Iron Maiden’s 10 Most Epic Songs

Iron Maiden\u2019s Bruce Dickinson: the voice of many epic songs (Image credit: Steve Thorne\/Redferns)

Iron Maiden might have started their career writing concise, punchy metal anthems, but as their career has progressed, Steve Harris’ love of prog rock has come to the fore, and their songs have become longer and more complex. We look at Maiden’s 10 most epic songs.

10. Alexander The Great (1986)

A highpoint of the Somewhere In Time album, Alexander The Great is remarkable for two reasons. Firstly, the sheer historical detail crammed by Steve Harris into its eight minutes and 35 seconds, but also Bruce Dickinson’s ability to negotiate such potentially tongue twisting lyrics as ‘By the Aegean Sea/In 334 BC/he utterly beat the armies of Persia.’

9. The Clansman (1998)

Maiden kicked off the Blaze Bayley era with Sign Of The Cross, the 11-minute track that opened The X Factor. But even better was The Clansman, Steve Harris’ chest-beating Braveheart tribute from Virtual XI. Later reinterpreted by the returning Bruce Dickinson, this stirring paean to freedom from tyranny has more than earned its place in the band’s live set.

8. Paschendale (2003)

Adrian Smith has penned many of Maiden’s more concise, melodic tracks, but the guitarist stepped out of his comfort zone on Dance Of Death, one of the band’s most thought-provoking records, with this complex, hard-hitting retelling of the bloodbath that took place in World War I’s Battle Of Passchendaele.

7. When The Wild Wind Blows (2010)

With four of its selections alone totalling 40 minutes of music, The Final Frontier stands among Iron Maiden’s most musically ambitious releases, though it’s also one of their most underrated. Steve Harris, who has a hand in each of its ten tracks, based the near-11 minute epic on author Raymond Briggs’ post-nuclear fallout graphic novel of the same name.

6. For The Greater Good Of God (2006)

Maiden’s back catalogue contains several anti-war songs though few outstrip Steve Harris’ For The Greater Good Of God. Its nine-minutes-plus offer a mix of pointed lyrics (‘Somewhere there’s someone dying in a foreign land/Meanwhile the world is crying stupidity of war’) with some of the band’s all-time finest musicianship, notably from the five-minute mark onwards.

5. Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son (1988)

Maiden truly revealed their prog-rock roots on the Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son album, a conceptually based piece that some still regard as the group’s finest release. Enhanced by keyboards and narration and employing deft changes of tempo, at almost ten minutes long the album’s baroque title track offers a persuasive microcosm of its style.

4. Dream Of Mirrors (2000)

Bruce Dickinson came out swinging upon returning to Maiden in 1999. If you’re going to boast: “We’re better than Metallica. Put it this way, they can try to walk onstage after an Iron Maiden show if they want” then you’d better be able to back it up. Almost ten minutes long, this was a prog-metal masterpiece fit to cement the band’s return to true greatness.

3. Hallowed Be Thy Name (1982)

Maiden wrote longer songs, but none were as important as the closing track from 1982’s Number Of The Beast. With this seven-minute tale of a man’s final moments on earth before he meets the hangman’s noose, Steve Harris set out out his epic vision. More than 30 years later, it remains a true benchmark – and the band’s own favourite song.

2. The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner (1984)

Steve Harris’s interpretation of the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem remains a triumph of light, shade and ambition. Introduced by Bruce on Live After Death as “what not to do if your bird shits on you”, Maiden’s concert rendition, complete with shiver-inducing quiet segment and eerily creaking bows, is among heavy metal’s defining moments.

1. Empire Of The Clouds (2015)

Of course Bruce Dickinson’s Bohemian Rhapsody moment had to be Number One. Maiden’s longest song at 18 minutes and one second, it formulated on a Steinway grand piano over the course of a month and would be lifted even further by ornate orchestration – and the sound of Nicko McBrain belting a massive gong to symbolise the moment that the doomed R101 airship that inspired the song collided with the ground. Harry called the song a “masterpiece”. He’s not lying.

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Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.