REVIEW: Iron Maiden – “Empire of the Clouds” (2016 Record Store Day picture disc single)

IRON MAIDEN -“Empire of the Clouds” (2016 Parlophone Record Store Day picture disc single)

The story of acquiring this single and RSD 2016 can be read right here, so without getting into the details again this is what you need to know:

  1. This was a Record Store Day exclusive (April 16 2016).
  2. There were only 5500 copies made.
  3. Everybody wanted one.

The picture disc and packaging are gorgeous.  The record is a depiction of the Eddie destroying the R-101 airship, but fear not, this is not how history actually unfolded!  This picture disc is ensconced in a die card cover with reprintings of the Daily Mirror newspaper article from the day following the disaster.  It’s a lovely keepsake for sure, but it also has an exclusive interview on the B-side.

Not that the A side is unimportant.  From my original review for The Book of Souls, I had much praise for “Empire of the Clouds”:

“Written solely by Bruce and coming in at almost 20 minutes, it is unprecedented in the Maiden canon.  Never before have the credits ‘Bruce Dickinson – vocals, piano’ been written inside one of their albums.  For the first time ever, the piano is a part of Iron Maiden’s makeup.  Maiden have used orchestras before, and the strings return as well.  ‘Empire of the Clouds’ is a peak accomplishment, something that they (and Bruce) can proudly proclaim, ‘we did that’.  The piano is a natural fit, in the way it is used to make an epic song even more dramatic.  Aviation has been one of Bruce’s favourite lyrical subjects for a long time, but ‘Empire of the Clouds’ might be his first song about airships.  You can trust him to instil it with all the drama and heaviness that you expect from Iron Maiden.”

Nicko McBrain and Bruce Dickinson discuss the making of the song, almost an album in itself, on the B-side “Maiden Voyage”.  The R101 was a massive airship (“the Titanic fits inside”) that was rushed into service and caught flame in 1930.  Bruce wrote the song on piano, which he had learned to play over the last three years.  He then researched the history of the airship and worked on the words.  The way he describes the incident on this interview track, it was a perfect storm of everything going wrong.  In its context, the airship was an expression of the ambition of the British Empire to stretch to all corners of the Earth and above as well.  Bruce says the crash was the end of this era.

Part of the story involves a storm, so Bruce came up with a piano part to depict that.  Before long he had enough components from his piano writings to build the different parts of the song.   One of the bits was written when Jon Lord (from Deep Purple) was ill with cancer.  After his death, Bruce used this piece for the part when the airship initially sets off.  It’s interesting that this era of British ambition inspired the most ambitious track that the singer had ever attempted.  This includes a musical “S.O.S.” in Morse code, something I picked up on upon first listen.

Bruce has particular praise for drummer Nicko McBrain in the building and recording of this song.  Nicko was not only a help in a technical respect, but also as a cheerleader keeping the band driven, so much was he into it.

Bruce Dickinson is a remarkable individual in heavy metal.  You don’t see many metal stars as well educated in history as Bruce, or as capable at communicating it to his audience.  Indeed, as a presenter on the BBC, Bruce has brought history to many diverse audiences.  You would think Iron Maiden fans would be one of the more challenging groups to reach, but Maiden followers are hungry for this kind of content.  We can only respect the band that much more when we realize the true depth of their work.  This coming from a licensed airline pilot, published fiction author, cancer survivor and amature fencer who also happens to be in Iron Maiden.  Extraordinary!

I’m not sure if this disc was worth the buying frenzy it spawned or the online prices you are about to see, but I’m sure glad I got my copy.

5/5 stars

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42 comments

      1. Haha well not exactly. I’m still all full of adrenaline after the show, and we really do love that song around this house – the kids ask for it in the car (“play the song about the blimp!”). My daughter (she’s 4) can hum/sing the whole introduction. Plus, it’s such a pretty preciousssss…

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I am shocked you gave it 5/5 with the sound issues. Maybe your heart voted. Sometimes it’s not about the sonic quality, it’s about the longing for something rare, the packaging, the content, the beauty.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Picture discs are iffy sounding on the best of days.

        If that is your only turntable you would have issues with all of your vinyl, affecting all of your reviews.

