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This album came out after a disappointing (at least in my opinion) release. Somewhere in Time was nothing compared to Powerslave; there are, of course, some good songs there, like the title track and the fantastic Alexander the Great, but all the others were just average and even weak. Seventh Son isn't nowhere near the brilliance and quality of Powerlave but is, undoubtedly, a big improvement over its predecessor. Actually, this record probably is the only good album that Maiden released from 1988 to 1999.
First of all, (almost!) every song of the album share the same concept and that really shows the progressive influences of the band, since the composition of concept albums is a common thing within the progressive circles. On one hand, the concept is strange: it apparently speaks about a prophet that tries to warn a village about a disaster that will happen there, in the future. On other hand, some songs don't seem to clearly follow that concept, but one thing is certain: the meaning of life and God are two subjects present on every tune of the record, no exceptions. So, while all the tracks may not follow the concept and the storyline, those two subjects are always present. This was quite a revolutionary step for Iron Maiden, as they've never something similar before.
The songwriting is what shines the most on the album. This english act always crafted fine heavy metal songs and this record is an example of the way they've improved on this field over the years. From the interesting breaks and sections of Infinite Dreams, to the gorgeous solo section of the title track, everything is very well composed and almost every song has an interesting musical/lyrical hook. Harris is the main songwriter of the band, and this album proves it again: he wrote (or co-wrote) every song but Moonchild. That one was penned by Smith and Dickison. Murray has also writing credits on The Prophecy, I think. Another important component of Seventh Son is the stellar drumming. When reviewing an Iron Maiden album, people always say things like “the guitars rule” and “the bass is excellent” and so on. Nicko McBrain doesn't get half of the praise he deserves really. He's not a flashy drummer at all; he doens't play the most technical beats or the fastest fills, but he plays with feeling and his versatility is enormous. Generally, he plays simple beats but he's always adding something new when one isn't expecting; his performance on the title track is an example, with the constant use of the toms. Finally, the use of synth is also worth mentioning, giving a nice touch to the whole atmosphere of the album, especially on the quieter parts (middle section of the title track; Infinite Dreams)
The production is very clean too, there are some people that even said that the production is TOO clean, but I don't agree with that statement. In fact, the production is one thousand times better than the one on Somewhere in Time, so this album shows a vast improvement. The bass is also very audible and that's another reason to give it a high score. Good work, Martin Birch.
The main highlight of the album is obviously the amazing title track, clocking in at around nine minutes. Following the path of Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Alexander, the Great, this song is yet another remarkable example of the progressive rock influences carried by Iron Maiden. While Rime was longer, I can assure you that Seventh Son is much better developed and probably the most progressive song this act ever composed. The first minutes are dominated by the heavy instrumentation and by the strong vocals of Bruce Dickinson (try not to sing along with that hooky chorus!). However, the best part of the song is the last one, hands down. After that somber breakdown (extremely reminiscent of the middle part of Rime, truth must be told), the guitar solos kick in and oh my God, those guys are on fire! Really, those solos are just jaw-dropping, long yet catchy, always accompanied by proper drumming and the atmospheric synth. Infinite Dreams comes next as the second best song, probably being the best ballad ever done by this act. Emotional and complex, excellent stuff!
On other hand, there are a couple of not-so-good songs here, unfortunately. The Prophecy is very forgettable and, okay, even boring (I love the acoustic outro, though). Can I Play With Madness? Is one of the most commercial Iron Maiden tunes and while being quite fun to listen to during the first couple of times, it gets old VERY quick. And finally, the last stinker: The Evil that Men Do!! Oh yes, how the hell is this song considered a classic? Whiny lyrics, very poor guitar work, annoying chorus... yes, it's that bad! One of the most overrated heavy metal pieces, really.
So, at the end of the day this is a pretty solid and varied album, but unfortunately there are two or three weak songs that really bring it down. If you want the best Maiden album, go for Powerslave instead of this one. Don't get me wrong though, look at the rating, Seventh Son is still a classic, but Powerslave is much more consistent and sounds better as a whole.
Best moments of the CD:
-beginning of Infinite Dreams;
-the whole solo section of the title track.