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This song is based on the 1979 movie Apocalypse Now, which was in turn inspired by Joseph Conrad's (18571924) classic Heart Of Darkness which was also made into a 1994 film for the television. The lyrics reproduce in many parts the dialogues of Coppola's masterpiece and tell us of a man's journey up a river into the jungle during the Viet-Nam war, in search of an insane genius who has succumbed to the innate savagery that resides inside all of us. It is another dark and brooding song in the same vein as 'Sign Of The Cross', with the riffs and rhythm shifts that have become a Maiden trademark.

In both the film and the novel, the character of Kurtz is that of a well-educated Western man who abuses his power in a place where the laws and customs he was previously used to broke down or even never existed. May it be in colonial Africa of the 1890s and 1900s, or during the Vietnam war of the 1960s, the horrors he witnessed and even accomplished for the "good of Western civilisation" made him sever all ties with the world he once belonged to, and gave him the will to become a power by himself. However, power corrupts and the darkest instincts took over as "There's a conflict in every human heart and the temptation is to take it all too far." As Colonel Kurtz rightly stated in Apocalypse Now:

"In a war, there are many moments for compassion and tender action. There are many moments for ruthless action. What is often called 'ruthless' ... may, in many circumstances, be only clarity: Seeing clearly what there is to be done and doing itdirectly, quickly, looking at it."

In other words, the confusion that reigns in extreme situations can force the most reasonable person to perform the most abominable actions with full consciousness when it happens, only to live and be haunted by the events for the rest of his life. In Heart of Darkness, Fresleven was considered "the kindliest, gentlest creature that ever walked on two legs," yet he became uncontrollably violent after a period of immersion in absolute horror, indicating that there is an incredibly dark side to the human mind that can and often will express itself given the right circumstances (consider how the children left to their own device on a desert island in 'Lord Of The Flies' expressed the most basic human instincts that "bring out the animal" in them).

Whereas Mr. Kurtz is a sick and weakened ivory trader being merely picked up by Marlow's boat, Colonel Kurtz is a strong US Army senior officer who is supposed to be eliminated "with extreme prejudice" by Willard. The only similarities between Conrad's Marlow and Coppola's Willard are their rank of Captain and the fact that they undertake a journey up-river through the jungle to reach their respective Kurtz and face the heart of human darkness by doing so. Besides, Marlow is more philosophical and pondering the horrors he witnesses, whereas Willard is simply a special forces soldier with a mission, although both have a fascination for the character of Kurtz.

The trip on a boat into the depth of the jungle is in itself quite symbolic, as the means of transport is water the river representing life. Both Marlow and Willard are on an initiatic journey that brings them to the roots of human savagery and to the very heart of their own darkness those places of the mind that modern civilisation prevents us from exploring for fear that we might discover the truth within ourselves. An interesting parallel can be made with the lyrics of Bruce Dickinson's 1996 song 'Back From The Edge' on the Skunkworks album:

A silent river flowing black

Strange attractors, no turning back

Present danger I recall

That pins my senses to the wall

 

Back from the edge

Where the darkness has fled

And Im swimming in light

And Im falling...

Falling from the edge

Back from the edge

 

I fell from grace, and thats a fact

I still have urges, I fight back

Cold decisions wear me thin

Kill yourself, begin again

 

Back from the edge

Where youre not worth a damn

Throw yourself into light

And the rush as you spin from the edge...

Back from the edge

Back from the edge

Both Marlow and Willard have travelled this silent river to the "edge of darkness," from which they eventually returned ("Back from the edge"), but certainly not unscathed. Because "when you've faced the heart of darkness even your soul begins to bend."

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