The Apocalypse appears frequently in the work of Iron Maiden, which is of little surprise considering that it is the home-turf of a close family member: the Beast. If you want to see the genuine article and have a look in the Bible, you go straight for Revelation. This is the source of the spoken intro of “The Number of the Beast” (The Number of the Beast, 1982). The famous quote has been created by combining two different parts, though. The first verses “Woe to you […] time is short” are to be found in Rev, 12:12, NIV¹; “Let him […] six hundred and sixty-six” in Rev, 13:18, NIV. We miss the birth of the Beast’s older brother. But as we can well live with one Beast, I will leave it at that.
The Beast makes another appearance in “From Here to Eternity” (Fear of the Dark, 1992), but, as the title already suggests, this song is not exactly about the end of days, is it? Then there is, of course, the song “Revelations” (Piece of Mind, 1983). Despite the similarity of the title with the Biblical part, it quotes a large part of another text, a religious hymn. (Dickinson, Autobiography, p. 135). Yet it does bear semblance to the almost namesake book of the Bible, too. Admittedly, this semblance is stronger on the level of style than in regard to content. Revelation is a difficult text full of symbols – and so is “Revelations”. There is also an altered quote of Revelation in the booklet of Piece of Mind (1983), featuring “neither shall there be any more Brain“, instead of “there was no longer any sea“. (Rev, 21:1, NIV) A society in which people do no longer have any brains sounds more like a pre-apocalyptic scenario of nowadays to me than a (brave) new world (especially looking back to some places where I’ve been), but my personal opinion should not ruin a joke which connects quite nicely with the thematic framework of the album. There are also songs which refer directly to the Apocalypse, like “Die with Boots on” (Piece of Mind, 1983), “Where the Wild Wind Blows (The Final Frontier, 2010), and “Face in the Sand” (Dance of Death, 2003). In these songs the end of days is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
False Prophets and the End of Days
“Die with Your Boots on” is probably more focused on dying than the end of days, but then, what else does the end of days imply than dying? The word “die” is repeated almost excessively. My first association to the idea to “die with your boots on” was a war. But this is a specific war: “13, the Beast is Rising”. The Beast has reappeared which links this song back to Revelation and the Beast. (My best guess for “13” is actually the aforementioned biblical verse 13 of Revelation which refers to the Beast.) Yet, did the Beast really arise? A French prophet pointed out several signs of what was to happen should the Beast ever rise, but, in the long run, “the truth of all predictions is always in your hands”. We have to decide for ourselves if we believe in the prophecies. The answer whether the Beast has risen may be found at the beginning of the song, in the first stanza. Just one more prophet, who predicts a catastrophe, scares people with a possible, future war – “in the hope that one appears”. “Die with Your Boots on” is about a war, but a war willingly caused by false prophets who scare people with the coming Apocalypse.
This fear spread by false prophets has proven fatal to a couple in “Where the Wild Wind Blows”. Out of fear of the nuclear end of the world they commit suicide. The role of the false prophets is taken by wrong media reports – the “prophets” of our culture. The ostensible end of the world is an earthquake they mistook for a nuclear catastrophe. Their belief in false prophets has let to despair, and, in the end, to their deaths. The underlaying theme of “Die with Your Boots on” and “Where the Wild Wind Blows” is thus very similar. The fact that people believe in the approaching Apocalypse brings the end of the days about (even if it is “only” the end of their days). Blind belief and fear are a deadly combination and make for weak sheep which easily fall victim to false end-time prophets. Thus, we have to stay alert and remember that “The truth of all prediction is always in your hands” (emphasis added). When comparing both songs it can be seen that the problem of false prophets misleading trustful people remains the same, it is only the appearances that change. Prophets are swapped for news, the Beast for a nuclear catastrophe. Our Apocalypse and our prophets simply take on a different shape.
Hollow Prayers, the Wish for Violence, and the Self-Destruction of Humankind
My strongest association for “Face in the Sand” is a famous quote by French poststructuralist and philosopher Michel Foucault. At the end of The Order of Things (1966) he points out that humankind will vanish, just like a drawing of a face in the sand at a seashore. (p. 387) In other words, humankind will vanish without even leaving any traces behind, washed away by the next wave rolling over the beach. Yet, this describes the song only partly. Here, “the end” refers to two different aspects. First, the “end to the strife and misery”, second, the “end of time”. The first is prayed for, the end of war, the end of violence, the end of misery. “But the end never came”. War will continue; the world will go down in smoke. Guns are made ready, graves are dug. Prayers ring hollow, because people do not believe in salvation: “Everybody’s praying, but no-one’s believing”. People all too readily believe in disaster, but not in salvation.
The news take on a role even worse than in “Where the Wild Wind Blows”. News feed those who are greedy to watch catastrophes and disaster. The false prophets are not even needed any more. Even worse, “everyone wants to be in at the kill”. Now, it is not a minority that wants war, the false prophets, and leads the majority astray, now it is the majority, everyone, who wants the kill. The Apocalypse is not brought about by fear any more, but by a wish for violence. The situation has worsened.
The fact that the end of violence does not come leads to the end of days. Humankind will vanish – washed away in the sand. But this disaster is self-induced. The Beast has no hand in this. It was humankind itself that wiped itself out – literally.
In the long run, we cannot only afford to go without the Beast’s older brother, we can just as well go without the Beast. Humankind does not need a Biblical monster. It is perfectly able to wipe itself out – without further assistance.
1 Due to its better readability I work with the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible.
- “Revelation” Holy Bible (New International Version), Biblica, 2011. biblegateway.com. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+13&version=NIV [08/03/18]
- Harris, Steve. “The Number of the Beast”. Iron Maiden, The Number of the Beast, EMI, 1982.
- Dickinson, Bruce. “Revelations”. Iron Maiden, Piece of Mind, EMI, 1983.
- Dickinson Bruce. What Does This Button Do: an Autobiography. London: Harper Collins, 2018.
- Chesterton, Gilbert, Keith. “O God of Earth and Altar”. American Chesterton Society. https://www.chesterton.org/a-hymn-o-god-of-earth-and-altar/ [08/05/18]
- Booklet of Iron Maiden, Piece of Mind, EMI, 1983.
- Harris, Steve, “From Here to Eternity”. Iron Maiden, Fear of the Dark. EMI, 1992.
- Dickinson, Bruce, Harris, Steve, and Adrian Smith. “Die with Your Boots on”. Iron Maiden, Piece of Mind, EMI, 1983.
- Dickinson, Bruce, Harris, Steve, and Adrian Smith. “Face in the Sand”. Iron Maiden, Dance of Death. EMI, 2003.
- Harris, Steve. “When the Wild Wind Blows”. Iron Maiden, The Final Frontier. EMI, 2010.
- Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: an Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage, 1994.