Iron Maiden album covers are almost as much a part of the band’s brand and image as the music itself. There are plenty of iconic examples down the years, even right from Maiden’s early days.
But which Iron Maiden album covers are the best? The Hawk plans on getting a debate going here by plugging a list of his own 10 favourite covers. So strap in and get ready to comment – The Hawk’s 10 best Iron Maiden album covers plus all the stories behind them coming right atcha!
The rules for inclusion in the ranking are simple – any Iron Maiden cover by Derek Riggs is eligible. That means we’re veering away from the blog headline a bit – it will be Iron Maiden Album and Singles Covers by Derek Riggs.
Why include only the Riggs era? Because that’s the one that coincides best with the Classic Heavy Metal, which is what we’re all about on here. And, Riggs was the man right from the start – he created Eddie, Iron Maiden’s long serving / suffering mascot. Eddie started out as an idea for a possible punk album cover – a picture entitled ‘Electric Matthew Says Hello’. But then he got a lucky break – Maiden’s manager, Rod Smallwood was looking for an artist to do their covers, and, on a limited budget at the start of proceedings, had to look at locals’ portfolios.
They found the Riggs punk cover idea and asked him to re-imagine it for heavy metal. Matthew got longer hair and a less punky look overall, and voila! Eddie was born, and that original painting became the cover for Maiden’s self-titled debut album.
Starting from ‘Fear of The Dark’, other artists were used. That album came from new boy Melvin Grant, at a point where Smallwood said he wanted to re-invent Eddie for the 1990s as a less comic-book figure. There were rumours at the time that a bit of friction had crept into the relationship, and that Riggs was getting too big for his boots.
But they must have still rubbed along, because Riggs returned occasionally with more contributions.
Anyway, let’s get into it. Here’s The Hawk’s top 10 ranking for Iron Maiden covers by Derek Riggs. And, this being Classic Metal Hawk, there’ll be some accompanying music along the way. Naturally.
#10 – No Prayer for The Dying
No Prayer for The Dying is a somewhat ordinary album, but with a great cover. The band had been slagged off in some quarters for bringing synthesizers into their previous 2 albums, ‘Somewhere in Time’ and ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.’ In response to that (or not), they brought out a more stripped down offering for ‘No Prayer’, recorded in a mobile studio on Steve Harris’s farm. The result was, according to Bruce Dickinson, a ‘shit sounding record.’ Fans mostly agree, but the cover is a saving grace – it features Eddie busting out from the grave and (in the original version at least) grabbing an unfortunate grave digger by the throat. The victim was intended to resemble Rod Smallwood, though The Hawk can’t quite see the resemblance. But Smallwood himself got fed up with the idea, and insisted he / they be removed from a re-released version a few years later. Only a couple of decent songs here, so let’s whack on one of them to get the music rolling – complete with band members larking about on said farm covered in straw..
#9 – The Trooper
The Trooper is a single covering war, and specifically, the Charge of The Light Brigade, an operation by the British military during the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War of 1853 to 1856.
The charge was a fiasco – a completely failed operation with troops basically sent on a suicide mission. 600 lightly armoured cavalry were sent to attack Russian artillery forces who were well dug into an elevated firing position. The result was a slaughter – the riders followed orders courageously, and did manage to engage some of the Russian defenders before being forced back. They had suffered 278 casualties in total, with 335 horses killed either in action or immediately afterwards.
There was a major scandal afterwards. In those days, cavalry officers tended to be from well to do families, and had learned to ride by galloping around their country estates as children. Families like that were well connected, and able to kick up quite a stink about the senseless annihilation of their sons. The story was immortalized in a famous poem by Alfred Tennyson, and later by Iron Maiden in their song.
Riggs does a great job of capturing the scene, with Eddie on the battlefield, flag and sabre in hand surrounded by bodies and the grim reaper watching over it all. No horses though. Here’s a flag waving Bruce Dickinson performing the song live during the 666 tour.
#8 – Hallowed be Thy Name
Bruce Dickinson had an itch. He’d been in the band for 12 years, and ridden the highs and lows. But now he was bored. There was little creative spark left in the band, he felt, and not enough originality. He woke up one morning, and saw the LA Times thought for the day.
