Iron Maiden - Seventh son of a seventh son 5/5

Reviewed: 3-3-06


1. Moonchild
2. Infinite dreams
3. Can I play with madness
4. The evil that men do
5. Seventh son of a seventh son
6. The prophecy
7. The clairvoyant
8. Only the good die young

At first blush, my choice of my favorite Iron Maiden may seem a bit unusual. In fact, I'm not sure I could quite say it's Iron Maiden's BEST CD, and yet it is that which resonants most deeply with me, despite the fact that it may not incorporate Bruce Dickinson's most powerful histrionics, Steve Harris's most epic songwriting style, nor even the obviously intellectual lyrical heights of "Rime of the ancient mariner" or "Alexander the great". Yet despite the magnificence of all those things and how they make Maiden great, there remains something intensely personal yet apocryphal of this work that means the most to me. And, interestingly enough, I know it resonates as one of the favorites of certain members of the band as well.

'Seventh son of a seventh son' represents the last CD in the band's most important period, the last of the Dickinson-Murray-Smith-McBrain-Harris period which issued some of the most quintessential metal ever, from "Flight of icarus" to "The trooper" to "Aces high", and except for the drummer switchout, "Number of the beast" and "Run to the hills". This culmination of that majesty holds within it that potent thread of melancholy personal anguish pressed against external forces, and in that sense, was this band's "Hamlet". (Even if the Shakespearean allusion of "birth-strangled babe" in "Moonchild" is from Macbeth.)

The music bridges the evolution between the "purest" Maiden metal of 'Piece of mind' and 'Powerslave' with more of the subdued (and even repetitive) songwriting begun in 'Somewhere in time', the melodies of the guitars are a bit more important than the aggressive metal burn, and a clear, resonating tone is the overall impression of the music of the CD.

The CD begins as it will end (almost), a chilling seven lines of seven omens, delicate and reverberating, before ripping into the most aggressive song on the CD, "Moonchild", where Dickinson is the devil, warning the mother of the Seventh Son of all that will come to pass with her child, trying to create despair with the most heart rending of choices, "Kill him now and save the young ones..." The captivating mesh of intense personal pain forced upon the unborn and innocent was, I most confess, a particularly strong and heady emotional experience in my high school years when this CD came out, the sense of being damned and cursed from birth, and yet, somewhere within that, the spark of hope and defiance arising, made this seductive indeed.

"Infinite dreams" shows a much softer, but no less powerful side, a brooding landscape of somnabulistic visions, and the band is not above inserting essential classical tragic questioning into the song, "There's got to be just more to it/Than this/Or tell me why do we exist..." "Can I play with madness", which taken out of context might seem a more accessible tune, as part of the story fits perfectly, consultation within an oracle giving answers that the questioner cannot bear. "The evil that men do" leads into perhaps the most poignant song on the CD, bittersweet loss of love and life with restrained yet no less brutal imagery.

Almost as a break from this emotion, the title track is in a sense the most straightforward, perhaps the least powerful, but necessary, extremely direct and simple in its songwriting, and with lyrics that are also more direct and basic with addressing the birth of the promised, cursed, and blessed seven squared. "The prophecy" then shows the more direct results of this focal character, cursed with visions of impending disaster that no one will believe. It is a transition from the directness of the title track, back to the searing, final emotion of the last 2 songs, "The clairvoyant", which once again brings back to this mythical character the most essential questions and pain of the human condition, "There's a time to live and a time to die/When it's time to meet the maker/There's a time to live but isn't it strange/That as soon as you're born you're dying..." Beckett would have been proud of this, and it's easy to imagine Gogo and Didi saying this in a more painfully playful manner, or, perhaps in light of the line in that play about "Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the gravedigger puts on the forceps..." in even darker context.

Finally, we have a more uptempo, perhaps classically Maiden sound to the last song, "Only the good die young", which again captures the highest essence of this CD, quasi-minimalist lyrics and melodies capturing the soul with the surest precision, final despair and escape, before the closing of the CD echoes the beginning, the delicate recitation of the seven steps to hell, and a new circle begins.




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