Before Bruce Dickinson, before Number of the Beast, before the international stadium tours, face-melting pyrotechnics and towering Eddie monoliths. Before the private planes, Gold records, Grammy wins and collectible merch. Before Iron Maiden the brand — it was just Iron Maiden, the hard-charging, piss-taking, game-changing band from East London.
In 1980, Maiden stormed onto the scene with their raw, ripping self-titled debut, which helped set the blueprint for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal sound. Its critical and commercial success also emboldened founding bassist Steve Harris and his crew — singer Paul Di'Anno, guitarists Dave Murray and Dennis Stratton and drummer Clive Burr — to push themselves even further.
When Maiden's follow-up, Killers, arrived on February 2nd, 1981, it was clear these scrappers had something new to express — and they were going to say it loudly and grandly as they possibly could. From the opening drum rolls and dual-guitar theatrics of intro "The Ides of March" to stone-cold bangers like "Wrathchild," "Murders in the Rue Morgue" and the title track, Killers jumps out of the speakers. (Thanks, in part, to producer Martin Birch, who would go on to helm their next seven albums). Di'Anno stretches his guttural, punky vocals into more ambitious territory while Murray and new guitarist Adrian Smith (who replaced Stratton) bring straight fire to Harris' intricate, galloping compositions. Iron Maiden set a new standard for themselves on Killers — but soon after its release they also reached a potentially dire crossroads.
"This was also when we started to have problems with Paul," Harris told Revolver in 2007. "We'd get out on tour for a couple months, and he'd start complaining about everything. We all liked Paul — we still like him now as a person — but he just didn't want to be there. He had this self-destruct button, and we knew if we carried on with him, he would take us under."
Di'Anno received his walking papers — but Maiden came up golden when they found a replacement in former Samson vocalist Bruce Dickinson. Dickinson would famously lead the band on their next album, 1982 smash hit The Number of the Beast, and the rest is history.
For the 40th anniversary of Killers, we present a look at the wild times that surrounded Iron Maiden's formative, pre-Dickinson years — offering a glimpse of a band brimming with youthful bravado and unrefined potential on the verge of becoming one of the most significant and successful heavy-metal acts on the planet.