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Seventh Son of a Seventh Son – Commentary
 
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Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son

11th April 1988

1. Moonchild (Smith, Dickinson)
2. Infinite Dreams (Harris)
3. Can I Play With Madness (Smith, Dickinson, Harris)
4. The Evil That Men Do (Smith, Dickinson, Harris)
5. Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son (Harris)
6. The Prophecy (Murray, Harris)
7. The Clairvoyant (Harris)
8. Only The Good Die Young (Harris, Dickinson)

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Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son is a special album. It is the last of the great classic albums and represents the culmination of the creative evolution that began with Somewhere In Time. It's also Iron Maiden's seventh studio album, which makes a neat tie-in with the album's title and the subject. The guitar and bass synths are still present, but are somewhat less intrusive and seem to complement the music more effectively than before. For Maiden, guitar synth is like a woman's make-up – if you specifically notice it, then there's too much of it. Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son seems to have achieved a good synth balance in most songs.

Other albums have had the feel of concept albums, most notably Killers because of the incredible cohesiveness and similar feel of its songs. However, Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son is the first album with a definite theme and story that carries through the songs. Although all of the songs have mysterious, magical, and occultic themes, the true story is told on the last half of the album, beginning with 'Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son'. It might be possible to tie in the earlier songs, but not without wild speculation. However, the album does begin and end with similar passages:

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...

According to ancient western myth (of which I've been unable to find a source), the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter or the seventh son of a seventh son possesses heightened occultic abilities. The album is based on the fantasy novel Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card that tells the story of such a child, who from the moment of his birth is subject to manipulation by the forces of good and evil, and must come to terms with his powers and how to use them.

The story that unfolds along the various songs on this album can possibly be summarised as follows:

  • 'Moonchild': the Devil addresses the parents of the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, mostly the mother, and warns them that "all resistance is futile."
  • 'Infinite Dreams': the Seventh Son's father, himself a Seventh Son, has visions he does not understand and that torture him.
  • 'Can I Play With Madness': the Seventh Son's father looks for an explanation of his visions and consults a prophet; he doesn't like what he's told.
  • 'The Evil That men Do': the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is conceived; the father possibly dies.
  • 'Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son': birth of the child with supernatural powers; Good and Evil both try to take him over.
  • 'The Prophecy': the young man has harnessed his powers to discover that disaster looms; naturally, no one listens to him and the village is destroyed.
  • 'The Clairvoyant': the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is now a seer who has control of his powers, although they quickly submerge him and are probably the cause of his death.
  • 'Only The Good Die Young': bitter reflection on the events; was it all worth it? Back to square one.

Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son is a masterpiece in several respects. Its musical complexity and lyrical depth make it a showpiece for the band's song writing and performing abilities, and its power and emotion are epic and spellbinding. For someone who is new to Iron Maiden, this might be one of the best albums to begin with. Many people consider this to be their best album ever.

Sadly, Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son represents the end of an era for Maiden. It is the last album with the classic lineup of Harris, Murray, Smith, Dickinson, and McBrain that had remained stable since Piece Of Mind. It is the last Maiden album with Dickinson in top vocal form and the last album with a unified mood and feeling until years later with The X Factor.

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5.0-star   Moonchild (Smith, Dickinson) Commentary Lyrics Symbol Discuss this song in the forum

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The Scarlet Whore

Trump XI from the Thoth Tarot (Tarot of the Egyptians). Painted by Lady Frieda Harris and designed by Aleister Crowley. The image is of the Scarlet Whore of Babylon.

'Moonchild' is a magically inspired song, based on the Liber Samekh ritual by Aleister Crowley (1875–1947). The ritual is described as being a ritual employed by the Beast (Crowley) for the attainment of knowledge and conversation of his holy Guardian. Some of 'Moonchild''s lyrics are extremely similar to those in the ritual.

This is another perfect opener, setting a perfect mood for the rest of the album. The synth is a little heavy in the intro, but it blends pretty well.

Whereas 'The Number Of The Beast' had caused an uproar from religious bigots who had taken the title of the song at face value without bothering to understand the lyrics, 'Moonchild' caused some concern to some Christians who, unlike those who blindly condemn any work of art where mention of the Devil is made, had actually tried to go deeper into the lyrics and realised that they were based on Crowley's incantations. These shouldn't worry, as the inspiration of the Liber Samekh was necessary to set the scene of the Seventh Son story. It should also be pointed out that the so-called "satanism" does not involve any devil-worship – the real satanists do not even believe in Satan! – but rather a way of life where the human being is much more important than any dubious deity. In this respect, Satanism is closer the Buddhism or Taoism.

