REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988, 1996 bonus CD)

Part 11 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

Seven deadly sins…

Seven ways to win…

Seven holy paths to Hell and your trip begins…

IRON MAIDEN – Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988, 1996 bonus CD)

Maiden finally did it.  After years of denying that their albums had been concept albums, Maiden went ahead and wrote a concept album!  The circumstances were coincidental. The album was to be their seventh.  Steve Harris had already written his album epic, the title track “Seventh Son of Seventh Son”.  Meanwhile, Bruce had written down lyrics such as “Seven deadly sins, seven ways to win…”  Seizing this serendipitous moment, Maiden plunged forward with the tale of a boy born with healing powers and the ability to see the future…everyone’s but his own.

A boy born as the seventh son to a seventh son, in some folklore, was prophesied to have such powers.  But the inability to foresee his own fate was a cruel joke by none other than Lucifer himself.  In the story, the sides of good and evil battle for the soon-to-be-man’s soul, hoping to bend his powers to their will.

If Bruce was a basket case on the prior album, Somewhere In Time, he had bounced back by Seventh Son.  With no less than four writing credits out of eight songs, Bruce must have been satisfied that Maiden were incorporating acoustics, and keyboards.  It was all in the name of texture and light & shade.  Bruce had hoped that one day Maiden would make their Physical Graffiti and perhaps this is it.

I recall when it came out that there was some backlash:  Some Maiden fans did not take too kindly to the obtuse lyrics, acoustic guitars, and softer more progressive direction.  When you listen to both albums back to back, on a whole I think Seventh Son is heavier than Somewhere In Time, by a hair.  Yet compared to Powerslave or Killers, clearly this was new and different.  Some didn’t like that, while others took the time to get to know and love Seventh Son.  I can recall being perplexed by the lyrics, struggling to figure them out, and wondering if the symbols written on the lyric sheet were clues.

At the same time that Maiden were exploring new directions, so was cover artist Derek Riggs.  No longer wishing to draw Eddies with axes in people’s heads, he came up with something very different that suited Maiden’s more mystical musical direction.   Here’s another one I wish I had on vinyl!  Clearly no longer on our plane of reality, but still with his cybernetic implants, Eddie seems to be giving birth to a new generation of Eddies!  On the back, the Arctic ice forms seem to represent past Eddies.  Altogether, seven of them…

The acoustics and keyboards are evident right from the get go as they form a major part of “Moonchild”, written by Bruce and Adrian.  It’s a strong opener, quickly getting up to speed, with lyrical angels and demons swooping upon you as Bruce spits out the words.  I recall Bruce saying in a Canadian interview that he enjoyed playing multiple characters on the album, and when singing as the Devil, he drank “a couple cups of tea.”

Steve’s “Infinite Dreams” begins slow, in line with past Maiden ballads, the sound of precious Fenders caressing your ears as our protagonist emerges from a nightmare.  Soon the tempos change (more than once!) and Bruce lets loose a scream from hell.  (As kids, this is the first time we noticed Bruce losing some of the smoothness and range of his high voice.)

The first single, “Can I Play With Madness” is third.  It too was controversial in a way:  The music video didn’t have Iron Maiden in it!  Aside from some Powerslave footage playing on a TV in a catacomb, the video starred Monty Python’s Graham Chapman and a certain Mr. Eddie.  The mystical video did little to enlighten us kids on the meaning of the lyrics!  Musically, it’s another anthemic Maiden hard rock single, but perhaps the most commercial one yet.

The second single, “The Evil That Men Do” closed side one.  Like the previous song it was written by the triumvirate of Steve, Bruce and Adrian.  It boasts a powerful singalong chorus and some great guitar melodies.  Lyrically, our protagonist has now “slept in the dust with his daughter,” and I think you can guess who’s daughter he’s referring to.  This song represents one of the very few times Maiden sing about love, albeit in this case it’s a sub-plot of a concept album.

Side two opened with Steve’s 10 minute epic, “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” which essentially sums up the plot so far.  It’s not as dynamic as some past epics as “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, nor as riffy.  It is still quite an excellent epic, slow and meandering but of course with ample changes and parts to keep your attention.  Like “Rime” it has a slow spoken word section in the middle.

