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The X Factor – Commentary
 
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The X Factor

2nd October 1995

1. Sign Of The Cross (Harris)
2. Lord Of The Flies (Harris, Gers)
3. Man On The Edge (Bayley, Gers)
4. Fortunes Of War (Harris)
5. Look For The Truth (Bayley, Gers, Harris)
6. The Aftermath (Harris, Bayley, Gers)
7. Judgement Of Heaven (Harris)
8. Blood On The World's Hands (Harris)
9. The Edge Of Darkness (Harris, Bayley, Gers)
10. 2 A.M. (Bayley, Gers, Harris)
11. The Unbeliever (Harris, Gers)

Singles:
    First Single
    Second Single

Tour:
    Tour Commentary
    Tour Dates & Venues    

Lyrics
Various Pressings
Discuss in the Forum


The X Factor was the beginning of a new era of Iron Maiden, with Blaze Bayley as frontman and vocalist. It also marks a rebirth of sorts, breathing new life and vitality into a band that was beginning to stagnate during the previous years with Dickinson. With the Heavy Metal genre virtually dead, mostly in the United States, The X Factor reaffirms Iron Maiden's ability to continue making their music without stooping to pander to popular and shallow trends.

The album is a refreshingly dark and introspective exploration of the psyche – gone are the overly happy sounds that crippled the previous two albums. Most of the songs begin softly and slowly build with power and energy, perfectly creating a dark and brooding atmosphere. The mood is heightened by Blaze's lower vocal style, which complements the atmosphere of the album much better than Dickinson's air-raid siren would have done.

This is an incredibly deep album, which takes time to sink in. As with most excellent albums, the more you'll listen to The X Factor, the more will resonate within you. For those who are attracted to depressing types of music, listening to The X Factor will give you a dose of irresistible melancholy power.

Like Fear Of The Dark, the X Factor album cover is not by Derek Riggs, but instead by Hugh Syme, who has made album covers for many other bands including Rush, Megadeth and Queensrÿche. The X Factor cover has abandoned Riggs's familiar comic-book style in favour of a much more life-like and macabre portrayal of the surgery which transformed Eddie into a lobotomised monster. This brings up my only complaint about the album – the cover is a bit too graphic for my tastes, and I do not enjoy the portrayal of the obvious pain and torture of any living being. Even though I think I understand what the band was trying to portray, I still prefer Riggs's comic-book horror which was fascinating yet not quite as realistic. Because of potential marketing issues in various countries, The X Factor is also available with an alternate and less graphic cover which depicts from a distance Eddie in an electric chair.

Overall however, The X Factor is a dark and melancholy masterpiece which revitalised the band after the slow decline which reached rock-bottom with the departure of Dickinson. Despite the inevitable controversy among some fans who seem unable to accept change, The X Factor is in my opinion a triumph and one of Maiden's best albums.

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5.0-star   Sign Of The Cross (Harris) Commentary Lyrics Discuss this song in the forum

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'Sign Of The Cross' is a genuine Harris epic, over 11 minutes in length. It begins with a low and ominous-sounding Gregorian chant, and slowly builds a dark and brooding mood before suddenly bursting into the fast and powerful verses and chorus. The middle of the song is dominated by a long instrumental which has a great deal in common with the early masterpiece 'Phantom Of The Opera'. The instrumental passes through the song's entire stylistic range, from the soft Gregorian chant up through an exquisitely Maiden-sounding riff melody to the climactic guitar solos. This song cannot be described as anything other than a masterpiece.

The lyrics of the Gregorian-sounding chant seem to be "Æternus halleluiah", or "Praise The Eternal", and the chant itself provides an excellent atmospheric start to this dark song. The "eleven saintly shrouded men" have also been subject to some polemic. Who are those men? Their number is also not clear. Is the "one in front with a cross held high" a twelfth man or is he part of the group of eleven? Some have claimed that those were the Apostles, whose number was twelve, minus Judas Iscariot who had killed himself, leaving therefore only eleven. Whoever they are, and what they actually represent, they make an interesting tie with some of the lyrics of an early Genesis song, 'Supper's Ready' on the Foxtrot album (1972), which has also a lot of religious imagery in the lyrics and is, like 'Sign Of The Cross', a very long song with multiple sections:

Six saintly shrouded men move across the lawn slowly
The seventh walks in front with a cross held high in hand

The first verse show the narrator "standing alone in the wind and rain" and in fear. It seems reasonable to assume, given the topic of the song, that he is a afraid of the Inquisition, who has "come to wash [his] sins away", and he knows that his "faith will be put to the test".

