Ginger Nuts of Horror
You know Iron Maiden. I know Iron Maiden. Let’s not waste any time waxing lyrical about how amazing they were and still are. Or gush over the fact they remain one of the most influential heavy metal bands of all time. They came, they saw, they conquered – with a unique sound instantly recognisable by even the most fickle of fans. That was until of course, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
The seventh album from Iron Maiden (hey, how’s that for a coincidence with the title! Wait, I’m just been handed a note…oh…ohhh!) was a huge change of direction, veering away from the epitome of British Metal and into the cobweb-filled laboratory, Eddie laughing maniacally with his hand on the knife switch ready to send one billion volts directly into a concept album’s hopeless corpse...
…and it worked. Seventh Son lurched into life, and by the glimmer of a half-extinguished light, opened its dull yellow eyes.
The first thirty seconds of the album throw us into confusion. Are those…keyboards? On a Maiden album? But almost instantly, I’m starting to question if keyboards weren’t a key instrument on the other albums, it sounds so natural, so fitting…so Maiden. Almost exactly a minute later comes a sound we all recognise – Bruce belting out alongside riffical perfection, and we’re suddenly back in our comfort zone – head banging with Eddie. Now as a horror fan I couldn’t be more pleased with the supernatural overtones of Seventh Son. I mean, come on – the first song is sung from the perspective of Satan himself! From the opening track, Moonchild, we are drawn into a tale so deep in mythical folklore it feels as if the music is supplementary to the story itself. As the Devil warns the parents of the seventh son that their resistance is futile, we also realise that resistance is futile for us – this album is gonna rock our socks off! While it’s not the strongest song on the album (hell, that’s like saying one of the Avengers isn’t the strongest of the earth-defending superhuman/mutants they are!), it’s still one of the best intro songs to a Maiden album…in my humble opinion.
Infinite Dreams, the second track, only gives us a minute to catch our breath before ramping up to the full spectacle of Maideny goodness. The seventh son begins to have horrific nightmares, the lyrics toying with the fact he may in fact be enjoying the visions of otherworldly nasties. The song itself is a marvel, the kind of song you’d be happy to play to a non-fan to convert them to the cult of Eddie. What begins as an almost ethereally peaceful track kicks into heavy Maiden pretty soon, with mesmerising vocals and a bass line that compels you to move along to the song. You ain’t sitting still for this one, hell you’ll be lucky if you’re not performing a full operatic performance, falling to your knees and shaking your fist at Satan as you belt out with the Brucemeister, screaming “And again! And again!” again and…well…again. I defy you not to air guitar to the solos!
Can I Play with Madness!! Tell me you didn’t read that title in the exact way Bruce sings it? Really? I don’t believe you. Good old Mr Seventh Son has now embraced his supernatural heritage and has tracked down a wise prophet and his crystal ball to gain peace from the nightmare visions. However the prophet isn’t playing ball (crystal or otherwise), and soon the two are bickering. This is the track that divides – the marmite Maiden. Some say it’s a landmark song, others say it’s a steaming pile of crap…woah, don’t hold back, people! Tell us what you really think?! I’m torn…while I enjoy the song; I agree it doesn’t fit within the overall feel of the album. It’s catchy though – hell, I can’t stop singing the bugger once it’s ended, but is that necessarily a good thing? I can’t stop singing the Thomas the Tank Engine theme when that’s in my head either. Regardless of opinion, you can’t question the vocals. Yowser!
From the first note, you know The Evil That Men Do is gonna be fun – the track is relentless from the get go. Adrian Smith kicks arse, with one of his best solos, and Jesus Christ bananas, if this one isn’t a belter to sing along with! The seventh son has gone and got himself a lady and is lamenting (and enjoying?) the loss of her ‘innocence’. From the intro riff to the incredible solo and everything in between (and believe me when I say it has it all) this track is powerful and passionate. Everything is perfect – vocals, guitars, bass, drums. I don’t need to say any more than that.
The titular track of the album, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, tells of the birth of the seventh’s son seventh son (surprisingly). Good and Evil watch in awe, each trying to lure the son to their side. The pace of the song is strong, with an unrelenting bass line that carries through to the end. Any doubts over the use of synthesisers are vanquished as they are used to set an eerie mood that feels like the death of a beloved character to us (which it could actually be, is the original seventh son dead?). The finale of the song culminates between a battle of guitars between Adrian Smith and Dave Murray that will make you weep (in a good way of course), as McBrain kicks the ever-loving crap out of his drum kit. The kind of song that makes you want to run out and learn to play…well, maybe tomorrow.
The Prophecy is another change of pace that doesn’t quite seem to fit the rest of the album. The Seventh Son (of a seventh son) has chosen the side good, but little old Lucifer has other plans. He plots disaster against the Son’s village, knowing the townsfolk won’t believe the Son’s warnings. When disaster strikes instead of believing the Son’s predictions, the townsfolk think he caused it and turn against him. Maybe this is why the tempo slows and the mood becomes sombre, but for me it doesn’t ring true to Maiden’s style. There doesn’t seem to be any “catch” to it at all, nothing that keeps it in my head once it’s over.
The Clairvoyant details the Son’s struggles with his power. Battling with the devil along with all his losses over his lifetime have taken their toll, and he fears his power will consume him. The first twenty seconds of the song always confuse the hell out of me. The funky bass makes me think I’m listening to the Chili Peppers every damn time. But soon enough it turns less funky, and more metal. For me this is where the album should have ended, not that the next track is bad, just that this song feels like The End. The operatic finale, the final boss fight, the death…
The album instead ends with Only the Good Die Young. The Seventh Son lies dying; middle finger extended to the rest of humanity as he prophesies their eventual doom. From the first note there’s a sense of urgency, but it dies out before the titular character does. I get it, the loop is closing and we’re ending where we started…allowing the Seventh Son to be reborn again perhaps? He does hint about being reborn at the end of The Clairvoyant, and who should know better than someone who can see the future? But unfortunately this is the weakest song of the lot. Shame to end on such a note.
And with that the concept is complete. The story told. A lot of people think it was madness to try, but if there’s one thing Maiden are good at, it’s madness.