To quote a text I sent, “Maiden’s artwork in the Seventh Son era is the fucking boss……”. The music’s not too shabby either.
There’s two things that made the stars align with this album (for me):
Back in ’87, I discovered Iron Maiden via Live After Death. Next was ‘Somewhere In Time’ which I bought on vinyl from a friend’s older brother for, I believe £3 (a chunk of money back then). So it was with [understatement] much [/understatement] excitement when I found out there was going to be a new album on the horizon.
My journey started off with the lead single ‘Can I Play With Madness?’ being delivered into my grubby little hands by an Aunt (I think….). I was instantly captivated by the artwork, I mean how could you not? Even now, almost 30 years later, I still look at it and still do a Fonzie-thumbs-up in my mind. Fast forward a few months (I’m assuming I had the single somewhere not long after it’s March release date….) and it’s my birthday (October, thanks for asking) and I have some money to spend. So, because duh, I want to buy the new Maiden album. So I take the train into town with my Mum (I was 9, cut me some slack) to purchase the album. We depart from the train at Queen Street station and head down the stairs where I am confronted with this poster:
As if I was bouncing around like a kid who’s had too much sugar (most probably) and has money to burn (most definitely). So off we went to HMV Cardiff. I can remember so clearly that the front half of the shop was vinyl then there was a step up and that was, I presume, cassettes and CDs and videos or something. I can’t remember buying any videos from HMV… Virgin Megastore, yes. Anywho….. so at some point we head back to the train station. I’m presuming that I was dragged around various other shops whilst we were there. Pretty sure we would have gone to a shoe shop because that’s what we seemed to do every time we went to town… After we’d walked part of the way back from the train, we reached the corner of the street at which point I decided that I couldn’t wait any longer, such was my excitement, so promptly ran the remaining 160 meters (thank you Google Maps) to the front door. Only to then have to wait 5 minutes while my Mum walked the rest of he way being as I was 9 and didn’t have a set of front door keys. I spent quite a bit of time pouring over the artwork and the lyrics and the cover. To this day, it’s the finest artwork Derek Riggs has ever done for Maiden. In fact his work from Powerslave up to this album is the pinnacle.
So what of the songs…. the music?!?! Continuing a tradition started on the first album, the first 4 tracks on the album are all belters: ‘Moonchild’, ‘Infinite Dreams’, ‘Can I Play With Madness’, ‘The Evil That Men Do’. I mean…. seriously. What an opening. ‘Moonchild’ draws us in with some acoustic strumming and Bruce’s gentle tones before seguing into *GASP**SHOCK**HORROR* synths. And then we’re off to the races with a frenetic up-tempo tune that was surely written with one eye on the following live tour. Things are taken down a notch with ‘Infinite Dreams’, the music perfectly matching the lyrical sentiment of the song. moving from a gentle dream to a violent nightmare. There’s some isolated master tracks floating around the internet, and hearing Bruce’s scream without music is amazing.
Lead single ‘Can I Play With Madness’ follows ‘Wasted Years’ precedes ‘Holy Smoke and ‘From Here To Eternity’ in the “mid-tempo, catchy chorus” category. I remember watching a short clip of this video on Top Of The Pops. Featuring Monty Python’s Graham Chapman in one of last on screen performances before his death, whilst the live version features some lovely off-key vocals at the start. ‘The Evil That Men Do’ sees out side 1 in fine fashion with some fine vocals from Bruce and a darker tone musically and lyrically that ‘CIPWM’.
Side two opens with the title track. It’s a sprawling synth-driven epic clocking in at almost 10 minutes. It is, for me, the finest track of the album and tonally, the most proggy Maiden song up until that point. It was also one of the songs on the following tour that proved to be a bit of a handful for Bruce. Notorious for ramping up the tempo in the live setting the refrain of “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” became akin to a tongue twister. I’ve always had a soft spot for ‘The Prophecy’. I like its swagger and groove, I also think it’s one of Maiden’s heaviest songs (heavy defined as punch rather than the octave the song is in). I also can’t shake the synaptic link between this song and Queen’s ‘Innuendo’. I think it’s the fact that they both have an almost Middle Eastern note choice and the acoustic sections in both songs are contradictory to the heavy guitars that precede them. Who knows! ‘The Clairvoyant’ has a great Harris bass line opener and is most memorable for me for the time by younger brother decided to sing the chorus line of “there’s a time to live and a time to die” whilst our family was in church. Whilst the lyrics and my brother were both factually correct, my parents didn’t appreciate the performance. ‘Only The Good Die Young’ closes out the album in fine style with a galloping rhythm section and a very catchy vocal melody and we end as we begin with the acoustic opener from Moonchild bringing the story to a close. Ah yes. The story.
