Metal is really a tricky genre when it comes to pinning down the bands that defined its sound. Its really one of the most varied genres around, encompassing every band from Mastodon
to Blind Guardian
to Judas Priest
. Undoubtedly, heavy metal would not be where it is today if it were not for Iron Maiden
. Always being on the pioneering edge of metal, their earliest works never cease to amaze me with not only their consistency, but their evolution. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
is generally regarded as the Iron Maiden release than showed them beginning to incorporate progressive elements into their music, replete with keyboard flourishes and an overarching concept to boot.
Like I implied earlier, Seventh Son is not the Iron Maiden that released the genre defining albums like Powerslave
, Piece of Mind
, and Number of the Beast
. But what exactly has changed? For one, Seventh Son trades in a lot of the aggression and heaviness prevalent on their earlier releases for more major key guitar riffs, opting for a lighter and all over catchier sound, which, without a doubt produced their most accessible album to date (See Can I Play with Madness?
). But although much of the aggression is absent from the riffs, the guitar work, specifically on tracks like Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
where both Adrian Smith and Dave Murray wank like only Iron Maiden can, laying down some impressive riffs and solos over Nicko McBrain’s powerful drumming and Steve Harris’ thick bass lines.
Seventh Son was also the first Iron Maiden release to incorporate keyboards into the mix, as opposed to the guitar synths used sparingly on their previous release, 1986’s Somewhere in Time
. Unfortunately, as interesting as the concept may sound, it only ends up with varying degrees of success ranging from the particularly bad (Moonchild
with its cringe-worthy sleaze tone) to the decent (The Prophecy
, where they are used more to create a mood than to stand alone), while never really surpassing that. The keyboard work on this album also helps to lighten the tone more than on previous releases, and when coupled with the less aggressive guitar riffage, comes out sounding a bit like what Europe should have sounded like if they had any talent.
But for all of the evolution that Iron Maiden underwent with this release, this is still a very Iron Maiden album. Bruce Dickinson’s vocals are top notch as we’ve come to expect. Whether he’s crooning over an acoustic guitar melody as in the intro to Moonchild
or he’s going full out operatic on tracks like Infinite Dreams
or The Evil That Men Do
, his vocals really shine on this release. As usual, Steve Harris’s bass lines really hold together the music without playing the root notes of what the guitars are playing. Seventh Son is more than likely his best performance on bass, especially when he opts to step out and take a bass solo of his own (see the intro to The Clairvoyant
or the pseudo bass wankery of Only the Good Die Young
). Nicko McBrain offers up some of the most complex and technically astute drumming in early metal, throwing in a variety of patterns with a definite Neil Peart influence obvious in his complex patterns on tracks like The Clairvoyant
But of course, like I said earlier, it wouldn’t be an Iron Maiden record without a fair bit of guitar shredding courtesy of Adrian Smith and Dave Murray, probably the most immediately identifiable guitar duo in metal. Both show off their shredding chops in the majority of the songs on Seventh Son, trading off solos of two completely discordant styles. The title track is probably the best representation of their skill at hand, with Smith taking the more metallic approach with a more sharp and clear tone and style of playing, while Murray opts for a far bluesy and sloppier style of soloing, relying much less on accentuating individual notes and much more on creating a smoother sound as opposed to Young’s sharp accentuations. Regardless, probably the most rewarding part of listening is the dual guitar harmonies present all over the place. And while Murray and Young’s propulsive guitar work kicks all kinds of ass separately, when the two play together it’s almost unbelievable how two completely disjointed styles can come together so well.
When all is said and done, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
succeeds on many levels, but unfortunately, the weak parts of the album bring the overall quality down quite a bit. Musically, it’s hit and miss at times. The synth work detracts quite a bit from the heaviness that defined Iron Maiden, and in ways makes this album that much more accessible. And while the can be applauded for having the balls to try something new, one must wonder if this was merely to push more records, or if it really was to try something more artistically challenging than their previous works. It’s sort of a bridge between their earlier work, and their more progressive later works. Regardless, while Seventh Son is far from a classic, it’s still a solid release and worthy of checking out by anyone who enjoys Iron Maiden.
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
The Evil That Men Do