redwoodalchan: Silly Drifloon from "Red Sun" fic (Default)
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 So now that there’s a story on Das Sporking that’s got people talking about Iron Maiden, I figured it’d be helpful if I made something explaining them to those still not in the know. I recently spent a stint in England studying abroad, and while I arrived in the UK a casual fan of Maiden, I returned to the States an absolutely adoring fan.

This is just a list of the Iron Maiden songs I’d recommend for someone who wants to see what all the hype is about (yes, there’s a lot—if there’s one thing about Maiden that’s impressive it’s their range and staying power). They’re arranged in order from oldest to newest. As a disclaimer, I should say that there are gaps in my knowledge of Iron Maiden’s music—I only own six of their albums in their entirety (plus odd songs from some of their other albums) and they have some albums that I’ve never heard any songs from at all. I made the conscious decision not to include any songs on this list that I haven’t listened to at least once, which means that there are some really phenomenal songs that won’t be on this list. Save those for when you become as obsessed as I am.

Other disclaimer: The “Meaning/Synopsis” section is my interpretation of the song. I tried to be as accurate as possible, but I can’t promise you’ll see the songs exactly the same way I do, and some really are just open to multiple interpretations. So feel free to take that section with a grain of salt.

Sit down—we’ll be here awhile.

Oh, and if a song’s name appears in bold, that means it’s one my special favorites.

“Wrathchild”

Album: Killers

Length: 2:53

Meaning/Synopsis: An angry boy is off looking for his father

Commentary: This song is one of their older offerings—it came out before the band really got enormous and features a different vocalist than the one they’re famous for having. It’s also got a more stripped-down feel than a lot of the songs I’ll be talking about down the road. Not their best work from this era, or so I’m told, but still pretty fun.

Warnings: None

“The Number of the Beast”

Album: The Number of the Beast

Length: 4:49

Meaning/Synopsis: A man is haunted by nightmares about the Devil

Commentary: This is considered to be one of their signature songs, and probably their most influential, given how often the band and their fans reference it. Quite possibly one of their earliest instances of starting a song off relatively hushed and subdued, only to unleash its full power after the first verse.

Warnings: The subject matter is a little disturbing, though it’s not used to particularly gruesome effect

“Run to the Hills”

Album: The Number of the Beast

Length: 3:52

Meaning/Synopsis: The genocide of Native Americans

Commentary: A lot of Iron Maiden fans really love this song, though I personally don’t. Regardless, it’s one of their most famous songs, and showcases the band’s galloping riffs quite well.

Warnings: The subject matter is pretty gruesome. The actual atrocities perpetrated against the Native Americans aren’t described in any sort of graphic detail, but not much is left to the imagination either. Some of the racial politics might be a little questionable, though I suspect the song was fair for its time.

“Hallowed Be Thy Name”

Album: The Number of the Beast

Length: 7:13

Meaning/Synopsis: A young man awaits his death at the gallows pole. The song delves into his thoughts.

Commentary: Metalheads everywhere consider this song to be one of heavy metal’s best offerings. Its power and beauty are virtually unparalleled, though some fans will argue that Maiden, at least, have managed to top it by now. Basically, you’re not a Maiden fan unless you’ve listened to it at least once. If you’re going to listen to any of the songs on this list, listen to this one.

To see my in-depth dissection of "Hallowed Be Thy Name" go here (but you should really listen to it yourself first).

Warnings: None. It’s not as bleak and gloomy as it sounds, trust me.

“Flight of Icarus”

Album: Piece of Mind

Length: 3:51

Meaning/Synopsis: A retelling of the Greek myth of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun, causing his wings to burn and him to die. This version seems to put most of the blame for Icarus’s death on Dedalus, his father, rather than on Icarus himself.

Commentary: Basically, this song adapts the old Greek myth to the band’s purposes rather than simply retelling it straight. Iron Maiden’s songs about folklore and myth tend to do this.

