 2006 and has been a huge fan for the last seven or so years.
Lastly, we’re curious to know: What are your favorite Maiden albums? Drop us a line in the comments to share your rankings. Without further ado…
16. The X Factor
Oh boy. Before we started this exercise there were a handful of albums I was looking forward to listening to in their entirety after taking some (elongated) time off from in the hopes that I’d come away with a different point of view. I was even looking forward to listening to the two Blaze Bayley fronted albums for the first time in literally two decades. As someone who grew up with Bruce Dickinson-era Maiden I was aghast by what I first heard of this record in 1995, and frankly after a clean listen, with a completely open mind, my opinions have not changed in the least. This is the only Iron Maiden album on this list with literally nothing to like about it. I love this band so much that I wish they would disown this album and we can all pretend it never happened. Forget the change in vocalists for a minute. The songwriting itself was lacking from the start and when you toss in Bayley’s vocals not only does this record not sound like Iron Maiden, but it sounds like a bad pub band. This record came out during a very difficult period in my life and I was crushed when I first heard it because I felt like yet another thing I loved was falling apart. Listening to it again, even in a much better time/place did nothing to wash that nasty taste out of my mouth. Let us never speak of this album again.
Candyman Ranking: The X Factor
<Let’s out an audible sigh> …I’m disappointed. This album is also way too long. It’s 70 minutes for no reason.
15. Virtual XI
A funny thing happens when you listen to an album you once despised with a critical ear and an open mind – you actually find some redeeming values to it. Listening to both Blaze Bayley albums in the same day, sandwiched between what came directly before and after, also helped to add a little more perspective. Unlike its heinous predecessor, Virtual XI, released in 1998, actually had some redeeming qualities. Songs like “Futureal” and “The Clansman” sound like Iron Maiden penned songs, with the latter still making appearances in the live setting. While nothing on this record can stack up against ’80s Maiden, or even the current, second Dickinson era, a handful of tracks have some quality riffs and memorable song structures. The problem with this album lies solely with Bayley’s vocals. The band themselves have admitted over the years that Bayley was perhaps not the right choice to fill Dickinson’s shoes. Agreed, 10,000%. On a strictly personal level, and with no offense meant, I wouldn’t like Bayley’s vocals on any record. He simply has a voice that grates on my ears. Now add him to a track like “The Clansman” that I knew then (and have witnessed now) that Bruce Dickinson would dominate and it makes listening to this record all the more painful. With that said, I almost…almost…ranked this album higher than No Prayer For The Dying, but ultimately couldn’t pull the trigger. Unlike The X Factor there was some potential here but not enough of it realized to place it any higher on this list.
Candyman Ranking: Virtual XI
Pretty much what The Metal Dad said. While the length of the album was a great improvement and it did have many more redeemable songs, it still manages to fall very short, mostly due to Blaze’s vocals.
14. No Prayer For The Dying
I’m not sure where to begin with this record. To say this album was a disappointment at the time of its release would be a massive understatement. For me personally, having it be the follow up to one of my all-time favorite Maiden albums just added then, and still adds today, insult to injury. The songwriting on this record was decidedly “un-Maiden” at almost every turn, and with only one song cracking the five-minute mark it had the reek of a band trying to write radio hits when they really didn’t need to. Not saying that was their intention, but the singles off this album certainly felt like they were trying for the lowest common denominator. Going back and listening to this record front-to-back for the first time in well over a decade, I didn’t hate it as much as I remember hating it when I was 15. But putting this into historical perspective it was then, and remains, easily the worst record Maiden would produce until The X Factor was birthed.
Candyman Ranking: No Prayer For The Dying
As The Metal Dad said the only word that comes close to summing up this album is ‘disappointment’. It’s not a garbage album by any means, but it gives you the feeling of staying up too late and waking up the next morning with no sleep. It has some o.k. tracks, such as the opening two, however, it still falls short.
13. A Matter of Life and Death
Let me state for the record that from this point forward I like and would repeatedly listen to every remaining album on this list. The second Dickinson era was particularly hard for me to rank. But this exercise, especially pounding 2-3 records into my brain per day, provided a nice barometer for each, specifically which albums were the most memorable. A Matter of Life and Death, released in 2006, is a solid record. Tracks like “The Pilgrim”, “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg”, and “For The Greater Good of God” (the latter of which they pulled out on this most recent tour) are still worthy of any Iron Maiden playlist. But at the end of the day there wasn’t enough here for it to stack up against the other albums this band has released since their triumphant return in 2000. Several songs just kind of run into each other and it has the unfortunate task of being sandwiched between two albums that I’ve really grown to like much more.