“The Prophecy”, written by Dave Murray and Steve Harris, continues the story.  The seventh son has foretold a disaster and the village is doomed.  The townspeople do not believe him.   Yet disaster does strike while “Lucifer smiles, looks on and waits,” and the town blames him for bringing a curse!  Musically this is not the best song on the album, and it comes close to filler territory.  Yet the end of it is an intricate medley of sad acoustic guitars, weaving an ancient-sounding melody.  It is moments like this that are a great example of Maiden and acoustic guitars working together appropriately. The third single, “The Clairvoyant” begins with some of Steve’s patented rinky-dinky bass melodies before the dual guitars crash in.  This melodic winner, written alone by Steve, is one of the best.  Not only are the verses soaring, but it is taken to a whole higher level when Bruce digs into the choruses. Nicko’s drum fills are exactly perfect (as they always are) punctuating the right moments with thunderclaps and rain.  It ends with a bright note though:  “As soon as you’re born, you’re dying…to be reborn again!”

Does that happier fate befall our protagonist?  Spitting out disgust at the society that rejected him, he indicts them for their crimes.  “So I think I’ll leave you, with your bishops and your guilt.  So until the next time…have a good sin.”   Yet he finds that to be reborn again might not be a good thing after all, Bruce throwing in a hinting snicker at the end…The name of the song is “Only the Good Die Young”, and it is a great Maiden closer.  One of the best.  And you just have to love that ending!

Yes, Seventh Son is indeed a triumph.  I think the reaction to it at the time was more indicative of the times.  People feared for Maiden losing their edge, as Priest seemed to do (Turbo), while newer heavier bands citing Maiden as an influence gained some traction.  If Maiden had gone even softer after Seventh Son, then I think that a portion (a minority) of fans would have given up on them.  Maiden seemed to be aware of this, though…

I find Martin Birch’s production to be a tad muddy…just by a hair though.  I’d like it a little brighter personally.  Minor nitpick.

For the first time, fans had four singles to collect!  “Infinite Dreams” was thrown out there as a single at the end, right around the time of release for the new live video, Maiden England!

Singles breakdown is below.  For whatever reason, although the other nine songs are included, the 1996 2 CD reissue of the album excluded “Heaven Can Wait”.  Too bad.  There was room on the disc.

“Can I Play With Madness” included the comedy song “Black Bart Blues”.  Please allow Bruce to introduce you to Black Bart, a suit of armor that rode on the back of their tour bus!  On the heavier side, Maiden throw in an authentic cover of “Massacre” by Thin Lizzy.  As I kid I was amazed it was  cover, because it seems custom made for Maiden once you hear this version!

“The Evil That Men Do” (besides having the best cover art, that folded out into a Monsters of Rock poster) had two great B-sides:  Re-recordings of old Maiden classics, with Bruce singing!  In fact neither Bruce, nor Adrian, nor Nicko were in the band when “Prowler” and “Charlotte The Harlot” were originally done.  The new versions, dubbed “Prowler ’88” and “Charlotte The Harlot” ’88 are captured nice and raw, much like the originals but with better production values.  Bruce really nails it on “Prowler ’88”

“The Clairvoyant” was released a a live single surprisingly, in gatefold sleeve no less.  It contained live versions of “The Prisoner” (finally, since it wasn’t on Live After Death!) and the aforementioned “Heaven Can Wait”, complete with “whoah-oh-oh” singalong.

“Infinite Dreams”, which coincided with the new live video, was also live.  It was backed by awesome live versions of “Killers” and “Still Life”, two more songs that weren’t on Live After Death.  A CD version of this video didn’t come out until 1994 so for a while this was the only place you could get them.

The Seventh Tour of a Seventh Tour portended some changes.  The stage productions had gotten so large that the band were afraid of being lost in it all.  Bruce complained on Canadian TV that he’d sweat buckets on stage only to have a fan approach him and ask him something about the “fucking crystal ball”.  But deeper problems were afoot.  Bruce seemed creatively revitalized, but Adrian was clearly unhappy on stage.  The band knew it.  But in the meantime, Steve Harris had a live video to edit, and Bruce had plenty of time off for solo activities…

5/5 stars

1996 2 CD reissue:  4/5 stars – knocking off a point for excluding “Heaven Can Wait” live.

25 comments

  1. 7th Son is my favourite album as I’m sure for a lot of others as well!
    When I bought this album the day it came out on was on c.d which was a bonus cuz back in 88 not all releases came out on disc the same day as vinyl.
    And well once the tour was announced for a show in May of 88 in the Peg it was all systems go!
    As I’m sure you all know is that Guns N Roses opened and at this show they were alright as Sweet Child was starting to get steam and head up the charts.
    Remember Axl saying that Nazareth was in the peg at the same night so GNR played Hair Of The Dog as a tribute to the Nazareth and that they were headed there to watch em.
    Yeah the show was huge,biggest production yet…but the audience attendance was once again on the decline….only 6,000 or so …..couldn’t believe it.
    Fast forward to 2012 and me and my brother attended the 7th son tour in Wisconsin.
    Unbelievable show……check it out you tube.
    Best album/Best tour in 88 and 2012!

