In many ways, Run to the Hills is one of the best rock band biographies I have ever read. Now in its third edition, the book chronicles Iron Maiden's legendary career from the mid 1970s to the recent Dance of Death tour of 2003. Nearly every major player in the Iron Maiden saga is interviewed and the text is always engaging and informative.
Mick Wall's account frequently serves a dual purpose: as much as he gives a detailed history of the band, he also brings us back to the long ago glory days of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Affectionately dubbed NWOBHM, the movement was spearheaded by bands like Def Leppard, Saxon, Angel Witch, Diamond Head and of course Iron Maiden. Though many of these bands were destined for cult status, a very few became some of the most popular rock bands in the world during the 1980s. Out of the most commercially successful bands of that era, only Iron Maiden are still able to fill the largest stadiums and arenas the world over.
For all their success, the band have experienced their fair share of ups and downs over the years. I was particularly moved by the tragic circumstances surrounding the firing of guitarist Dennis Stratton. Bassist/founding member Steve Harris and manager Rod Smallwood are likewise very frank when opining on the self destructive behavior of ex band members such as Paul Di'Anno and Clive Burr. Harris at one time was unflatteringly known as "Sergeant Major Harris" and neither he or the band's no nonsense manager were afraid to loose anyone within the Maiden camp for clouding up their quest for worldwide dominance. It is important to remember that the band hailed from the tough streets of London's East End and Iron Maiden were very much a gang during their inception. They never lost that streetwise mindset and anyone under the suspicion of betraying the gang was frequently dealt with severely.
Even though there are many humorous episodes scattered throughout Wall's relatively hefty tome, I found the book to have an overall dark tone. This is not your typical lurid band biography recounting gory details of groupies and drugs, although references to both are made on occasion. Instead the focus is on the struggle that catapulted the band to their current well deserved status as heavy metal icons. During the process, the reader obtains a vivid portrait of nearly every band member that ever passed through Maiden's ranks.
Run to the Hills is not perfect. Mick Wall races through the band's peak commercial years in only twenty out of nearly four hundred pages. It is a shame that the band's middle period isn't nearly as detailed as the Paul Di'Anno era.
Most problematic of all is the stylistic shift after the chapter entitled "Virtual Reality". A glance at the publishing information page tells me why: chapter sixteen was written by Dave Ling and chapters seventeen through twenty two by Chris Ingham. Apparently, Mick Wall was not involved with the later editions of the book and it's made all too obvious during the conclusion. The final chapters are little more than reprints of recent magazine articles, as informative and up to date as they are. Consequently, the narrative of the Bruce Dickinson/Adrian Smith reunion era is somewhat choppy compared to Walls' gently unfolding history of Iron Maiden.
Still, Run to the Hills is a remarkable book and I cannot imagine the average fan not eagerly gobbling it up. As epic and dramatic as any Iron Maiden album, it gives the reader a whole new appreciation for one of the most influential bands in all of heavy metal.