Another indication that this story may very well be that of a man facing torture at the hands of the Inquisition – this abomination whose exactions and large-scale cruelty have only been matched in Western Europe by the Nazis in the 20th Century – is that somebody is "asking the question time and again", and it is well-known that torture was euphemistically called "The Question". Under such torment, the narrator is wondering "why then is God still protecting [him] even when [he] do[es]n't deserve it", showing that he recognises that he has doubts concerning his own beliefs and that he is not worthy of divine protection. This statement is also one of resignation to his fate, as he is "blessed with an inner strength, some they would call it a penance". There, he seems to consider that being unable to die despite the pain he's enduring is indeed a "penance", but isn't that after all what life is about in general? Anyway, his doubts include even the certainty that "praying to God won't keep [him] alive". Indeed, prayer's never been known to do anything concrete, or the world would be a much nicer place.

"They'll be saying their prayers when the moment comes." Those "saintly shrouded men" will pray when the stake is lit, and they will pray again "when it's judgement day", as the narrator seems convinced that they are condemning him whereas he's innocent of any major crime – well, certainly not that of heresy – and that they are the guilty ones who will "bleed when that moment comes", whereas he will be forgiven and "God'll lay [his] soul to rest". This is most probably how many victims of the Inquisition felt when they climbed the stake to be burned for a heresy which they were convinced they hadn't committed.

The Inquisition was an institution within the Roman Catholic Church, charged with the eradication of heresy, sometimes by violent means.
The link with the excellent book – and no less excellent film – The Name Of The Rose resides maybe in the chorus: "The sign of the cross, the name of the rose", although this seems to be the only similarity with Umberto Eco's novel (or with Annaud's film for that matter!). The "fire in the sky" is probably also that of a burning stake whose conflagration lights the sky. In any case, if this song can spark an interest in this classic story, then it will have achieved even more than being simply a musical masterpiece!

The last lines are however quite intriguing: "Lost the love of heaven above, chose the lust of the earth below." Could this be a reference to the film/novel The Name Of The Rose where Adso, the young monk narrator of the story, has a sexual encounter with a young woman (who is tried later for sorcery and with whom he falls in love, although he has to eventually leave her – but he will never forget her!), meaning that he has broken his vows of abstinence as a priest? This could confirm that the man in the 'Sign Of The Cross' story is indeed a member of a religious order, a believer who faces his doubts. We all have convictions in life and, sometimes, events happen that severely dent these convictions, even to the point of destroying them totally. All we are then left with is the fear of the uncertainty of what lies ahead.

The Name Of The Rose [1980]
Along with his apprentice Adso of Melk, the Franciscan monk William of Baskerville journeys to an abbey where a murder has been committed. As the plot unfolds, several other people mysteriously die. The protagonists explore a labyrinthine medieval library, the subversive power of laughter, and come face to face with the Inquisition. It is left primarily to William's enormous powers of logic and deduction to solve the mysteries of the abbey.
The Name Of The Rose [1980]
Indexed online study notes on Eco's most famous novel.
The Inquisition was one of the great blights in the history of Christianity. No other institution in the history of the Christian Church was so horrible, so unjust, so... un-Christian. When it was finally brought to a halt in 1834, thousands of lives had been lost, and tens of thousands of lives ruined through imprisonment and confiscation of property. Whole populations were driven from their homelands, and the Roman Church had earned a blight against its name that still resonates to this day.
The Name Of The Rose [1986]
1327: after a mysterious death in a Benedictine Abbey, the monks are convinced that the apocalypse is coming. With the Abbey to play host to a council on the Franciscan's Order's belief that the Church should rid itself of wealth, William of Baskerville, a respected Franciscan monk, is asked to assist in determining the cause of the untimely death. Alas, more deaths occur as the investigation draws closer to uncovering the secret the Abbey wants hidden, and there is finally no stopping the Holy Inquisition from taking an active hand in the process. William and his young novice must race against time to prove the innocence of the unjustly accused and avoid the wrath of Holy Inquisitor Bernardo Gui.


 

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3.5-star   Lord Of The Flies (Harris, Gers) Commentary Lyrics Discuss this song in the forum

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Lord Of The Flies single – Commentary 'Lord Of The Flies' is based on the William Golding 1954 novel of the same name, which was also made into films in 1963 and 1990. The story tells of a group of school boys who are marooned on a tropical island, and who gradually descend into tribal savagery. This is an energetic type of song, whose lyrics glorify the animal nature that is inherent inside all people. This theme is also dominant in the story told in 'The Edge Of Darkness', where a man, dwelling in the depths of a jungle and freed of all social constraints turns to unspeakable savagery.

