Vince is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met. In high school he was into the types of things I wasn’t, like math and role-playing games.
But we both liked music, and even got together once with the idea of playing some. But some differences were evident right away – I liked Guns and Roses and could barely play, and he liked Rush and knew about things like scales and harmonics.
He also really liked – and likes – Iron Maiden. Which seems like a strange thing to me because he’s so smart. I asked him to explain the band to me in 500 words or less. Here goes:
“Let me put this out there right away: Iron Maiden is a very silly band.
They have this song, “Déjà Vu.” Now, that title’s a pretty good start, and in fact a bunch of other artists have tracks with that same name. Let’s listen for a moment to Eminem and see what he raps about in “Déjà Vu”, from his album Relapse:
Kinda feels like déjà vu
I wanna get away from this place I do
But I can’t
and I won’t…
And why I just don’t know
He’s talking about his cycle of dependency on drugs and drink. Really personal stuff. So what’s Maiden’s same-titled song talk about?
Have you ever talked to someone
And you feel you know what’s coming next
It feels pre-arranged
Iron Maiden’s song “Déjà Vu” is about, that’s right, déjà vu. It’s such a weird feeling! Thanks for the insight, guys.
Other songs have all the poetry of a history lesson. There’s all their obsessions: Airplanes. Fencing. War. The TV show The Prisoner. This is all guy stuff — there isn’t much room for women in Iron Maiden’s world.
At one point in “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son,” after multiple key and tempo changes, the song gets all quiet and singer Bruce Dickinson starts talking about clairvoyant children. Every time I hear this, I expect to see a bunch of dwarves dancing around an 18-inch Stonehenge replica.
I love this stuff.
Iron Maiden got me into heavy metal, and they’re still my favourite metal band. Metallica makes better music, but Iron Maiden, with their epic songs, is way more fun. Go to one of their shows and you get galloping bass lines, banshee vocals and wild solos. Bruce hams it up for the crowd.
When the classic lineup got back together, they decided to add a third guitarist. All of them play lead. They have THREE LEAD GUITARISTS.
The withered face of their mascot Eddie beams from every album cover. Eddie is always be having a good time, whether he’s rising from the dead, playing with the devil, or running you through with a bayonet. The band’s imagery definitely tends to the horrific, but it’s with a wink.
Right when you think they might be taking it all too seriously, a 12-foot-tall cyborg zombie Eddie spark-shooting puppet lumbers across the stage, or you see an Eddie bobble head for sale at the merch stand.
The band’s definitely in on the joke. But there was a time when there really wasn’t a joke to be in on.
Before Bruce joined the band, Iron Maiden released two albums with a different singer.
In my teens I rarely listened to that stuff — it was like the music if another band. I wanted “Revelations” and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, whose grandiosity appealed to me the same way D&D did. Before Bruce was part of the band — well, that wasn’t really Iron Maiden.
That’s the thing. They were a different band. They were also a better band. Much better.
Because I ignored those first two albums in my teens, when I listen to them now they aren’t filtered through nostalgia. They’re really, really good. Especially the first one.
I grew up thinking Bruce Dickinson pretty much defined the band’s sound, but now I realize he’s their Ronnie James Dio to Paul Di’Anno’s Ozzy, or Brian Johnson to Bon Scott. He’s good, really good. Technically a better singer, even. But man, was that original singer something else.
The songs were less opera and more twisted. “Prowler” is the story of a stalker who I hope is just a flasher. “Sanctuary” is about someone on the run after murdering a woman. “Charlotte the Harlot” is as close as the band ever got to a love song. But Charlotte’s a hooker, and the narrator can’t help but take advantage of her even while telling her she should quit.
The song “Iron Maiden” closes out their first album, and every one of the band’s shows. Its lyrics sound like something from death metal:
Won’t you come into my room, I wanna show you all my wares.
I just want to see your blood, I just want to stand and stare.
See the blood begin to flow as it falls upon the floor.
But it’s way worse for your soul than death metal. In these early songs, the bass lines and drums keep everything moving, and Paul has a kind of desperation to his wailing. There’s a punk edge to their sound, but also metal virtuosity without the wanking. It’s under-produced just right. This
stuff is downright catchy. It swings.
Iron Maiden wrote the music old ladies have been warning you about since rock ’n’roll first went on the airwaves. It’s twisted, it’s ugly, it’s violent, but it also gets you to tap your foot. It makes you want to move. Their best stuff is so good because it’s exactly what your teachers and your mom and your priest worried about.
It’s devil music.