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In their 35-plus years as perhaps the greatest metal band of all time, Iron Maiden has sold more than 100 million records worldwide. They led the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and they forever changed the sound of heavy metal. Directly or indirectly, Maiden’s influence permeates the sound of countless bands from yesteryear and today—including hot-shot young bands like Avenged Sevenfold, Dragonforce, and Trivium. In fact, it’s fair to say that classic Maiden albums like The Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, and Powerslave are essential listening for any true headbanger.
Like their iconic, zombified mascot, Maiden shows no signs of faltering— even in the midst of an economic crisis and the changing face of the music industry. The band’s latest release and 15th studio album, The Final Frontier, debuted at #1 in 28 countries and at #4 on the Billboard 200 chart in the US, making it their highest-charting US release ever. The album—which is also the band’s longest to date at 76 minutes and 34 seconds—features the expected epic compositions imbued with some unusually challenging prog-inflected escapades.
Premier Guitar recently caught up with Maiden guitarists Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and Janick Gers to get the inside scoop on The Final Frontier. About an hour before doors opened at their sold-out show at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey, we sat down for the interview at a hotel 40 miles away in midtown Manhattan. The band was pretty wrapped up in the final game of the World Cup, but Murray, Smith, and Gers soon got around to amiably discussing the new album and divulging secrets of the Maiden sound before making the trek back to the venue.
What was the songwriting process for this album?
Murray: It was pretty much the same as always. Everyone would bring in ideas, which eventually went to Steve, who is like the nucleus of the band. He’d take the parts and get the songs into shape. He also wrote a lot of the lyrics on this album.
Smith: Because Steve’s a bass player, he thinks a little bit differently. He gets you to play things you normally wouldn’t play and sometimes it can be a bit uncomfortable. “El Dorado” was Steve’s song, and he had everything written down to the last detail from start to finish. With Steve’s stuff, you have to play it exactly the way he hears it and that can be very rigorous. Janick volunteered to do the parts. Steve showed him what to play, and it took Janick a lot of work to do it the way Steve wanted him to.
That’s how it used to be in the old days when Steve would write a lot of songs. We’d sit down and go through it the way Steve wanted it, even so far as the picking accents, using downstrokes or upstrokes.
Gers: There’s no set way of doing it, and that keeps it fresh. I think if you get into the rut of doing it the same way every time, you lose the spontaneity. You never quite know what’s going to work and what isn’t. I’ve brought in stuff that I thought was amazing and it didn’t get on the album.