In his novel, Golding's intention was clearly to take the counterpoint of previous similar stories where people stranded on a desert island cooperated in order to recreate civilisation as they knew it. In this more realistic story, we see children – commonly (and often wrongly!) assumed to represent innocence and fairness – return to the tribal savagery of our ancestors, and destroying all trace of civility that some where trying to preserve. As Golding was a teacher, we can assume safely that he'd observed the behaviour of children in the schoolyards and drawn the right conclusions: the lack of social constraints that are ingrained in adults through their upbringing and education is clearly obvious in the way younger children establish their relationships to others. A kindergarten yard is basically a jungle where the strongest simply try to crush the weakest. Take away the discipline that the adult society enforces and you end up with a bunch of savage little animals who "just want to live [their] own fantasy." (Disclaimer: I'm not saying that all kids are systematically either bloodthirsty animals or hapless preys of those, as it also depends on each individual's personality – a non-negligible human trait.)

Lord of the Flies [1954]
Lord of the Flies explores the dark side of humanity, the savagery that underlies even the most civilized human beings. Golding intended this novel as a tragic parody of children’s adventure tales, illustrating humankind’s intrinsic evil nature. He presents the reader with a chronology of events leading a group of young boys from hope to disaster as they attempt to survive their uncivilized, unsupervised, isolated environment until rescued.
Each character of the novel represents a part of human nature that is either kept at bay or put forward by society in order to make social life as peaceful as possible. The song sees the story most probably through the eyes of the character of Jack, who represents evil and violence, the dark side of human nature. Originally a choirboy, he becomes the "chief" of the "tribe" and throws away all social conventions that make a civilised society possible – "Who cares now what's right or wrong [...] We don't need a code of morality." Ralph and Piggy, respectively standing for civilisation and fragile intelligence, try to oppose him and make sure that everyone is sheltered and fed properly, but Jack is only interested in the hunt – not for food, but for the thrill of the action itself ("I've found that I like this living in danger").

"Lord of the flies" is the literal translation of the Greek word Beelzebub, a term used for the Judeo-Christian notion of Satan, or evil personified. What the novel highlights, as well as does the song, is that this evil resides in all of us and, provided that the social barriers cease to exist for whatever reason, breaks loose in extreme situations – "What was meant to be is now happening." This "Something willing us to be lord of the flies" is simply ourselves.

Lord of the Flies [1963]
Shipwrecked on an island, the castaway boys eventually revert to savagery despite the few rational kids' attempts to prevent that.
Lord of the Flies [1990]
Stranded on an island, a group of schoolboys degenerate into savagery.


 

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4.5-star   Man On The Edge (Bayley, Gers) Commentary Lyrics Discuss this song in the forum

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Man On The Edge (Part II) – Commentary Man On The Edge (Part I) – Commentary This song is based on the 1993 Joel Schumacher film Falling Down starring Michael Douglas and Robert Duvall, about an apparently "normal" man – a middle-aged white-collar worker – who finally snaps under the stress, frustration, and absurdity of big city life. It is another of the few up-tempo songs on the album, and, although the guitar solos are quite short and the song itself is not quite as deep as some of the other material on the album, it's a really good little rocker from a musical point of view.

Away from the jungle of 'Lord Of The Flies' and 'The Edge Of Darkness', we are taken here to the urban jungle of a vast megapole – namely Los Angeles, but any other gigantic city in any industrialised country could have been the scene of such action. Like in the aforementioned songs/stories, the main character's sense of self fades away after he's reached his breaking point (in his particular case after losing both his job and family) and he finally loses control – "Each step gets closer to losing his head." The song's theme is somehow similar to that of 'Age Of Innocence' and highlights the flaws of an ungrateful modern society that does not look after its citizens (may it be through the lack of care for the unemployed who are made redundant or the lack of proper law enforcement against criminals) – "'Cause nothing is fair just you look around."

Even if most of us can relate to his frustrations – from over-priced conveniences like a soft drink to being unable to be served what we want in a fast-food restaurant – the main protagonist somehow "takes the law into his own hands" and ends up being considered a criminal, following what Nietzsche warned us about:

"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you."

Towards the end, the main character asks in disbelief: "I'm the bad guy? How did that happen?" Indeed, whereas the lack of social structures creates wild predators out of otherwise perfectly decent human beings in 'Lord Of The Flies' and 'The Edge Of Darkness', the unfairness and hypocritical constraints of a "civilised world" can also achieve the same when some individuals are pushed beyond the edge. Let's just hope that this is not "a glimpse of the future."

