'Aces High' continues the tradition of great combat songs that began with 'Invaders' and 'The Trooper'. It's a British fighter-pilot's view of a defence against a bombing raid during the Battle of Britain, the first all-aerial battle to be fought and which took place between 10th July and 31st October 1940 . It's also another excellent album opener, and has one of Maiden's best choruses. Its inspiration comes from another great piece of bravoury in military history, showing the dedication of men to serve the cause they believed in and what Churchill called "their finest hour.".
Back to lyrics of the song, it is a bit surprising that the Flak should be mentioned, as it is the abbreviation of Flugabwehr Kanon (the German "Triple-A" Anti-Aircraft Artillery) and the pilot, obviously British, could not hear it on his own airfield. I suppose that the word is shorter and blends better with the rest of the lyrics; besides, this word is nowadays integrated into the English language and, for those who are not familiar with it, the expression "to take the flak" means to encounter heavy cristicism or opposition.
A lot of aviation jargon is also used to create an appropriate mood for the song. "Scramble", for instance, means an emergency take-off and is still used by today's air force pilots. Likewise, the pilots use a clock reference to orientate themselves, the nose of their plane being at 12 o'clock and the tail at 6 o'clock . The "bandits" another common expression meaning the enemy arriving at 8 o'clock are therefore coming in from behind and toward the port (left) side of the Spitfire. "Beware the Hun in the sun!"
About the politics of war and destruction, '2 Minutes To Midnight' makes a meaningful statement about the morality of warmongers and politicians.
As the madmen play on words
And make us all dance to their song
To the tune of starving millions
To make a better kind of gun
The most vivid images are summoned here to highlight the horrors of this world, and the "prime-time Belsen feast" probably refers to those terrible pictures that show up at almost every news bulletin on TV. Bergen-Belsen was one of the most horrifying concentration camps in Nazi Germany (although it is obvious that the sheer existence of such places was an insult to Mankind in itself) and the reference to such terrible events happening in "prime-time" seems to indicate that, although such things are still taking place nowadays in one form or another, they have become some sort of a show and no one pays much attention anymore. In retrospect, this is somehow reminiscent of the verses "you watch the world exploding every single night" in the song 'The Wicker Man' or of "withered hands, withered bodies, begging for salvation" in 'Out Of The Silent Planet', both song from the 2000 album ironically titled Brave New World.
The title of the song refers to the Doomsday Clock, one of the most chilling and best known symbols of the nuclear age, representing how close humanity is to the brink of nuclear holocaust (midnight). The clock reached 2 minutes to midnight in September 1953, after the Soviets successfully detonated an awesomely powerful thermonuclear device. Today the clock stands at 7 minutes to midnight after little progress was made on global nuclear disarmament. In 2002, the United States rejected a series of arms control treaties and announced it will withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Moreover, terrorists seek to acquire and use nuclear and biological weapons. Bad news for mankind indeed!
In addition to its excellent lyrics, '2 Minutes To Midnight' has a great chorus and instrumental section, making it one of Maiden's most memorable songs.
This is Iron Maiden's fourth fully instrumental song. It doesn't sound as good as the earlier ones, though it's difficult to explain why. It just seems to be lacking the feeling and emotion that can be found in the others. For anyone who might not be too familiar with English, the title simply means "lost for words", or more simply "don't know what to say". "'Orra" is a phonetic pronounciation of "horror" in the London cockney accent. Maybe Harris himself didn't like this piece and decided to call it "Big Horror"...
This is a swordsman's song, undoubtedly inspired by Dickinson's love of fencing. The lyrics hint of a young swordsman in training, so that he can avenge the murder of his family. It's a good song with a very catchy intro, but for some reason it hasn't been played live in concert.
However, this song appears on the soundtrack of Dario Argento's 1985 film, Phenomena (also known as Creepers in its largely cut US version) about a young girl, with an amazing ability to communicate with insects, who is transferred to an exclusive Swiss boarding school, where her unusual capability might help solve a string of murders. Although the film is pretty low-grade for Dario Argento, it has the advantage of a good soundtrack to compensate a rather cheesy story, including artists such as Iron Maiden or Motorhead. You can check it out by watching the trailer here.
'The Duellists' is another fencing song, inspired by the 1978 Ridley Scott film of the same name. The movie is itself based on The Duel (published 1908) by novelist Joseph Conrad (18571924), about a life-long feud between two French officers during the Napoleonic period (ca. 1800). This is a great film whose (slightly cheesy) tagline runs as follows:
"Fencing is a science. Loving is a passion. Duelling is an obsession."
This is another song that has not been played live in concert, which is a terrible shame since it is one of the best songs on the album, with powerful emotion and a brilliant instrumental section.
Like its predecessor 'The Prisoner', this song is based on the British TV series The Prisoner. "The Village" is the name of the mysterious place which is the setting for the story. This place really exists and is actually called Portmeirion, in North Wales. Although it has decent guitar solos, some people don't like this song much. Some accuse it of suffering from a horrible chorus where Dickinson seems to be more shouting than singing, but I personally think it's a brilliant song yet again a matter of taste!