Warnings: None really. It’s just pretty sad.

“Die With Your Boots On”

Album: Piece of Mind

Length: 5:26

Meaning/Synopsis: Pay no attention to people who forecast your doom!

Commentary: Basically this song is a giant middle finger toward people who try to make others live in fear by predicting the end of the world, which has it we should be working on fixing problems that have the potential to become disasters, rather than wringing our hands about them. Somewhat ironically, Iron Maiden have since gone on to produce songs which make them sound awfully similar to the fearmongers this song seems to mock. It’s a super fun song, anyway.

Warnings: None

“The Trooper”

Album: Piece of Mind

Length: 4:13

Meaning/Synopsis: Basically, “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” heavy-metal style!

Commentary: This is another one of Maiden’s most famous works. It even lends its name to the band’s beer! It’s an atmospheric song where the beat is designed to sound like a galloping horse.

Warnings: None, except that it’s sad.

“Still Life”

Album: Piece of Mind

Length: 4:55

Meaning/Synopsis: A man is being driven slowly insane by ghosts he sees in his swimming pool

Commentary: This is probably the most disturbing song off of Piece of Mind (though it falls prey to narm on more than one occasion). A big part of this is the unreliability of its narrator. Are the ghosts really there or aren’t they? I’ve seen someone make a pretty convincing argument that the song is a metaphor for alcoholism, though that is unlikely to be intentional.

I comment quite heavily on "Still Life" here, but be warned that it contains discussion of suicide.

Warnings: Since it mentions suicide, it may be triggering to some people.

“2 Minutes to Midnight”

Album: Powerslave

Length: 6:00

Meaning/Synopsis: Foretells nuclear war and the death and destruction this will entail

Commentary: This was the first Iron Maiden song I ever heard, for better or for worse. I came away thinking they were the most brutal band in existence, practically. Boy was I wrong!

Warnings: Some of the lyrics reference really gruesome things, like children dying, though it’s mostly used as affectation.

“Aces High”

Album: Powerslave

Length: 4:41

Meaning/Synopsis: Tells the story of British fighter pilots during the Blitzkrieg of World War II

Commentary: This high-energy song has probably one of the catchiest (and stickiest) riffs you will ever hear.

Warnings: None

“Sea of Madness”

Album: Somewhere in Time

Length: 5:43

Meaning/Synopsis: A guy retreats from the world to avoid having to watch it crash and burn in a “sea of madness”

Commentary: This song combines a gritty-sounding riff with hauntingly beautiful lyrics, and ends up being much better than the sum of its parts. There’s debate among fans over whether the narrator of the song is supposed to be alive or dead, but either way it’s emotionally intense.

Warnings: None

“Heaven Can Wait”

Album: Somewhere in Time

Length: 7:22

Meaning/Synopsis: A young man at the point of death is called to Heaven but refuses to go

Commentary: This song could be considered a lighter and softer counterpart to “Hallowed Be Thy Name” above. It’s extremely uptempo and catchy, and frequently sung with audience participation at concerts (or so I heard).

Warnings: None

“Alexander the Great”

Album: Somewhere in Time

Length: 8:35

Meaning/Synopsis: All about the life and times of Alexander the Great

Commentary: Apparently quite historically-accurate. I played this for my family and they really liked it.

Warnings: None

“Moonchild”

Album: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

Length: 5:41

Meaning/Synopsis: There’s a child soon to be born, whom Lucifer hates and wants dead

Commentary: This song doesn’t actually make complete sense outside the context of the album on which it is found (it’s a rock opera), but it sounds so, SO badass nonetheless. I personally think it’s a dream sequence the title character is having.

Warnings: Blood and death imagery, used as affectation

“Can I Play with Madness?”

