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How the mighty have fallen - 65%

kluseba, November 5th, 2014

“Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” is considered by many as the last effort in a streak of experimental, genre-defining and powerful heavy metal releases in the eighties by Iron Maiden. The record received overwhelming reviews from both fans and professional critics and each time the album grows five years older, the rock media are dedicating special contributions to this album. Recently, Iron Maiden got also caught by euphoric nostalgia and went on a new “Maiden England” style tour centered on songs from this record. Almost nobody really seems to disagree that this is a groundbreaking release.

Well, I do. Believe me, as a long-time fan of Iron Maiden it’s quite tough for me to criticize this band for one of its most influential releases. Usually, I agree with both professional experts and fans from all around the world that records like “The Number of the Beast”, “Powerslave” and “Somewhere in Time” are untouchable masterpieces that revolutionized an entire genre but I have to disagree on this one.

Let’s start with the positive things first. The record has somewhat accidentally become a conceptual release. The lyrics have a certain guiding line, include interesting narrative elements and are still open for interpretation. The lyrics work well as a whole but also as single songs. The album has a constantly progressive and smooth atmosphere characterized by a distinctive mellower production, the use of guitar synths and even keyboards and longer tracks with laid-back instrumental parts in form of both introductions and soli. One can really talk about a coherent and focused song writing effort.

There is no doubt that this album also includes a few really outstanding songs. First off, there is the brilliant “Infinite Dreams” which is almost a perfect definition of a melodic progressive metal tune. It has soaring melodies, an emotional yet calm and harmonious vocal performance, meaningful and poetic lyrics, smooth changes of style including both really laid-back melodies and a few faster parts grabbing your attention and it doesn’t include any unnecessary breaks or soli. Objectively said, this is probably one of the very best songs of both its new genre and Iron Maiden in general.

Let me point out another amazing tune that goes in a really different direction. “The Evil That Men Do” is an obvious single choice because of its catchy and melodic chorus but the song offers more than just this. From the first seconds on, the melodic guitar tone builds up a chilling atmosphere. Despite its melancholic touch, the track has a pleasant pace with great riffs, a vividly pumping bass guitar and a tight drumming. The vocals are diversified and performed with passion as they vary from darker verses with narrative parts and a meaner tone to liberating and high-pitched but never annoying parts in the pre-chorus and chorus. The whole song sounds really balanced and focused but is still one of the most diversified and progressive singles ever written by the band.

As I said before, there is also the negative side of this release which sadly dominates over the positive aspects. First of all, the production is too mellow for a metal release in my opinion. It’s surely an interesting and courageous experiment to opt for a different mastering but the final result sometimes lacks dynamics in my opinion. In addition to this, the record is overall too fluffy and really looses my attention in the second half.

Let’s give a few examples that elaborate on my controversial point of view. First off, there is the title track, the epic ten-minute heart and soul of this release. This is one of the major reasons why this album is less spectacular than its two predecessors in my opinion. The song is atmospheric and starts very well but goes downhill from there. The instrumental part at the end of the record is repetitive and unspectacular as it drags on for far too long as if the band had absolutely wanted to include a song near the ten-minute mark on the album. The guitar soli are not really emotional or unique enough to convince and one expects something to come after all the soloing but the song simply ends at a certain point. The circle never closes and the track also fails to end with a bang. It could have also ended three minutes earlier or three minutes later and it wouldn’t have made any difference and that’s why the end of the track sounds redundant to me. I also think that the calmer break of the song tries a little bit too obviously to copy the break in “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” which is maybe the most ambitious epic ever written by the band. It's actually the first time the band is directly copying itself which is never a good sign for the creative longevity of a group of artists. Not only that the band has been there before and doesn’t introduce anything new to the listener, the narrative section in this part is a lot less atmospheric than in the original epic that was brilliantly cinematic as the listener could almost feel as if he was on board of a doomed ship. This effect doesn’t work on the title track here as it doesn’t make me feel anything. A last negative point of this song is obviously the chorus of the track. Not only that such a progressive tune wouldn’t have requested a chorus but in this case it simply consists of hectically and repetitively singing the name of the track followed by forced sing along parts to fill the emptiness. I always felt as if the band had run out of ideas for this song after five minutes or so but artificially stretched this track to the double.

