10 things you never knew about Iron Maiden's Dance Of Death album

Iron Maiden's Dance Of Death artwork
(Image credit: Iron Maiden)

The return of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith in 1999, followed by the Brave New World album, had convincingly demonstrated that Iron Maiden were still a force of the reckoning persuasion. Was it a one-off cash grab or were Maiden well and truly back?

The answer arrived on September 9, 2003, in the form of Iron Maiden’s thirteenth album, Dance Of Death. Opening with Nicko McBrain’s “One, two, three, four!” count-in, the band pile into Wildest Dreams with the same fist-pumping pugnacity that had dominated their earliest releases. With eleven tracks clocking in at just under seventy minutes, Dance Of Death aimed spotlights at Maiden’s innate ability to deliver the galloping power anthems that their fans expect while driving their sound inexorably forward into ambitious new realms. From the pulse-quickening velocity of New Frontier to the pastoral grandeur of Journeyman to quintessential Maidenesque epics like Montségur and Paschendale, Dance Of Death squarely established that Brave New World was not a fluke; quite the opposite — a new golden era had arrived.

With the album turning 20 this year, here are ten lesser-known factoids about Dance Of Death:

Metal Hammer line break

The band absolutely barrelled through the writing process

Rewarded for his masterful work on Brave New World, Iron Maiden tapped Kevin Shirley to produce what would become Dance Of Death. In preparation for the sessions, the band wrote most of the tracks in late-2002, knocking out the final few the next month in the studio with Shirley. In a 2003 interview, Steve Harris recalled, “We allowed ourselves six weeks to write the album and we didn’t write on the road, so it was all a bit of a nerve racking experience. But it’s exciting, because you never know what you’re going to come up with.” In early January, 2003, Shirley announced on his website that he was about to begin work on Maiden’s forthcoming new album. Just a month later, he announced that the basic tracks were finished.

Iron Maiden laughs at click tracks

When recording in the studio - particularly albums on the high end of the profile spectrum - bands often rely on click tracks to lock the individual performances into vacuum-tight synchronicity. But according to Janick Gers, the band wanted no part of that; instead, they sought to bottle the hyperkinetic energy of their live shows. In a 2003 interview with Metal Rules, Gers explained, “We wanted a live sound, so we went on without a click track or anything like that and we just recorded this album live where we are at our best. Because of that, this album has a live sound which sounds like we could have a live sound in it. It moves, it breathes and it sounds just great, I think...if you go back and listen to bands like Led Zeppelin and all those old bands, you can feel that the thing is moving a little bit.” 

Fans unwittingly picked the first single.

On 2003’s cheekily-titled, Give Me Ed Til I’m Dead tour, Maiden regularly played Wildest Dreams and fans’ response was so overwhelmingly positive that the band chose it as the album’s debut single. It was officially dropped on September 1, 2003 but by then, many fans had already heard it. Though illegal file-sharing was still controversial at the time, Dickinson reportedly told audiences on that tour that he didn’t care if people recorded and posted MP3s of the new track online so long as they bought the album on the day of its release. 

If you enjoy the proggier interludes on Dance Of Death, thank Bruce and Adrian

Both Brave New World and Dance Of Death featured epic compositions packed with dynamic shifts, complex arrangements and moments that, if isolated, might lead one to think that someone had swapped in some Jethro Tull. Speaking with Classic Rock in 2004, Dickinson said, "With the two new albums we've released since I rejoined, that almost sort of proggy side of things has started to filter back in quite strongly.  In the past we've had songs like Strange World, Remember Tomorrow and Prodigal Son and all that, but most people perceived us as a scary heavy metal band — particularly in America — and no one seemed to notice that we had a softer side."

The story behind Montségur is fucking bonkers

While on Holiday in Southern France, Dickinson learned about the story of the Cathars — a gnostic Christian sect who emerged in the eleventh century, settling in France’s Montségur region, near the Spanish border. Thumbing their collective nose at the idea that there was just one all-powerful god; Cathars believed in two equal and opposite gods — one good and one evil — and they sided with the former. Both the Church and the King of France took considerable issue with these heretical beliefs, but equally problematic to them was the fact that the sect were squatting on a highly strategic piece of land. In 1209, the Pope and the King launched a crusade against them, culminating in a ten-month siege of Montségur. In an uncommon gesture of mercy, Cathars who swore allegiance to the Church were spared but 200 of the Cathar leaders - known as “Prefects” - opted to be burned alive at the stake instead. Hence the semi-accurate lyric, “The Prefect would willingly die at the stake and all of their followers slain.”

