Skip to main content

Enter your email below to be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Please enter a valid email address
Please accept the terms
‘Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’: How Iron Maiden Foresaw Their Masterpiece
Warner Music
In Depth

‘Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’: How Iron Maiden Foresaw Their Masterpiece

Based around a haunting concept, Iron Maiden’s thrilling ‘Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’ album brought the group a whole new audience.

Back

Even by their exacting standards, Iron Maiden’s 80s were nothing short of spectacular. Having emerged as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal’s “band most likely to” on the cusp of the decade, they’d enjoyed sustained success across a string of ambitious yet ferocious albums ranging from their mainstream breakthrough, The Number Of The Beast, to the stylistic shift of Somewhere In Time, but they capped this already remarkable era with a truly seminal album – 1988’s Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son.

Listen to ‘Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’ here.

The backstory: “I just had a thought: I wonder if she could foresee her own death?”

Iron Maiden’s fittingly-titled seventh album has been no stranger to plaudits. Rock critic and band biographer Mick Wall has referred to it as “Maiden’s Dark Side Of The Moon or their ‘Led Zep IV’[https://www.thisisdig.com/feature/led-zeppelin-iv-album/]”, and it’s one of an elite bunch of hard rock albums (on a shortlist which also includes AC/DC’s Back In Black, Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction and Metallica’s “Black Album”) which has effortlessly transcended the genre. That’s quite a feat in itself, but it’s even more staggering when you consider that Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son is also a proud concept album.

Unlikely as it sounds, it was the May 1987 death of the controversial British psychic Doris Stokes which provided Iron Maiden bassist and prime mover Steve Harris with the inspiration for the album’s first song, The Clairvoyant.

“I just had a thought: I wonder if she could foresee her own death?” Harris recalled in the 2013 documentary Maiden England ’88. “Who knows? So I started off with that sort of idea. I wrote The Clairvoyant and then went to Bruce [Dickinson, Maiden’s frontman] with it and he basically said, ‘Yeah, it’s a great idea!’” The success of The Clairvoyant quickly led Harris to pen Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’s title track. “Supposedly if you were born the seventh son of a seventh son you had the powers of a clairvoyant,” Harris explained. “So I had these two ideas, and Bruce went, ‘You know what? We should do a concept album about this.”

The concept: “Everything is a constant battle to try and stay sane”

However, while work on the Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son album offered Maiden the opportunity to pursue a “concept”, the record’s core narrative – effectively the story of the titular son, whose life goes badly wrong despite his powers of second sight – was accessible enough for everyone to grasp.

“It’s a classic story of good versus evil, with no guarantees whatsoever that it’s the good guys who eventually come through,” Bruce Dickinson explained to Kerrang! magazine. “Nothing and nobody comes out of this story unscathed. Which is everyone’s story, really, isn’t it? None of us get through our lives smelling of roses everywhere we go; everything is a constant battle to try and stay sane, to cut through all the bullshit that gets in our way.”

Dickinson’s enthusiasm for the Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son concept galvanised Maiden’s other primary writers, Steve Harris and guitarist Adrian Smith, into action. With Smith’s guitar foil, Dave Murray, also contributing to one track, The Prophecy, the group set about composing some of the most enduring songs in the Maiden canon.

The songs: “It had always been about the album, but they had several hits with ‘Seventh Son’”

“Bruce had something to prove. He hadn’t had a song on a Maiden album for four years,” Mick Wall told Metal Hammer. “Steve upped his game, too, and Adrian was in a wonderful purple patch, where he was knocking out meaningful, cool songs. It was a confluence of all of that and it turned into a hugely significant moment for them.”

The intensity of the band’s songwriting sessions continued in the studio, when Maiden decamped to Musicland Studios, in Munich, Germany, for Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’s recording. Overseen by the band’s regular studio alumnus, the ever proficient Martin Birch, the songs were laid down in just a few weeks across February and March 1988. Pressure certainly came to bear on the group, as they were due to go out on tour to promote the album following its scheduled April release, yet Maiden thrived in the hothouse atmosphere and emerged with arguably the strongest album of their storied career.

Released in late March as the album’s lead single, Can I Play With Madness immediately served notice that Maiden were onto something special. Hard-edged and driving, yet infinitely radio-friendly – and promoted with help from a great video featuring Monty Python legend Graham Chapman – the song rocketed to No.3 on the UK charts. It also thrust Iron Maiden right into the heart of the mainstream.

“Can I Play With Madness was a huge hit for them. It wasn’t something they’d been bothered about before,” Mick Wall observed. “It had always been about the album, and rightly so, but in the end they had several hits with Seventh Son… They did a lot more TV, radio and all that stuff.”

Ultimately, however, it was still all about the album, and Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son delivered on all fronts. As the likes of Moonchild and Infinite Dreams proved, Iron Maiden’s new music was long on texture, atmosphere and dynamics, and – as the album’s suite-like, nine-minute title track revealed – it was on first-name terms with ambition. Yet much of the material also rocked defiantly hard: Can I Play With Madness, The Clairvoyant, The Evil That Men Do and Only The Good Die Young were all quintessential Maiden anthems: tough, yet melodic and eminently radio-friendly rockers, they begged for action in the upper echelons of the singles chart, and they still stand among the best Iron Maiden songs to this day.

The release: “We’ve never managed to pull anything off like this before”

“You got a sense that this could be the album you didn’t have to be a solid Iron Maiden fan to appreciate,” Mick Wall later noted, and he was right. With The Evil That Men Do and The Clairvoyant following Can I Play With Madness into the UK Top 10, Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son also smashed into the album charts following its 11 April 1988 release, rewarding Maiden with their first UK chart-topper since The Number Of The Beast. The record also went platinum in the US and yielded a wealth of gold discs around the world.

Seizing the moment, Maiden embarked on their biggest world tour to date: a massive, eight-month trek featuring a spectacular stage show involving physical manifestations of Derek Riggs’ remarkable cover art, complete with giant icebergs and a huge floating Eddie – the undead mascot that had made Iron Maiden’s album covers just as exciting as their music. The itinerary included one of the biggest shows the band has ever played – a Monsters Of Rock headliner at Castle Donington, where they sat on a bill alongside Kiss, Guns N’ Roses, Megadeth and Van Halen’s David Lee Roth, and performed a set witnessed by an estimated 107,000 people. By the time it all went down, Iron Maiden certainly didn’t need second sight to realise Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son had turned them into one of the biggest rock bands of all time.

“We’ve never managed to pull anything off like this before,” Steve Harris told Kerrang! at the time of the album’s release. “For me, it’s like the enormous leap we suddenly made from our first two albums to releasing The Number Of The Beast – very much a step forward, a step up!”

“It was just such a huge moment for Maiden,” Mick Wall reflected. “Ninety-nine per cent of bands don’t get to make one masterpiece. If you make one, you’re in the club, and Seventh Son… is Maiden’s masterpiece.”

Find out which ‘Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’ tracks sit among the best Iron Maiden songs.

More Like This

‘Notorious’: The Story Behind Duran Duran’s Classic Funk-Fuelled Album
In Depth

‘Notorious’: The Story Behind Duran Duran’s Classic Funk-Fuelled Album

Joining forces with disco pioneer Nile Rodgers, Duran Duran weathered the storm of personnel changes to create a floor-filling funk album.

Wicked Game: Behind Chris Isaak’s Song Of Obsessive Love
In Depth

Wicked Game: Behind Chris Isaak’s Song Of Obsessive Love

Intoxicating and cinematic, Wicked Game is the song that kick-started Chris Isaak’s career, and it endures as a classic to this day.

Sign up to our newsletter

Be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Sign Up