There are so many things to disagree with in Chuck Klosterman’s 2001 cult favorite Fargo Rock City we wouldn’t know where to begin. It’s why we’ve read it more than once over the years — his candid take on heavy metal is insightful but also hilarious, even if he’s just downright wrong about a whole lot of things.
A good starting point would be Iron Maiden. How in nearly three hundred pages he could hardly mention one of the awesome-est bands in the genre is beyond explanation. When Iron Maiden makes an appearance in Fargo Rock City, it’s when Klosterman suggests their lyrics are funnier than Spinal Tap’s satire.
He does at least admit their widespread influence on other metal bands: “Iron Maiden was fond of ‘perspecitve’ songs, a songwriting technique that later evolved into a cornerstone for death metal … this allowed bands to sing about virtually any subject imaginable without personal responsibility for what they said.”
“Can I Play with Madness?”
Inevitably, this leads to some pretty dark subjects, and Iron Maiden albums surely aren’t for the faint of heart. That said, there are a lot of fans out there, and if you’re one of them you’ve noticed that their records are few and far between these days. Used copies of their classic albums don’t stick around the record shop for long.
In a lot of ways, Iron Maiden is a record collector’s dream band: their albums are hard to find, they stand up to repeated listening (at least we think so) and they look sweet. If you want an example of why LPs are far superior to CDs as far as cover art is concerned, look no further than the classic Maiden albums.
Any time the PMRC* wanted to illustrate the dangers of rock n’ roll, they would always show the cover art for Live After Death or Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. It’s my suspicion that Eddie (or, more accurately, the concept of what a character like Eddie reflected) was the biggest reason Iron Maiden was an elite metal band. These guys were unattractive, they weren’t prototypically cool, and it was impossible to sing along with any of their songs — but Iron Maiden was a type of band. They were the type of band that embraced geekiness, and they did it very, very well. (*What’s this?)
Yep, Iron Maiden’s album covers were awesome. Our favorite was, and still is, Powerslave, even though its not as good an album as Seventh Son or Piece of Mind. They undeniably raised the bar for cover art at a time where most metal albums looked like something you were unable to justify to your parents as ‘actually art.’
We think Klosterman’s first observation is the key to Iron Maiden’s enduring popularity — folks have explored unique perspectives as long as they’ve been writing songs, but those classic Maiden albums took the idea to awesomely weird extremes. One of the their best tracks, “Run to the Hills,” explores both sides of the conquering of the New World (we’d post it here but we discovered this morning that somewhere along the line we lost our copy of Number of the Beast). Another fan favorite tells the story of a World War II flying ace (fun fact: lead singer Bruce Dickinson is himself a licensed pilot). “Quest for Fire” explores the experience of primitive people attempting to, yep, conquer fire.
Metalheads love lists, and Fargo Rock City includes a long list of essential albums — we think Iron Maiden’s Piece of Mind, which includes “Quest for Fire,” should be on that list. And maybe at least one more. Which is their best album is subject to debate, but our favorite is Piece of Mind. Here are the first two tracks:
“Where Eagles Dare”
The good news, dear readers, is that the Iron Maiden catalog is being reissued starting next week. The first three albums are out next week, and we’re excited to have them in stock — and replace our lost copy of Number of the Beast! The rest will follow, and they’re also reissuing all the singles.