Another song I dislike for completely different reasons on the record is the single “Can I Play With Madness” that has neither the atmosphere nor the diversity of “The Evil That Men Do” for example. It’s an exchangeable and forcedly joyous melodic rock tune that aims for commercial success and airplay which simply doesn’t fit to what Iron Maiden has always stood for. The chorus is not only filled with childish melodies but also dull and unimaginative from a lyrical point of view. In this form, it feels like a foreign body on an otherwise elaborated and progressive rock inspired terrain. Even as an outstanding exception, this song doesn’t work because it even fails in what it tries to be. Several other hard rock and heavy metal acts had made similar guitar synth and keyboard driven singles that worked a lot better, for example the British colleagues from Judas Priest.

The closing "Only the Good Die Young" tries to go back to the average opener "Moonchild" which is an interesting idea for a conceptual release. The problem is that both songs sound too similar to stand out on such a short release. Another thing that really bothers me is that this track has by far the mellowest production on the album. The track doesn't develop any pace and sounds like an average AOR song of its time that could also come from Dokken, Foreigner or Whitesnake. The song sounds way too tame and unspectacular to close a heavy metal record with. It's not a great and moving ballad either which would be acceptable. No, it's simply one of the most uninspired songs in the career of this band. Instead of ending the album with emotion or power, the song sounds like a confusing mixture of commercial melodic rock and conceptual progressive rock. This closer is though not unique and catchy enough to convince as melodic rock track and it's not original or profound enough to work as a progressive rock track. This song is caught somewhere in a no-man's-land in between both genres and goes straight nowhere.

The worst thing on this album is though the exchangeable "The Prophecy". I don't know how many times I've listened to this song in my life but it simply fails to stay on my mind. Even the worst fillers from later Iron Maiden records have a certain something that makes them stand out, be it a catchy chorus, a gripping riff or at least a distinctive solo part. This song has none of these elements. It's a very faceless track. It's a useless filler. In my opinion a filler is even worse than a song that really sucks. A bad song manages at least to impress you in a negative way. This faceless filler doesn't even manage to do this. It's completely irrelevant and probably the most unspectacular song ever written by Iron Maiden.

All in all, this release has two really outstanding tracks that save this album, two good average tunes and four songs that vary between mediocre and utterly useless. I may give the band some credit for the courage that they tried to constantly develop the sound from the previous milestone record to an even mellower and slightly commcerial AOR inspired sound. I might also admit that this album has a certain guiding line in form of a slightly interesting intellectual concept. Apart of the shallow title track, Iron Maiden definitely tried to move on and create something completely new and unique at that time. Still, all these humble intentions can't compensate for a really fluffy and mellow execution that makes this release really hard to sit through for me. I didn't like this album at first contact when I first listened to it over nine years ago and it hasn't grown but probably even decreased in my perception since then. This album is not only a constant candidate for my bottom five records of Iron Maiden but also for my bottom five of the most overrated so-called classics in the history of heavy metal music. I can completely understand why this album was the beginning of the end for Iron Maiden as the band started to fall apart after this release and desperately tried to go back to a heavier and darker sound over the next few records because if the band had continued its journey towards even fluffier sounds, they would probably sound worse than Def Leppard today. If you like AOR or worship anything old school metal heads praise since this is a release from the eighties, you can give this release a spin and follow the masses. If you are looking for solid song writing without any lengths, the fierce energy one could usually expect from a legendary heavy metal band or different exciting approaches and ideas connected to a progressive metal release, you should rather go for Queensrÿche's "Operation: Mindcrime" which was released at the same time and which might have a similar concept but which turns out to be much better than this album from an emotional, intellectual, musical and even productional point of view.