Unless you’ve been spending your morning hiding under the biggest boulder ever created, you’ll know that Iron Maiden just dropped their new song and video for Speed Of Light. Obviously, it kicks maximum amounts of arse, but this is why…
The Intro Instantly launching Speed Of Light with vigorous uplifting arpeggios powerfully backed up by Nicko’s resolute Hammer Of The Gods tub-thumping, this seven-second sequence perfectly does the job of all textbook intros, intriguing and psyching the listener up for the glories of the song to follow.
The Riff Speed Of Light’s blunt lead riff is audibly forged in the flame of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, rooted in the band’s earliest days when the swaggering chops of ‘70s rock superstars like UFO and Free were being melded with the snorting rough-and-tumble of punk rock in pubs and garages all over the country. This satisfyingly direct volley of chords has that fiery gut-level attitude all over it.
The Cowbell More cowbell? Nicko’s on it! “People wouldn’t associate Iron Maiden as having a song with a cowbell in it, would they?” mused the drummer in 2012 to Drum Magazine; he was discussing Can I Play With Madness, but from Speed Of Light’s first triumphant whomp of wood against iron, Nicko places the much-loved cattle location device centre-stage on a Maiden single once more, to maximum effect.
The Scream Bruce’s opening wild ejaculation of triumph, snarling and cackling the song into thunderous life, has just the right blend of theatricality, madness, mischief and classic Air Raid Siren bravado – and like all the other bits of the song, it’s a tantalisingly brief, punchy and well-judged element of the whole.
The Rest Of The Drums Mrs McBrain’s boy forms the backbone of the the song with his propulsive groove and raging spirit, firing off addictive tom-rolls and cymbal pings with taste, discretion and joy. For all its other merits, Speed Of Light is first and foremost a quintessential air-drum classic.
The Rest Of The Vocals Alternating between energetic visceral snarls and sublime operatic immensity, Bruce’s vocals on Speed Of Light are all the more extraordinary for the fact that he was singing with an undiagnosed tumour on his tongue. Now that’s gone we can look forward to hearing this song live. Imagine!
The Video A delirious wet-dream-come-true for any gaming Maiden fans – or just anyone who ever wanted to watch an 8-bit Eddie jumping Donkey Kong-style up the side of the block of flats from the background of the Killers sleeve, and surely that’s all of us – director and producer Llexi Leon has done a flat-out astonishing job of shooting Eddie through the combined 35-year history of video games and Iron Maiden sleeves with this shit-the-bed promo clip. Crammed with dozens of tiny labour-of-love references, we could probably watch this video on a loop for the rest of the month and still notice new details, and still be as excited and impressed as we are right now. When do we get to play these games?!
The Chorus “Shadows in the stars, we will not return/Humanity won’t save us at the speed of light.” It’s a philosophical, cosmological Bruce at his most profound and his most rousing, the heroic vocalist raising goosebumps with his soaring, imploring high-notes and rugged fist-in-the-air melodies.
Steve Harris’ busy fingers give us their best time-honoured bass gallop, but it’s a smoother, warmer, more elegant and sensitive gallop than we’ve possibly ever heard from the bass legend. Lovely little trill under Bruce’s scream too, presaging the enhanced subtlety and integration of Steve’s bass playing throughout The Book Of Souls.
The Solos Gorgeous, playful and impassioned, with bags of personality and emotional resonance, the Smith/Murray leads bursting from Speed Of Light between 2:49 and 3:30 have paradoxically simultaneous vibes of one-take spontaneity and nailed-in precision. The axemen pull off dozens of cheeky little tricks and beautiful flurries of notes, cramming a lot of action into a relatively small 40-second space and leaving you wanting more, even after you’ve rewound the solos six or seven times.
The Sprightly Celtic Guitar Melody The snatch of song from 3:30-3:50 – expertly chosen to trail the album with – this twenty-second burst of jubilant guitar interplay has the air of a scampering Celtic folk reel, albeit a scampering Celtic folk reel being performed during a decisive aerial dogfight.
The Lyrics As well as inspiring the amazing video with sci-fi lines like “On the edge that you can’t see, let’s shoot the moon you and me” and “I’ll say a mass for you and wave, shooting plasma from my grave,” there’s an irresistible blend of high-minded scientific principles and arch, self-referential humour that’s Dickinson all over.
The Artwork Okay so it’s a simple variation on The Book Of Souls album cover – an image that’s refreshingly stark and iconic after the complex, cluttered vistas of their last five LP sleeves – but Mark Wilkinson’s new tribal Mayan Eddie looks even more downright mean and sinister here, rendered in shadowy, silvery monochrome.
The Package Only available, bizarrely, through US electronics warehouse Best Buy, the Speed Of Light CD single also comes in an optional special edition, including a t-shirt which is only available in XL – plus a $2 off coupon for The Book Of Souls CD.
The Ending Briefly reprising the intro into a joyous crash ending, with Bruce extemporising some sublime vocal gymnastics after the perfect concluding line “We slip into the night,” as ‘Arry peels off a euphoric bass run and Nicko hammers around his kit with live-in-the-studio, seat-of-the-pants abandon.