As I sit typing this, Iron Maiden is currently embarking on their Legacy of the Beast tour. Legacy of the Beast is Iron Maiden’s mobile game. If you didn’t know, Iron Maiden rule the world. So because their Los Angeles show is coming up; what better time to write a review of all sixteen of their albums leading up to it. Their show is Saturday, September 14th at the Banc of California Stadium. So every work day (including one day with two), there will be a song-by-song Iron Maiden album review. Yesterday, Eddie was working hard on Labor Day with Somewhere in Time. Today it’s their epic, concept album, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.
Background on Seventh Son
After Somewhere in Time, Iron Maiden was fully into a new sound for the band. Yes, they were still a heavy metal band that played loud, but they were experimenting with synthesizers and keyboards. Bruce Dickinson was disheartened after his songwriting contributions weren’t used for the previous album. Steve Harris had ideas to change that.
After reading Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card, Steve Harris was infatuated with the myth. It just so happened that Iron Maiden’s next album would be their seventh. It was perfect timing. After he mulled it over, he called Dickinson immediately and they were off with the genesis of the album.
For those of you that don’t know the Seventh Son myth. It goes like this: a boy is born as the seventh son, of a seventh son, there are no female siblings, it’s just a line of boys born in a family. That seventh son will have special powers such as second sight and other paranormal gifts. The number seven has taken on a mythical status in our society.
For the first time in the band’s history alongside the writing process they made sure the songs fit along with the overall story of the album. The band has said that this made the writing process harder but more fulfilling and the songs ended up being better than anything they’ve written.
The last change from the previous album is that the guitar synthesizers were gone. They would be replaced with keyboards on the album. This was a welcome change for many that didn’t like the synths but it also was an update to the new sound that Maiden was working with. That’s it for background, let’s get on with the show.
Track 1: Moonchild
“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….” What a goddamn way to open an album. If you weren’t hooked by the album artwork showing Eddie either in the far, far, future or the far, far, past, this would get you. The keyboards and guitars kick in close to this. I remember hearing this when I was in 8th grade. Having just seen Iron Maiden for the first time, bought all of their albums that I could, and slammed those onto my iPod. I went for a nice stroll during class time and fired up this album, and had to immediately sit down.
“Moonchild” like I said in the Somewhere in Time review, is tied with “Stranger in a Strange Land” for my favorite Iron Maiden song. This song has it all for Iron Maiden. It’s even a little faster and more aggressive than their normal material. It tells the story of the Seventh Son and his birth. The battle between good and evil for his gifts. Lucifer himself warns the parents of the boys birth. If he is born, his whole life and his family’s life will be torture. The boy cannot escape his grasp. The family escapes with the baby but Lucifer states he’ll follow the boy forever. One of the best opening tracks for any album.
Track 2: Infinite Dreams
For most bands, ballads are about women, love, loss, or something else of that ilk. For Iron Maiden, their ballad on this album is about someone going insane from visions of the future. The Seventh Son to be specific. Grown up now, our protagonist can see the future, he can see everything. His dreams keep him up at night and depending on your interpretation, are either terrifying him, or he’s unequipped to handle the truths about the universe that he’s seeing.
Starting off slowly and building up gradually “Infinite Dreams” isn’t like many other Iron Maiden songs. The guitars at the beginning don’t sound like any other guitar tone for the band. A soft point on the album quickly becomes a brooding metal view into the mind of someone who can see the future. Everyone wants that ability, but few could guess how it would work or affect the human mind. It even ponders a bit about reincarnation. It also includes the best Bruce Dickinson scream this side of “Number of the Beast”. Another great track to start off this album.
Track 3: Can I Play With Madness
Our Seventh Son has gone to a prophet to help him with his visions. Or some random Joe has gone to a prophet to help him see the future. Either way the prophet is full of it. A fun, upbeat song about how trying to see the future is a fools errand. In either case, if it’s the Seventh Son or a random guy, the prophet tells him a bunch of lies about the future. Finally revealing at the end that our main character will “burn in a lake of fire”.
All of us want to play with madness at certain points in our lives but as this song suggests, that’s not the case. From a musical standpoint, the song is top notch. The band released it as the first single off the album and in the UK it was a top 10 hit. It’s a fun song that you’ll love listening to when you need a pick-me-up.