Falling Down [1993]
A divorced engineer for the defense industry gets stuck in L.A. traffic and finally snaps. He gets out of his car and begins a walk through central L.A., where he encounters various levels of harassment, which he learns to deal with by acquiring weapons along the way.
Falling Down [1993]
Falling Down is a 1993 film by Joel Schumacher about "D-Fens" (named for his license plate), an unemployed Irish-American missile engineer played by Michael Douglas making an attempt to "go home" for his daughter's birthday after his car breaks down in traffic on the hottest day of the year. As he passes through the city of Los Angeles, California on foot he finds himself alienated, disgusted and angered by what he experiences as he is accosted, overcharged and rejected. He becomes a sort of vigilante as he gradually begins to accumulate weaponry and starts to force people out of his way – with violence, if necessary.


 

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4.0-star   Fortunes Of War (Harris) Commentary Lyrics Discuss this song in the forum

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'Fortunes Of War' describes the mental anguish of a soldier returning from war – the nightmares, the voices, and the terrible memories. It makes a good counterpart to 'Afraid To Shoot Strangers' which describes the anguish of a soldier who is about to go off to war. It can also be linked to 'The Aftermath', although it hasn't got the same historical specificity and is delving in the dark thoughts of any soldier returning from any conflict of the 20th Century onward.

The psychological effect of combat is a concept which encompasses a wide variety of processes and negative impacts, all of which must be taken into consideration in any assessment of the immediate and long term costs of war. This entry will address the wide-spectrum psychological effects of combat, to include: psychiatric casualties suffered during combat, physiological arousal and fear, the physiology of close combat, the price of killing, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Steve Harris describes accurately what goes through the minds of those who fought when they are returned to civilian life and face those who only saw the conflict from afar: "I can't help but feel that I'm on my own, no one can see just what this conflict has done to the minds of the men who are on their way home." The feelings of misunderstanding and loneliness are heightened by contact with people who, as hard as they may try, simply cannot understand what an ordeal like combat can do to someone, and it is only natural that those who fought often seek their former comrades-in-arms in order to once again be surrounded by those who lived through the same hell and who understand. Those are mentally "scarred for life" and all too often have to face the aftermath alone, "the vivid scenes and all the recurring nightmares."

Those who have never been confronted to a combat situation dish out the usual banalities that "time's a perfect healer, that the nightmares they will come to pass" – but they never really do. Most veterans end up "living in [their] own world" and often question their sanity ("Could I really be going crazy?"). Strength of character and sometimes professional help can provide the former combattants with the appearance of a "normal" life and put aside those mental scars, a necessary requisite to "carry on."

Like 'Afraid To Shoot Strangers', it starts out softly with some acoustic guitar and low singing, but then breaks into a slow and heavy rhythm that is vaguely reminiscent of Black Sabbath. There has been a bit of criticism about this song that suggested it was too "generic", but this is absolutely not the case. There is nothing remotely resembling "generic", here, and this piece is an incredibly powerful song that is full of dark emotion. It is among the best tracks of the album.


 

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3.5-star   Look For The Truth (Bayley, Gers, Harris) Commentary Lyrics Discuss this song in the forum

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This is another introspective song about facing and overcoming one's fears. Like many songs on this album, it begins with an acoustic and soft singing intro, and then breaks into faster and heavier verses and chorus. Although the main body of the song is not quite as dark than the intro, it is still a pretty good song with a tune that sticks in your mind.

Whatever fears and nightmares the protagonist experiences, they seem to stem from his dark past – "In the house of my soul, in rooms of ugliness and cold, memories locked away" – and he never had the courage to face them until now. This songs conveys a message of hope to those who are haunted by ancient memories that never properly dealt with: win or lose, the only way to conquer the remnants of an ugly past is to face them with a clear and lucid mind.

To shadows of the past
Take a breath and I scream "attack!"

Musical ideas in this song are nothing new under the sun, but I like the subtle intro and the rocker tune it breaks into. Blaze really pulls the song, along with the simple main riff and, in my opinion, excellent chorus. It wouldn't be Maiden though, if we weren't in for a surprise – this time it's the solo part. Riff intro, nice little Dave plus double guitar bit at 4:15.

The lyrics are among the best ever. Rather than haunting, to me they are uplifting. Refreshing simplicity and honesty, and a bit of irony, all of which I can relate to absolutely. What can be more important and beautiful in life than to endure pain, kick the demons and seek truth again and again, right?

Some people seek the easy way but they rarely make a difference to the world.

Charlotte – 28th September 2005


 

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5.0-star   The Aftermath (Harris, Bayley, Gers) Commentary Lyrics Discuss this song in the forum
 

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'The Aftermath' is a song that questions the validity and necessity of war. The main verses are built around a very simple sequence of guitar chords, but the instrumental contains some great riffs and guitar solos. This song is not readily accessible, and many will not like it at first, but it will eventually grow on you once you fully realise its depth and power.

