October 7, 2012

John's Album of the Week: Iron Maiden "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son"

Guest post by John Ross:

I was recently at a poker game with a bunch of friends when the topic of Iron Maiden and their best album came up. "Easy", one buddy said, "NUMBER OF THE BEAST." "PIECE OF MIND" said another. "SOMEWHERE IN TIME for sure; 'Wasted Years' is an awesome song", said a third. For the record, I love all those albums and have no argument with any of those choices. It's very telling of the depth of a band's discography when no one can agree on what their best album is, which brings us to my answer. "SEVENTH SON OF A SEVENTH SON with a bullet", I said. My buddy Cheeze almost spit out his drink all over the poker table. "But that's the worst one!" Sorry, Cheeze, but I strongly disagree. Have you heard NO PRAYER FOR THE DYING?

I've been a Maiden fan for as long as I've had the ability to choose my own music (1985 or so). The first album I ever bought was SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1986) on cassette, so even though by '88 when I was well into my "Thrasher" phase, it was with great anticipation that I waited for Maiden's new concept album SEVENTH SON OF A SEVENTH SON. I still remember running to the mall at lunch break in grade 10 and grabbing the tape from the record store. Then after lunch in World Religion class with my buddy Jay, I poured over Derek Riggs's awesome cover art and all the liner notes. "This looks amazing", I told Jason. "I think I'm gonna skip fourth quarter and go home and check it out". And that's what I did.

The album starts and ends with a portentous rhyme ("Seven deadly sins. Seven ways to win. Seven holy paths to hell, And your trip begins. Seven downward slopes. Seven bloodied hopes. Seven are your burning fires, Seven your desires…"), setting up and closing off the tale of the titular "Seventh Son", a man born with the powers of healing and second sight. Over eight tracks, they tell the tale of his birth, his prophecy of disaster and his eventual death, which he has foreseen. The concept is solid if unremarkable, it's more of just a framework to lay down eight solid, hook-filled songs. Maiden expands on the keyboard use they started on "Somewhere in Time" on songs like the opening track "Moonchild" and lead-off single "Can I Play with Madness", which may have contributed to the album's relative unpopularity around these parts in '88 (power chords and double bass drumming were the order of the day, not British Metal bands with keyboards and Prog leanings). More's the shame because I think this album shows Maiden in top form with some of my favorite production ever on an album; every instrument sounds perfectly balanced with Bruce Dickinson's vocals (which are some of his best on this album IMHO).

SEVENTH SON was not coincidentally Iron Maiden's seventh album and considered by most to be the last of the classic Maiden cycle. Guitarist Adrien Smith left after SEVENTH SON over arguments with band leader/bass player Steve Harris over the direction of the band's next lackluster effort NO PRAYER FOR THE DYING, and Dickinson followed after their next, better effort FEAR OF THE DARK in '92. That's were I admittedly got off the Maiden boat, missing the Blaze Bayley years (Dickinson's replacement). I've heard things improved again with the return of Smith and Dickinson in the 2000's, but I've yet to check back in. SEVENTH SON remains to this day the high point for me with Iron Maiden. If you want to hear a Metal band at their creative peak, give it a listen, or, if you never liked it back in the day, give 'er another shot. You never know, you may like it.

Choice Cut: "The Clairvoyant"

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