With their cover versions of Jethro Tull, Focus and Beckett, it should come as no surprise that Iron Maiden’s founder Steve Harris is a prog head. Covers aside, prog’s been permeating Maiden’s music since the late 80s, below are ten highlights from the band, as Harris says, “Prog taught me to do whatever the hell you wanted to do and go in any direction you want to”. Amen to that.
Cross-Eyed Mary (The Trooper - 1983)
This cover of the 1971 Jethro Tull song from Aqualung was the b-side to The Trooper single, and the first indication for many fans that there was some love for prog rock within Maiden’s ranks. Unlike Bruce Dickinson, who has performed with Tull main-man Ian Anderson, Steve Harris tells Prog, “I’ve never met Ian Anderson. I sort of don’t want to, because I love his music so much.”
*Rainbow’s Gold* (2 Minutes To Midnight - 1984)
Maiden continued the prog theme with another b-side cover version, this time for follow-up single 2 Minutes To Midnight. This time it was an obscure British 70s prog rock act Beckett. “I used to listen to The Beatles and The Who and stuff like that,” says Steve Harris. “Then I started getting into more rock stuff and that led to Wishbone Ash and then on to prog.”
Rime Of The Ancient Mariner (Powerslave - 1984)
The epic closing track for 1984’s Powerslave album was the first Maiden-penned tune to offer a glimpse of the band’s proggy proclivities. Based on Coleridge’s epic poem (Rush had previously based Xanadu on Coledridge’s poem Kubla Khan). “It might be significant that my two favourite pieces of music of all time are Supper’s Ready and Thick As A Brick says Harris, of lengthy epics.
*Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son* (Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son - 1988)
It was all-out prog rock with keyboards introduced into the Maiden sound for the first time. The title track of the band’s seventh album - their first ever concept record - was the proggiest of the lot . “A lot of thought went into it,” says Steve Harris. “It was a good change for us and I think it worked really well.”
*Sign Of The Cross* (The X Factor - 1995)
The band’s first album, The X Factor, since Bruce had left, replaced by Blaze Bayley, Maiden didn’t go for the easy option, but opened the album with this 11 minute epic with it’s moody intro of chanting monks, building the suspense until it explodes in emphatic style.
*Dream Of Mirrors* (Brave New World - 2000)
The band’s passion for prog really came to the fore when Bruce returned for 2000’s Brave New World, especially this proggy workout from the album. “I don’t really know the reason for it,” says Harris of Maiden’s increased progginess since Bruce’s return. “It was the way it naturally evolved.”
*Paschendale* (Dance Of Death - 2003)
Although he normally writes shorter, more commercially minded material, guitarist Adrian Smith got his prog on with this epic about the Battle Of Paschendale from WWI from the Dance Of Death album. Did you know the infantryman’s outfit donned by Dickinson when the band performed this song live was in fact Hungarian and not British as many thought? Take that to your next pub quiz with you.
*When The Wild Wind Blows* (The Final Frontier - 2010)
Another epic album closer from 2010’s The Final Frontier, this time clocking in at almost 11 minutes and as complex as you get with Maiden. Penned by Steve Harris alone, this soon proved to be a live favourite in the band’s set.
*The Red And The Black* (The Book Of Souls - 2015)
From the new album The Book Of Souls, it mixes straight ahead Maiden metal with an prog rock mid-section, replete with chanting vocals. Again penned by Harris alone, and clocking in at thirteen and a half minutes it’s the second longest song on the new album and with not a second wasted.
*Empire Of The Clouds* (The Book Of Souls - 2015)
The 18-minute, Bruce Dickinson-penned epic that closes new album. It features Dickinson on piano and sounds more like Jethro Tull than Britain’s greatest metal band! “I just had to say to him ‘You’ve outdone me, you bugger!’” laughs Harris of the fact that it is now the Iron Maiden singer who has written the band’s longest and proggiest song to date.