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| The Iron Maiden Commentary | Rants | Rant 22: Iron Maiden & Repetitiveness vs. Creativity |


Iron Maiden & Repetitiveness vs. Creativity

Duane G. Aubin

A musical group is not unlike a painter or any other artist. They create a body of work that communicates their ideas using a language of symbols and vocabulary that their critics ("followers") understand and interpret for the masses. For Iron Maiden, "that galloping 'Run to the Hills'/'Trooper'" sound etc, as well as "Eddie", the shadowy Grim Reaper and other visual cues on the album covers, and other such things are all a part of – not the sum total, but a part of – their language of vocabulary and symbol. Iron Maiden has continuously returned to themes of manipulation (and sub themes of manipulation in religion, politics, war), religion (both inquring as to meaning of life as well as different views of "god", life, death, etc)... and has thereby developed a body of literature that requires a consistent musical language that complements their thematic tone.

The body of work itself will be creative vs. other bodies of works by other artists. But the body of work will also be repetitive, as it continues to employ the same symbols and vocabulary that are characteristic of the group.

Consider those who can instantly recognize a Picasso or Dali painting, or can recognize the drumming of style of Neil Peart or Alex Van Halen. I've found that one can actually identify a "code" by which a group puts a song together. Even if the band is unaware they follow this code, nonetheless, this code can be extracted and applied to many songs within their body of work. In fact, a cover band is excellent for not only doing the songs of their heroes, but of writing "original" songs in the "mold" of their heroes. I've done it myself, writing songs that clearly betray the influence of Rush, or Iron Maiden, or Van Halen. I say "code" but, truth be told, a band may employ a palette of codes as an artist may employ various colours, or colour at all, or the lack thereof. On a 10 song album, there may be 3 songs following one code, 2 following another, one following a code from a previous album (eg. the "epic" pieces), and a song that stands on its own, and may or may not be followed up on another album, whether in theme, content, or in code.

Thus, it is not fair to expect a group to create a "totally new sound" on each album. They will (or, perhaps should) continue to be recognizable. Consider when a teen's voice changes. Although it may get deeper or whatever, yet the voice is still recognizable as that of the particular person. In other words, even as a band does evolve, even as the sound does shift or migrate a little, chances are it will (or, perhaps should) be recognizable.

I remember when I first got the Seventh Son album – the first song began, and I vocally hummed right on count how it would progress. My friend (who actually bought it for me as a gift) asked if I'd heard the song before, and I said "no, but I know Maiden!"

Just like a friend who phones with a totally new topic of conversation, I will still recognize it's him immediately after hearing his "hey man," knowing that the voice could only be theirs.

Funny thing about change is, when a band does change, people complain. When they don't change, people complain. Artists are not stupid for deciding early to "do what they're going to do and be who they're going to be," because no one can please everyone all the time.

I don't listen to a lot of Rush post Moving Pictures. Not to say they aren't as musially talented as they've ever been, but the music just doesn't speak to me as the earlier and mid career stuff did. But, play a Rush tune and I can still recognize it as distinctly Rush. I loved Kiss back in the 70s, and I even appreciated albums most real Kiss fans did not (Dynasty, Unmasked, The Elder!). I did not follow them into their metal stuff, although a couple of their songs were ok, but the bottom line is, I can still recognize their sound, their voice (even if Kiss has little substance to say!)

I don't think any artist should change their voice. I should always be able to recognize "a Van Gogh", or "a Rembrandt", or a song by Maiden. From a critic's point of view (which we all are when we break down, analyse and interpret a group, a piece, etc), an artist who is forever "coming up with something new" is still not ready to put their work on display... hmmm... mentioning this demands that I correct myself...

A correction....

"Early works" by an artist are a part of the artist's body of work, but often are not considered when discussing an artist's overall lifetime contributions. Many people who instantly identify Picasso as the father of Cubism might not be aware that he was a remarkable representational artist (bowls of fruit, vases of flowers, portraits of posing subjects, etc). His early works are available for viewing, but that early work is used by the artist to "find their way", deal with how their thoughts and feelings may or may not change as their work gains a following, as well as deal with their own preferences for how they will ultimately package their presentation of themselves and their work.

And, there may be "periods of experimentation", or a temporary break up to get some fresh perspective. This is perhaps why artists become eccentric, as they struggle with their identity (remember, unlike other professions wherein a person can leave their personal life at home, an artist must bring their personal life to work, for indeed their personal life is their work, insofar as they express deep feelings and are judged by them daily in the media and among their followers and detractors); it is then understandable that an artist goes through change, at least in their products.

So, yes, there will often be a distinct juncture between early works, definitive works, and experimentation or decline works. And, even within each period in an artist's career, there may be different feels, moods, etc. But, for the most part, again, it's of value for us to appreciate that a voice, an identity, should be repetitive, insofar as it develops the language of vocabulary and symbols that convey meanings for the critics ("followers") to understand and interpret for the masses.

Duane G. Aubin
Toronto, Canada
10th October 2001

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