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  2. I recall hearing that GN’R and Maiden didn’t get along too well on that tour. There was that Much interview where Slash said that “Maiden are into dragons and stuff, and we’re into hanging out.” And I also recall hearing that Steve Harris wanted to knock Axl out for some infraction.

    Historic tour though…legendary! And I believe Canada’s own Killer Dwarfs joined them on tour. In fact I have video footage of Darrel Dwarf getting pants’ed, onstage, by Bruce! Believe it was this tour.

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  3. Yeah the Dwarfs opened in England and parts of the U.S…….
    Well yeah it must have killed Axl to go onstage on time….!
    Now 25 yrs later Dickinson is at the top of his game whereas Axl not so much…

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    1. One thing I want to talk about when we get to it: Sharon Osbourne egging Iron Maiden on the Ozzfest tour.

      It’s incredible that Maiden are still at the top of their game! I heard Nicko say that they cannot play the songs as fast as they used to, and if you listen, you can hear that. But who cares??!?

      If you wanna hear a cool Maiden cover, check out Testament covering “Powerslave” on their new album.

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  4. For sure I will check it out….the Testament cover,I dunno about the songs not being played as fast this summer hearing Fear Of The Dark,Aces High,Prisoner Moonchild ,there pace of the songs were pretty much spot on,perhaps that Nicko interview was at,the start of the tour.
    Great album to bring back 25 yrs later and they drew in bigger crowds than they did in 88,which I guess u could say was there heyday.

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    1. I’m sure Maiden are their own worst critics! The setlist this year is just awesome. May never get to hear “Seventh Son” ever again! Hope there is a live album.

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  5. Kinda funny how some guy next to us squawked at the end of the show complaining they did not play Hallowed..!!!!!!…..I mean come on they played the title track to Seventh Son and Phantom Of The Opera and that takes up 20 minutes between those two tracks,of course I would have loved to hear Hallowed myself but I was not complaining like they have played Hallowed every tour since 82…..
    Just like all these Rush fans tripping that There ditching a lot of there 70s stuff on this tour,who cares man..there still out there playing and I’m sure for Geddy singing the 80s material is a little more easier on the vocal register….some day these bands will pack it in…people I think forget about that…..

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    1. I’d rather hear Phantom over Hallowed, since you never know when Phantom may get played again!

      I’m all for bands playing new material too…Rush always play plenty of songs from their recent albums and that’s how you create new classics! You have to play them for people. I hope Kiss realize this and put more new songs into the set. If I don’t hear “Shout It Out Loud” I’ll live.

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  6. Yeah actually they could play Monster front to back(which they never would do ) and I would be more interested in catching them live…..
    Look at Rush 9 songs off of clockwork being played live in a row with a string section…..now that’s what u do when u know u got a great record.
    Even when I seen Halen this yr sure they played the single Tatoo…..but they also played She’s the Woman,Chinatown ,and Trouble With Never ,they could have played that record front to back and I would have been good with it but the way those guys operate I guess u better play the old stuff cuz u never know when there gonna be back ..if at all..!

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  7. Well, I just read through your comments, gentlemen (though not the review yet), and I’m about to post what must surely seem the work of someone who just doesn’t get it. Maybe I don’t. But whatever you do, don’t blast me too hard! I was hearing a lot of this for the first time, tonight. I imagine that if I’d heard it back when we were kids it’d be different. It wasn’t formative, for me. Anyway, here you go.

    Now this is an album title I recognize.

    All deference to fans everywhere, I was probably just tired and punchy, but I found that minstrel opening to Moonchild hilarious. So bad! Dickinson does OK with his full-on sing/yelling, but that bit there was pretty bad. Of course, after some synths and a slow build we’re off to the typical gallop. It’s an OK song, but damn that man sounds like he has a cold while he’s singing. Not a keeper, for me. Onward! Infinite Dreams starts off with an actually pretty little guitar line, and becomes a decent mid-tempo track that eventually takes off, as usual. Dickinson’s vocals are still doing nothing for me. Is he adding more vibrato or something? Or plugging his nose while he sings? Whatever. Can I Play With Madness is a song I know. Hell, doesn’t everybody? I like this one a lot. Has to have been a single. Am I right? I haven’t read Mike’s review yet.

