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Flying in the face of the music industry
Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son - Iron Maiden
Member Name: TheWiseMan
Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son - Iron Maiden
Date: 12/01/11, updated on 12/01/11 (27 review reads)
Advantages: Every song is strong
Disadvantages: No classic track
The first thing the younger metal fans did was try and work out what a concept album meant. The words 'Rick Wakeman' and 'Tales From Topographic Oceans' swam through the mind. The 'Topographic' album by Yes had been intended as the crowning glory of concept albums and had ended-up destroying this entire musical deviation / sub-culture. A concept album tells a story; all songs being linked. The previous album from 1986 had all featured songs about the nature of time, but had never been called a concept album.
When 'Seventh Son' was released my memory is of it reaching number 2 in the album charts, held off the top by Erasure. I appear to be mistaken as every source I have consulted states the album was indeed a number 1, the first since 1982s 'The Number of the Beast'. I must have had a bigger heavy metal persecution complex than I realised. The album I held in my hands off course featured the bands mascot 'Eddie' on the sleeve. The illustration by Derek Riggs was superb; with vocalist Dickinson subsequently stating he believed it was inspired by Dante. The full wrap-round sleeve has the reconstituted remains of 'Eddie' hovering above a wasteland of ice. Above him in a surreal twist are light bulbs floating in the sky. His cranium is exposed, revealing a flame. His heart is replaced by an apple (presumably rotten) and in his hand he holds a child within a womb, apparently plucked from his own innards. In the background, persons are trapped within the ice; seemingly still alive. If Dickinson is correct, Derek Riggs has placed 'Eddie' within Dante's Ninth Circle of Hell, with 'Eddie' presiding in the centre. Dante reserves this circle of Hell for traitors, with Satan in the middle as the ultimate traitor (against God). I saw a UK television programme at the time, with Dickinson holding up an illustration of Dante's Ninth Circle of Hell in order to explain his point. Could you imagine Jon Bon Jovi in a similar scenario?
The album begins with a gentle acoustic piece; Dickinson backed by 1 guitar. He takes the role of minstrel; half entertaining and half threatening. He dwells on the number 7 - the deadly sins, etc. He tells us there are '7 Holy Paths to Hell' before our trip begins. This is almost the Siege Perilous of the Holy Grail. We are being dared to listen to the story. We are being dared to sit on the deadly chair. As Dickinson stops, a keyboard riff suddenly opens up; heavy synth bass. This doesn't sound like Maiden, but I like it. It is menacing. Then drums and guitar arrive together, like a massive bell being sounded. It is an astounding introduction which build up to become the metal equivalent of Richard Wagner. The first verse of 'Moonchild' is full of mystical lyrics. This mysticism was also prevalent within the inner sleeve, with each lyric partnered by an occult / esoteric symbol. Dickinson's voice is rich and clear as he sings 'Lucifer's My Name!' The title evokes Crowley and the Golden Dawn. A child has been conceived within magickal circumstances and the powers of good and evil must now battle for his soul. He is literally the seventh son of a seventh son. According to legend, such people are blessed / cursed with occult powers. This is a deliberately dark song. The band has invoked King Herod as we listen to lyrics of death and slaughter.
The pace of track 2 is the complete opposite. 'Infinite Dreams' is one of Maiden's slowest songs, their equivalent of a ballad. Again Dickinson is crisp and clear. The musicianship is both dynamic and bold, with fluid production from Martin Birch. Our hero / villain is coming to terms with his insights and powers. Like Nostradamus and Russell Grant, he is having visions. The bass / percussion interaction is actually very laid back for a Maiden track. I would love to hear the original tapes, just to listen to McBrain and Harris. The song undergoes a successful chord change and the pace builds and then takes on another chord change, taking us to familiar Maiden galloping bass territory. A swashbuckler of a guitar solo leads onto a twin lead guitar melody from Smith and Murray. A second solo is added towards the end, before the twin guitar melody is re-harnessed. A live version of the track - from Castle Donnington - reached number 6 in the UK charts.
The third track is the big one in terms of singles. 'Can I Play With Madness' was released as a single prior to the album's release and shocked the UK record buying public when it went straight in at number 3. Very few bands had achieved this in the 1980s, with Duran Duran being the finest exponent of the high chart entry. With such a catchy song and high chart debut, some decent radio airplay would have been expected. BBC Radio 1 were not playing along however; their anti-rock policy helping ensure the song never made reached the top of the chart. This song reflects the teenage angst of our seventh son; arguably an occult precursor to 'Smell Like Teen Spirit'. The song is pacey with a forthright chorus and a slick, short guitar solo which always reminds me of the country Japan for reasons I have never been able to fathom.
Track 4 is 'The Evil That Men Do' - another top ten hit in the UK (number 5). The mystical lyrics caused indignation when printed by Smash Hits magazine, prompting jeering letters from Bros and Brother Beyond fans. The track starts mid tempo before launching into Maiden's trademarked 'galloping' Black Beauty bass / percussion. Dickinson starts low and then goes through a whole range of vocal styles. Any Bruce detractors really should listen to this one. Vocally, he does it all here. Side two of the album starts with the title track. At just under 10 minutes long, this is the epic piece. An Iron Maiden album always has an epic track; some great, some not so great. This one is superb. The song is backed by a choir (possibly keyboard generated). Dickinson sings his heart out, with lengthy vocal operatic pieces at the end of each verse. The chorus is basic, but what it lacks in imagination it make up for in verve. Then Dickinson is off again, all operatic and Wagnerian. The guitar is solid, going from traditional rock to searing laser melody. Bruce then gives it some welly, with an extended operatic chant, before the volume drops considerably. There are strange noises reminiscent of the theme from a US slasher movie; all very unsettling. The choir builds and the guitars are like lightning strikes. Nico McBrain's drums build in volume and pace, before the band crashes in metal harmony into a climax. Suddenly a tremendous double layered guitar solo arrives, as Murray and Smith battle it out.
The next track 'The Prophecy' sees our seventh son battle with his gift / curse. He has had a vision of a disaster to befall his village, but no one is listening. He is trying to follow the path of good but no one cares. In the background, Lucifer waits and smiles. It is all very Star Wars. Will the lad choose the dark side? The outro to this track is beautiful. The song fades into an acoustic piece, two guitars in harmony, sounding like something from a Royal Court in the middle ages. The next track 'The Clairvoyant' then kicks in with a sensational bass introduction. It's hard and vibrant and so utterly Steve Harris. He has a way of slapping those strings which make it sound like he is playing two instruments. Then the guitar joins in with a glorious and uplifting melody, before the drums crash in furious perfection. The seventh son is worried. He doesn't know if he can control his powers. Another top ten smash in the UK charts; a phenomenal hit single achievement, far exceeding any of their previous triumphs.
The final track is 'Only The Good Die Young' where we are informed the 'evil seem to live forever' - the album ends with a very similar piece to that which introduced the work. Presumably our hero has popped his clogs. Or has he? Maybe he has chosen the dark side after all. When you think about it, this album is Harry Potter as much as it is Star Wars.
This album was vastly superior to the previous Maiden album and for me is their last classic release. It represents their high water mark and should be regarded as a cornerstone of heavy metal. The music establishment at the BBC didn't appreciate how many millions this band made for the record industry or had to hand over in income tax, etc. The like of Iron Maiden and Def Leppard were propping up the UK economy at one point.
Summary: A well rounded album