Chess in Music

The title of the single “Stratego” (Senjutsu, 2021) reminds of the game of the same name, which is a version of chess in the meaning that it is played by two, is coined by strategy, and involves pawns inspired by elements of war. It was also a picture of this board game which was used to announce the release of the single on Twitter – as with all things Senjutsu, naturally using the account of “Daniel.” However, this is not the only game this song is tied to, because the video depicts Eddie playing against an unknown party, yet not Stratego, but shōgi, a Japanese version of chess. As it seems, this song is firmly rooted in several versions of chess, even combining East and Western versions of it. Is the song thus a musical version of chess?

Strategic, Tactical Thinking – Chess

This idea is, of course, by no means new. The musical Chess, which music was composed by the two men of ABBA, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, uses a championship in the famous strategy game to mirror Cold War conflicts between East and West as well as the complexity of human relationships. (cf. Chess (musical) – Wikipedia) Another famous example, although unrelated to music, is Lewis Carroll’s (aka Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, his real name) Through the Looking Glass (1871), the sequel to the more known Alice in Wonderland (1865). (cf. Chess in “Through the Looking Glass,”  Wikipedia) I must say that I have always had difficulty decoding the fantastic and exuberant scenes of the mentioned children’s book as a game of chess, but this is only me. 

In this case, the references are even more complex, not only refers “Stratego” to two different chess versions via title choice and the video, going by the assumption that chess is a game steared by tactical and strategic thinking – this is nothing but the English translation of the album title, senjutsu (jap. senjutsu = (according to Maiden) tactical thinking). So here, we have a third layer encompassing the song and they all refer to chess. 

The Songtext / Stratego

There is a definite reference to learning tactical thinking in the context of combat and war, so this ties in neatly with the aforementioned framework of chess, two parties battling each other using their intellect, trying to outwit another, but this time in a more grim context instead of a leisure time activity. What I find difficult to reconcile is the reference to a maniac. But then, if there is one opponent you definitely do not want to face in a game of chess, it is a maniac whose moves you cannot predict. 

But there is also the claim of an unknown, undying soul. Is our narrator unhuman as he cannot die? How does that tie in with chess or stratego? Or is he unknown to the person he is talking to? The narrator also claims to have died several times, at the hands of the other. Is s/he a pawn of chess who has been beaten and thus “killed,” removed from the battlefield, again and again? Or is it a soldier who feels like a pawn of chess, beaten again and again, moved around by higher powers? Honestly, I still have difficulty to reconcile the content of the song with the title of the song, unless we want to go by the rather cheap assumption the song was about pawns in a game or that it compares soldiers to the pawns in a game.

The Video / Shōgi

The references here are more obvious and have already been circulated in the internet. I am referring here to the rules of shōgi as found in Wikipedia.

Characters can be taken over by the antagonistic party  (cf. Shogi – Wikipedia) – that is what we see at the beginning of the video. The human warrior is seemingly killed by his opponent and then reborn to join him. As soon as a pawn reaches a certain line of the opposite site, it becomes updated and is turned into a better, stronger version.  (cf. Shogi – Wikipedia) This happens to our human warrior when he has killed the giant skull; he becomes a dragon.

What I do not get, however, is the ending. Once the dragon is slayed, he would return to his usual, normal form.  (cf. Shogi – Wikipedia) In the video, however, he is taken over again by the enemy party. But in my humble understanding this is not conform with the gaming rules. I have been re-watching this scene for several times and it seems to me that the movement of the black moon causing a sun eclipse means that the white dragon has become a black dragon.

I wish I also had an answer for the two suns which melt and separate again. Especially because later it seems more like a black moon to me, which would correspond with the final scene in which the black dragon spreads darkness over the land. If you have any theory as to what these celestial bodies represent, please leave me a comment! How do they tie in with the game? I would say that they represent which party is winning, were it not for this weird struggle between the two of them at the beginning. The pawn / warrior had clearly been won by the white party. Why are the suns still fighting over him?

Confusion

I do not really dare to present a definite conclusion here, but I have difficulty to interpret this as an artistic representation of a board game. I can neither see the Western namesake game in the lyrics, nor can I really make sense of the video as a representation of a round of shōgi, because there seems to be more going on. Is the rest just opulent, but meaningless visuals? In the end, I think this lies in the eye of the beholder, whether we are looking here at two representations of two different chess versions, only one of them, or none. 

Sources

Jannick Gers, Harris Steve. “Stratego.” Iron Maiden, Senjustu. Parlophone, 2021.

Iron Maiden, Adult Swim. “Stratego.” YouTube. https://youtu.be/Jm-cfUlyn84 (08.09.2021) [18.11.2021]

Ride, Tim, Ulvaeus, Bjorn, (lyrics), Andersson Benny, Ulvaeus Bjorn, (music). Chess

“Chess (Musical).” Wikipedia.en https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chess_(musical) (18.11.20219 [18.11.2021]

Carroll, Lewis (Charles Dodgson). Through the Looking Glass. Wikisource. Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There – Wikisource, the free online library (14.11.2021) [18.11.2021]

“Through the Looking Glass, Chess.” Wikipedia. (14.11.2021) [18.11.2021]

Carroll, Lewis (Charles Dodgson). Alice in Wonderland. Wikisource. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1866) – Wikisource, the free online library (01.05.2021) [18.11.2021]

“Shogi.” Wikipedia.enhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shogi (14.11.2021) [18.11.2021]

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