Although it deals with the psychological wounds endured by any soldier who fought in a war from the early 20th Century until now, the text mentions barbed wire and mustard gas, implying that we are faced here with a veteran of the First World War, even if this not as explicit as in 'Paschendale'. Mustard gas was only employed on a large scale during this conflict and the realisation of the horrifying wounds and deaths it caused probably prevented its further use in subsequent wars.

Quite interestingly, the famous British war poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote a poem called 'Aftermath', which also denounces the horrors of all-out war and the loss of innocence of those who went to war merely as boys, but who returned mentally wounded from the terrible battles of the Great War.

After the war, left feeling no one has won
After the war, what does a soldier become?


...those ashen-grey masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay...

AFTERMATH

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz–
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench–
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, 'Is it all going to happen again?'

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack–
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads– those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet...?
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you'll never forget.


(poem by Siegfried Sassoon, March 1919)

The psychological effect of combat is a concept which encompasses a wide variety of processes and negative impacts, all of which must be taken into consideration in any assessment of the immediate and long term costs of war. This entry will address the wide-spectrum psychological effects of combat, to include: psychiatric casualties suffered during combat, physiological arousal and fear, the physiology of close combat, the price of killing, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
This website is dedicated to the events and consequences of World War One.
We put some emphasis on unorthodox and thought-provoking points of view. We are averse to historicism and military fetishism.
And we show people rather than strategic plans or statistics.

To this end this website features one of the most extensive and explicit WW-1 photo collections on the Internet.


"Once a ploughman hitched his team
Here he sowed his little dream
"


"Now bodies arms and legs are strewn
Where mustard gas and barb wire bloom
"

Well, there I was, listening to The X Factor, when I heard the lyrics on 'The Aftermath'. I haven't thought about them much at all. I think they deserve a closer look.

To me they seem to be talking about almost the same event as 'Paschendale'. Upon listening to the lyrics, one could almost be seen as a continuation as the other. "In the mud and rain" "In the smoke, in the mud and lead"...

"Where mustard gas and barb wire bloom"
"Lifeless bodies hang on barbed wire."

As well, as we all know, Paschendale is the first battle where mustard gas was used.

Obviously 'The Aftermath' is about the war being over. I believe it to be about the end of the First World War. The line "Silently to silence fall in the fields of futile war". As Maverick has pointed out in his amazing commentary on 'Paschendale', World War One was the most futile war in history, both for the reasons behind it and the offensives within. Paschendale is the height of that futility. Men who were in the Western Front at the end of World War One have recalled the sudden silence that fell at 11:00 AM (The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month) felt supernatural. When the guns ceased firing, guns that had been firing for four years and two months, men who lived through the carnage must have been awestrucked at how quiet it could be. As well, the war did not spurt out in most places. Usually the guns simply stopped shooting. There was no real warning that it was over until that surreal quiet occured.

"War horse and war machine curse the name of liberty/Marching on as if they should mix in the dirt our brothers' blood"

The values of nationalism and fraternity that united various countries during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Conscription, that is universal service in the armed forces, brought people of all social classes together in a manner they had never been united before. It was said about the British army before the Boer War: "Cook's son, Duke's son, son of a belted Earl". Before European nations had been rent internally by social divides. Now a Frenchman, German, or Briton would see all people of the same nationality as his brother in arms.

The reference to liberty may talk about the three values of the French Revolution, Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality. I apologize for not putting them into French, but my French is, well, bad. It might also refer to the fact that the war machine, the apparatus used by the various Generals, now control the soldier's life. In WW1, certain generals (Haig, French, Nivelle, Falkenhayen) were notorious for their disdain for the lives of their men.

"Once a ploughman hitched his team, here he sowed his little dream/Now bodies arms and legs are strewn, where mustard gas and barb wire bloom"

This refers to the fact that the Western Front, that massive nation-long siege, wound its way through rural France and Belgium, destroying the livelyhood of thousands of small farmers. To this day men and women farming those fields uncover relics of WW1: unexploded bombs (Belgium has a special government department whose job it is to safeguard these), rifles, helmets, even human corpses. The latter are prevalent in the area of Paschendale where so many bodies were sucked into the mud.

This brings me to the chorus:
"In the mud and rain, what are we fighting for/Is it worth the pain, is it worth dying for?"

Simply explained with the notorious muddy fields of the Western Front and the futility of trench warfare.

"Who will take the blame, why did they make a war/Questions that come again, should we be fighting at all?"

