By Petr Navovy | Music | August 10, 2022 |
By Petr Navovy | Music | August 10, 2022 |
I don’t know about anyone else, but the stuff I find it most difficult to write about is the stuff I love. I find it much more difficult than writing about things I hate, anyway. When I want to express why I hate something, for some reason the thoughts come quite easily. When I try to put words to my love of something, on the other hand, I struggle. Is there a saying for that? I feel there should be a saying for that. ‘Acid flows easier than…affection(?)’, or something. What’s an affectionate liquid? No wait, never mind, no need to think on that too much.
The point is that I find it tricky to express myself when it comes to things I love. And there’s not much in this world that I love more than Iron fuc*ing Maiden. This isn’t news by any means, I know. I’ve tried to put words to it before; and I always feel like I come up short in doing it justice, but that won’t stop me from trying, again and again like some sort of greasy, headbanging Sisyphus! As far as efforts go, though, due to time pressures this will be on the simpler end of the scale. Similar to that time I celebrated the birthday of the Metal God himself—Judas Priest’s Rob Halford—by posting a serious contender for the single greatest stage entrance of all time. This is going to be an echo of that piece, this time in celebration of the one and only Bruce Dickinson.
Dickinson is, of course, Iron Maiden’s frontman. He has been—with a little break in the ’90s—since 1981. His first record with Maiden, 1982’s ‘The Number of the Beast’, still frequently tops polls whenever anyone asks metalheads for their lists of ‘Greatest Metal Albums Of All Time’. At least two or three (or four or five if you ask me) other albums that Maiden have recorded with Dickinson often vie with ‘The Number of the Beast’ for that spot. ‘The Number of the Beast’ itself contains one song—the at turns haunting and blistering ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’—that more often than many other tunes occupies pole position whenever someone asks what the greatest metal song of all time is. As well as recording and releasing an all-time great metal album in almost every single year of the ’80s, Dickinson and Maiden also mounted the most impressive musical comeback of all time at the turn of the millennium, returning from the relative wilderness to begin a ‘late’ career streak of brilliance that continues to this day and that rivals their untouchable heyday several decades ago.
It’s from one of those comeback albums that the song at the heart of this piece comes. Oddly enough, it’s the album from that era that took me the longest to love. Maiden’s latter-day records can be a lot denser than their earlier work, containing material that it takes significantly more investment on part of the listener to get into than the immediacy of something like ‘The Trooper’ or ‘2 Minutes to Midnight’. The post-millennium songs (and albums) are, in general, longer, proggier, more challenging. I absolutely adore both flavours of Maiden, so in some ways it’s funny to me to consider how long it took me to fully appreciate their 2010 album, ‘The Final Frontier’. I bought it as soon as it came out, but for some reason I can’t conceive of now, I only listened to it a few times before putting it away and largely forgetting about it for a good few years. The aforementioned density doesn’t really explain it, as I fell in love with 2006’s dark and foreboding ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ immediately.
Whatever the reason, it’s the end result that matters: These days I listen to ‘The Final Frontier’ all the time, and I cannot get enough of it (‘When the Wild Wind Blows’ is never far away from my thoughts when I think of the best Maiden tunes of all time).
And the song that unlocked the album for me—the one that I heard one day and just my mind blown open—is called ‘The Talisman’.
Eighth track out of ten, ‘The Talisman’ comes late in the record. It starts, as many longer Maiden songs do, with a quiet, atmospheric intro. Co-written with Maiden mastermind Steve Harris by guitarist Janick Gers, ‘The Talisman’ calls to mind Maiden’s 13-minute classic ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ by telling a tale of a ship crew beset by misfortune—in this case a harrowing storm:
‘Riding the waves and the storm is upon us
The winds lash the sails
But the ropes keep them tight
Off in the distance a dark cloud approaching
None could imagine what there was to come’
As the quiet, acoustic intro that sets the scene ends, ‘The Talisman’ explodes into a musical fury that rivals any of Maiden’s youth, a blistering pace and an incredible performance by Dickinson evoking the storm at the heart of the story.
As mighty as the recorded version is, however, it’s a live performance of ‘The Talisman’ that truly captures the power of the band and its insanely skilled singer.
Recorded one night on April 10th at the Estadio Nacional in Santiago, Chile, this live rendition of ‘The Talisman’ is quite simply one of the most impressive vocal showcases in metal. Every single time I watch it, I find my jaw hanging slack in awe. It’s Poseidon’s rage bottled. On stage, Bruce Dickinson is famous for his high energy antics. He runs and leaps and goads the crowd like the master showman that he is. It’s a testament to the throat-and-lung shredding difficulty of ‘The Talisman’ that in this performance he does none of that. All Dickinson does here is he plants himself, and he belts. Legs wide in a power stance that grounds him to the spot, drawing up the power from the earth, eyes closed in unwavering focus, he belts like an absolute motherfuc*er, reminding you just why he earned the nickname ‘the Air Raid Siren’ decades ago—and why the name still applies. Happy Birthday, Bruce, you ludicrous beast of a vocalist.