Album: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

Length: 3:38

Meaning/Synopsis: A young man goes to speak to a recalcitrant prophet about his future

Commentary: This song is catchier and more uptempo than “Moonchild” above. It’s pretty fun, though some say it sounds too happy for the subject matter. Kinda reminds me of Clair Leonelli, a character from the anime “Heat Guy J.”

Warnings: None

“Fear of the Dark”

Album: Fear of the Dark

Length: 7:16

Meaning/Synopsis: The dark, whether literal or metaphorical, is terrifying

Commentary: This song opens and closes slowly, but speeds up in the middle, to the point of suggesting a racing heartbeat. It would be playing in my head anytime I explored England after dark.

Warnings: None

“Wasting Love”

Album: Fear of the Dark

Length: 5:51

Meaning/Synopsis: A man, rather than seeking out real relationships, has casual sex with women who feel the same way he does, but is lonely and unhappy about it

Commentary: This is the first of three power ballads most Iron Maiden fans know about. It’s surprisingly good and really, really weepy. Apparently based on the real-life experiences of one of the band members.

Warnings: Some sexual innuendos, if those bother anyone

“The Thin Line Between Love and Hate”

Album: Brave New World

Length: 8:28

Meaning/Synopsis: People can choose whether to take the right or wrong path in life, but taking the right path requires courage and determination because it’s easy to stray from. The narrator, though, believes himself a righteous man.

Commentary: This song is just profound and pretty much describes my outlook on life and the outlook on life of most of my favorite works of fiction too. Its chorus will have you rolling on the floor weeping tears of joy—though beware the false ending. It’s the last song on Brave New World, the first album Maiden came out with after the millennium turned (and following their reunion after a tumultuous decade) and the only song off that album I currently know.

Warnings: None

“Rainmaker”

Album: Dance of Death

Length: 3:52

Meaning/Synopsis: If people cared more, they could really change the world for the better

Commentary: This is a really pretty song, though it took three listens before it grew on me. Check it out and wonder at the fact that it’s being brought to you by a metal band with a pet zombie.

Warnings: None

“Montsegur”

Album: Dance of Death

Length: 5:51

Meaning/Synopsis: In the Middle Ages, a religious sect known as the Cathars were murdered by the Catholic majority at Montsegur, a fortress in the south of France

Commentary: This is about as fast and furious as I’ve ever heard a Maiden song get—its speed, power and ferocity could rival certain Metallica songs. Interestingly, its chorus is delivered in a singsong tone, almost like a nursery rhyme, and there’s debate among the fans as to whether this worked out for the positive or not. It continues the trend of songs like “Run to the Hills” and “2 Minutes to Midnight” by being a really badass-sounding song about a really terrible topic. For some reason, it’s difficult to find on YouTube, so you might have to buy it (or the album it appears on) if you want to hear the real, unvarnished thing.

Warnings: The subject matter is really bloody awful, though the exact details are kept vague.

“Paschendale”

Album: Dance of Death

Length: 8:29

Meaning/Synopsis: Tells the story of a World War I battle through the eyes of a soldier who fought and died there

Commentary: This may be objectively the best song off the album. Basically a heavier version of “The Trooper,” albeit about a different war, it really immerses you in the surroundings. Sort of similar to “Montsegur,” with its expose of a terrible topic; but “Paschendale dives more into the nitty-gritty than “Montsegur” did.

Warnings: The soldier’s experiences are described in gut-wrenching detail. That is all that need be said.

“Journeyman”

Album: Dance of Death

Length: 7:12

Meaning/Synopsis: The importance of choosing your own path in life and living it to the fullest, though the band members have also said it’s about life as a musician

Commentary: This is yet another power ballad, and probably the gentlest song Maiden have ever written (one of them, anyway…). It’s extremely soothing—particularly given that it’s the last song on an album stuffed with songs about war and death and how society’s going to Hell in a handbasket.

Warnings: Oh, please.

