Iron Maiden: The Mother and Greatest of all Geek Bands

This week will see the release of proper Iron Maiden songs on Rock Band. There were some there before, but they were only cover versions, and the singer made me want to track him down and throttle him. This new DLC is in celebration of the new documentary Iron Maiden: Flight 666.

So why should any geek worth his salt listen to Iron Maiden? You’re probably thinking that it’s something that your cousin had playing while he worked on his Camero. Iron Maiden is much more intelligent than you could know, the band members are pretty smart as well and huge sci-fi geeks.

Lead singer Bruce Dickinson is one of the most accomplished people alive in the world today. Known as ‘The Air Raid Siren’ for his wailing, powerful voice, he’s also a world class fencer, novelist, presenter for BBC Radio, and a full captain for British Airways. He’s in one of the largest acts in the world, and he seems to treat it as a side job he does out of his passion for the music. During the tours, he’s the one who’s flying them from place to place and one of the major reasons for the new documentary.

Steve Harris, the bass player and main lyricist for the group is also a geek in his own right. You wouldn’t think that the creative force behind Iron Maiden to be a geek, but examine his lyrics; they’re full of literary tropes and pop sci-fi celebrations.

They’re geek cred shows up in a number of places outside of the lyrics as well. Take Powerslave for example, it’s Egyptian theme is gorgeously painted by cover artist mainstay Derek Riggs. But look very closely, it’s small, and probably only visible on the vinyl issue of it, but you’ll see graphiti among the hieroglyphs that reads “INDIANA JONES WAS HERE, 1941”.

The Somewhere in Time album kicks up the ante on the geek references in a major way. Instead of just one Easter Egg, there are several. Pouring over the album cover you’ll find tons of references to the bands work up until that point but you’ll also find:
Dr. Who’s TARDIS
Batman
Icarus (a meta reference, since they have a song about the myth)
The Sand Dune building another meta reference to the Dune Chronicles
Philip K Dick Cinema
Bradbury Towers
The Tyrell Corp
The Asimov Foundation, one of my favorite double entendres of all time
A freaking spaceship
Eddie as an android

But even this isn’t enough to call them geek metal, you have to take to go to the heart of the music, the lyrics. Take these examples and their explanations into consideration:

The songs about literature:

Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Maiden’s longest song. It’s a 13+ minute opus. It’s a literal translation of the epic poem that rewrites the original to boil it down to the basic elements, while making sure that you get the impact of the whole poem. The music complements the lyrics for atmosphere with the bass line adding a creepy feeling of horror which doesn’t come across very well in the original. This song was part of one of my senior thesis in college.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvZr0lnnaxc%5D

To Tame a Land
Originally titled Dune, it’s notable because when it was being recorded, the band tried to get in touch with Frank Herbert to gain permission to use a section of Dune to open the song, which was flatly refused. Also notable for being the only song to have the words “kwisatz haderach” in the lyrics and make them work.

The Trooper
Maiden’s classic song is based off the Charge of the Light Brigade and the video makes liberal use of an old silent movie version of the classic poem.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgqxQmAbTBc%5D
The songs about movies:

Where Eagles Dare
Whenever this song is played live it’s always preceded by this statement: Whatever the problem is, Clint Eastwood is going to fix it! You do the math

Falling Down
It’s from Maiden’s dark period with Blaze Bailey, and based on the Joel Schumacher’s movie of the same name.

The Wicker Man
Not really about the movie, but the iconography for the entire Brave New World Tour was based on a wicker man Eddie and the video is clearly inspired by the film.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_2x71PYHoM%5D

The songs about history and war:

Aces High
Whenever Maiden does this live, it’s always preceded by Churchill’s speech as in the video. The video is chock full of stock footage from WWII. It’s as much about history as it is about living through the Battle of Britain.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Sam5omG0v0%5D

Paschendale
This song is about the first chemical gas attack. The live version, which is superior to the studio recording, begins with a recitation of some lines from Anthem for Doomed Youth. This is Iron Maiden at it’s lyrical best with absolutely Shakespearean turns that can be quoted.

Cruelty has a human heart, every man must play his part
Terror of the men will kill, the human heart is hungry still

Montsegur
About the siege against the Cathars in France in 1244, it’s very sympathetic to their cause. It’s also one of Maiden’s best songs live in the last ten years.

Invaders
Not one of my favorites, it’s about the viking invasion of England. It’s also amateurish and very clearly early work from them.

Alexander the Great
Nearly as long and almost as epic as Rime of the Ancient Mariner, this song is one of the best history lessons in music. It gives names of battles, dates they were fought and never sounds awkward while doing it. It’s also literate in its structure, the chorus changing as the status of Alexander changes throughout the song. I also like to describe it as three different songs due to the tempo changes and structure changes relevant to the lyrics.

These are only a few examples, it’s not Jonathan Coulton or MC Chris, but it’s not pretending to be. Maiden is good solid hard rock that you can learn something from. It’s made with passion by some of the most accomplished men in music today and if you aren’t a fan, you will be if you’d see them live.

Iron Maiden: Flight 666 (available tomorrow, on DVD, Blu Ray, CD, and downloadable for Rock Band) will illustrate this more than I ever could. It chronicles their tour of five continents, and visited 39 countries in 45 days.
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZDOMGAqJ4M%5D
[tags]Iron Maiden, Flight 666, Rock Band, Rock Band 2[/tags]

11 thoughts on “Iron Maiden: The Mother and Greatest of all Geek Bands

Add yours

  1. Or it’s follow up, Back in the Village? I know, there’s a lot ground to cover. I didn’t even get into the Heinlein titled songs.

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  2. I was a Judas Priest fan and although I think I did have one (vinyl) album of Iron Maiden I never really got into them. Seems like I should maybe take the time and have a listen.

    Thanks for a very interesting article.

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  3. Iron Maiden is definitely the best band still touring nowadays.
    I’m from Brazil, and I went to both legs of this killer tour, both last year in São Paulo, and this year in Rio de Janeiro, where I live.
    Maiden definieley has the ‘geeky’ appeal to it, aside from loads of literary references. That’s why I became a fan. A friend of mine introduced it to me while I was taking a Brittish/American Literature course at a local english course. I just fell in LOVE!
    Hard to choose favourites, but Rime, Aces High, Trooper and Hallowed Be Thy name are definitely among them.
    UP the Irons! Hallowed be their names!
    Very good post!

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  4. I just saw Flight 666, brought back alot of memories. I saw both the Piece of Mind tour and the World Slavery tour. Kind of ticked me off they only played in Florida and out West and up North. I’m in Atlanta they used to come here awhile back. The video was awsome as well as their music was always great and geeky in ways. One thing I loved you hear about so many acts like Eddie Van Halen ending up in rehab and watching them, they have lives, Nicko and Dave play golf, Adrian plays tennis, and Steve plays soccer while on tour. They still party but its not their life. They grew up and realized you got to play the shows and not be the constant get drunk, on drugs rock and roller. I’m just glad there are bands that are intelligent.

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