Like many other groups with great album covers – such as Miles Davis, Blind Faith, Yes, King Crimson, Little Feat, Herb Alpert, Alan Parsons, Santana, Duran Duran – this group might not have enjoyed half the notoriety it received if it did not have thought-provoking iconic album art. There’s something about Derek Riggs’ images of the cadaverous maleficent Eddie, a/k/a/ Edward The Head, that raises as many questions as are answered by the stories they tell. You just gotta look and look. Most notable is the cover of the single, “Flight of Icarus,” in which Eddie careens away on bat wings, having just used a flame thrower to incinerate the wings of the beautiful son of Daedalus.
And then while you’re looking at the album art, you notice the music. Each musician is a wonder because musicianship is a huge part of what this band is about. Thus, many of the songs have long instrumental introductions or instrumental interludes that diverge in rhythm and key signature from the song of which they are a part. Individual songs have segments that differ from one another in melody and tempo – and I do not mean they merely have a verse, chorus, and bridge – rather they have different movements. Steve Harris on bass occasionally rises above the tumult to take over from the driving dominance of the lead-guitar duo, Adrian Smith and Dave Murray. At times the bass, guitars, and drums, are slamming along in unison. Paul Di’Anno growls like Alberich in Das Rheingold and then he soars and squeals like a banshee. And the subject matters of the songs are gothic, mythological, religious, literary. In a word, the forms of Iron Maiden’s music are classical.
The brilliance of Di’Anno’s singing is spectacularly represented by the song “Purgatory.” Barking words so fast they can barely be sung then suddenly he glissandos a scream an octave high.
The protagonist of the song is trapped in a doldrum. His incorporeal self reaches out to past lives, past memories of love, while his corporeal body holds him back.
My body tries to leave my soul.
Or is it me, I just don’t know.
Memories rising from the past, the future’s shadow overcast.
Something’s clutching at my head, through the darkness I’ll be led.
He is caught in a purgatory between long dead pleasure and present living pain. The song ends with a hopeless begging refrain:
Please take me away, take me away, so far away.
I note the influence of the punks on the 1980’s new wave of British metal. The metalists adopted the drive, the frenzy, the rage. But they rejected a huge part of the punk sensibility – the folk ethos – the philosophy that ANYONE can do this music. So it is with Iron Maiden. Only the few, the chosen, the spectacular virtuosos, can play this music.
Steve Harris, “Purgatory,” No publisher (BMI) (1981). From Iron Maiden, Killers, Harvest Records Limited, Capitol Records Inc., ST-12141 (1981). Illustration – Derek Riggs; Album design – Not credited.