Those who would like to know more about Satanism and check out for themselves whether the allegations of dark rituals and human sacrifices are true or not are invited to visit the Church of Satan official website or the excellent Satanism 101 website. Simply keep an open but critical mind when you do.

What does this introductory song tell us about the story of the Seventh Son? The "Bornless One" is obviously the Devil, known as the "Fallen Angel", or, as stated in the song, Lucifer. Quite interestingly, the name Lucifer means "Light-Bringer", and is the Christian equivalent of the Ancient Greek myth of Prometheus, the unfortunate Titan who made the mistake to give fire to the humans, just like Lucifer gave them knowledge. Both caracters were severely punished by their respective god who preferred to preside over a species of sheep-like hairless apes instead of the independent free-thinkers they had become thanks to Lucifer/Prometheus. (Many humans are still at the level of the herded woolly creatures, but there is no relevance in discussing this here.)

The Scarlet Whore mentioned in the song is also a deity in Crowley's pantheon. She is Babalon, the Scarlet Woman of the Liber AL vel Legis, and the Whore of Babylon, mentioned in the Book of Revelations. Although it is not clear why she appears within the context of this song, she is supposed to be the archetype of all possible experiences through desire and lust on all levels, including mind as well as body. She is supposed to always give and never take away from anyone or anything, and to become one with her is, according to Crowley, a form of self-love. She is the symbol of the free expression of the sexual, spiritual and worldly nature contained in all of us and, riding on the Beast, she represents the union with and gnosis of any person's "True Will." Babalon is not in any way linked to any kind of devil worship, but the knowledge of the wordly pleasures of Babalon and the "True Will" of the Beast are symbolic of self-awareness through pursuit of individual passions and interests, as well as acceptance of and indulgence in each individual's true nature. She is the symbol of the empowerment of women in particular, and of individuals of both sexes in general. The symbolism of Babalon and the Beast was used by Crowley in his doctrine of Thelema because the individualistic values they stood for were completely opposed to the traditional Christian doctrines of self-sacrifice and service to others. Crowley wanted to oppose the notion of accepting the hardships and limitations of life as consequences of the so-called "original sin," and therefore stood as an "Anti-Christ" in the older sense of the term. According to the principles that Babalon represents, people should fight back and overcome – rather than sheepishly accept – life's obstacles and hardships. They should adopt rational self-interest instead of selfless altruism as an ethical axiom, and above all, be true to themselves. The Seventh Son's altruism will be his end, as we'll see later in the story. Maybe he should have taken the way of Babalon instead of trying to save those who didn't want to be saved.

Aleister Crowley – Moonchild Although he was a very prolific writer, Aleister Crowley only wrote very few novels. Moonchild (written in 1917 and published in 1929) is however one of them, and probably his most famous. The story is of course about the endless battle between the forces of Light and those of Darkness. A young girl is drawn into a conflict between two men and has to choose between them. In this book, Crowley gives a detailed description of the methods and theories of so-called modern Magickal practices, implying that Magick is a scientific reality and that it works. The author's own personality is revealed in the characters of the Good Magickal Masters.

Quite interestingly, Crowley's publisher was the Mandrake Press, based in London. The chorus of the song mentions that we can "hear the Mandrake scream." In traditions of old, the mandrake (Mandragora officinalis) has always been considered a plant with special powers. This superstition is based on the forked shape of the root which roughly resembles a human body. It was believed to grow under gallows, the ground having supposedly been seeded by the semen of hanged men (it is apparently a physiological fact that the snapping of the neck causes ejaculation). Some rituals were thought to be necessary to pull the root out of the earth and it was recommended to put wax in the ears beforehand, as the mandrake was supposed to scream when pulled free, provoking deafness or even death. The mandrake root was used for invulnerability, for discovering treasures and as a charm for pregnancy. When prepared appropriately, it could also be used as an aphrodisiac. It is nowadays known that the alkaloids contained in this root (one of them being atropine) are pretty potent and it is strongly advised not to use them in cases of heart condition or pregnancy. The story of the Seventh Son being apparently medieval, it is however quite likely that the mother was treated with mandrake roots during her pregnancy. But did it really benefit to the unborn child?

Many other religious or mythological references can be found in the song. The mother of the Seventh Son is obviously worried that she may give birth to some sort of monster, but Lucifer reminds her of the damnation that, according to the Christian myth, awaits those who commit suicide. Could it also be that the Fallen Angel may be the father of this child? He was after all also a seventh son himself and one of God's favourites before he got too greedy and was expelled from Heaven. However, the following few songs seem to tell us of the woes of the real father, himself a Seventh Son, who has some supernatural powers too, although not as strong as his seventh male child develop subsequently.

