Posts Tagged ‘Iron Maiden’

This is a revelation of an ongoing project I have been working on for a while now. History is important to metal, in many shapes and forms. History is also very important to me. It is what I got my degree in at university, it was the subject I was best at at school, and it is a hobby of mine. I like to seek out the lesser told parts of history, the parts you don’t learn about at school, the parts that have no bearing on my homeland or my life. These are the things that interest me. It seems to be a theme in my life, as my music is another place where I search for the obscure, the less popular, the different. Thankfully, all those things are ably found with help of the big bad web.

Metalheads revere the HISTORY of their genre; the older bands that laid the way for the new bands that appear every day. Bands like Mercyful Fate, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Venom, Death and of course, Black Sabbath. The latter being the most important of them all. But what unites many bands is their appreciation of human history, of events long past. In many cases it is war, be it the World War II themed death metal of Hail of Bullets or the juggernaut of Bolt Thrower. War is a central theme through hundreds of metal bands.

Inspiration from people of great evil from human history is another common theme, be it the malicious Blood Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the ‘Hangman of Prague’ Reinhard Heydrich or the galloping butcher Attila the Hun. Tales of their roles in history are tied to metal songs, and there are many more I haven’t mentioned. But it seems that HISTORY as a subject is important in many ways.

Our most famous examples of such bands include Iron Maiden, Sabaton, Hail of Bullets, Bolt Thrower, Eastern Front and so on. But numerous other songs with some rooting in a historical place, time or figure exist. I want to examine how important it is as a form of expression. How these times in the past are considered worthy of immortalising in a song. What bands find in the themes or symbolism of the past that is revelant to their particular message. As I have started this research, it amazes me how frequently historical references appear in metal songs. They are everywhere, from the blasting Marduk to the psychedelica of The Meads of Asphodel; from the fist pumping heavy metal of Saxon to the howling death of Nile.

Footnote: I am, wherever possible, trying to stay away from mythological referencing, as that would make this project massively unwieldy and potentially inaccurate. I have a great respect for mythology, and I do believe a lot of it will have roots in real events or people. But as a historian myself, I will seek the evidence rather than the conjecture. I’ll examine how the stories of the past work as metal songs or inspirations. This is going to be a passion project that will see the light of day in the future. One hopes

 

Maiden are one of these bands that metalheads can rely on. Like Motorhead and AC/DC, you know what you’re getting with an Iron Maiden album. Although perhaps not this time, as the trademark gallop and catchy choruses are reigned in to a greater extent than previous efforts, and the band have taken time to write some really epic prog metal songs. A natural follow up to its progressive predecessor, ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, ‘The Final Frontier’ challenges all preconceptions of Iron Maiden’s style. The opening title track leads of with about 4 minutes of strange, spaceshipy noises with Bruce Dickinson in the background before it starts proper. It’s a decent opener, not as instantly classic as most Maiden lead-off singles are but then again its better than ‘Wildest Dreams’. ‘El Dorado’ follows with a more traditional Maiden guitar sound, galloping riffs surrounding a memorable chorus and arguably one of the better, ‘accessible’ tracks the band have written in many years. ‘The Alchemist’ is another Maiden galloper, catchy and traditional.

From there, the band veer off into slightly more uncharted territory. Epic prog is now the order of the day, with most tracks over 7 and a half minutes. In fact this is the longest album they’ve ever written, including titanic closer ‘When the Wild Wind Blows’. They all follow a similar pattern with acoustic, soft intros building up into the main songs. Yet, with such talented guitarists, Maiden unplugged is always something special. It’s also incredibly refreshing to see a band, thirty years after their debut and proclaimed rightly as legends, willing to mess with their sound, write albums and songs that they want to, rather than what is expected. Highlights are the less traditional Maiden tracks, such as ‘Starblind’ and ‘Isle of Avalon’, while ‘El Dorado’ is a serious grower. I wasn’t sure of it the first time I heard it, yet it’s now one of my favoured Maiden tracks outside the classics from ‘Edward the Great’.

‘The Final Frontier’ is a staggering achievement. In a day of watered down imitations, bands who are content to release album after album of the same thing and bands who are happy to rest on the laurels of previous achievements, it’s so satisfying to see pioneers of the genre mix things up so successfully. Iron Maiden have written one of the most ambitious works of their career, each listen providing you with new things to notice. The gauntlet is thrown down, and there are no challengers to Maiden’s supremacy as titans of heavy metal.