Released 31 years ago today… Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son

Text by Phil Ashdown.

Released on April 11th 1988 Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son is the seventh studio album by British heavy rock band Iron Maiden which really confirmed their place in rock’s hierarchy. Arguably their finest hour with some calling it their Dark Side Of The Moon or Led Zep IV in later years.

Following the previous album Somewhere In Time and its ensuing touring cycle the band’s next move was going to be crucial. British ‘psychic’ Doris Stokes passed away in May 1987 and this proved to be the unlikely seed of what would become the concept of the next album. Bassist Steve Harris told Metal Hammer magazine “ I just had a thought: ‘I wonder if she could forsee her own death?” Harris then went on to read Orson Scott Card’s Seventh Son book which had a mystical figure who had paranormal gifts such as second sight. Being their seventh album it fitted so he took the idea to singer Bruce Dickinson.

Dickinson’s songwriting ideas were rejected for the previous album, 1986’s Somewhere In Time so he felt that his role had been relegated to just the singer. When Harris explained the concept to Dickinson he found renewed enthusiasm and he ended up contributing to four of the album’s eight tracks. Indeed five of the tracks were collaborative efforts leaving only three solo Harris songs.

Speaking about the record in later years, however, Dickinson remarked that “we almost did [something great]”, explaining that, “it was only half a concept album. There was no attempt to see it all the way through, like we really should have done. Seventh Son… has no story. It’s about good and evil, heaven and hell, but isn’t every Iron Maiden record?”

Image from the official Derek Riggs website.

Stylistically, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son developed the sounds first heard on Somewhere in Time, although, on this occasion, the synth sounds were created by keyboards rather than guitar synthesizers. According to Dickinson, the band decided not to hire a keyboard player, with the parts being played by Adrian, Steve or whoever was available at the time. Harris was fond of the development “I thought it was the best album we did since 1983’s Piece Of Mind. I loved it because it was more progressive—I thought the keyboards really fitted in brilliantly—’cause that’s the influences I grew up with.” It also marks the first appearance of many of the more progressive rock elements which would be used frequently in later albums, seen in the length and complex structure of the title track “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”.

“The Clairvoyant” was the first track written for the album, which Harris wrote following Stokes’ death. Lead single Can I Play With Madness started life as a ballad called On The Wings Of Eagles written by guitarist Adrian Smith. Bruce Dickinson had a verse for it and wanted to change the title while Harris came up with the time change and instrumental passage. The record opens and closes with an identical brief acoustic piece accompanied by two verses of lyrics, written by Dickinson.

Love the jumper Nicko!

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and its supporting tour marked the last appearance of Adrian Smith until he returned to the band in 1999. The guitarist left during the pre-production stages of the band’s following album, 1990’s No Prayer For The Dying as he was unhappy with the more “street-level” direction the group were taking, professing that he “thought we were heading in the right direction with the last two albums” and that he “thought we needed to keep going forward, and it just didn’t feel like that to me”.

The accompanying world tour named Seventh Tour Of A Seventh Tour started with two low key club gigs in Germany and New York under the name ‘Charlotte And The Harlots’ in May and continued around the globe playing to over two million fans. In August the band headlined the Monsters Of Rock festival at Castle Donington in England for the first time to a capacity crowd of 107,000, the largest in Donington’s history. The 16-date UK leg of the tour in November and December included their first shows at London’s Wembley Arena and three at their ‘spiritual home’ the Hammersmith Odeon. The shows at Birmingham’s NEC were recorded and filmed for a future video release ‘Maiden England’ To recreate the album’s keyboards onstage, the group recruited Michael Kenney, Steve Harris’ bass technician, to play the keys throughout the tour, during which he would perform the song “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” on a forklift truck under the alias of “The Count” (for which he would wear a black cape and mask). The band even revisited the album and stage design on the Maiden England tour in 2013-2014.

Image from the official Derek Riggs website.

The artwork was created by regular band artist Derek Riggs who was given the brief to “create simply something surreal and bloody weird”. He had a limited time to complete the work so Riggs states “I thought, you know, I don’t feel like painting all of Eddie, so I’ll get rid of him. I’ll chop him off, and make it look kind of non-pleasant.” According to Dickinson “I was probably responsible in a large part for the cover, with Derek.” The polar landscape was a departure from the inner city scapes used previously and the band asked him to put depictions of the older Eddies frozen in ice.

The album has received consistent critical praise since its release, with leading Metal magazine Kerrang! being extremely positive upon the album’s release, awarding full marks and stating that “[with Seventh Son of a Seventh Son] Iron Maiden have given rock music back its direction and its pride” and that the record “will eventually be hailed alongside such past milestones as Tommy, Tubular Bells and Dark Side Of The Moon” The album debuted at No. 1 in the UK Albums Chart as well as No. 12 in the US, while the singles Can I Play With Madness, The Evil That Men Do, The Clairvoyant and Infinite Dreamsreached No. 3, No. 5, No. 6 and No. 6 positions respectively in the UK Singles Chart. Smith highlights “Can I Play with Madness” as “our first proper hit single.”

