World history with Iron Maiden

Bet you thought you’d never see those words in that combination! If you’re a Maiden fan then you’ll have an inkling where this is headed, but non-fans amongst you will be scratching your heads wondering how a metal band relates to events in history.

Messrs Harris, Dickinson, Smith, Murray, Gers and McBrain often take their inspiration not just from historic events but also classic literature and classic movies.

These songs propel the listener directly into those worlds and can provide you with fascinating glimpses into some of the more colourful events and characters in the history of our planet.  They have also created sometimes epic songs from referencing cultural greats.

These are just a few:

Murders In The Rue Morgue from the Killers album is a direct reference to the Edgar Allen Poe story.  It certainly helps you to understand what the protagonist is going through.

The Prisoner from The Number of The Beast is based on the sixties television series.  It even uses Patrick Mcgoohan’s “I am not a number” speech from the beginning as the song intro.

To Tame A Land from Piece Of Mind is based on Frank Herberts’ Dune novels, complete with references to Arrakis, the Muad’Dib etc.  This inspired me to read these novels and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Rime of The Ancient Mariner from Powerslave is an epic song as befits the epic poem by Coleridge.  I read the whole thing after hearing this – more culture absorbed into my brain that has served to help in the odd quiz!  Many of the more famous lines from the poem are interwoven through the lyrics which helps the listener absorb the information. I particularly love the moody middle break, which really gives the feeling of being stranded on a ship.

Alexander The Great from Somewhere In Time.  After hearing this song I was inspired to read up on the life of Alexander.  Many key facts from his life are included in the song such as the Gordian Knot and his battles with Darius.

Montsegur from Dance of Death. Located in southern France, close to the Pyrenees mountain sit the ruins of Montsegur.  This track tells the tale of just one chapter in its’ turbulent history, namely the Catholic siege of the Cathars in 1243-44.  In March 1244, the Cathars finally surrendered and approximately 220 were burned en-masse in a bonfire when they refused to renounce their faith. Some 25 took the ultimate Cathar vow of consolamentum perfecti in the two weeks before the final surrender. This is included in the lyric “the perfect would willingly die at the stake and all of their follower slain”.  It’s also one of the many ‘supposed’ locations of the Holy Grail and one legend states that in the days prior to the fall of the fortress, several Cathars allegedly slipped through the besiegers’ lines carrying away a mysterious “treasure”.

Paschendale from Dance of Death is poignant number about the poor souls sent to the infamous front at Ypres during WWI.  Forgiving them for the incorrect spelling, this is a favourite of many fans (myself included), probably because of the emotion of the lyrics, helped on by the music: “Laying low in a blood-filled trench, killing time ‘til my very own death; on my face I can feel the falling rain, never see my friends again; In the smoke, in the mud and lead – smell the fear and the feeling of dread; soon be time to go over the wall – rapid fire and the end of us all” really brings home what those men went through!

What all these songs have in common is that they really do propel the listener into the story, with the emotion in lyrics, helped immensely by the mood and tone of the music.  It never fails to impress me when I hear song like this how they seemingly cram so much into the track that even a casual listen leaves you wanting to know more about the events that inspired it.

Hopefully, this has shown you non-metal fans out there that the genre is more than just thrashing guitars and pounding drums – it can inspire people to learn about the past and catch up on some culture.