I saw Iron Maiden for the fourth or fifth time last week. There was a long gap between the time I saw them in 2017 and most current visit. I consider myself a lifelong fan, despite missing them in the middle years with Blaze Blakely and Bruce Dickinson’s return from his solo career. It took the “Book of Souls” to get me back, likely prompted by the very impressive Eddie art that came with that album. I love the band, but when the art suffers it’s a good sign things aren’t going well with other creative endeavors. Eddie was back, so maybe the Iron Maiden I knew and loved was back. (Of course there are good songs in the middle years that I missed, I’ll be going back and looking for those.)
Anyway, Steve Harris and Bruce Dickinson collaborate on most of the songwriting for Iron Maiden, and you don’t have to look too long to see where they draw their inspiration from. History, historical novels, myths and legends and occasional original narratives about the occult form are what Iron Maiden is about on a literal level. A common and popular sub-theme would be men at war or men who lead violent lives. This thematic fixation puts them in line with heavy metal, of course, but there is something romantic or old-fashioned about their treatment. They don’t revel in the gory details of war or other nightmares the way some more contemporary metal might, their is something distant about the point-of-view in their mini-operas, even when they are in the first-person.
While this may be at odds with the idea that more current metal bands are more sincerely of the occult, I think there is something deeply occult at work in the music of Iron Maiden. Maybe not even anything conscious on the part of Harris and Dickinson, but present nonetheless. They are doing the work of the dead, even amidst all the metal genre requirements of gruesome trope and a theatrical interest in the Satanic. Their undead mascot, Eddie, is even an enigma himself, caught somewhere between zombie, revenant and trickster. He is meant to be loved, feared, and respected, not unlike an elder or pagan god that reigns by its own inhuman logic.
While not all of the protagonists meet their end in the songs, there is always a sense of a fate long-since past in time, even in songs such as “Stranger in a Strange Land” or the Dune-inspired “To Tame a Land” (Originally titled “Dune” the band was not allowed to use the IP with the following rejection note: “Frank Herbert doesn’t like rock bands, particularly heavy rock bands, and especially bands like Iron Maiden”). While the music is always in the present-tense there is something old about everything they make. So, I can’t help but wonder if there was some irony intended when Mr. Dickinson announced to the crowd that “Aren’t we all getting old?” and that is was important to enjoy your days while you can. On the surface, maybe strange words from such a morbid band, but really it’s quite “on message” for a band who has spent it’s entire career offering forth the warnings and wisdom of the dearly departed. The eternal dead know how short the wind of life lasts more than anyone else.
I share the opinion that music is the art form closest to the mystic. I know this may be a heresy coming from a writer, what with our long tradition of sacred and profane texts, but there is something inherently sublime at the heart of music. Even if every seventh-grader practicing their trumpet provides evidence to the contrary. While Iron Maiden provides plenty of rock and roll for the money, their longevity hints at another arrangement, perhaps. I would never suggest their is something as banal as a working arrangement with Old Scratch. Harris and Dickinson strike me as being a bit too educated for that sort of thing. Seems like that would turn into a chess match sort of thing that would not turn out well for the Lord of Hell.
I can’t say this for certain, I won’t say this for certain, but I am willing to entertain the notion that Iron Maiden are bringing out the voices of the dead. Not the specific dead, but the will of the dead. (Hey, how about it, Will of the Dead Tour 2020?) I say this as someone who is acquainted with the realities of a rock and roll business, on every level. I am not saying that this is “magical” in the incense and pot sense of the word, but there is a kind of magic working here. No this is the magical will (Magick, if you must) of forces that work best in the shadows and behind the veil.
The Phantom of the Opera that waits in the wings.