Candyman Ranking: Fear of the Dark
The Metal Dad is wrong. While I do think there are some amazing post-80s tracks, everything in the middle of Fear of the Dark seems to mush together and feels like filler. At best this is a decent album with highs and lows, but nothing spectacular.
12. The Book of Souls
At the time of this album’s release I was enamored with this record and on this very site ranked it as one of my favorites releases from 2015. While I still think it’s a solid album, and thoroughly enjoyed what tracks I heard live on the subsequent tour, I can’t help but feel that in the end there’s some filler here that could have been left on the studio floor. So why the shift in opinion over the last four years? Good question. Is it my own ever-shifting musical tastes? Do the songs on this record simply not stand up as well over time as some of their other recent material? A combination of both is most likely. When this album is strong, it’s very strong. Tracks like “If Eternity Should Fall”, “Speed of Light” (more cowbell!), and “Death or Glory” are catchy numbers that stand up to a lot of the second Dickinson era material. But as mentioned, there’s filler afoot and too much of it to grab a spot higher on this list. The discussion inevitably arose in my house about whether this album would rank higher for me if it wasn’t a double album clocking in at over 90 minutes. After some thought, I think it would.
Candyman Ranking: A Matter of Life and Death
I have nothing against A Matter of Life and Death, but I must say that as we are ranking them that out of the five modern Maiden albums this is the weakest. While it does have quite a few quality tracks, several tracks seem to run on.
11. Fear of the Dark
Without the benefit of having his list in front of me while I write this, I think this is where The Candyman and I are going to start to head down divergent paths, as I put much more stock into this record than he does. Let me set the stage for you. I was 17 and a Junior in high school when this record came out. It was light years ahead of its predecessor, No Prayer For The Dying, and with no internet accessible (it was 1992, we still relied on radio and magazines to give us all our band info), I had no idea the band was experiencing turmoil during the making of this record. At the time of its release I felt this album was a somewhat return to glory and had so much excitement for the future. Little did I know that we were on the brink of an eight year trip into a blackened abyss. So with all of that said, for me, this record is a beacon in a storm – a blessing coming between two of my least favorite records. Going through this album again it’s clear that it’s far from perfect. But the good far outweighs the bad. “Be Quick Or Be Dead” and “Afraid To Shoot Strangers” are great, and “From Here To Eternity” and the title track are easily two of my favorite post-1980s Maiden tracks. I’ve had the privilege of seeing them perform “Fear of the Dark” on multiple tours and it always kills, no matter what other classics they have on the evening’s set list.
Candyman Ranking: Dance of Death
Dance of Death is an underrated album for sure. It has the unenviable task to come directly after Brave New World, with that being said it has several quality tracks including, “Paschendale”, “Rainmaker, “Dance of Death”, and a handful of others. It does have a few songs that melt together a little. The Metal Dad has Dance of Death ranked way too high. (Also “Paschendale” is better than “Rainmaker”.)
10. The Final Frontier
Out of all the records on this list none of them surprised me as much as this one. Where the hell was I and what was I listening to in 2010 that this record flew so far under my radar? My memory of this album was completely lacking and when I went back and gave it a full listen I couldn’t believe how impressed I was. Did I not pay as much attention at the time because its predecessor, A Matter of Life and Death, was underwhelming compared to the two albums that came before it? I know I listened to it upon its release but did I go into it with preconceived notions that they were on a downward spiral and really did not give it the attention it deserved? Foolishness on my part and lesson one to never underestimate this band. The opening track, especially “The Final Frontier” half, is stellar, and there are enough high points on this record to hold your interest from start to finish. While I had no trouble ranking the next nine albums ahead of this one, I can safely say that I’ll be returning to this record much more than I have over the last decade.
Candyman Ranking: Book of Souls
Let’s be honest, there are some great songs on this album. However, to say its too long would be an understatement. While the first disc does not drag on at all, you can’t say the same about the second disc. “Death and Glory” is great but the next three songs lump together for me. With that said the 18-minute long “Empire of the Clouds” is still epic. The first half of this record is good enough to push it into the top ten for me.
9. Dance of Death
Again, without looking, I think this will be another time where I’ve got a record rated higher than The Candyman. Despite having literally one of the worst album covers I’ve ever seen, you cannot judge this album by its cover. Picking up where Brave New World left off, 2003’s Dance of Death is a fitting piece to the legacy of Iron Maiden. Some of their strongest post-1980s work appears on this record. Tracks like “Paschendale”, “Wildest Dreams”, and “Montségur” are fantastic, and “Rainmaker” is easily one of the best tracks Maiden has released over the last 20 years in my humble opinion. This was a band still firing on all cylinders after Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith returned to the fold at the start of the millennium. The fact that this record couldn’t even crack the top half of this list should tell you just how untouchable the next eight records truly are.
