Monday, February 16, 2015

Iron Maiden - Dance of Death

I had just started to get into Bruce Dickinson’s solo work, especially the albums Accident of Birth and The Chemical Wedding, when I heard he and Adrian Smith were re-joining Iron Maiden.  For the first time they were going to have a three-guitar lineup [Adrian Smith, Dave Murray, and Janick Gers].  I wondered how things would work out on that end, but when they released Brave New World in 2000, any fears I had of the band being an unlistenable mess were put aside.  Three years later, the band released the follow-up, Dance of Death.  Brave New World was a solid album for the band to reclaim their greatness, but Dance of Death is even better.

The last Iron Maiden album I wrote about [Seventh Son of a Seventh Son] was a first for Iron Maiden – a concept album.  Dance of Death isn’t a concept album per se, but it does have the underlying theme of death, destruction, war and pestilence running through some of the songs [Montségur. Dance of Death, Paschendale, and Face in the Sand].  For the first time, Maiden incorporated string arrangements into some of their songs.  They did that quite well.  Other bands should take lessons on how to incorporate orchestras into metal music, because Maiden got it right on this album.  Another first for Iron Maiden is an all-acoustic song.  Again, other metal bands should take notes – Maiden got this right as well.

Wildest Dreams – The opening track is Steve Harris’s exhortation to himself to get off his ass, “hit the open road” and quit moping around at home.  This is a very good rocker from Adrian Smith.  It’s a quick shot of adrenaline to start off the album.  I never tire of hearing it.

Rainmaker – I’m not sure if the lyrics are to be taken literally or if they are a metaphor for something else.  This is another short one, this time from Dave Murray.

No More Lies – Steve Harris said this one has a lot to do with The Last Supper.  I’ll take his word for it.  Plenty of guitar solos from the Three Amigos, and lots of “No More Lies” [27 of them…].

Montségur – Blood and gore in Southern France at the time of the Crusades.  The Cathars were a Christian sect that controlled a small slice of land between Spain and France.  The Cathars were seen as heretics by the Catholic Church.  And as heretics, the church and the King of France wanted them eliminated.  The Knights Templar did the deed.  As for the lyrics, the chorus is overly repetitive.

Dance of Death – Janick Gers wrote this one with Steve Harris.  He said this was inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film The Seventh Seal (1957).  Max Von Sydow is a Swedish knight who has returned home from the Crusades, only to find out Sweden has been ravaged by the Black Death.  When he arrives in Sweden, he encounters the personification of Death, whom he challenges to a game of chess.  The knight figures as long as he keeps playing, he’ll stay alive.  At the end of the movie, Bergman cuts away to three guys silhouetted on a hill.  They’re dancing a jig – the Dance of Death.

Gates of Tomorrow – Janick Gers’ beginning riff reminds me of something I heard on The X Factor, but I can’t put my finger on it.  As for the lyrics, they’re impenetrable.  Is the Internet the “gate of tomorrow”?  This is my ‘skip’ track on the album. 

New Frontier – A first in the Maiden canon – a songwriting credit for drummer Nicko McBrain.  A born-again Christian, the prospects of human cloning bothered Nicko, hence this song.  This is a pretty fast one – I like it!  Steve Harris is slacking here because he doesn’t have a writing credit for this song [he does for the rest…].  For a first song from Nicko, it’s a damn good one.

Paschendale – Blood and gore in the Third Battle of Ypres in World War I (31 July – 10 November 1917, approximately 310,000 British casualties, 260,000 German casualties), where there was much fighting and dying for little ground gained.  It’s similar in scope to the Battle of the Somme (1 July – 18 November 1916 – approximately 640,000 Allied casualties, 465,000 German casualties).  The song is as epic as the battle.  Note to Metallica and Judas Priest – this is how you incorporate strings into metal music.  This one is definitely in my Maiden Top 10.

Face in the Sand – The album was being recorded as our country was getting ready to invade Iraq [blood and gore in the desert].  Bruce Dickinson had this in mind when he wrote the lyrics to this:

Everybody's waiting for something to happen
Everybody's waiting for something to see
Lunatics waiting for bigger disasters
Everyone's waiting for news on TV

Winding lives at the end of the spiral

Waiting dictators with their next big thrill
Everyone's looking but no one is listening
Everybody wants to be in at the kill

Age of Innocence – Steve Harris is plenty pissed off at the state of Britain’s criminal justice system.

Journeyman – The only all-acoustic song in the Maiden canon is a damn good one.  If any song says “carpe diem,” it’s this one.  There’s an electric version but I haven’t heard it.  I don’t need to – this one is fine the way it is.The chorus is as good an explanation of the free spirit as one will ever hear:

I know what I want
I’ll say what I want
And no one can take it away…


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