Ginger Nuts of Horror
Most fans of Iron Maiden will tell you this album is where the band first began slipping from the majesty of their classic material, and though that may be partly true, I find it strange that even diehard fans give this album unrelenting amounts of shit. It may be Maiden’s first album to not be a complete metal masterpiece, but it is still Maiden. I personally believe many just don’t give this one the time of day because it is such a departure from the trajectory the band was on at the time. Many people wanted more bombast, more Seventh Son styled epics, more boundary-pushing of what melodic metal could be (and they wanted these things for good reason). Instead we got a barebones, hard rocking platter of varying quality. There is greatness held within this collection of songs, but arguably for the first time in Maiden’s career, there was also plain mediocrity.
No Prayer was an experiment gone mostly wrong. Being recorded in a barn on bassist Steve Harris’ property (with the famed Rolling Stones’ Mobile Studio), the production methods were not what was expected out of the band after their last two records’ pristinely polished, synthesised, and progressive-leaning sounds. Recording in a barn is something you’d expect out of Neil Young, not our favorite 5-piece heavy metal act from the UK. It’s important to note that this was the first album with a lineup change since Nicko McBrain joined on drums on 1983’s Piece of Mind, with the addition of Janick Gers (from Bruce Dickinson’s album Tattooed Millionaire) on lead guitar in place of Adrian Smith. Adrian’s presence is missed for sure, as Janick has a looser, hard rock oriented, less technical style that feels a bit out of place in the context of Maiden. Not to say he’s a bad player by any stretch of the imagination, but Adrian’s guitar style gelled better with the overall atmosphere Maiden’s music usually cultivated. A new listener of the band digesting No Prayer for the Dying next to 1986’s Somewhere in Time, for instance, would get a better idea of what Maiden fans look for in a great album from Somewhere in Time.
Moving onto the songs themselves, there is plenty present that would be worthy of being played live alongside classics like “2 Minutes to Midnight,” “Flight of Icarus,” and “Wasted Years” etc. But instead of the best songs from No Prayer being fleshed out and becoming classics in their own right, they are held back by the general consensus of this album being shit in comparison with their previous works. Tracks like “Mother Russia,” “No Prayer for the Dying,” and “Run Silent, Run Deep” all could be heralded as some of the best songs the band has written. Beyond the obvious standouts, there are even deeper cuts that resonate with me, like “Public Enema Number One” and “Fates Warning” which feel criminally underappreciated and underrated in their catalog. The only song that standout in my mind as being notably mediocre is “Hooks in You” which just strikes me as being a trod through a boring riff and mildly annoying vocal melodies (not even the cowbell saves this track from being trite; it cures no fever of mine), and the no. 1 single “Bring Your Daughter… To the Slaughter” just does nothing for me, coming off as something that would be better suited to being a b-side to a single.
When speaking of a Maiden album, it is almost an imperative to talk about the album art. Derek Riggs, the man who created the mascot we all know and love, Eddie, knocked this one out of the park. There exist two versions of the cover out there, though, with one being immensely cooler than the other, in my ever so humble opinion. When the Maiden catalog was being remastered and re-released in 1998, a decision was made to edit the original art and remove the gravedigger our pal Eddie was grabbing by the throat from the artwork. A poor decision if you ask me; as who doesn’t love gratuitous violence mixed in with their metal? The remaster’s artwork also added an inscription on the grave’s plaque which states, “After the Daylight, The Night of Pain, That is not Dead, Which Can Rise Again.” Pretty badass, but is it as badass as an undead sometimes-zombie, sometimes-cyborg, sometimes-mummy strangling an unsuspecting gravedigger? You be the judge.
Speaking as a fanboy of The Beatles of Metal, as I occasionally like to refer to Maiden, No Prayer for the Dying is an album that gets tons of flak for almost no reason at all. It may not be Powerslave or The Number of the Beast, but there is quality there if a listener chooses to take it for what it is. It was a shot in the dark, an attempt at something honest, dirty, and free of excess studio polish. If you’re the kind of fan that avoided it due to bad word of mouth, get over the gossip, and go give the album a couple of serious listens and let it open up to you. You won’t regret it.
(Word of advice: If at all possible, seek out the 1995 Castle remaster, as it has a bonus disk with the b-sides from the album which are definitely worth the extra money).
Noah Wurth is a college-aged metal fan who's had an essentially life-long love affair with Iron Maiden. He attends college at University of North Carolina at Asheville and is a literature major.