Candyman Ranking: The Final Frontier
The Metal Dad is wrong again. Oh my god. The Final Frontier is their most underrated album. It is criminally overshadowed by the albums that came before and after it, but it’s better than both. There are several songs here that deserve more listens than they normally receive.
8. Brave New World
This is the point on my list where I consider every album as absolute gold. I’ll never forget the day I heard the first single, “Wickerman”. I was working in the music industry at the time and our entire offices were Maiden fans. There was a palpable swell of anticipation as we were all so curious to see what this band would come up with now that Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith had returned to the fold. Hearing that track drove me absolutely giddy and truly made me feel like I was hearing Maiden for the first time all over again. I thought if the rest of the album was even half as good it was going to be the best thing they had done since Fear of the Dark at the very least, and possibly their best since Seventh Son. I was not disappointed then, and my excitement for this album has not waned in the last 19 years since its release. There are so many tracks on this record that could find a home on a Maiden’s greatest hits playlist – “Wickerman”, “Out of the Silent Planet”, “Brave New World”, and “The Nomad” just to name a few. Possibly one of the most underrated albums in the entire Maiden discography.
Candyman Ranking: Brave New World
Finally, we agree again. I also agree with The Metal Dad on what our top eight records are, just not in the right order. To say Brave New World is a return to glory is an understatement. The return of both Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith propelled this album and the songwriting into eternal greatness. I will forever value this album as the greatest since the start of the 2000s.
7. Somewhere In Time
The story behind this album is an interesting one, complete with band drama, tour burnout, a massive recording budget, and musical experimentation unlike anything Maiden had done before. It really does read like a classic rock opera. The end result is an album that stands as their most unique of the decade (for better or worse depending on who you ask). Whenever you ask any Maiden fan about this record the first thing that almost always comes up is synthesizers. This was the first album that Maiden (heavily) utilized guitar synths. Combine that with a complete lack of songwriting credits for Bruce Dickinson, and added credits for Adrian Smith, and what you get is an album that really did sound entirely different than the band’s previous five efforts. For me personally this album spent a long time towards the bottom of my cassette collection, gathering way more dust than it should have. It took me a long time, and a lot of musical experimentation, to truly grasp the beauty of this record, but once I did I became utterly enamored. While not every song on here is a gold-star champion, there are plenty of tracks I’m hoping they eventually bring out of retirement in the live setting, especially “Stranger In A Strange Land”, “Caught Somewhere In Time”, and “Deja Vu”. Not to mention that “Wasted Years” is one of the top 10 or 15 greatest songs Maiden has ever penned. (Dear Bruce Dickinson, please stop hating this record. Please and thank you.)
Candyman Ranking: Iron Maiden
I would like to preface this by saying that Iron Maiden has no real weaknesses, other than the terrible sound quality. That is honestly my only complaint. There are some absolute classics on this record, but again it’s no secret that even the band isn’t happy with the sound quality of this record.
6. Iron Maiden
One of the first Maiden albums I ever heard from start to finish. I remember the dubbed copy I was given on cassette tape was recorded at max capacity giving it an even nastier sound, in the best way possible. I know the band themselves have criticized the production, but frankly I find it endearing. These songs were meant to be heard with raw production as this is the one Maiden album that has a sort of punk rock aesthetic to it, and Paul Di’Anno’s vocals were perfect for the time. I’m not sure anyone who listened to this album upon its release in 1980 could have ever guessed the direction this band would eventually take. Even still, there was very little like it at the time and from a historical perspective it would not be an understatement to say it’s one of the most important debut records in metal history. A record that still deserves as many listens as you’re willing to pour into it.
Candyman Ranking: Somewhere In Time
Somewhere In Time is one of the most underrated Maiden albums in the sense that not many people appreciate the songwriting (especially the synths). This boasts some Maiden classics and songs that I will be singing until I go to my grave.
5. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
Every Maiden fan has that one record they connect to on a deeply personal level and for me this is it. I was 13 when this record was released in 1988 and it’s the first Maiden album I purchased at the time of its release. This is “my” record so to speak. Despite my already year-long infatuation with all things Maiden at that point this was the record that permanently cemented my love for the band. Despite the use of keyboards throughout, this album felt grittier and heavier than Somewhere In Time, and I was dying to see them in concert when they came blowing through the East Coast. (My mother denied my repeated pleas of allowing me to go with some friends and their older siblings, which now having 20/20 parental hindsight was probably a good life choice.) Every song on this record holds some special memory for me and there are multiple tracks that still stand as absolute favorites over 30 years later. I may have this record ranked higher than most lists of this ilk but I firmly stand behind planting this record in the top five.
