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| The Iron Maiden Commentary | Rants | Rant 26: A decyphered fascination? |


A decyphered fascination?


There is something in the works of Iron Maiden that makes this band fundamentally different from any other, and that makes it reach far beyond the boundaries of the medium throught which it expresses itself. Incidentally, this is more or less the definition (or even the ultimate goal) of Art itself: accessing some sort of universalism that deals with areas that are quite different from the primary domain used for expression.

But these are nothing but words! Let's examine the reality, the material itself, the source of what has now become a reference, not only in Heavy Metal, but in Rock music in general. Why Maiden? Is it just Steve Harris's sole genius, or is it several elements that transformed those 13 studio albums into a saga worthy of the greatest, most wonderful, most fearsome, and most melancholic stories?
Although I wouldn't want to belittle the talent of Steve Harris or of the others, I tend to consider that, in effect, there is more to it than this. The end product is far superior to the simple addition of the various elements that compose Iron Maiden.

I essentially see three areas that can be considered separately for a while in order to better understand the fine alchemy they create when they are together.

– The music itself
It is plainly obvious but still, who really ponders its essence? A few so-called "die-hard fans" go as far as emitting unfairly a strong criticism of some songs that are nonetheless deep and magnificent, and it is quite doubtful that a proper analysis has been done by those who pretend to be the greatest fans of Maiden.
This music contains everything. There is power, but also melody (an all-too-rare association). There is creativity. There is a lyrical aspect that goes as far as generating the same pure and clear emotion that can be felt while listening to classical music. There are those riffs, those incredible masterpieces that are perfectly played and that transcend extraordinary lyrics.

– The lyrics
Sometimes, it is quite difficult to understand the meaning of a sentence or a song played by Maiden. And this is one of the strengths of the band. Most of the time, they do not tell us stories that have a clear ending, barren and immobile, but they provide us with general atmospheres, with allusions, with dark and mysterious sketches that we want to get lost into in order to really discover their meaning.
Obviously, the themes Iron Maiden deal with are quite different from those usually encountered in Heavy Metal (sex, drugs, girls, a dubious rebel attitude, etc.) and we entered vast and complex domains that are not always fully defined. History, science-fiction, spiritism, and literature are all good sources of inspiration for the band, but these are dealt with in an unconventional manner, without any sort of moral in the end, or a subjective view. On the contrary, thanks to subtle innuendos or just with cold descriptions, the lyrics are able to please everyone, filling the "free gaps" that they create in our imagination with what we feel appropriate at the time.
The meaninglessness of life, the necessity of fights and struggles despite their cruelty, higher forces that try to rule our lives, prophecies, epic tales of brave warriors who are nevertheless criminals... All these themes are vague enough, but strong enough too, for everyone to find something for themselves and to also lose themselves in incredible and mind-boggling questions.

– The visual aspect
Eddie (and also Riggs through his creature) plays a central role in the image of Iron Maiden. He doesn't only illustrate the cover sleeves, but also gives some hints as to the atmosphere of the album, the musical "colour" of it. He is a crucial element in our fascination, in our reflexion itself. From the very first horrifying Eddie on Iron Maiden, back in 1980 to this strange metaphysical concept on Seventh Son, via the eternal divine power of Powerslave or the science-fiction western aspect of Somewhere In Time, Eddie – who since then became Edward The Great – has grabbed many fans' imagination through the years, controlling the mind by pushing it to its limits. This is where Maiden go beyond the mere domain of music (writing and lyrics) and leave their mark on the retinas of those who look at those covers.

So many of you will tell me – and rightly so – that I'm just "stating the bleedin' obvious".. A powerful and melodic sound, universal and mind-boggling themes, a fascinating and original visual aspect... everybody has already experienced all these elements for himself. But the is something else, though. The alchemy of it all. The union of all those main elements, as well as a few secondary ones like Bruce Dickinson's fantastic voice (or even Blaze Bayley's too which, although different, was no less pleasing to my ears, and sometimes even more), the Murray/Smith duo and the musical experimentation that still kept this characteristic "Maiden sound" without a care in the world for the fashions of the time... All this contributes to making Iron Maiden a band that gave us magnificent songs like 'Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son' (I'm talking about the song, although the whole album is also excellent) or 'Phantom Of The Opera'.
They went where no one had gone before. Better, they took me where I wouldn't even have dreamed to go in the musical universe.

I believe that, after all, this is all talk for nothing. If you look deep enough, you can see whatever you like in just about anything. To me, Iron Maiden are a legend, something both essential and indispensible quite simply because this band created in me emotions that are sincere, crazy, powerful, and that can only be described through the music itself. I love Maiden for the same reasons that I love Stephen King in literature. Not for his monsters, but for the talent he uses to depict the everyday life of people I don't know, but for whom I feel a real empathy.
I love Maiden because I love the essence of things. I love to play hard, to get drunk on passion, to reach out to the divine though the simplicity of this everyday life. But how can I explain what Maiden really is? To those who are already fans, this is easy, even obvious, but to those who reject this music in which they only hear noise, whereas I perceive an infinite beauty. This is a more complicated gamble.

I'll try anyway.
I love Maiden because... when they describe a simple grass root, I feel the power of the earth, sky and water that make it grow. I love Maiden because they seem to insult and to mock Charlotte The Harlot, but they secretly bleed for this girl who suffers and sells her body. They are not "dumb rockers", but instead they are romantic souls hiding behind a macho appearance. I love Maiden because they describe wars, struggles, bitter fights, but they always question their meaning and relevance. I love Maiden because they never fell into some cheap satanism that was trendy at a certain time, but they still refused to be dictated what to do by some "political correctedness" that tried to prevent them from using their numerous and subtle metaphors. I love Maiden because, at a time when I didn't understand their lyrics, I could still comprehend the emotion in the voice. I love Maiden because they never imposed their views on me, unlike those so-called "engaged" artists who used their attitude only for their own benefit. I love Maiden because, through them, I see God, infinity, the Chi, or whatever else. Of course, one can argue that I can see this force in other places too. But Maiden don't just show it to me. They make it attractive.
Finally, I love Maiden because they adapted the classic recipe used by the crooners of ancient times (the very same who were mainly addressing soppy young women) to make a subtle and masculine cocktail for those who obviously liked sex, but who could see in Metal a possibility to explore a bit further than the usual silly question "Am I gonna fuck her or not?"
I love Maiden because it is, in appearance, something crazy, powerful, creative, and tireless like the child in us whom we miss, but also because it is, in essence, something deep, unique, intelligent, and subtle, like the adult we've become. As for the alchemy, the true recipe of all this, it is most probably impossible that, one day, it will be put into equation. On the other hand, I am sure that we can all agree on this: there's much more to it than meets the ears.

20th September 2005

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