To sum up this first "chapter" of the story, we are here introduced to the parents of the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, with the expectant mother being the centre of Lucifer's attention while Gabriel (the archangel who threw down Lucifer) is sleeping, leaving his angels to battle for the baby's soul. The kid seems to be cursed before he's even born...

Babalon riding the Beast


 

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5.0-star   Infinite Dreams (Harris) Commentary Lyrics Symbol Discuss this song in the forum
 

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Infinite Dreams single This song continues the mystical theme of the album, detailing someone who is tormented by paranormal dreams and nightmares. This person could be the Seventh Son of the first lineage, i.e., the father of the next Seventh Son to come. It looks like this character has also a certain amount of paranormal powers, althought he doesn't understands his visions and premonitory dreams. The lyrics explore the theme of ultimate reality and what may exist beyond death, in much the same way as the last verse of 'Hallowed Be Thy Name'.

    There's got to be just more to it than this or tell me why do we exist
    I'd like to think that when I die I'd get a chance another time
    And to return and live again, reincarnate, play the game
    Again and again and again and again

But unlike in 'Hallowed...', the theme of the meaning of life and the possible answer of reincarnation is suggested. It is a complex song, with multiple tune and rhythm shifts, and an excellent instrumental section in the middle.

 

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3.5-star   Can I Play With Madness (Smith, Dickinson, Harris) Commentary Lyrics Symbol Discuss this song in the forum
 

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Can I Play With Madness single As the album's first single, 'Can I Play With Madness' is probably the album's most well-known song, describing a young man – most probably the Seventh Son of a Sevent Son father – who tries to learn the future from an old prophet with a crystal ball. Maybe he also tries to seek help from the prophet in order to come to terms with his visions and nightmares. He apparently thinks that he's becoming mad, although he does not believe what the prophet says and turns violent like a cornered animal.

This is the only song on the album that is not quite up to the other ones' standards. The mood of the song just seems a bit too happy, which doesn't really fit with the lyrics, and the guitar solos are extremely short and perfunctory. However, the chorus is ok.


 

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4.0-star   The Evil That Men Do (Smith, Dickinson, Harris) Commentary Lyrics Symbol Discuss this song in the forum

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The Evil That Men Do single The title of this song is taken from a quote in William Shakespeare's Julius Cæsar. It is part of Marcus Antonius's speech as he addresses the crowd of Romans after Cæsar's murder, defending the defunct ruler and forcefully, yet indirectly, condemning Brutus, one of the murderers.

Friends, Romans, country men, lend me your ears; I come to bury Cæsar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones; so let it be with Cæsar.

Julius Cæsar. ACT III Scene 2.

The song however is unrelated, with lyrics that are extremely well-written, quite poetic, and difficult to understand. Its topic is similar to 'Infinite Dreams' in that it also seems to relate to whatever is beyond death. It could be some sort of "flashback" to the conception of the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. The character telling this story is apparently the first Seventh Son, but it is not clear with whose daughter he "slept in the dust". Likewise, the "slaughter of innocence" may refer to the loss of the virginity. But whose?

It is however evident that the character is in love with that woman ("I would bleed for her"), but seems to have somehow lost contact with her ("If only I could see her now"). The rest of the lyrics hint at the Seventh Son contemplating suicide. Maybe the visions he has and the loss of his love are too much for him. Nevertheless, he still has hope to return some day...

Musically, 'The Evil That Men Do' is also very compelling, and is one of the best songs on the album. The chorus is absolutely blinding and constitutes a great opportunity of interaction with the audience during the concerts.


 

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5.0-star   Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son (Harris) Commentary Lyrics Symbol Discuss this song in the forum

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Orson Scott Card – Seventh Son Based on the the Orson Scott Card fantasy novel Seventh Son, this song begins the concept portion of the album about the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son himself, the previous "chapters" being merely an introduction of the background of his conception and birth.

The song begins with the birth of the child who is heir to special paranormal powers, although his is unaware of them at first. Both Good and Evil consider him an instrument that could sway either way, but, as the powers belong to him, he should be given freedom of choice to use them. Healing and clairvoyance are his main attributes, and there is also an indication that the future is already laid down and cannot be changed no matter what: "So it shall be written, so it shall be done." This gives a clue about the following events that will lead to the trouble the Seventh Son of a Seven Son will eventually have to face.