There is a neat thing where Bruce sings "...I see sixes all the way...". Superimposed on this is a whisper saying six six six. You can hear a RealAudio sample of it here.
Welcome to The Village!
An interesting interpretation of the song's meaning was submitted to me by HConnor7. Although I don't agree with it, it sheds an entirely new light on the lyrics and I thought that it should appear here
I found your commentary interesting on 'Back in the Village'. I would like to add an additional explanation for some of the lyrics in this song. Note that in verse 1, Bruce sings "drop your bombs and let them burn". He later sings "there's a fox among the chickens". When a military pilot releases outboard ordnance it is referred to as a fox (number), where the number indicated the type of ordnance. An infrared guided air to air missile is 'fox 2', a radar guided missile is usually 'fox 1'. Napalm bombs have been commonly referred to as 'fox 6'. So when Bruce sings "I see sixes all the way", I believe this is to what he is referring.
I do hear a noise in the background that could be interpreted as "six, six, six", but such things always are matters of interpretation. Keeping with the pilot theme, I believe it could be a matter of reproducing a pilot's transmission of a successful delivery of napalm bombs, but this is all conjecture obviously.
This interpretation is certainly the most original I have ever heard about this song. I know that Dickinson (who co-wrote the song with Adrian Smith) is an air enthousiast and a pilot himself, and I answered the mail pointing out that the song refers to the British cult series of the late 60s "The Prisoner", with Patrick McGoohan, and that most of the lyrics are actually catchphrases that can be found in the episodes of the series, like "Questions are a burden and answers a prison to oneself" for instance. My interpretation of the 'fox' is not that of a codename but rather an image indicating that nb 6 the main character of the series is the only dangerous inhabitant of the famous Village (try to visualise what a fox would do among chickens). Besides, I added that the term 'fox' is used mostly by USAF pilots and that, as we all know, Maiden are English.
The explanation makes sense, but not within the context of the song (in my opinion anyway). Nevertheless, HConnor7 insisted:
I am still sticking with my views on the song, in part anyway, because of one line in the song, "In a black hole, and I'm spinning, as my wings get shot away", which I believe can only be interpreted as pilot talk of getting shot down after he has dropped his munitions, as per the "I see (fox) sixes all the way". We all know that Maiden are a British band, and therefore would have little use for exclusive USAF lingo, but NATO pilots of all nationalities will often use USAF lingo. The truth probably lies somewhere between our 2 respective interpretations.
Just a (second) thought.
I am now leaving this interpretation open to discussion...
This is the climax of the album, a song about a dying Egyptian Pharaoh lamenting on the limits of his power. The Egyptian mythology and imagery sets the mood for the album, which is perfectly matched by the album cover and pictures. This is a powerful song, and has one of Maiden's best instrumental sections, which begins with a slow and beautiful solo followed by two brilliant guitar solos separated by a bass part. It's so good that I wore out my first Powerslave tape in that part of the song from constant rewinding.
The Eye of Horus The Eye of Horus mentioned in the song has a very specific meaning. For the ancient Egyptians, the Eye of Horus or wedjat the "Whole One" was a powerful symbol of protection, and was also considered to confer wisdom, health and prosperity. Horus (whose name means "He who is above" and is itself a Latin form of a Greek word for the Egyptian name Heru or Hor) was one of the most important Egyptian gods, a sun-god represented as a falcon or with the head of a hawk (one of the first animals to be worshipped in Egypt), whose right eye was the Sun and whose left eye was the Moon (symbols previously encountered in 'Revelations' on the Piece Of Mind album). He was the son of Osiris (god of the underworld) and Isis (mother goddess). Osiris was slain by his own brother, the evil Set (jackal-headed god of night), and Horus fought Set to avenge his father's death, winning the battle but losing an eye in the process. The eye was restored by the magic of the god of wisdom and the moon, Thoth, and this allowed Horus to grant Osiris rebirth in the underworld (hence the verse in the song: "Enter the risen Osiris, risen again").
It is interesting to note that the "Rx" symbol used in the pharmaceutical industry and in medicine has its origins in the Eye of Horus. Variations of the Eye of Horus are even nowadays still often encountered, a notable case being the all-seeing eye in the Great Seal of the United States. The reverse of the Great Seal is shown below with a detail of the Eye symbol that completes the pyramid:
The Eye of Horus The eye itself is represented as a figure with 6 parts, these parts corresponding to the six senses: Touch, Taste, Hearing, Thought, Sight, and Smell. The eye was considered to be the receptor of "input" and had these six doors to receive data. The construction of the eye follows very precise laws. The senses are ordered according to their importance and according to how much energy must be absorbed by the eye for an individual to receive a particular sensation. All of the sensory data input is considered "food". In the Ancient Egyptian measurement system, the Eye of Horus represented a fractional quantification system to measure parts of a whole. The entire eye measured 1 heqat and each of the parts of the eye measured fractions of this heqat. This system was used to record prescriptions, land and grain. The complete Eye of Horus represents in fact 63/64, but it is rounded off to 1.