I believe this song is about a German soldier who survived WW1. Dispirited by the loss of his proud nation and the death of so many comrades, he's questioning the rationale of the war. "Who will take the blame" must refer to the infamous clause of the Treaty of Versailles that places all the blame for the Great War onto Germany. As we all know, the First World War began for a myriad of reasons, which I don't want to get into here. Marshal Foch, Supreme Allied Commander in WW1, said this about the Treaty of Versailles: "This is not a peace treaty. It is an armistice for 20 years." He was proven prophetic by the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, 20 years after Versailles was signed. "Questions that come again" at the end of WW2: How could our leadership take us into such death and destruction?

Should we be fighting at all?

Once again referring to the outbreak of WW1, in which Germany supported the aggressor, Austria-Hungary. Why should Germany have helped Austria? Why should anyone have cared? Why must we murder ourselves?

LooseCannon – 8th October 2003


 

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4.0-star   Judgement Of Heaven (Harris) Commentary Lyrics Discuss this song in the forum

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This song faces the inevitable questions that all people eventually ask at some point in their lives regarding the meaning of existence, given that it actually has any meaning. It it has a dark and despondent mood that blends perfectly into the overall feel of the album. This is another song that takes a while to sink in and appreciate fully. However, after a few listens you'll have a hard time getting the tune out of your head and it may well become one of your favourite songs on the album.

'Judgement Of Heaven', like 'No Prayer For The Dying', contains an unusual plea to God – "A silent prayer to God to help you on your way" – and Steve Harris does not seem to seek the answers in the world around him, but from a hypothetical divinity instead:

And if there is a God then answer if you will
And tell me of my fate, tell me of my place
Tell me if I'll ever rest in peace

Unlike many other similar songs whose theme is depression and the quest for a meaning of life, this one does not seem to offer much hope, but asks a few essential questions to ponder, such as: "If you had the chance again would you change a thing at all?" In any case, Steve may have had his doubts, but "all of [his] life [he has] believed Judgement of Heaven is waiting for [him]", so why change his mind now?


 

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4.0-star   Blood On The World's Hands (Harris) Commentary Lyrics Discuss this song in the forum

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Written about the Bosnian war (1992–1995), 'Blood On The World's Hands' describes the horror, injustice, and brutality that took place at that time in this little region of the planet, although this could – quite sadly – be applied to the rest of the world. It features an interesting bass intro whose closest counterpart is probably the intro to 'Innocent Exile' way back on the Killers album.

The reaction to such conflicts, wherever they are, can vary from person-to-person, or even depending on the mood when the information is received ("Sometimes it makes me wonder, sometimes it makes me question, sometimes it makes me saddened"), but Steve expresses here very rightly what any normal human being would feel when confronted to such news: "always it makes me angry". Territorial and/or ethnic wars are probably the most infuriating of all, with the blatant injustice that goes with them. The massacre of people because they look different or think according to different beliefs is quite simply intolerable.

The war in the Balkans in the mid-90s has seen the most atrocious treatments of human beings on European soil since the Nazi abominations of the 1930s and 1940s. The whole world was aware of what was going on through reports of war correspondents and images broadcasted every evening during the televised news reports ("But when you can see it happening, the madness that's all around you"), yet no one actually stepped in to prevent such atrocities ("Nobody seems to worry, the world seems so powerless to act"). The UN troops sent to the battle zone were even expressedly ordered not to intervene and even not to return fire when fired upon!

Blood on the world's hands

Disclaimer: this picture in not related to the Bosnian conflict in any way. It was taken by Ami Vitale and was awarded the "Picture of the Year" prize in 2004. I only thought it was an appropriate illustration of the song, considering its title. Its original caption runs as follows:
"A Kashmiri Shiite Muslim holds his blood stained hands to his chest after flagellating himself in a procession in Srinagar, India March 2, 2004. Shiite Muslims all over the world are mourning the slaying of Imam Hussain, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed who was killed by his political rivals along with 72 companions some 1300 years ago in Iran during the first month of the Islamic calender, called Muharram."
The song also questions the "Western lifestyle", which is supposed to be so safe that conflicts are thought to be nowadays impossible: "security of a world that brings one day another killing, somewhere there's someone starving, another a savage raping". This description suits perfectly well what was happening right before our eyes, and even "right next door"! The Bosnian War saw not only the massacres that most conflicts generate, but also the resurgence of concentration camps – didn't the world learn the lessons of Nazi Germany? – where people were held and starved to death simply because they belonged to a certain ethnic group or had a particular faith. Besides, the "savage raping(s)", that have been part of warfare ever since the dawn of mankind, were used systematically during this conflit for the horrible purpose of "ethnic cleansing". The women of one ethnic group were either raped to death, or until they fell pregnant with their attacker's child, in which case they were detained until a termination was impossible, therefore giving birth to "the enemy's" children and being rejected by their own community, as well as developing such self-loathing that they would most often commit suicide.

