Iron Maiden are pioneers of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWoBHM) movement, churning out record after record after record. They are a household name, people from various walks of life have at least heard of them if not their music. They are living legends and continue to lead the way in the world of heavy metal. A common theme for their material holds a historical basis however it’s not one I’ve seen widely discussed (not to suggest that it hasn’t been discussed at all). So today, I have decided to delve in to the history that inspired 5 different Iron Maiden tracks that we all love today.
But before we begin, lets take a look at the Iron Maiden itself.
The Iron Maiden Device
The Iron Maiden (The Nuremburg Virgin/The Iron Maiden of Nuremburg) is a torture device in the shape of the human form with internal spikes. It is often associated with the Middle Ages however the earliest account of this device is from the 18th century. It is believed that the Iron Maiden is a misinterpretation of the earlier Germanic ‘Schandmantel;’ a barrel shaped device often weighted down with rocks and worn by poachers and prostitutes as a form of public humiliation as far back as the 12th century. Historian Johann Phillipp Siebenkees misinterpreted this device in their guidebook of the German city of Nuremburg which is believed to have sparked the creation of the Iron Maiden as we know it today.
Run to the Hills
Album: The Number of the Beast
Released: 12th February 1982
“Selling them whiskey and taking their gold; enslaving the young and destroying the old”
‘Run to the Hills’ documents the colonisation of America and the conflicts between Native Americans and the invading Europeans. It focuses on the American Frontier Wars, particularly during the colonial periods between 1609 and 1774 whereby some tribes resisted and others assisted depending on trade agreements. The track itself tells the story from 3 different points of view. The opening verse is from the point of view of the Native Americans (‘white man came across the sea; he brought us pain and misery’) followed by the contrasting viewpoint of the invading Europeans (‘chasing the redskins back to their holes; fighting them at their own game’). The third verse is a narration, condemning the actions of the invading Europeans (‘Selling them whiskey and taking their gold; enslaving the young and destroying the old‘).
Album: Piece of Mind
Released: 20th June 1983
“You’ll take my life but I’ll take yours too; you’ll fire your musket but I’ll run you through. So when you’re waiting for the next attack; you’d better stand there’s no turning back.”
This track tells the tale of the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 during the Crimean War. The Crimean War was fought between October 1853 and February 1856 during which Russia lost to an alliance of France, Britain, The Ottoman Empire and Sardinia. The cause of the war was due to Russia’s ambitions to seize control of holy territory in Palestine whilst taking advantage of the Ottoman Empire’s decline.
The Charge of the Light Brigade was a failed military action caused by miscommunication in the chain of command. The unequipped British light cavalry charged the well-armed Russian artillery battery with nothing but swords facing direct fire resulting in very high casualties. The error was made by high-ranking officers but the lower ranking cavalrymen had no choice but to obey the order due to their commitment to the military code of conduct. It is known as one of the biggest British military blunders in history.
During live performances of The Trooper, Dickinson is often seen wearing a red coat and waving the Union Jack flag.
Released: 3rd September 1984
“There goes the siren that warns of the air raid; then comes the sound of the guns sending flak; out for the scramble we’ve got to get airbourne; got to get up for the coming attack.”
Aces High tells the tale of the British RAF fighter pilots fighting the German Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain in 1940. It was the first battle in history to be fought completely in the skies and is noted to have been one of the most decisive battles of the Second World War and ultimately prevented Hitler‘s plans to invade Britain. The Luftwaffe was ordered to attack various airfields in southern England but failed to calculate critical targets. Hitler gave the order to attack London itself (known as The London Blitz) and although this was a devastating attack, pulling back the Luftwaffe proved to be an analytical error and allowed the RAF to recover quickly, outproducing the Luftwaffe and maintained a level of production that helped them withstand their losses.
During live performances of Aces High, Winston Churchill‘s famous “we shall fight on the beaches” speech is often played before the track begins.
Alexander The Great
Album: Somewhere In Time
“Near to the East in a part of ancient Greece; In an ancient land called Macedonia; was born a son to Philip of Macedon; the legend his name was Alexander.”
The history of Alexander the Great is ridiculously vast and could be an article in itself so I’ll summarise it as best I can. This track is fairly self-explanatory and chronicles the history of Alexander The Great.
Having assumed the throne of the Kingdom of Macedon at the age of 19 following the assassination of his father in 336BC, Alexander was awarded the Generalship of Greece after sacking the City of Thebes shortly after his ascension. He then set his sights on destroying the Persian Empire, defeating the Scythians and conquering Egypt all within a period of 10 years. Alexander has at least 20 cities named after him, most notably the City of Alexandria in Egypt.
At the demand of his homesick troops, Alexander eventually turned back and ultimately died of a fever in Babylon in 323BC at the age of 33. Alexander The Great is one of those historic household names and he is recognised as one of the most feared conquerors of all time.
Album: Virtual XI
Released: 23rd March 1998
“Can’t you see what they do; they are grinding us down; they are taking our land; that belongs to the clans; not alone with a dream; just a want to be free; with a need to belong; I am a Clansman.”
Often cited as Blaze Bayley‘s most famous Iron Maiden track, it was inspired by the Braveheart and Rob Roy movies but focusing specifically on the Battle of Stirling Bridge during the First War of Scottish Independence which was fought on the 11th of September 1297.
The forces of Andrew Moray and William Wallace defeated the combined English forces of John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey and Hugh de Cressingham near Stirling on the River Forth, Scotland. The English forces attempted a direct attack which involved crossing a narrow bridge which was broad enough to let only two horseman across at a time however it was the physically safest way to cross the river. The Scottish forces waited until a substantial number of the English forces were across the bridge and trapped in the loop of the river before charging from the high ground and using the terrain to their advantage. This caused the Earl of Surrey to order the destruction of the bridge and retreated after his confidence was destroyed.
Iron Maiden have a vast array of historically based/themed tracks that are incredibly interesting to read in to if you’re that way inclined. These tracks were chosen due to a personal interest in to their history however the events of each track are sprawling and this article merely provides a very brief summary. I am unapologetically a history nerd as well as a metal nerd.