‘All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous, unpremeditated act without benefit of experience.’Henry Miller (writer)
Clearly, it was written in the stars – he phoned Rod Smallwood to announce he was leaving Iron Maiden.
This caused tension. He agreed a farewell tour, but it wasn’t a triumph. Steve Harris (and some of the fans) thought Dickinson underperformed. (The Hawk was at one of those shows, and indeed, distinctly remembers it being phoned in. One highlight was the famous mike-stand-thrown-high-in-the-air trick, but on this occasion, it came crashing down on Harris’s head. Accident, no doubt.)
Dickinson responded that it was impossible to perform well in the circumstances, and with all the bad vibes. News of his departure had leaked out, causing unhappiness all round. Anyway, it all culminated in a double murder – Dickinson was bumped off once during his final performance, a show called ‘Raising Hell’, with horror magician Simon Drake responsible for the killing along with his evil henchmen.
Dickinson was then done in a second time on the cover of a commemorative single, ‘Hallowed be Thy Name,’ this time almost decapitated by a trident wielding Eddie.
#7 – Brave New World
Dickinson was back after a few years of course, to front the next album whose cover features on The Hawk’s ranking – ‘Brave New World’. The album was named after the novel of the same name by Aldous Huxley – a dystopian story about a future World State that has often drawn comparisons with Orwell’s 1984 with its authoritarianism. Huxley himself borrowed the title from a speech in Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, where Miranda fails to appreciate the evil nature of the island she is stuck on.
‘Oh wonder!Shakespeare / The Tempest
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! Oh brave new world,
That has such people in’t.’
That’s the atmosphere Riggs had to try and capture in his cover art – a futuristic world, but one with a looming evil presence watching over it. Actually, the futuristic world part at the bottom was drawn by someone else – Steve Stone. But it’s Riggs who adds the atmospherics with his brooding Eddie up in the clouds.
#6 – Powerslave
An all-time classic here – the introduction of Egyptian Eddie. The Hawk has written a long blog post on the story of Powerslave already, so head over there for all the lowdown. And over here, let’s just enjoy the song that inspired that design.
#5 – The Number of The Beast
An obvious choice, you might say, but The Hawk is making no apologies for that. Riggs originally painted this cover for the ‘Purgatory’ single way back in 1981 – and it would have worked well there too, with purgatory as the suffering of the dead who haven’t yet made it into heaven or hell, but are presumably well aware of those demons waiting below if the decision goes the wrong way for them.
But anyway, Rod Smallwood decided the artwork was too good for a single, and help it back. So when the band wrote ‘Number of the Beast’ as the title track for their big release in 1983, it was a match made in, ahem, heaven.
The interesting part is that we have the Salvadore Dali-esque red devil front and centre, who we assume to be Satan. But then there’s Eddie above, controlling Satan like a puppet on a string. Eddie as the more powerful controlling force behind Satan himself – it’s quite a metaphor for the journey the band were about to be launched onto at the time.
Apparently, Riggs got the idea from a Doctor Strange comic he’d seen as a kid – there’s always someone more powerful behind the throne.
#4 – Seventh Son of A Seventh Son
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is Maiden’s concept-ish album about clairvoyancy and seeing into the future, and the dark side of those sorts of powers. There’s a blog post on here all about that album, so head on over.
For the cover art, the band just asked Riggs for something surreal that would fit the supernatural theme. There are mixed views about what the inspiration was for the final cover. Bruce Dickinson showed Riggs a picture of traitors frozen in ice in the ninth circle of hell in Dante’s Inferno, and thought that was the origin. Riggs himself claimed he just wanted to do something completely different from the cityscape that had marked the previous album, ‘Somewhere in Time.’ And he might just have been watching a documentary on the TY about polar bears or something. Who cares.
Other interesting touches include Eddie being decapitated and there only from the chest up. He holds a baby still in the womb in one hand, and there’s also the yin and yang apple, and Eddie’s flaming head, a symbol of inspiration stolen from the singer Arthur Brown, the so-called ‘God of Hellfire‘ famous for his theatrical burning helmet.
Anyway, I think we can all agree that the ‘surreal’ part of the brief was delivered in full.
