Mapping Iron Maiden’s legacy in metal

Eddie with Mickey ears
By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  June 22, 2012


Music is a universal force — able to foment revolution, sell culture, and communicate ideas both specific and diffuse. Music is power, and in rock, bands have always used the sound and the song to challenge norms, amass converts, and sometimes leverage power for more power by tapping into the universality of what they do. Bands on the verge of mass popularity often find themselves faced with a conundrum: whether to continue plying the aesthetic that got them to where they are, or to pivot in hopes of finding a larger audience.The most successful acts do both, turning their little cottage industry of a musical project into a singular voice that speaks to a global audience, circumventing the filter of the tastemakers who attempt to dictate what is relevant. Few rock acts have managed to grow a global rock following on their own terms anywhere near the scale of East London heavy-metal legends Iron Maiden.

As a band and as a brand, Iron Maiden are universal in the true sense of the word, a global metal presence that transcends language and cultural barriers. Maiden have found a foothold in places that typically have no need for Western culture; in corners of the world that typically don't have a predominant rock culture, it's not an oddity to see a young person with an Iron Maiden T-shirt. The band's most recent tours have seen them hitting areas often ignored by touring rock, places like India and Dubai and Peru, with vocalist Bruce Dickinson even piloting the band and crew throughout their 2008 world tour in their own jumbo jet (Dickinson, an operatic overachiever, is not just a licensed commercial airline pilot but also an airline owner).

But the key to Maiden's universal appeal isn't just their globe-trotting ways — it has to do with their ability to avoiding the ghetto of negativity and isolation that most metal is founded on. Iron Maiden took the molten confusion of '60s and '70s rock culture and made a Disneyland attraction out of it; they pillaged folklore and myth, creating a masterful piece out of each adapted work. Just as a kid in the '60s might have known of Snow White or Pinocchio only through the filter of Disney animated films, a metal fan in the '80s probably became aware of, say, Samuel Coleridge's epic poem "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," or the cult '60s Brit sci-fi tv series The Prisoner, through Maiden's musical arrangements. Maiden came to prominence in a pre-Internet era where knowledge of arcane tales was cool, the same world where Dungeons & Dragons could flourish without irony. If you wanted to know the story of Alexander the Great, you'd have to go to a library and look it up in an encyclopedia — and if you knew about things like Area 51 or Roswell, it was through tall tales passed via word of mouth. Iron Maiden collected and catalogued these themes, turning each into a sweeping epic.

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