And "meanwhile there's someone laughing at us." This is probably a reference to the former Yugoslav leaders who where performing their awful deeds in front of the whole international community, and laughed at the fact that they could do it in full impunity at the time (things have changed since the implementation of an international criminal court, although a certain "world-leading" country still considers itself to be above such laws). "They say things are getting better", well that's what all governements would like us to believe, although it's a pretty hard thing to do when you see "the madness that's all around you."

Before its abrupt end ("Someone should..."), the song reminds us that the horrors mentioned happened very close-by: "There's chaos across the border." Indeed, no Western country is protected from such events occurring yet again on their territory and, if we're not careful, "one day it could be happening to us." So let's think about it and work together to make the world a safe place for the generations to come.

In Yugoslavia, what began as a noble idea ended in war, destruction and poverty. As the remnant of the old Yugoslavia legislates itself into extinction, Tim Judah traces the story of a troubled country.
The current war in Bosnia-Herzogovina is essentially a war of aggression from the outside, even though it has internal ethnic dimensions. The conflict is a continuation of the war of aggression against Slovenia and Croatia, which temporarily subsided in those countries, (but has reignited in Croatia in 1995).
The Balkans Pages will deal with the part of the Balkans formerly known as the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. Why did the country collapse?
The traditional human-rights image is of a male prisoner of conscience. Yet the Serbian rape camps in Bosnia show that it’s often women who suffer most.


 

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5.0-star   The Edge Of Darkness (Harris, Bayley, Gers) Commentary Lyrics Discuss this song in the forum

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This song is based on the 1979 movie Apocalypse Now, which was in turn inspired by Joseph Conrad's (1857–1924) classic Heart Of Darkness – which was also made into a 1994 film for the television. The lyrics reproduce in many parts the dialogues of Coppola's masterpiece and tell us of a man's journey up a river into the jungle during the Viet-Nam war, in search of an insane genius who has succumbed to the innate savagery that resides inside all of us. It is another dark and brooding song in the same vein as 'Sign Of The Cross', with the riffs and rhythm shifts that have become a Maiden trademark.

In both the film and the novel, the character of Kurtz is that of a well-educated Western man who abuses his power in a place where the laws and customs he was previously used to broke down or even never existed. May it be in colonial Africa of the 1890s and 1900s, or during the Vietnam war of the 1960s, the horrors he witnessed and even accomplished for the "good of Western civilisation" made him sever all ties with the world he once belonged to, and gave him the will to become a power by himself. However, power corrupts and the darkest instincts took over as "There's a conflict in every human heart and the temptation is to take it all too far." As Colonel Kurtz rightly stated in Apocalypse Now:

"In a war, there are many moments for compassion and tender action. There are many moments for ruthless action. What is often called 'ruthless' ... may, in many circumstances, be only clarity: Seeing clearly what there is to be done and doing it—directly, quickly, looking at it."

In other words, the confusion that reigns in extreme situations can force the most reasonable person to perform the most abominable actions with full consciousness when it happens, only to live and be haunted by the events for the rest of his life. In Heart of Darkness, Fresleven was considered "the kindliest, gentlest creature that ever walked on two legs," yet he became uncontrollably violent after a period of immersion in absolute horror, indicating that there is an incredibly dark side to the human mind that can – and often will – express itself given the right circumstances (consider how the children left to their own device on a desert island in 'Lord Of The Flies' expressed the most basic human instincts that "bring out the animal" in them).

Whereas Mr. Kurtz is a sick and weakened ivory trader being merely picked up by Marlow's boat, Colonel Kurtz is a strong US Army senior officer who is supposed to be eliminated "with extreme prejudice" by Willard. The only similarities between Conrad's Marlow and Coppola's Willard are their rank of Captain and the fact that they undertake a journey up-river through the jungle to reach their respective Kurtz and face the heart of human darkness by doing so. Besides, Marlow is more philosophical and pondering the horrors he witnesses, whereas Willard is simply a special forces soldier with a mission, although both have a fascination for the character of Kurtz.