The corresponding sense data are:
1/64 heqat Touch
1/32 heqat Taste
1/16 heqat Hearing
1/8 heqat Thought
1/4 heqat Sight
1/2 heqat Smell
МThe ancient Egyptians also used anther unit, the ro, whose symbol was the mouth and representing one mouthful (once again, these measures are associated with food, or input data). By definition 320 ro = 1 heqat. Considering the ro as the smallest unit of input energy needed for the input to register as sense data, we note that: 320 = 5 ? 64. In terms of ro we therefore have 5 ro to register a Touch, 10 ro to register a Taste, 20 ro to register a Sound, 40 ro to register a Thought, 80 ro to register a Light, and 160 ro to register a Smell. The parts of the drawings of the eye correspond to the various senses:
1 Touch (1/64 heqat or 5 ro):
This drawing corresponds to a stick planted into the ground, like planting a stalk that will take root. The Earth represents touch. The act of planting itself represents physical contact and touching.
2 Taste (1/32 heqat or 10 ro):
This part of the eye represents the sprouting of the wheat or grain from the planted stalk. It is the food we put into our mouth and therefore represents taste. Taste is also: Touch + Shape. This means that the different tastes we experience come from touching different shapes. So Touch seems to be a more fundamental sense than Taste.
3 Hearing (1/16 heqat or 20 ro):
This symbolises the ear and the figure points towards the ear on the face. Also, it has the shape of a horn or some musical instrument. The sound has a taste for us, causing a preference. Sound requires Touch + Taste and so is a combination of the lower senses.
4 Thought (1/8 heqat or 40 ro):
This is thought. We often use our eyebrows to express our thoughts and this facial feature is closest to that part of the forehead we associate with thinking. Thought = Touch + Taste + Hearing. Thinking is a kind of surpressed sound. The language we think in is like the "touch" of muscle prior to giving voice. And of course, we have a "taste" for different types of thoughts.
5 Sight (1/4 heqat or 80 ro):
This is the pupil of the eye and is pretty self-explanatory. It represents the action of seeing or simply the sensation of light.
6 Smell (1/2 heqat or 160 ro):
This part of the eye points to the nose and it even looks like a nose. Naturally, it represents the sensation of smell.
The dying Pharaoh therefore probably sees the Eye of Horus as the loss of his senses to the power of death, and the "risen Osiris" is the equivalent of the Reaper in Western civilisations, waiting for him as he passes away. He reflects on his past life and he doesn't seem to have any remorse about having ruled the land with terror. He even pushes the sarcasm as to welcome his successor with "blood and red wine", apparently hoping that the dictatorial rule will carry on after he's gone.
The last verses deal with the infamous "Mummy's curse", a belief created by authors of fantastic fiction in the 19th Century and perpetuated by sensational press journalists in the early 20th Century when archeologists discovered and explored pharaohs' tombs. All this has of course a perfectly rational explanation, but it fits perfectly well with the Egyptian folklore and tales of long-dead pharaohs striking from the grave.
The term "Powerslave" can also arguably be applied to Iron Maiden, as they were at the time becoming increasingly popular and were caught in a vicious circle of album release / promotion tour, album release / promotion tour. There didn't seem to be an end and Bruce Dickinson wrote this song with this situation in mind. Nevertheless, despite many ups and downs, Maiden was going to enjoy a successful career for over 20 more years after the release of this album.
Based on the famous 1798 poem (originally entitled The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere and re-written in 1817 mainly in order to "modernise" the archaic spelling) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (17721834), this is Maiden's greatest epic ballad. With a length of over 13 and a half minutes, it is also their longest song.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge had met William Wordsworth in 1795 in Bristol and their subsequent literary association was one of the most fruitful, albeit sometimes stormy, in all of British literature. Attaining its peak with the publication of the Lyrical Ballads in 1798, this team work led to the writing of a few great poems, one of them being the famous Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Like many other authors including Poe, for instance Coleridge has the reputation of being a poet who used drugs all along his literary career. His whole life was made of patches of debilitating addiction and painful withdrawal. Today's readers, used the the 20th Century's tales of recreational drugs and lethal overdoses cutting creative lives short, should keep in mind that Coleridge was not doing anything illegal at the time (the opiates he used were readily available, even if they were not always socially acceptable), and his drug-addiction did not result from opium use for recreational purposes: it was a pharmaceutical habit and he was convinced that narcotics played an essential role in his creative processes. However, it has been argued that the weirdest of Coleridge's images derive not from any chemical inducement but from his copious readings in not only literature, but also in philosophy, theology and all the sciences.
Although the song's lyrics are an excellent summary of the story, they cannot do complete justice to this brilliant epic poem, and I highly recommend reading the original. Nevertheless, it is among the very best of Maiden's material, and a testament to Steve Harris's brilliant song-writing.