        If it is an issue, let me help you find the best one in whatever price range. An awesome album reviewer such as yourself deserves to hear how incedible vinyl can really sound.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “Bruce Dickinson is a remarkable individual in heavy metal. You don’t see many metal stars as well educated in history as Bruce, or as capable at communicating it to his audience. Indeed, as a presenter on the BBC, Bruce has brought history to many diverse audiences. You would think Iron Maiden fans would be one of the more challenging groups to reach, but Maiden followers are hungry for this kind of content. We can only respect the band that much more when we realize the true depth of their work. This coming from a licensed airline pilot, published fiction author, cancer survivor and amature fencer who also happens to be in Iron Maiden. Extraordinary!”

    Calling Bruce an “amateur fencer” is really understating it. At one time, he was ranked 7th in the UK. There was a time when all Olympic participants were amateurs. Jesse Owens was an amateur.

    Now if Iron Maiden would only get rid of their goofy image (including Eddie, or at least transforming him into something less comic), things would be almost perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. True, which is why I said that making him less comic would be another option. Maybe not the best comparison, but look at the evolution of Mickey Mouse. :-) More like Death in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, which someone once described as “very heavy metal”. But not comic. (On the other hand, Monty Python famously parodied a scene from this film in The Meaning of Life, so this would fit in with the Python connection regarding “Always look on the bright side of life”.)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Bottom line, I don’t really mind one way or the other. Sure, they could serious it up a little bit, especially given how much they put into their music and the content of some of their lyrics. On the other hand, Eddie is a fixture now, one of the most successful mascots of all time (I’d wager), and it may just be their way to release that pressure on themselves and give the fans a bit of a hoot sometimes.

          Do I think it works as poster, t-shirt and album art? Absolutely. Do I think it’s necessary to have Eddie tromp around on stage every night? Not strictly necessary, no. But was it awesome fun times when he appeared halfway through The Book Of Souls and mucked about a bit? Yeah, I gotta admit it was fun. And the crowd sure screamed for him, so I wasn’t the only one.

          If they tightened it up and went all serious now, it’d be OK. They’ve had their fun with it for decades. But I don’t know how many more albums they’ll do, so it’d be a little silly to stop now anyway. There’s so much awesome with them that, in the overall picture, it’s all just a part of what they do, at this point.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I know at this stage of the game, if I went to see Maiden…yeah, I’d wanna see an Eddie. I’d want to see gimmicks. It’s like Kiss with the flashing sign, to me. They Eddie be made less silly? For sure, but I don’t think without consequence.

          Like

  3. Fans of Bruce might want to check out his participation in Ian Anderson’s (“the flute is a heavy, metal instrument” as an ad proclaimed after Tull won the Grammy (when everyone was expecting Metallica to win—they played the show for free, and Tull didn’t even attend, Alice Cooper accepting on their behalf)) Christmas shows.

    Search for “youtube ian anderson bruce dickinson” (without the quotes).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very cool! I looked at it and it looked great, especially as an aspiring journalist. To me, 30+ dollars for 2-3 is harder to justify at the moment. I didn’t go to record store day, but I went to Sunrise Records this weekend and I couldn’t believe how many copies of the single they had! They must’ve had 10-12 still. I also went to an indie record store in Oakville and they had a few copies too.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That was Sunrise Records in Burlington Mall and usually they just have lots of stock. My friend took me to the other vinyl place and they had 4-5. He said it was a new store which could contribute as well! As I see it, the store is a little out of the way for just about every angle. I know it was highly sought after vinyl which I thought was funny given that there are collectors just dying to get their hands on it.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That location has never failed me for new releases, except the last Scorpions but that’s because it would have been a $50 import as it wasn’t out in America at the time. Sunrise is always bang on!

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Sunrise remains a great outlet. I got very friendly with the manager there and he would always buy used vinyls he knew I would like. I bought lots from them over the years! They’re about to start selling
          online too soon from what I’ve heard.

          Like

        3. Oh that would be good. I wish they didn’t close here. Also their membership card was a good deal.

          BTW I posted my revamped Aerosmith review today! Have a look and check out the comments?

          Like

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