Nostalgia trip: Piece of Mind by Iron Maiden - of God and ghouls
Piece of Mind
Before Oasis, there was Iron Maiden. Long before Manchester's gobbiest pop stars even thought of flicking two fingers at a paparazzo, East London's rock titans were strutting round the world as the consummate lad band.
From their music (fast and loud) to their outside interests (soccer, beer and war films), the West Ham United-supporting rockers have made no bones about their credentials. They're not macho, like British contemporaries Def Leppard, or sexist, like US peers Motley Crue. They're just lads, in a very British, tongue-in-cheek way - the musical equivalent of Jeremy Clarkson, minus the violence.
If the band's private jet, the sword fencing or the Maiden-brand ale aren't proof enough that their career has been one long testosterone-fuelled soccer-terrace chant, then check out Where Eagles Dare, the opening track to their fourth album, 1983's Piece of Mind.
The album's powerhouse intro is indebted to the 1968 war movie from which it took its name: a brainless, muscle-bound romp. Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood play the he-man heroes of the second world war action thriller, in which Allied officers rescue a key military tactician from a Nazi prison. With a screenplay written by Scottish author Alistair MacLean, what it lacks in intellectual probity it makes up for in action and emotion.
Just like Iron Maiden.
Piece of Mind, with its gory pun, is mindless fun. Often called the band's "literary album", the literature its songs allude to is of the gung-ho and ghoulish type.
Still Life takes Ramsey Campbell's short story The Inhabitant of the Lake as its starting point. The song presents a grisly tale of a man driven to madness by visions he sees near a lake.
To Tame a Land was influenced by science fiction writer Frank Herbert's somewhat confused novel series Dune, with its futuristic cogitation on politics and religion.
Revelations, riffing on a line from G.K. Chesterton's O God of Earth and Altar, highlights another playful, blokeish aspect of the album: it contains a riposte to accusations that the band dabbled in satanism. At the end of Still Life is a backward recording of drummer Nicko McBrain reading a passage from a book of humour that includes the line "Do not meddle with things you don't understand".
As they prepare to celebrate their 40th anniversary at the end of the year, Iron Maiden - unlike any of their peers - remain neither self-eulogising, self-indulgent nor self-aware. It's probably why they've sold more records than any other British heavy metal band, played more gigs and, 16 albums in, still top the charts. Rock on.