Dickinson called the Rainmaker video a “tour-de-force of madness”

One of the new tracks to regularly appear on the Dance Of Death tour was Rainmaker, a favourite of Dickinson’s. Speaking with Classic Rock from that tour, he expressed high hopes for the song as both a single and for its supporting video. Enlisting Howard Greenhalgh, who had directed some of Dickinson’s solo videos, the singer gushed that the Rainmaker video had, “hordes of African dancers covered in latex and treacle, trampolinists, a girl dressed as a chicken leg, and an exploding cosmic egg that creates this mad Satanic life-form that rains evil over the band… it's just fucking brilliant, a tour-de-force of madness.”

The Dance Of Death press release was way better than most

For the album’s accompanying press release, Iron Maiden rejected the industry-wide custom of providing some bland, puffery-filled biography. Instead, their then-label EMI arranged for all six members to comment on the other members of the band. Zero punches were pulled. Of McBrain, Harris breathed vibrant new life into the phrase “backhanded compliment” by pointing out, “He’s way more complex than you might think.” Dickinson said of Smith, “I wouldn’t have rejoined Maiden if he wasn’t in the band. And Gers offered the following on Harris, “He’s the band’s heart and it’s power...the one thing that has kept Iron Maiden doing what it does best is Steve.”

The photo shoot for the Dance Of Dead booklet had the lads testing their 'steely dispositions' to the limit

In the booklet that accompanies Dance Of Death, the band sit around an ornate red couch in a gothic mansion, staring solemnly forward and looking like the no-bullshit bad asses that they very much were. According to Harris, maintaining those grave dispositions was not as effortless as one might assume. In 2004, he explained, "It was quite a fun session, I must say. The only frustrating thing was that we had to keep still while they (female background artists) were moving about; they set the shutter speed on the camera so they would be a blur while we would be in focus. We had to sit very, very still and look straight ahead and not at the girls. So that was tough — but life's tough innit?"

Yes, the band share your opinion that the cover art is horrible

In myriad lists ranking Iron Maiden album covers, the bottom rung is nearly always occupied by Dance Of Death. It’s as surprising as the sun rising and setting. The astonishingly bad cover art looks like somebody on a six-day bath salts binge broke into a department store and set up an orgy of mannequins wearing animal masks from the Halloween aisle. Dickinson ultimately referred to it as “embarrassing.” The artwork designer, David Patchett, reportedly disassociated himself from the finished product, alleging that the band used his “unfinished prototype.” 

Number thirteen proved lucky for Nicko - he got his first songwriting credit

After twenty years of keeping time for one of the greatest bands in history, McBrain received his first songwriting credit on Dance Of Death - for the propulsive, five-minute banger, New Frontier. Not a minute too soon, either!

Iron Maiden Future Past European Tour 2023

May 28: Ljubljana Arena Stozice, Solvenia
May 30: Prague O2 Arena, Czech Republic
May 31: Prague O2 Arena, Czech Republic
Jun 03: Tampere Nokia Arena, Finland
Jun 04: Tampere Nokia Arena, Finland
Jun 07: Bergen Koengen, Norway
Jun 09: Solvesborg Sweden Rock Festival, Sweden
Jun 11: Leipzig Quarterback Immobilien Arena, Germany
Jun 13: Krakow Tauron Arena, Poland
Jun 14: Krakow Tauron Arena, Poland
Jun 17: Clisson Hellfest, France
Jun 19: Zurich Hallenstadion, Switzerland
Jun 21: Hannover Zag Arena, Germany
Jun 24: Dublin 3 Arena, Ireland
Jun 26: Glasgow OVO Hydro, UK
Jun 28: Leeds, First Direct Arena, UK
Jun 30: Manchester AO Arena, UK
Jul 03: Nottingham Motorpoint Arena, UK
Jul 04: Birmingham Utilita Arena, UK
Jul 07: London O2 Arena, UK
Jul 08: London O2 Arena, UK
Jul 11: Amsterdam Ziggo Dome, Holland
Jul 13: Antwerp Sportpaleis, Belgium
Jul 15: Milan, The Return of The Gods Festival, Italy
Jul 18: Palau Sant Jordi, Barcelona, Spain
Jul 20: Estadio Enrique Roca, Murcia, Spain
Jul 22: Bizkaia Arena Bec! Bilbao, Spain
Jul 25 Dortmund Westfalenhalle, Germany
Jul 26 Dortmund Westfalenhalle, Germany
Jul 29: Frankfurt,Festhalle, Germany
Jul 31: Munich Olympiahalle, Germany
Aug 01: Munich Olympiahalle, Germany
Aug 02: Wacken Open Air, Germany

Joe Daly

Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.