Candyman Ranking: Killers
Killers defined my earliest Maiden memories. Songs like “Purgatory”, “Wrathchild”, and “Killers” dominated my interest in music from a very young age. While I do understand that some people find this record to contain ‘filler’, I’ll respectfully disagree entirely.
The toughest choice I had to make during this exercise was how to rank these next two albums, and honestly on any given day they could trade places and I wouldn’t bat an eyelash. I’m not entirely sure why, but as a kid this was the hardest of the original five albums for me to embrace. Over time that would obviously change but it’s a curious point to note. It’s certainly not lacking in classic material, as the opening one-two punch of “Aces High” and “2 Minutes To Midnight” is one of the greatest in metal history. The title track, “Back In The Village” and “Flash of the Blade” (which also appeared in a bizarre Dario Argento film, Phenomena) are all exceptional numbers and Maiden even manage to make a four-minute instrumental highly engaging. “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was my first experience with Maiden stretching a song longer than my attention span would give it credit for, but that’s a minor quibble.
Candyman Ranking: Piece of Mind
The Metal Dad and I seem to have mixed up our albums here (specifically him). However, to say this album is filled with classics just doesn’t do it justice. Many songs on Piece of Mind have been family classics for as long as I can remember.
3. Piece of Mind
The first album to contain the ‘classic’ Maiden line-up with the addition of Nicko McBrain on drums, Piece of Mind still stands as one of the greatest metal albums of all-time and contains some of the band’s most memorable material. “The Trooper” and “Flight of Icarus” are two tracks that my family has worn the proverbial needle right through. While “Where Eagles Dare”, “Revelations”, and “Die With Your Boots On” are also still favorites. For me this album also contains the most underrated song in the entire Maiden discography – “Sun and Steel”. The Dickinson/Smith penned number may be the track that single-handedly pushed this album just ahead of Powerslave on my list. It’s brilliant and contains one of their catchiest choruses amidst a myriad of them.
Candyman Ranking: Powerslave
Powerslave is pretty much perfect through and through. From “Aces High” to “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” this album is pure metal essence. Contrary to what The Metal Dad thinks, this is the better album than Piece of Mind.
Again without the benefit of his list in front of me as I write this I may be ranking this album way higher than The Candyman. I’m also pretty sure, and again without looking, that I rank this album way higher than most lists of this kind. I’m well aware that this album contains two instrumental tracks, and a smattering of songs that many fans consider filler. On the other hand this album also contains some of the strongest material they wrote with Paul Di’Anno on vocals and a handful of tracks – “Killers”, “Purgatory”, “Drifter”, and “Murders In The Rue Morgue” – are some of my all-time favorite Maiden tracks. While too inconsistent for some fans to rank this high, for me when this album is ‘on’ it’s some of the best materiel they’ve ever done, and based just on those four tracks alone it’s spent the last 30+ years growing into one of my all-time favorite metal albums.
Candyman Ranking: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
I can’t believe The Metal Dad would rank Seventh Son of a Seventh Son as low as he did, especially seeing as he talked about it all the time. This is quite possibly Maiden’s most epic album in their discography. Their only true concept album, filled with one of the most entertaining stories ever told through song – even wrapping itself up with the same beginning/ending. Also, “Moonchild” might be the greatest opener to a Maiden album this side of “The Wickerman”.
1. The Number of the Beast
As hard as it was for me to rank some of these albums, there was never any question in my mind as to what my favorite Maiden record is, was, and probably always will be. This is one of those albums that literally changed how I viewed the world around me upon first listen and still has the ability to give me chills at certain turns. There is literally not a weak song on this record and some of my most favorite metal songs can be found here including the title track, “The Prisoner”, “Gangland”, and “Hallowed Be Thy Name”. I don’t think there’s ever been a record that has gotten me to rock out as if I was on stage with the band the way this album has over the years and almost every song on here has resulted in multiple sing-a-longs with the kids. (I’m constantly praying to the Metal Gods that in 2022, upon this album’s 40th anniversary, that Maiden just plays it from start to finish every night. I’ll be the sweaty, bearded guy down front losing his ever-loving mind.) I’ll also add that while so many of their albums are important to heavy metal, this might be the one that carries the most significance and the metal nerd in me finds that fascinating. It’s a record I could gush about for days on end, but instead I’m going to go throw some headphones on and air guitar the hell out.
Candyman Ranking: The Number of the Beast
Something The Metal Dad and I absolutely agree on. This album is one of the most influential albums to ever hit the music world. Truly enchanting and interesting, giving us some of the best metal songs known to the world. In many ways the inclusion of Bruce Dickinson for the first time brought a much more polished sound to Maiden that changed the face of metal as we know it.