The Tale Goes On and On: Thank You Iron Maiden For More Romanticism

*As a guitarist and a person who works on his own metal music, I get pretty technical with the Musical terms. If I haven’t posted a link to help out with the terms, I am sorry; I’ll explain them as best as I can*

Bring up one of my favorite bands and I can talk about them for hours; bring up one of my favorite bands in a Literature class and watch as I never stop talking about it. It’s a double whammy. I listen to so much Heavy Metal on a daily basis, so it doesn’t surprise me that Iron Maiden pulls from the Romantic period and seemingly glorifies it with high vocal tonality of Bruce Dickinson and a guitar riff of triplets through the song’s verses played by Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, and the changes in the time signature and tempo to represent the tensions of the poem. If you can’t tell already, I am already in favor of Iron Maiden’s rendition of this piece; this version further exemplifies how romantic “The Rime of the Mariner” is. The song itself could also be considered romantic, too. There are several reasons why. However, we have to remember one of the key elements that makes Romanticism. Romanticism is characterized by emotion and individualism. It’s no surprise that we’re analyzing a piece of poetry that comes from the perspective of just one singular person.

First off, I wanted to analyze Iron Maiden’s song-writing in accordance with the “Mariner”. We’re greeted with a guitar riff (One of 14 different riffs throughout the song) in a standard time signature of 4/4 (Your standard measure of 4 beats/notes played on one measure). The very opening greets listeners with multiple sets of triplets, usually representative of motion. This motion is aggressive and coincides with one of the lines: “Stay here and listen to the nightmares of the sea”.  The fact that the sea is nightmarish suggests that the sailors could be sailing through a storm, furthering an anxious feeling about being on the boat. This sense of emotion is furthered when the Albatross is mentioned as it “flies on through snow and fog/Hailed in God’s name, hoping good luck it brings.” With an aggressive guitar riff and Dickinson’s speedy vocals, listeners who put themselves in the Mariner’s shoes find themselves more anxious than they would just listening to the song. This formula is essentially repeated throughout until the tempo changes, getting faster. We see more of a sense of excitement and terror when Dickinson sings to us:

“There calls the Mariner/There comes a ship over the line/But how can she sail/with no wind in her sails and no tide/See… onward she comes/Onward she nears out of the sun/See, she has no crew/She has no life, wait but there’s two/Death and she Life in Death/they throw their dice for the crew…/Then… crew one by one/they drop down dead, two hundred men/She.. she, life in Death/She lets him live, her chosen one.”

This huge chunk of lyrics gives us such a confusing emotion. Personally, I want to feel excited to see that the Mariner has lived on amidst the chaos on his ship, but to see that he is one of the last one remaining is rather terrifying. He is in solitude upon his ship with one other person. The Bride that’s often referred to, or is it actually an embodiment of death? If you take a look at the last lines of this entire section, she is the one that lets him live. Already, we’re getting to see what the Mariner loves. However, it depends on how one interprets “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Is he in love with causing death? or is he actually in love with the woman that’s there?

Five minutes in we get a time signature change to 3/4 (A Measure containing only three standard beats/notes) and a chilling bass riff accompanied by guitar chords every few measures. With such high notes being played on the bass, it creates an ethereal yet haunting presence. Dickinson speaks lowly throughout this sections describing the now “undead” sailors, their appearance, and the very sounds they make. It’s as if this whole section could be turned into a horror movie. For me, at least, this section makes me feel as if I am the Mariner, witnessing the entire crew committing to these actions.

It doesn’t last long. however, as the time signature switches right back to 4/4 and plays on a higher scale. One could interpret this as a hopeful sign as the Mariner continues his venture regardless of what just happened.

Iron Maiden’s version of the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” does this ancient ballad justice in keeping it just as Romantic as it was during the 18th century. The song itself conveys the very emotion far better than just reading it on one’s own. Then again, I only say that because I am musically inclined and, mostly because of my Chromesthesia, I respond to musical elements with far more emotion than normal.

— Drew C. Guerrero


3 thoughts on “The Tale Goes On and On: Thank You Iron Maiden For More Romanticism

  1. This post is unique insofar as it comes from the perspective of a guitar player. I am not a guitar player myself, so I dont understand all of the undertones in the song. I liked the post because it had that insight.
    2/3 Joshua jolly


  2. Hey Drew,

    Really like your post here man. I do some music criticism myself, and I really like reading the technical stuff of guitar work in conjunction with Romantic poetry. Is most of your understanding of measures and pitches simply intuitive? I’m having trouble finding something that’s wrong with your post, but I’d like to see this developed into an essay if at all possible.

    —Nathaniel Schwass


  3. Nice post Drew. I think your analysis from a musician’s standpoint offers a more inclusive understanding of the song and poem as well. Breaking down the riffs and the tempo is not an easy task, and a commendable procedure. I feel that the originality in the post comes from your dissection of the music through music vocabulary and meticulously conscientious effort in listening to the song. Where you could improve I’m not entirely sure, but I feel that as you mentioned in the introduction the comprehension of a reader may be obscured through your knowledge of music. Perhaps you could allude more to the imagery and supernatural aspect of the poem, and how that may be captured through the music. Just a thought.

    – Thomas


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