Some thirty years on Iron Maiden continue to be as big and as loved around the world as they’ve ever been partly due to this album’s legacy. Is this their finest hour?, Have they bettered it? You decide.

Infinite Dreams
Can I Play With Madness
The Evil That Men Do
Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son
The Prophecy
The Clairvoyant
Only The Good Die Young

Bruce Dickinson – Vocals
Steve Harris – Bass
Adrian Smith – Guitar
Dave Murray – Guitar
Nicko McBrain – Drums

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  • Iron Maiden - Fear Of The Dark - 'Tailgunner' Mispress - EX - UK - shaped picture disc - £45.00, $58.50, €51.75 (New Item) (arrived 24-Apr-2019 10:07)
    on January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am

    IRON MAIDEN Fear Of The Dark (Rare mispressed 1992 UK limited edition 7" Shaped Picture Disc single, of a manic bass playing Eddie cut to shape. Easy way to tell you have one of these, the matrix on the B-side reads 'EMP 263 B ORLAKE' which is in fact the same Matrix number as the 7" release. The title track was recorded live at the Ishallen in Helsinki on the 5th of June 1992, the b-side is listed as 'Hooks In You - Live' but actually plays 'Tailgunner' instead. Housedin a clear PVC sleeve complete with picture back insert with the limited number stamped onto a white sticker, the non mispressed issues are just printed directly onto the insert and not onto a sticker. The insert displays minimal wear and the disc looks to have never been played, but does have slight misprint of the image, which has come through the plastic EMPD263) […]

  • Iron Maiden - Be Quick Or Be Dead + Back Insert - UK - 12" picture disc - £25.00, $32.50, €28.75 (New Item) (arrived 23-Apr-2019 12:55)
    on January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am

    IRON MAIDEN Be Quick Or Be Dead (1992 UK limited edition 3-track 12" Picture Disc single, also including Nodding Donkey Blues and Space Station No 5. The disc features a great image of Eddie holding what looks like Robert Maxwell by thehead, with group photo on the reverse, complete with the original newspaper style card picture back insert in clear PVC sleeve 12EMPD229) […]

  • Iron Maiden - Hallowed Be Thy Name - UK - 12" picture disc - £45.00, $58.50, €51.75 (New Item) (arrived 23-Apr-2019 12:42)
    on January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am

    IRON MAIDEN Hallowed Be Thy Name (1993 UK limited edition 3-track 12" Picture Disc single recorded at the Olympic Arena in Moscow in June 1993, also including Wasted Years recorded live in Bremen in April 1992 & The Trooper recorded live in Helsinki in June 1992. The disc features a great image of the Devil Eddie killing Bruce, drawn by Derek Riggs. This was released at the time that Bruce had decided to leave the band, only to return a few years later. The disc is completewith backing card picture insert within a clear PVC sleeve. Both the backing card and the picture disc look almost unused and unplayed 12EMPD288) […]

  • Iron Maiden - A Real LIVE One - Trucker Eddie - XL - UK - t-shirt - £40.00, $52.00, €46.00 (New Item) (arrived 22-Apr-2019 16:50)
    on January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am

    IRON MAIDEN A Real LIVE One (1993 UK black cotton, round neck, short sleeved t-shirt, printed with the great image of Eddie driving a dirty looking truck with band logo above, and with '© 1993 Iron Maiden Holdings LTD' below. The back is printedwith a big warning road signe with 'Real LIVE Tour' and a list of the European tour dates, available at the show venues on the tour. Sized Extra Large (Pit-to-pit measures 23", Collar-to-hem measures 29"), this shirt shows minimal signs ofbeing worn & little signs of age, the print is still vibrant, even the label in the collar is present and unfaded, an outstanding item) […]

  • Iron Maiden - A Real DEAD One - Ripped Head - Red - XL - UK - t-shirt - £40.00, $52.00, €46.00 (New Item) (arrived 22-Apr-2019 16:43)
    on January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am

    IRON MAIDEN A Real DEAD One - Ripped Head (Official 1993 UK red cotton, round neck, short sleeved t-shirt, printed witha strange Eddie head image being ripped apart to reveal a smoldering molten liquid brain, with the band name across the top, and has '©1993 Iron Maiden Holdings LTD' below. The back is simply printed 'A Real DEAD One'. This was available during the tour, from the fan club and by mail order, as was printed on merchandise inserts with the album. Sized Extra Large (Pit-to-pit measures 24", Collar-to-hem measures 31"), this shirt shows minimal signs of being worn & little signs of age, the print is still vibrant, even the label in the collar is present and unfaded, an outstanding item) […]

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