Before I grew up, acquired taste and began listening solely to modal jazz recorded between 1961 and 1965, I was something of a metal head. And one of the first bands that won my teenage allegiance was the mighty Iron Maiden.
I bought my first Iron Maiden t-shirt, featuring the art for ‘The Clairvoyant’ at the age of thirteen, on spec. I’d never heard their music but was drawn to Derek Riggs’s fantasy-themed artwork. The sleeve of Somewhere In Time, for example, blew me away with its Bladerunner-esque ideas. When I finally got around to checking out the music, I was an instant convert. As a youth I divided my time almost equally between cutting my teeth on whatever speculative fiction novels I could lay my hands on, and learning how to make a fuzzed up guitar wail. The marriage of fast-paced riffs and literary references held great appeal to me.
Once I got into Iron Maiden, I realised I had to update my look from corduroy pants and skivvies to something a little more bogan. I’ll never forget going to the barber and uttering the fateful instruction: “Cut it short at the top and sides… but leave it long at the back.” The seed of my mullet had been sown, a flourishing banner that swept back over my black Clairvoyant t-shirt as I did a bow-legged saunter around town in my denim jeans. I would like to claim that my jeans were tight, but my mum insisted that I get one size too big so that I could ‘grow into them’. Yes, I was truly tough.
I get the feeling that rather than snorting coke off the backsides of groupies, the boys from Maiden sit around backstage reading books. There’s a huge number of literary references in their oeuvre. Perhaps to make things a bit more hard core they snort coke off the spines of Edgar Allen Poe collections. Everything from Greek myth to romantic poetry to C.S. Lewis gets a run in their back catalogue. A certain website lists no less than 18 Iron Maiden tunes based on novels. One such tune that manages to boil down the plot of an entire 412 page science fiction epic is ‘To Tame A Land’, inspired by the award-winning Dune by Frank Herbert.
My memories of reading Dune in high school are a bit mixed up with images from the movie. Specifically, of the guy from Twin Peaks riding a giant tape worm through a desert. Did that actually happen? It sounds too crazy. Anyway, to be honest the book was a bit plodding and I only read half of it. I apologise to all of the Dune fans out there I just offended by not sharing their taste. I might finish it one day. And to continue in this vein of honesty, I find the song a bit plodding too. Sorry if I sucked you in with my click-bait title. It’s about my 57th favourite Iron Maiden tune, well down the list below gems such as ‘Aces High’ and ‘The Trooper’. But unfortunately this isn’t a post about actual wars that have inspired metal tunes. Just made-up wars that feature Special Agent Dale Cooper and Sting.
Having said that, the tune does pick up at about 4:43, with some tasty double-time guitar solo action. Classic.
It also features some of the most convoluted lyrics of all time. Bruce Dickinson deserved a grammy for making lines like this vaguely melodic:
It is a land that’s rich in spice
The sandriders and the ‘mice’
That they call the ‘Muad Dib’.
He is the Kwizatz Haderach.
He is born of Caladan
And will take the Gom Jabbar.
Go on, say Kwizatz Haderach three times fast. I dare you. And while you do that, check out these clips that should ably supplement the content of this post.