This is another extremely complex song, with constant rhythm shifts. Especially notice the drum track, which brilliantly showcases McBrain's phenomenal drumming skills. The last half of the song is a brilliant instrumental, which begins softly with a spoken quote and then and slowly builds up to a climax. This is possibly the best instrumental since 'Phantom Of The Opera'.


 

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4.0-star   The Prophecy (Murray, Harris) Commentary Lyrics Symbol Discuss this song in the forum

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'The Prophecy' continues the Seventh Son story, where the boy Alvin pleads with the village to heed his warnings of coming disaster, but is not heeded. This is another excellent song, whose mood fits exactly with the lyrics. It ends uncharacteristically with a short but really beautiful acoustic guitar section.

What catastrophe befell the village is not indicated and to dwell on the destruction of a single village seems a bit preposterous to us nowadays, as we usually fret more for entire countries than for isolated little groups. Let's remember that this is supposed to be a medieval tale and that, at the time, people cared more for villages than for whole countries or kingdoms (the impact of images is only a recent thing that has been promoted first by the television, then by the Internet).

The story also seems to indicate once again that the future is already written and cannot be changed. Indeed, if the Seventh Son had seen the "future" and the events had not occurred thanks to his warning, then was what he saw really the future, or simply a "possible future"? This reminds me of Robert Silverberg's 1967 novel, The Gate of Worlds, set in a world where the Black Plague had devastated Europe more than it actually did in the Middle-Ages, leading to a Saracen invasion and a radical change in the History of the World. This novel hints that there are several possible futures that are created at each and every instant, and that, given the circumstances, anything can happen depending on present events (imagine, for instance, what the world would be like nowadays if Hitler had died at Passchendaele in 1916...). On the contrary, what the Seventh Son saw in the present story is a future that was going to happen regardless of his efforts to change it. A tale of Fate in a nutshell.

The future the Seventh Son saw could not be changed and whatever sinister fate struck the village was inevitable. The surviving villagers then blame the messenger for the message (quite sadly a common occurrence) and the "hero" of the story is subsequently singled out and ostracised.


 

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4.0-star   The Clairvoyant (Harris) Commentary Lyrics Symbol Discuss this song in the forum
 

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The Clairvoyant single 'The Clairvoyant' relates the reflections of the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son on his life and his powers. He is now a fully-fledged seer and has learned to control his visions. However, these become rapidly overwhelming and he eventually confuses what he really sees with what he sees with his mind's eye. Death is now for him the only way out, although, once again, the cause of death is not explicitly indicated. Did his powers kill him or did he commit suicide? Like in 'Infinite Dreams', there is another reference to reincarnation at the end of the song, just after the second verse where a story-teller recalls who the Seventh Son was before he passed away.

This was the second single from the album, and has become a concert favourite, beginning with another of Harris's patented bass intros. The only complaint that can be made is that the guitar solos are too short, but otherwise it is a great song.


 

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3.5-star   Only The Good Die Young (Harris, Dickinson) Commentary Lyrics Symbol Discuss this song in the forum

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This song continues and finishes the album's exploration of the meaning of life and death. It's another powerful song with an excellent chorus, although it's a bit too short. A long instrumental at the end, like in 'To Tame A Land' would have made this song really perfect. But still, it's a good track and a worthy end to this classic album.

This final chapter relates the end of the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and is a bitter account of his life. There again, there is the notion that fate is inescapable. It seems that the verses are actually said in turn by the Seventh Son and by the Devil who alternate their respective (and pretty similar) views of the events. The chorus itself is a reminder that "the evil that men do lives on and on."

The Seventh Son was but a pawn on the chessboard of Good versus Evil, and none of them actually won this game ("one more stalemate"). The villagers rather believed in walking on water than in the Seventh Son's predictions, and the last verse takes a pop at christianity – made of bishops and guilt – in which believing doesn't prevent lust and sin. Like the villagers who trusted more a book written many centuries ago and suffered a catastrophe because they didn't listen to the modern prophet's warnings, many of our comtemporaries should maybe pay more attention to our current surroundings than to have blind faith in an age-old legend.

The very last verse after Dave Murray's final solo is a repeat of the very first one that opened the album, thus closing the circle. A disaster that could have been avoided has occurred and this ominous end probably hints at the fact that History repeats itself because Mankind doesn't learn – or maybe doesn't want to learn – from past mistakes. A pessimistic view that is sadly very close to reality.

H.-R. Giger – Baphomet


 

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