Grandiose and epic. That’s the feeling I had as I listened to a band I haven’t listened to for almost thirty years. I wasn’t listening to an old album, but a brand new one. Still, within the first few notes of the first song I heard on youtube, my ears recognized Iron Maiden. It was the same driving rhythm, same guitar, and wait… really? Same vocalist? I did a bit of reading and there’s been all kinds of changes and restorations in Iron Maiden. Apparently as any metal head would know – and I didn’t, Bruce Dickinson left for awhile but came back. To my ears untainted with anything since “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son” (1988) I was impressed and somewhat surprised to hear they had retained their very signature sound. The Book Of Souls sounds like every Iron Maiden I used to love.
Now, what kind of preacher listens to bands like Iron Maiden?
It’s a funny question to consider since, for years, I wouldn’t. I’m actually not sure I do today – though for a few days I did. Let’s suffice it to say that, spiritually speaking, there are parts of my teen years I don’t want to revisit. When I turned to Christ in repentance back then – I continued initially to listen to much of the heavy metal music I always had enjoyed. Gradually however I began to realize that music had the capacity to revive memories and feelings more effectively than almost any other medium. In particular the music I enjoyed once back memories of experiences I’d rather not entertain.
But I listen differently now. Back then I was a passive receiver, as entrenched in my own rebellion as anything else. Thanks to my readings in Francis Schaeffer, I’ve also developed a love for trying to understand the philosophies behind the art – whatever the genre, and whatever the medium. So when I saw a google ad for a new Iron Maiden, I couldn’t resist. I read a few articles, and found to my surprise that I could get the new album for “free” using my Amazon Prime Account. I clicked the button, and then I hit play.
Occasionally (rarely) over the years I would spin the radio dial in search of something to listen to. That was a rare enough occurrence since I’m rather introspective by nature and find that music disturbs my internal musings too much. Still, occasionally there were songs on the radio that I would hear just a few notes of and truly miss listening to the bands. Pink Floyd comes to mind as one of them whose very distinctive sound I recognize immediately. And this new Iron Maiden is to my ears the old Iron Maiden.
Within moments I was hearing Bruce Dickinson’s voice, and while the first track was initially different than Maiden’s signature sound; that abated as the intro broke into the expected Iron Maiden driving gallop. I settled in to listen to an album inspired in some ways by Mayan culture and in other ways by the band’s advancing age. Bassist Steve Harris reportedly opined, “as you get older, you start thinking about your own mortality and these things more”
True to the title, everywhere you go the soul is mentioned, opinions and thoughts on mortality are bandied about, and the spectre of death – almost as a loathed thing – are present. In one moment they’re talking about consulting the Shaman, another they’re careening through the blackness between the stars. Through it all, the whole album feels like a striving for something more permanent than this fleeting life. It carries with it a recognition of the immortality of the soul of mankind but lacks the hope of any certainty beyond the grave. Indeed judgment in the afterlife enters into the songs a few times with “The Red and the Black” ending with the not so cryptic cry, “I need somebody to save me“.
From the first notes of “If Eternity should fail” to the final notes of the Epic in scope and length “Empire of the Clouds” (18 minutes!) This is a very mature album from one of heavy metal’s longest lived bands. To me at least it seems that the Christian Faith of the Band’s drummer Nikko McBrain is certainly a component of their advancing philosophy. Not by any stretch would I call this album even a Pre-Christian Statement; but it certainly opens the door for many fans to start thinking about their own mortality in connection with the immortality of the soul.
May it be that many will find their search ends at the foot of the cross and the doorway of the empty tomb of Jesus Christ.