#3 – Flight of Icarus
Greek mythology 101 time. The inventor Daedalus and his son Icarus are imprisoned on Crete by the tyrannical King Minos. Seemingly with no hope of escape, Daedalus came up with the ingenious idea of creating wings for the pair using feathers from birds’ wings, bound together with thread and beeswax.
The plan worked – Daedalus and Icarus escape the island and soar thrillingly away like eagles. They fly further and further away from their evil captor, passing other islands as they go. At this point, Icarus gets complacent and forgets the warning his father gave him, not to fly too high. Up and up he goes, but the old man’s warning proves to be prescient. The sun melts the wax on Icarus’s wings, at which point, he plunges into the sea and drowns.
In the Iron Maiden version of the story, Icarus is a dreamer who wants to touch the son, to experience that ultimate high, only to be betrayed by his father to his death.
Riggs powerfully captures this, portraying the old man as downing his son with a flamethrower.
The band themselves recreated that scene on the Legacy of the Beast tour, with Bruce Dickinson performing the song with a flamethrower in either hand.
#2 – Somewhere in Time
All time classic album, all time classic cover. Aligning with the futuristic theme of the album, Riggs came up with Cyborg Eddie, a robot gunslinger from the future in a scene based loosely around imagery from the Blade Runner movie.
The album featured a wrap-around cover, giving more space with no less than 4 sections to the back cover. Riggs took full advantage, with loads of references to Iron Maiden history. Honestly, The Hawk doesn’t have space to even try and list them all out, which is a shame. Check out this article in Metal Hammer if you want the full run down.
But a few memorable ones from the front cover would be: a street sign reading ‘Acacia’, hence ’22 Acacia Avenue’; a poster from Maiden’s debut album; and an Eye of Horus, bringing us back to the Egyptian imagery from Powerslave.
On the back, standouts include The Ruskin Arms, the London pub that helped launch them onto the scene; L’Amours, a venue they played many times in Brooklyn, New York; and the Tardis from Dr Who – apparently Bruce Dickinson was a fan.
It took Riggs three months to finish everything, and by the end his head was busted because of all the detail. But hopefully he thinks it was worth it – The Hawk does and from this vantage point, it’s one of the all time greats, not only for Iron Maiden, but for heavy metal more widely.
#1 – Sanctuary
And here’s a surprise choice for #1 – Sanctuary, only Maiden’s second ever single release. You might say the cover isn’t quite as interesting as ‘Somewhere in Time’, but for The Hawk, the story behind the art nudges it slightly ahead.
The first verse of the song goes like this:
Out of winter came a warhorse of steel
I’ve never killed a woman before
I know how it feels
I know you’d have gone insane
If you saw what I saw
But now I’ve got to look for
Sanctuary from the lawIron Maiden – Sanctuary
Never killed a woman before, but I know how it feels – weird, right. But anyway, it gave Riggs the idea for a cover featuring Eddie murdering a woman. This was in 1980 – Margaret Thatcher had come to power the previous year and was already proving unpopular in many quarters with her policies causing worsening unemployment. Riggs pondered making Thatcher the victim in his painting, then decided again, thinking the idea a bit off.
Before long, Smallwood came along and asked him to change it so that the woman would look like Margaret Thatcher! No publicity is bad publicity, and Smallwood figured the picture might garner a few headlines. Riggs phoned Thatcher’s office and asked for a poster of her, claiming to be a voter from her constituency and an admirer. They duly sent the poster, Riggs painted it, and the rest is history.
Thatcher seems to have been ripping down an Iron Maiden poster in the scene, which is all the provocation Eddie required.
Smallwood’s instinct for publicity proved to be well placed. The single generated controversy, including a headline in a national newspaper in the UK (‘”It’s murder! Maggie gets rock mugging’), and it was banned in some quarters. But things were generally tongue-in-cheek – Maiden’s next single, ‘Women in Uniform’, has Maggie lying in wait for Eddie on the cover, looking to ambush him with a machine gun.
So that’s the story and that’s the ranking. And with that, it would be criminal not to play out with Sanctuary, so here it is.
There you have it – The Hawk’s 10 best Iron Maiden album and single covers. But I expect it will be controversial. So dive in with your comments. What’s your favourite cover art and why?