The trip on a boat into the depth of the jungle is in itself quite symbolic, as the means of transport is water – the river representing life. Both Marlow and Willard are on an initiatic journey that brings them to the roots of human savagery and to the very heart of their own darkness – those places of the mind that modern civilisation prevents us from exploring for fear that we might discover the truth within ourselves. An interesting parallel can be made with the lyrics of Bruce Dickinson's 1996 song 'Back From The Edge' on the Skunkworks album:

    A silent river flowing black
    Strange attractors, no turning back
    Present danger I recall
    That pins my senses to the wall

    Back from the edge
    Where the darkness has fled
    And I’m swimming in light
    And I’m falling...
    Falling from the edge
    Back from the edge

    I fell from grace, and that’s a fact
    I still have urges, I fight back
    Cold decisions wear me thin
    Kill yourself, begin again

    Back from the edge
    Where you’re not worth a damn
    Throw yourself into light
    And the rush as you spin from the edge...
    Back from the edge
    Back from the edge

Both Marlow and Willard have travelled this silent river to the "edge of darkness," from which they eventually returned ("Back from the edge"), but certainly not unscathed. Because "when you've faced the heart of darkness even your soul begins to bend."

Apocalypse Now [1979]
Based on Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness, this is a controversial addition to the multitude of Vietnam war movies in existence. We follow Captain Willard on his mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade Green Beret who has set himself up as a God among a local tribe.
The psychological effect of combat is a concept which encompasses a wide variety of processes and negative impacts, all of which must be taken into consideration in any assessment of the immediate and long term costs of war. This entry will address the wide-spectrum psychological effects of combat, to include: psychiatric casualties suffered during combat, physiological arousal and fear, the physiology of close combat, the price of killing, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Apocalypse Now – Commentary
Apocalypse Now (1979), one of the most important films to emerge from the Vietnam War era, took ten years and more than $30 million to make. Director Francis Ford Coppola struggled with setback after setback during production and constantly questioned his work on the film, to the point of threatening suicide. Because the film was shot in the Philippines and financed largely outside of the Hollywood studio system, it acquired a certain mystery among the media. By the time of its release, it had become almost mythical in stature.
Heart of Darkness [1994]
A trading company manager travels up an African river to find a missing outpost head and discovers the depth of evil in humanity's soul.
Heart of Darkness originally appeared serially in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1899. It was eventually published as a whole in 1902, as the third work in a volume Conrad titled Youth. Since its publication in Youth, the novel has fascinated numerous readers and critics, almost all of whom regarded the novel as an important one because of the ways it uses ambiguity and (in Conrad’s own words) "foggishness" to dramatize Marlow’s perceptions of the horrors he encounters. Critics have regarded Heart of Darkness as a work that in several important ways broke many narrative conventions and brought the English novel into the twentieth century.
Heart of Darkness [1899]
"I remained to dream the nightmare out to the end, and to show my loyalty to Kurtz once more. Destiny. My destiny! Droll thing life is—that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself—that comes too late—a crop of unextinguishable regrets."


 

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5.0-star   2 A.M. (Bayley, Gers, Harris) Commentary Lyrics Discuss this song in the forum

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"Here I am again, on my own"

'2 A.M.' is a beautiful song with a catchy tune that underlies some extremely insightful and powerful lyrics. At least, it is stuff that many people can exactly relate to – the meaninglessness and futility of life. There is not too much to say about this song, except maybe that the lyrics seem almost hauntingly autobiographical.

The meaning of life is questioned: is there really one? "I wonder why I'm here", "Life seems so pathetic". All those questions are more likely to arise when you're alone in the middle of the night, reflecting on what you've actually achieved so far and what the future may reserve. No answers are given, but an alternative is evoked: should we simply end this apparently meaningless life ("I wish I could leave it all behind") – and this could refer to suicide, as well as to starting a radically new life – or should we grit our teeth and keep going ("Hold on for something better")? The answer is for each and everyone to find for himself.

Do you just let go or carry on and try to take the hurt?

Good question...


 

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3.5-star   The Unbeliever (Harris, Gers) Commentary Lyrics Discuss this song in the forum

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'The Unbeliever' is another introspective and inward-looking song, perhaps the most non-standard and misunderstood songs on the album. Many people dislike this song, mostly at first, but it isn't as bad as it seems and, provided you give yourself time to adjust to its peculiar style, after several listens it will grow on you a lot, especially with the chorus and mid-song instrumental.

Pretty much like 'Judgement Of Heaven', this song describes the feelings of depression and an inner sense of ugliness, as the first verse shows:

When you start to take a look within
Do you feel at ease with what you see
Do you think you can have peace of mind
And have self-belief or be satisfied
Do you think you even like yourself
Or really think you could be someone else

But the very same person who "believed Judgement of Heaven [was] waiting for [him]" also realises that "All [his] life... [he's] run astray, let [his] faith... slip away" and ends this rather dark and introvert album with a really good piece of advice that everyone should think about a bit more:

Are you scared to look inside your mind
Are you worried just at what you'll find
Do you really want to face the truth
Does it matter now, what have you got to lose
Try release the anger from within
Forgive yourself a few immortal sins
Do you really care what people think
Are you strong enough to release the guilt


 

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