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?”
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.
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.
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 band had a mobile video game released based around Eddie and their music, and recently had a Seventh Son playable character added.
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 Dreams reached 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.
Can I Play With Madness
The Evil That Men Do
Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son
Only The Good Die Young
Bruce Dickinson – Vocals
Steve Harris – Bass
Adrian Smith – Guitar
Dave Murray – Guitar
Nicko McBrain – Drums
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