“Different World”

Album: A Matter of Life and Death (AMOLAD)

Length: 4:14

Meaning/Synopsis: Someone’s wandering through life and feels a bit intimidated by the choices and differences all around them

Commentary: This song was pretty much my anthem the first little while I spent in England, and probably most of us can relate to it on some level. It’s definitely lighter in tone than most of the songs on the album, though it’s appropriate in a way because of its focus on understanding and appreciating other people and the world at large, given how many songs on the album deal with (what else?) war and death. It’s also the shortest song on the album by a considerable margin, which should give you some idea about where this is going.

Warnings: None

“These Colours Don’t Run”

Album: AMOLAD

Length: 6:53

Meaning/Synopsis: Soldiers are heroes no matter what country they come from or why they signed up, since they’re willing to lay down their lives for their country

Commentary: This is one of many, many weepy songs to come off the album. It both extols the soldiers’ bravery and makes it clear that they’re set out to do difficult and often thankless work. In theory it’s meant to apply to any soldier; in practice it seems like it’s only really considering soldiers from industrialized democracies, like the US or the Maiden members’ native UK.

Warnings: None

“Out of the Shadows”

Album: AMOLAD

Length: 5:38

Meaning/Synopsis: The beauty of birth, according to the band members—although it comes across more like “When you’re born you’re king for a day and nothing can harm you. Then life hits!”

Commentary: This is the third of Maiden’s power ballads, and it’s one the band members are very fond of.

Warnings: None

“Lord of Light”

Album: AMOLAD

Length: 7:25

Meaning/Synopsis: A sympathetic take on Lucifer, that paints him as a tragic figure who was wronged by God. Seems to be making the case that religion only works when it’s turned to the pursuit of knowledge and freedom.

Commentary: This song manages to be one of the stickiest and weepiest songs on the album—the first time I listened to it I ended up curled up in a ball wracked with convulsive sobs! Interestingly enough, although it’s about Lucifer, the chorus bears lyrical similarities to both “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and “The Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” songs that present religion and spirituality in a positive light.

Warnings: You might want to bring tissues. As I said, it’s REALLY REALLY WEEPY!

“El Dorado”

Album: The Final Frontier

Length: 6:51

Meaning/Synopsis: A conman tries to convince people to make a perilous journey to the famed El Dorado. Sort-of based on the economic crisis.

Commentary: It’s hard to judge how well this song stacks up compared to many of the other songs in Maiden’s discography (or even on the album), but it was well-received by critics and even landed the band their first Grammy award. It’s also the only single off the album.

Warnings: None

“Isle of Avalon”

Album: The Final Frontier

Length: 9:02

Meaning/Synopsis: A traveler visits the Isle of Avalon, where both he and the souls of the dead go to be reborn.

Commentary: Like “Flight of Icarus,” this song takes a myth and twists it into something else. It’s not supposed to be the best song off the album, but I really like it anyway, mostly because of the emphasis on nature and the potential for teasing an environmentalist message out of it.

Warnings: None

“Starblind”

Album: The Final Frontier

Length: 7:49

Meaning/Synopsis: An old man speaks from beyond the grave about the importance of not wasting your life trying to get to heaven

Commentary: There is a certain contingent of fans who really, really love this song, though near as I can tell it hasn’t made much of a splash in the overarching fandom. It’s probably the closest I’ve seen Iron Maiden get to criticizing religion (as opposed to the abuse of religious power) in no uncertain terms, though fans are divided over whether it’s a criticism of religion per se, or of organized religion, or even just taking religion to extremes. Either way, the lyrics are just beautiful, though some have complained that there’s too many of them. Forms sort of a yin and yang with “Isle of Avalon,” the song that immediately precedes it on the album.

Warnings: None really, though you may be pondering the meaning of life and death for a few hours afterwards (and there’s some hints that the narrator might have been a suicide).

You can also read my commentary on one of the abovementioned albums, "Dance of Death," here.

And…that’s about it for my own experience of Maiden. Rock on! \m/

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