Favourite rock/metal concept albums (Part 5) – Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

After a gap of 2 months I’m back to this series covering my favourite concept albums. In Part 4, we were in the year 1992 looking at Extreme’s III Sides To Every Story. Now I’m rolling back to 1988, the same year that Queensrÿche released Operation: Mindcrime, which I covered in Part 3. A few weeks before the Queensrÿche release, British heavy metal giants Iron Maiden dropped their seventh studio album, appropriately titled Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.

Iron Maiden in 1988 (left to right): Adrian Smith (guitar/synthesizer), Dave Murray (guitar), Steve Harris (bass), Bruce Dickinson (vocals), Nicko McBrain (drums)

Band: Iron Maiden

Albums: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)

Genre: Magic, Anglo-Saxon folklore

Narrative theme/concept: Songs based on the folklore that the seventh son of a seventh son has special mystical powers

Best songs: Infinite Dreams, Can I Play with Madness, The Evil That Men Do, The Clairvoyant

What makes it special: After trying out guitar synthesizers on Somewhere in Time in 1986, the band took it a step further with the use of keyboard synthesizers (played by guitarist Adrian Smith) and a more melodic approach. However, they didn’t sacrifice any of the classic winning elements of their previous albums, i.e., Bruce Dickinson’s growling vocals, Steve Harris’ galloping bass play and the twin guitar attack from Smith and Dave Murray.

The idea for the album came to bassist Harris after he read fantasy writer Orson Scott Card’s novel Seventh Son in 1987, the first of his highly successful Tales of Alvin Maker series. Unlike many other concept albums, the songs in this album are not overtly connected as part of a narrative sequence. In fact, for the longest time, I wasn’t even aware that this album was a concept album. This absence of a narrative thread is something that Bruce Dickinson admitted to as well in later years.

When I think about my favourite tracks, I realize that they all have impactful or catchy intros…Infinite Dreams starts with a 25-second bluesy and relaxed riff before switching to a faster bass-driven cadence as the vocal track kicks in; Can I Play with Madness starts with a music-free yell of the song title before the instruments kick in; The Clairvoyant features a powerful bass line intro followed by the chugging guitars that signal a sense of urgency. And as always, the music syncs so well with and enhances Bruce Dickinson’s vocal delivery.

Two of the tracks have really evocative lyrics which are also wonderfully enunciated by Bruce Dickinson, making it very easy to sing along with, for example, the verses from Infinite Dreams which are delivered at almost a speaking cadence:-

Suffocation waking in a sweat
Scared to fall asleep again
In case the dream begins again
Someone chasing I cannot move
Standing rigid nightmare’s statue
What a dream when will it end
And will I transcend?

And the much faster-paced chorus from Can I Play With Madness:-

Can I play with madness? The prophet stared at his crystal ball
Can I play with madness? There’s no vision there at all
Can I play with madness? The prophet looked and he laughed at me, ha, he said
Can I play with madness? He said, “you’re blind, too blind to see”
Oh, said, “you’re too blind to see”, mmm

Ironically, the only song I really don’t care that much for is the title track…the repetitive and rather unimaginative singing and chorus really killed the first few minutes of the song for me, to the extent that I rarely stay on for the greater variety that comes in the second half of this 9 minute epic. Ah well, you can’t have everything, I guess!

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