Iron Maiden’s flirtations with progressive music, writ large over their 2010 album The Final Frontier and 2021's Senjutsu, should come as no surprise to longtime followers of the East End metalheads’ career. Aside from the fact that both bassist Steve Harris and vocalist Bruce Dickinson are massive prog rock fans, one could point to the band’s 1983 cover of Jethro Tull’s Cross-Eyed Mary, or the hefty progressive inclinations audible on 1999’s Brave New World album as further proof.
But nothing sits better within Maiden’s prog canon than their 1988 album Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son. Not only was it a concept album – toying with those fine old adversaries good and evil, and throwing in elements of mysticism, reincarnation and the afterlife by the bucketload – Seventh Son… told the tale of a mythical child (the seventh son of a seventh son, no less) who possessed clairvoyant powers.
It wasn’t just the conceptual nature of the album that shoved it further into prog territory than Maiden had yet delved. Seventh Son… was also the first Iron Maiden album to feature keyboards, rather than the guitar synths that the band had used on previous albums. Here they were handled by Michael Kenney, Steve Harris’ bass tech and sometime live keyboard player for the band.
Musically, the album developed sonic themes that Maiden had introduced with 1986’s Somewhere In Time album, although no one could have envisaged quite how prog the band would take their sound. The immense success of metal-orientated lead singles Can I Play With Madness and The Evil That Men Do (still two of the band’s finest) helped offset possible fan unrest, but one can’t deny the overt progressive flourish of opener Moonchild as it segues into Infinite Dreams, or, further still, the nine minute-plus title track, all backed up more than ably by the Murray/Harris penned The Prophecy and Harris’s own The Clairvoyant, placing Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son not even in the territory of prog metal, but closer to dyed-in-the-wool prog rock.
None of this bothered the band’s fans however, with Seventh Son... being the second Maiden album (behind the groundbreaking Number Of The Beast) to crash into the national album charts in top spot. And it remains their best album to date by far.
This article originally appeared in Prog issue 12.