Who Are the Evil Forces at Belshazzar’s Feast?

Is the band mascot Eddie, an undead creature close to a zombie, good or bad? Eddie was somewhere in the middle right from the start. He is clearly very threatening on the cover of Killers (1981) and still he is meant to embody this moment of redemption for the underdogs and outsiders that is firmly linked to NWOBHM. This is probably a question no-one can really answer. Moreover, it heavily depends on what universe you are looking at (the band merch itself, the graphic novels, one of the games…). I will approach this question by having a very close look at the animated videoclip of the single “The Writing on the Wall” (Senjutsu, 2021, to be released the day after tomorrow). Let us see what we can find out.

The story of the animated video is very complex and the average viewer needs to watch it at least twice to really make sense of it (judging by my own experience of the premiere and by what some of my friends told me). Small wonder as the storyboard was written by no-one else than Bruce Dickinson himself, master of complex and dense material that is loaded with plenty of intertextual references. This video is no exception. Bascially, if you have ever wondered what the Bible would look like if it was retold in a science fiction context, you may not be disappointed when watching this video.

I assume that we all know the video. In case you have missed the spectacle of Daniel on Twitter, #whatisbelshazzarsfeast, and the invitations given at the second Tim’s Twitter Listening Party as well as sent out per e-mail, here is the video.

The video starts with a clear surprise. Our invitation to Belshazzar’s Feast, a nice gesture of Iron Maiden, ends with a Maiden fan dying in the desert. Thanks. What makes this even worse, this image always looks very likely to me. Just exchange the invitation to the Feast against a concert poster or even a concert ticket and there you are. Well. Whoever sent these invitations may be our bad guy. (Which means Maiden Towers. Hm. I love these breaks between the fictional world and the real world).

But within the video, the author of this invitation seems indeed to be the bad guy. Trails of very miserable humans can be seen. We learn that the world as we know it lies in debris and that humanity lives in povery and misery. The British have even lost their integrity, dignity, and identiy. They carry tea trays for the Western leader, have no trousers, and have no faces. Their appearance strongly reminds me of several paintings of the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte, featuring almost identical looking faceless men wearing the same hats (I apologise, but I cannot reproduce the paintings in here). Funnily enough they will die of swollen heads. They are big-headed, too. These are critical tones for a Brexiter. You can read more about the depiction of the British in two interviews here (Polygon) and here (Forbes). Looking at the whole scenario, we are seemingly witnesses to a post-apocalyptic world.

We soon meet the one who sent the invitations. We may thus call him Belshazzar. “Live Forever” clearly points to him as it is he, and he alone, who reaps this profit of the Feast. He is rejuvenated by stealing the life forces of two human beings in tubes. “Man or Beast” describes him, too. Eddie turns him into a goat-man, which is clearly reminiscent of the story of Nebuchadnezzar, who is Belshazzar’s father. He was punished to walk on all fours and eat grass like an oxen because he was disobedient to God. The same happens here to Belshazzar. (cf. interview in Forbes) But he also reminds me of Baphomet, the goat demon who features prominently in the Maiden mobile game Legacy of the Beast. Be that as it may, we have definitely found our villain.

So, in a sum up, the magician sacrifices himself by throwing himself into the fire and becomes Eddie throughout the process. Having super powers now, he can defeat Belshazzar. (cf. interview in Polygon) Good beats bad, classical story, right?

However, things are not that easy. Eddie summons some very unlikely allies: the apocalyptic Horsemen Death, Pestilence, Famine, and War. They wear Eddie masks (cf. interview Polygon) and are thus clearly in league with him. But they do what they are supposed to do: They start the Apocalyspe. What we see at the end of the video is the end of the world. What we may have perceived as a post-apocalyptic world is in truth a pre-apocalyptic world because the true Apocalypse is still to come. The riders kill all the evil attendants of the feast in another feast of visuals for the viewer, but, they also kill all the enslaved people standing outside the mountain. Do they really bring salvation? No. They were never meant to. So why does Eddie summon them?

Dickinson says that he wanted to add a positive ending to what is intended as a homage to the film Dr. Strangelove (Kubrick, 1964) by giving Adam and Eve a new chance. (cf. interviews Polygon and Forbes) They are clearly the sole survivors and have to start a new mankind. But, honestly, the moment Eddie stretches out his hand to Eve to pick her up from the debris of the tube made my heart stop. Why has she ever accepted that hand? That has never looked like a rescue to my humble eyes. More like a “from the frying pan into the fire”-scenario.

And, Eddie does indeed give them a new start, in the meaning that he starts the history of humanity anew. He gives them an apple and thus re-introduces the Fall. Eddie is the seducer that brings back sin into the world, the one fatal deed that would enslave humanity to death. Dickinson points out that this makes Eddie satanic. (cf. Forbes) He explains that this would lead to a new start and that humanity may end up for the better or the worse. (cf. Forbes) Yet I am not convinced that this new beginning has an open ending. Had Eddie wanted a different turn of events, he would not have produced the apple out of nowhere. Doing so will lead to the Fall and introduce sin into the world. Eddie does not bring about salvation, but simply resets the clock to make it all start all over again. And he makes sure that things go wrong by giving them an apple…

Aside, I am still fascinated that Eddie gives the apple to Adam, and not Eve. He does rewrite the history of humanity and the Fall, but with reversed gender roles. The serpent seduces Adam and Adam in turn seduces Eve. Imagine that all of the treatises of the middle-ages proving how evil women are because Eve was evil would have to be re-written…

I am not too convinced that this is a happy ending and even less am I convinced that Eddie is a hero. This brings about a break with genre conventionts. Once the human magician has commited the self-sacrifice we would expect him to come back stronger – a force of ultimate good. This would be a kind of reward for his selfless deed. But instead, our hero comes back as Eddie, a shady zombie-like creature. He has superpowers, like the ability to start the Apocalypse, but is this a reward? Is this still a hero? This puts Eddie next to a plethora of heroes of the world of the graphic novel. And still, he is even more sinister than that. As mentioned above, his role as the seducing serpent makes him demonic. How has our hero, who has sacrificed himself, suddenly become part of team 666? Isn’t that turning the Bible, which is basically about a self-sacrifice, absolutley on its head? How can this act give way to a demonic force? I assume that so many of us have to rewatch the video as this turn of events is against all we know and are used to. The attempt to defeat evil with a self-sacrifice only gives birth to a new evil. The fact that it has the well-known face of Eddie does not change this. Eddie has all too readily accepted the death of all the innocent bystanders. And what does he kidnap Adam and Eve for? Only to impose his own power / will / agenda (the apple) on them.

The only thing that makes us hope that Eddie may not be evil is the moment of his birth. He should still be, deep, deep inside, a good person, who was willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good. But then, entering the fire of Belshazzar was probably not the best idea in the first place.

In the end, I cannot help but think that this role is very befitting of Eddie. I mean, let’s face it, he seduces Adam and Eve to have sex. When I think of the old cliché of sex, drugs, and rock’n roll, we should probably not expect anything different. Eddie shows them the bad side, the sinful side, the dirty side – but is that not what rock music and heavy metal are about? Does he do anything else than just introducing the new mankind to rebellion, anarchy, and rock music, in a way? Probably this may become a better world after all…

Sources

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