Make no mistake, this is a concept album. Yes, there are no musical motifs that reoccur (save for the opening and closing of the record), yes, there is no lyrical through line (such as in The Wall or The Crimson Idol) but it’s easy to see the “plot line”. I’m not going to be focussing specifically on the lyrics but more the thematic ideas (or at least, my interpretation of them) of each song. I also think that each song has a loose timeframe to it too. Let’s go track by track and to make it easier we’ll name our 7th son…. let’s call him…. Eddie (!!).
1. Moonchild (Birth – Infancy)
The birth of Eddie and foreshadowing of the battle between good and evil for his soul
2. Infinite Dreams (Child – Teen)
Eddie has dreams that he cannot understand. Either they are premonitions or visuals of events yet to come.
3. Can I Play with Madness (Teen)
The truth is revealed to Eddie about his powers and gifts
4. The Evil That Men Do (Teen – Young Adult)
The loss of innocence (both his and the world around him).
5. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (Interlude Recap – Transition into Adulthood)
Recaps the story so far. The battle for Eddie’s soul as well as the powers he holds.
6. The Prophecy (Adulthood)
Eddie is able to interpret his visions and dreams but is unable to convince those around him that his words are real. Once the disaster happens, he is blamed for it and shunned.
7. The Clairvoyant (Adulthood)
Confronted with visions of his own death yet unable to interpret them.
8. Only the Good Die Young (Adulthood – Death)
With his death impending, Eddie lashes out at the society around him for their lack of belief in his real powers whilst putting their faith in religions and societal morals
Naturally, there are lines in all these songs that support my interpretation and lines that flat out contradict them. Bruce himself has said that he was initially excited about the concept but he felt the resultant album (lyrically) lacked a story and was only “half a concept album”. I can see the validity in that. I’m under no illusions that my reasoning for calling this a concept album is tenuous at best. But still…..
The tour that followed was captured on the Maiden England VHS (and later DVD). This was a huge part of my childhood. Already primed for a great experience via the Live After Death VHS, this one didn’t disappoint. Although a ragged show vocally for Bruce, this is a representation of a band at the top of their game. This really was the pinnacle of 80s Maiden. Aesthetically, it’s vastly different from LAD. Steve Harris wanted this one to be from a fan’s perspective hence the lack of audience shots as well as there being a reliance on stage-lip cameras as opposed to cranes. I have very fond memories of “performing” this video in my parent’s living room. Using a broom as a microphone sand, I leapt along the sofa and armchairs like a utter. Sometimes I would be a guitar player. I, of course, had a tennis racquet that doubled for a guitar but I’d also managed to procure an actual fretboard from somewhere which I dutifully taped onto the racquet’s handle.
One of my fav. bits of the video is the reference to Sooty. Already a feature of my childhood, in 1988 the worlds of Maiden and puppetry collided in the most bizarre manner when Nicko McBrain popped up on a Sooty episode as part of a storyline revolving around a talent contest. Wearing a fabulous aqua blue silk shirt, Nicko demonstrates his drumming chops with his usual aplomb. Hence why, pretty much since then onwards, there’s been a Sooty puppet on the front of Nicko’s kit during touring. I must have recorded a repeat of this episode as there would have been no way to know it was on the first time it was broadcast. I had a VHS that had this on it as well as a BBC documentary on heavy metal (I’ll be covering that in the future).
I think…. that this is my fav. Maiden album. It was the first album that was released after I became a fan. It’s intricately woven into my metal origin story. I can (and do) listen to this album without skipping a single track. I often toy with the idea of buying a large print of the artwork to frame. It is, for me, the culmination of a 3 album run that is just perfect Maiden. Afterwards the albums get a bit patchy in terms of song quality and 6 years of this release two of the member of My Maiden would be gone not to return until (almost) a new century. Everything about this album is stellar, from the phenomenal artwork (including the singles) to the song writing to the production. there will obviously be fans who will cite Number Of The Beast of Piece of Mind as quintessential Maiden. But I believe this is the album that does that. From the shorter, catchy “single” songs, to the longer progressive tracks. Musical dynamics of shade and light, aggression and tenderness. It’s all here. It remains a timeless piece of work.