Saturday, June 24, 2017

[music] Up the Irons!

My favorite rock band in the 80s (at least the second half of the decade, when I had an opinion on such things) was unquestionably Iron Maiden. They were a heavy metal band, with all of the associated imagery and attitude, but they were also, secretly, sort of a prog-rock band, if that style of music hadn't declined precipitously in popularity in the mid-late 70s.

They had Bruce Dickinson with his Conan the Barbarian haircut bellowing like a Viking out of a Wagner opera, twin lead guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith trading off face-melting solos, leather and spikes like Judas Priest, an elaborately theatrical stage set with pyrotechnics and a giant papier-mache monster head, violent and gory imagery featuring Eddie the zombie on their album covers, and their song "The Number of the Beast" got them accused of being Satanists. They were very loud and very aggressive and seemed very dangerous and very cool to my pre-teen self.

All of the "hoods" in my middle-school, the mostly-poor kids who had long hair and smoked, loved Iron Maiden, right alongside KISS and AC/DC and Def Leppard and Ozzy Osbourne (Metallica hadn't really caught on in our area yet). They were always surprised that I liked that stuff too, and it was how I bonded with that group, even though the teachers didn't like it and thought I was being led down the wrong path (about which I loved proving them wrong and shaming their close-mindedness).

Because what those teachers didn't understand (and, to be honest, I'm not sure many of the kids understood either) was that although they looked and sounded like other metal bands, Iron Maiden were smarter and more sophisticated - they had lyrics about history and literature (and even did a 13-minute-long version of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner") and they were seemingly just as influenced by 70s prog-rock bands like Genesis and Jethro Tull as they were by Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Thin Lizzy. This was, effectively, music for nerds that happened to also appeal to the cool and tough kids. As a nerd-by-inclination who also wanted to hang out with the cool kids, it was right up my alley, almost like it had been tailor-made for me.

The 80s were Iron Maiden's decade. The first, self-titled, album was released in 1980, and they put out just about an album a year through the rest of the decade, including The Number of the Beast in 1982 (the first album with Bruce Dickinson; their first hit and the one that got them pegged as Satanists), Piece of Mind in 1983 (where the full "classic era" lineup was finally in place), Live After Death in 1985 (their first live album, recorded in Long Beach, CA (I now know some folks a few years older than me who were in attendance), and the first of their albums I owned), and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son in 1988 (a full-on prog-rock-style concept album; I was totally obsessed by this album, wore out two different cassette tapes by listening to them so much, and - naturally - tried to adapt its story into a D&D campaign).

In the 90s they released some sub-par albums and had some lineup changes and I lost interest and moved on to other types of music - like punk and grunge and "alternative" stuff that the older high-school kids were into. From what I understand around the turn of the century Iron Maiden got the classic lineup back together and are still regularly releasing new albums and touring the world and playing to ridiculously large crowds and are probably bigger and more popular now than they were in the 80s, but I never got back into it. I did upgrade a few of my cassettes to CDs and still pull them out for a nostalgic listen now and then, though, and it instantly takes me back to being in seventh grade, listening to those albums on endless-repeat. I like it better that way.


  1. I had many players indoctrinated in heavy metal so it was always "you have to hear this" for stuff that I considered fringe which included Maiden. Other (what I considered as fringe) bands that people insisted were around 1985 Metallica (something about Cthulhu), late 1980's Rush (some album a about a future world and a song about a fantasy barbarian dog), mid-80's or so Yes (who I did see in a 1984 concert, by mistake as my aunt thought I liked them and bought tickets, always got shot down because of my dislike of the concert.) Then there was Zeppelin of course. And a local NYC band called "NAZGUL" (like there wasn't a million bands named this! ;) ) which I thought had recognition (it didn't). Many of these bands I thought were on a different wavelength than my parents who were rockabilly but didn't call it that. Just bleeding into rock, outlaw country and eclectic picks. So when I started listening to the radio on my own I had usually verged toward futurism (not progressive) mostly pop peppered with New Wave/Punk but I wouldn't play that shit for a D&D game. My big thing was soundtrack albums. TRON, EXCALIBUR, KRULL, etc these were piled on classical grabs (Wagner, etc.) So Maiden, I may have played during a game but it was most likely after the PC game CARMAGEDDON (1997)came out which had the "best of" Maiden as a soundtrack so I had dug out some old albums (which I ended up throwing out because they were all scratched)and eventually got a cd of IM to throw on. Its sad though because one of my friends "Eddie" (coincidentally ;) ) used to want to hear IM all the time and he is the ultimate burn out. I got him to play in a D&D game in 2004 after 15 or more years but that was his shining moment of sobriety. I'm a dungeon master not a zoo keeper! ;) My favorite Maiden song is most likely THE TROOPER but I can listen to most of their music.

  2. I was never a fan of Iron maiden (or heavy metal in general). However, I got to fence Bruce Dickinson at my high school fencing tournament in 1984. Needless to say, there were a lot of metal heads in the bleachers for this! Afterwards, he hung out with us for the rest of the day and just chit chatted about all sorts of things -- he made a definite positive impression on me! Quite friendly and erudite as you allude to above.

    Oh yeah, he beat me 5-3, though I accidentally hit him quite hard in the throat piece of his helmet and he asked if I was trying to ruin his career (I think he was joking, or at least half joking).

    1. I'm pretty sure this wins for coolest comment on this blog to-date!

  3. This is Gentlegamer from K&K and Dragonsfoot. As you can see, I'm an Iron!

    I was introduced to Iron Maiden by an older gamer I met after graduating high school in the mid 90s. After buying several of the remastered CDs, Iron Maiden became the soundtrack of our AD&D sessions for the rest of the decade.

    I highly recommend the 2000s albums Dance of Death and A Matter of Life and Death, they're amazing.

    I'm happy to say I've seen Maiden several times live in the Houston area, the last being the Somewhere Back in Time tour about ten years ago (my t-shirt from the show says Somewhere Back in Texas!)


  4. Yeah, the new albums (after Bruce and Adrian returned to the lineups) have some petty good tracks (especially Dance of Death, but I dig on Brave New World and A Matter of Life and Death). Like you, I stopped being a collector after the disappointment that was No Prayer for the Dying, though I have since acquired (and thoroughly enjoy) a couple of Dickinson's solo albums.

  5. Iron Maiden was a massive influence on me as a kid of 9. My fondest memories as a kid (you sound to be roughly my age) were sitting around the kitchen table: my dad as DM, me with my Paladin, and my cousin with his Cleric, plumbing the grind house of the Temple of Elemental Evil and listening to The Number of the Beast or Hallowed be thy Name. Those were the days.