Track 4: The Evil That Men Do
One of the more popular songs from this album. It’s a regular in Iron Maiden setlists to this day. Whenever Maiden feel the need for the crowd to get pumped back up, they bust this one out. “The good is oft interred with their bones, but the evil that men do lives on”, Bruce Dickinson routinely starts the song off with that quote from Marcus Antonius from the Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar. “The Evil That Men Do” tells about the Seventh Son and how Lucifer has been trying to tempt him to evil.
He sleeps with the Devil’s daughter in a moment of weakness and his battle against evil is turned upside down because of his feelings. He doesn’t know what to support or what to follow anymore. Depending on your interpretation the song could end with the death of our protagonist as a sacrifice or the metaphoric sacrifice of his innocence. Either way, our hero isn’t doing well. The song itself is a masterpiece of Iron Maiden. I’ve said many times that Iron Maiden is best at telling stories. This song and album as a whole does that.
Track 5: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
Normally Iron Maiden wait for the end of their album to put their progressive, long-form, masterpieces. “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” goes right in the middle of the album. Telling the story of the birth of the Seventh Son and all that goes into it. Asking the question of whether the boy will take the path of good or evil.
The song is the beginnings of later Iron Maiden sound with more progressive songs and length. It was the second song written for the album and the one that convinced Harris to make the album into a concept. The prog-rock elements are out in full force with a long break from lyrics and instrumental passages that would make your hand quiver. It’s an excellent bridge between the two halves of the album.
Track 6: The Prophecy
What could very well be the most underrated Iron Maiden song in their catalog. “The Prophecy” tells the story of the Seventh Son seeing a impending disaster at the hands of Satan. No one in the village listens to him. The disaster happens and then he’s blamed for not telling them. He walks alone as his whole village is wiped out by the doom he was telling them. Musically it’s a masterclass in tone of voice, tone of guitar, and how to tell a story with a song. It continues the story the whole album tells about our hero being misunderstood for his gifts. No one believes him that he’s the real Seventh Son.
Track 7: The Clairvoyant
The first track to be written for the album, Steve Harris read about the psychic Doris Stokes and her death. He wondered if she would have been able to foresee her own death. The Seventh Son has all the power he can now, but he can’t control it. His visions and dreams are bleeding into his own reality. He knows his time is coming soon and the song ends from the third person after the death of the Seventh Son. It’s an excellent track and a real highlight when they play it live. I love this song and it was one of the first that I heard from the band.
Track 8: Only the Good Die Young
The finale of the epic story of the Seventh Son. “Only the Good Die Young” tells about how he has lived his life trying to help people with his visions only for his powers to be denied and his life to be ruined. No one trusts him and his powers so he decides to forsake humanity. The good die young as he puts it and evil lives forever. It ends in an ambiguous way if he’s truly died or not. The real kicker is how the song ends. Just as we began. “Seven deadly sins. Seven ways to win. Seven holy paths to hell. Seven downward slopes. Seven bloodied hopes. Seven are your burning fires. Seven your desires….”
Although the Seventh Son is a rare occurrence, I believe the album ending where it begins is showing that time will repeat itself. The album brings up the thought of reincarnation. The Seventh Son will live on and on in different bodies for as long as time lets him.
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is Iron Maiden’s true masterpiece. If Somewhere in Time is their best album, Seventh Son is tied with that. Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, Powerslave, Somewhere in Time, and Seventh Son form what I consider to be the best five album run of any band ever. Other bands have lots of good albums but none that measure up to this run that they had. Seventh Son can be seen as a concept album or each song can be taken as a standalone story. It tells about the battle between good and evil, reincarnation, death, loss, power, greed, birth, and it’s beautiful. Starting and ending the album in the same way with the same passage might be my favorite part of it. Just like all of our stories, we begin and end in the same place.
Iron Maiden would go through a rough time following this album though. The Seventh Son Tour was a major success with the album having multiple top 10 singles. The album wouldn’t chart in the US as well as the band hoped. Their next album was in the prewriting stages in 1990. Steve Harris and the band wanted to go in a more rock focused direction. Adrian Smith felt like the band was just scratching the surface of what they could do with the tone of the previous two albums. This would be too much for him to overcome and he left the band.
They would be hard pressed to find a replacement for him. But we’ll get more to that tomorrow.
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is an unquestioned masterpiece of heavy metal. Iron Maiden were at the peak of their powers with the release of this album. Like Somewhere in Time, this album has no bad songs. I give it a 10/10 and I would give it a higher score if that weren’t silly sounding. If you haven’t heard this album before it’s life changing.
That’s it for today. Tomorrow is a review of the much maligned, No Prayer for the Dying. A rare misfire from Iron Maiden that would signal more changes incoming for the band.
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