    The Evil That Men Do is another high speed rocker I’ve heard before. This one sounds like it could have been on an earlier album, and I found that refreshing. If ever there was a question about the template these guys use for their songs, by now it should be pretty clear. I’m not knocking it! I’m just saying. Next up is the title track, with its dramatic opening, wasn’t one that grabbed me. I think I know what they were trying to do – big concept song with a storyline, etc. But the vocals once again… ugh. I just cannot listen to that without cringing. Look, I understand that this is sort of the point with Maiden, right? This guys belts and warbles and everyone loves him. But everything except the chorus, here, was pretty trying, and this is a ten minute song! It’s actually a relief when it becomes an instrumental excursion. Whatever. Onward.

    The Prophecy has an odd bounce to it, almost… swing! Lovely intro, mid-tempo beat, cool riff. But the vocals, again. I found myself wanting him to stop. Maybe this is just not my nght to be listening to this. It’s really not making a good impression, and all because of him. The music is fine, even with the synths scattered here and there. I might need to try this again, another day. Ah! The Clairvoyant saved it, for me. Whew! This is more like a couple of albums ago. I REALLY liked this song, it’s probably the best track on the record. But I had to wait until the second-to-last track to get it? Yeesh.

    And they close it out with Only The Good Die Young? Man, this really disappointed me. Here I thought they were gonna cover Billy Joel! Hahaha. I’m kidding. It’s a very good song. If I heard it in a mix, I’d say ‘Hey! Maiden! Cool!’ On this record, it stands out as a better track, but if it was on other records this would have been lesser. And holy hell, what an intricate and beautiful middle instrumental section, and I liked the ending, as though it was not just the end of an album but also a concert. Cool.

    So. Bottom line? It wouldn’t be the first Maiden album I’d tell a neophyte (like myself) to buy as an introduction. It’s still certainly a good record, but I really hope they put a leash on their singer for the rest of these records.

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  8. One of my very favourite Maiden albums. Wouldn’t want to add much as you’re all over it, Mike! As usual! All these albums have been great up till now. You can debate personal favourites and differences in taste till your blue in the face but they are all keepers and if you like Maiden you should have them all!

    But now things get really interesting! Can’t wait for the next one.

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  9. I like Aaron’s review! Remember his review well, when we get to the next album. It was palpable that some fans were not happy, I think Aaron hit a lot of it on the head as to why, and I think we all have to agree that the next album was different indeed.

    HMOverloRd, I too cannot wait for the next one. Like Seventh Son, I included as much context as possible. From here on in, the ride gets rocky. This is where fans stop being in universal agreement really! And I have to be honest, I’m worried about my Fear of the Dark review, because I just can’t decide how I feel about it in hindsight! There’s no question there was filler on it, but I sure did LOVE that album when it came out. But I’m getting way ahead of myself.

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    1. Thanks, Mike. I was actually concerned about getting flamed in these parts, given all the Maiden fans who come here. And I worried that maybe I lacked perspective. I mean, except for the Hit songs on that record, I was hearing the rest for the first time ever. So I could only report on what I heard and be as honest as possible. Honestly, I think it went off the rails when they brought in the synths. Well, bring on the next one and we’ll see how it goes!

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  10. Well, give it another listen if you can. As a concept album you need to do a couple listens. But that album was a controversial one. I recall letters in Hit Parader magazine complaining how Maiden and Priest had “lost it”.

    Priest realized it and turned it around BIG time on Painkiller (I really need to do all the Priests, like this). Maiden on the other hand…we’ll get into that!

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    1. I will play it again. And I’ll try to do it in the middle of the day, when I am more awake. I like concept albums, but I’m gonna have to listen to that strained warble to get what he’s saying. Hm.

      And yes, you DO need to do all the Priests in a series like this. BRING IT ON!

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      1. Bring on the Priest! That would be great. I actually really like Bruce’s voice on this, it’s strained and hoarse at points but there’s a lot of feeling and emotion in it. I like it rough! Haha

        I love concept albums too. 7th Son was a great album with great songs but I don’t think it worked very well as a concept or storyline. I think Bruce expressed some disappointment on that score in interviews, saying that he heard Operation Mindcrime and felt that was done better in terms of concept and storytelling…

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        1. What’s with Mike calling HMO “Heavy Metal Overlord”, but his name saying “HM Overload”?

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  11. I seem to remember Bruce using 7thSon as a stick to bash Maiden with over his creative involvement with the music after he left. He commented that they were finishing 7thSon up and about to release it but they happened across the then new album called Operation: MindCrime and he thought “Oh shit, this is how you make a concept album. We’re done.”.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Very different and both with different intents. I think that Bruce started playing his “not-relevant” cards like he did whilst talking about Somewhere in Time not being Maiden’s “Zep III”. This always seemed to happen when he didn’t get his own way. I think that Bruce may have felt a bit daft singing about prophesies and stuff whilst Geoff got to sing about nuns and murder and politics…

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