Iron Maiden: Piece of mind
24/06/11 || Khlysty
Okay, boys, girls and others, I got a question for you: can you spell “pretentious” for me? That’s right, “pretentious”, M-O-O-N, that spells “pretentious”. Please, let us all be careful here; not “pretentious bullshit”. Not “pretentious bloated horse bollocks”. Just “pretentious”. Can you do that for me? ‘Cause, fuck, that’s exactly what this motherfucker of a record is, besides being wonderful, wondrous metal. See, Iron Maiden, after becoming a force to be reckoned within ze vorld ov metal, plus an extremely saleable proposition (“The Number Of The Beast” sold, like, a trillion copies), they decided that they could do anything. Of course, it would take them a coupla years more before they reached the zenith of pretentiousness with the incredibly ambitious and, overall, wonderfully realized “Powerslave”, but this is where the band decided that enough’s enough and that it was about time to show those ignoramuses that, yes, metal could be as much a thinking man’s choice as it was a safety valve for frustrated teen hormones.
So, let’s see the lyrical themes of “Piece Of Mind”: Iron Maiden take direct inspiration from such high-profile writers as Aleister Crowley, Clark Ashton-Smith, J.W. Chesterton, Alistair McLean, Frank Herbert, Lord Tennyson, Yukio Mishima, ancient Greek mythology and high-profile movies, like the documentary-styled “Quest For Fire” by Jean-Jacques Annaud, plus they reference Nostradamus and there’s an in-joke about a famous English comedian and an African dictator who really loved long pig. Heavy subject matter, nah? So let’s move to the songs: the shortest lasts a blink-and-miss-it 3:25, while the longest goes on and on for almost seven and a half minutes. Almost all of these songs a) are either multiparted or b) contain at least a couple of twists and turns, even though not as obvious as in a) songs.
What I mean by all this is that Iron Maiden with “Piece Of Mind” not only continued their maturity as songwriters; not only did they displayed an amazing diversity, but they also seemed to say, in their way, that “hey, metal can be for brainy-type guys, too, not just for headbanging”. Oh, yes, their trademarked sound –clean, epic guitar lines, galloping bass, quasi-operatic vocals- is already established and in full display here. But, it also opens towards an almost prog-rock orientation that almost screams “pretentious”. Have I already said that “Piece Of Mind” is wonderful, wondrous metal? There, I said it.
How great is it for a band to succeed in its own terms. After the initial success, no label can impose on them. So long as a new record is in the oven, so long as this record is almost guaranteed to also succeed, the band is untouchable. Thus, Iron Maiden, instead of rehashing “Number Of The Beast”, they opened up their horizons and tweaked their sound just so, as to fit their ambitions. Actually, “Piece Of Mind” contains only three kinds of songs: fast, raise-yer-fist-and-scream scorchers (the inimitable “Trooper”, the gang-ho “Die With Your Boots On”, the pop-ish “Sun and Steel” and “Still Life”), brutal trudgers (the opener to end all openers “Where Eagles Dare”, also a damn good movie, the not-so-exciting “Quest For Fire”, the interesting “Flight Of Icarus”) and ambitious prog-indebted and -infused songs like “Revelations” and “To Tame A Land”, which was supposed to be called “Dune” but spoilsport Frank Herbert didn’t like metal so it was a no-go.
But almost all of these songs are self-contained, fully-realized, compact (or not so compact) metal epics. Listening to the record while I write, I cannot but marvel how many youngsters listened to this and said, yes, that’s what I wanna do for a living. I wanna be in a metal band and play like these guys. I wanna be able to write catchy, smart songs that get the blood a-pumping and the brain a-working. I wanna play these fantastic viral melodies, those exceptional guitar harmonies. I wanna sing mostly-thoughtful lyrics, about life and death and philosophy and swords and heroes and fighters ready to die. If asked about the blueprint of modern heavy metal songwriting, I would easily point towards “Piece Of Mind”, so I cannot but give it a perfect 9.
Aw, c’mon now. It’s produced by Martin Birtch and backed by EMI and played by a fully matured Iron Maiden. It sounds phenomenal. It gets a 10.
I’m gonna repeat myself here. I think that Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, when working in tandem, is one of the best duo of guitarists ever to grace metal. I just wanna add that in “Piece Of Mind” they both display greater skill and depth, either when harmonizing, or when soloing. It’s a pleasure to listen to their clean tones and perfect synchronization, and they deserve a 9,5, at least.
9: Dickinson was already an accomplished singer when he entered the fold of the Irons. Here he just displays his impressive vocal chops, while infusing his singing with a lot of feeling. Is he, like, good? Does the bear shit ‘n the woods?
Ha, Stevo finally gleaned that it’s okay to have your bass less prominent –thusly it won’t eclipse the other instruments- and still be considered as one of the best bass players in the known universe. This production choice highlights Harris’ more subtle fingerwork and enhances the music. 9,5? Yeah, why not…
Nicko Mc Brain is the king of the expressive tom-rolls. He’s also a metronome, a genius when it comes to cymbal work and a gentleman of fine taste. Could anyone rate his work here with less that a 9? Of course not…
For references, check my opener. Okay, there are a few lines that are, ummm, groan-inducing (how ‘bout _“In a time when dinosaurs walked the earth/When the land was swamp and caves were home/In an age when prize possession was fire/
To search for landscapes men would roam.”_? Or “He is the Kwizatz Haderach/He is born of Caladan/And will take the Gom Jabbar”. Ooooooo-kay…), but generally the lyrics are literary, well-written and well sung. So, all’s fine, like 8-fine.
O, Eddie, where is thy brain??? Another great work by Derek Riggs. 10 and I won’t budge.
I really don’t like it, so, just out of spite, I’ll give it a 5. So sue me…
The gatefold vinyl edition that I have acquired has lyrics, info plus this picture of the band, in which Steve Harris looks like a sober Dave Mustaine. ‘S okay and it gets an 8.
Overall and ending rant
In case some of you didn’t catch it first time around, when I say that Iron Maiden is “pretentious” in “Piece…”, I use the word in its most positive sense. Meaning that, instead of just rehashing “Number…” and reap the rewards, Iron Maiden branched out, took chances, experimented, tweaked their sound and generally acted as an important band. It’s testament of their skills and dedication that this record is for me and for millions of fans worldwide part of the golden canon of the band. “Piece Of Mind” is one of the best true-blue heavy metal records and one has to have it and adore it. Simple as that…
- Released: 1983
- Label: EMI
- Website: www.ironmaiden.com
- Bruce Dickinson: vocals
- Adrian Smith: guitars, backing vocals
- Dave Murray: guitars
- Steve Harris: bass, backing vocals
- Nicko Mc Brain: drums
- 01. Where eagles dare
- 02. Revelations
- 03. Flight of Icarus
- 04. Die with your boots on
- 05. The Trooper
- 06. Still Life
- 07. Quest for fire
- 08. Sun and steel
- 09. To tame a land