20 Years Ago: Iron Maiden Issue Their Most Baffling Single
Released five months after its parent record arrived on Oct. 23, 2000, “Out of the Silent Planet” ended up as a cut-down single, chopped from 6:25 to 4:10. Janick Gers’ melodious, trance-like opening riff and a building vocal sequence were left out so that the song exploded straight into a classic Maiden gallop, complete with singalong sections.
Only no one would get to sing along: “Out of the Silent Planet” was almost never performed live during their triumphant 12th studio album’s supporting tour, enjoying only four live outings in total.
Brave New World was another powerhouse announcement that the NWOBHM giants had been renewed after reuniting with frontman Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith. But why release “Out of the Silent Planet”?
The single took its title from a 1938 novel by C.S. Lewis, but Dickinson reportedly said its lyrics were mainly inspired by the groundbreaking 1956 sci-fi movie Forbidden Planet.
Elements from both previous works appear to be present in “Out of the Silent Planet,” albeit indirectly. Dickinson presents an abstract view from far above a society that’s burned itself out through lack of caring. As anger and recriminations break down what’s left of its community, demons from inside the planet arise to rebuild the world from scratch.
Watch Iron Maiden Perform ‘Out of the Silent Planet’
In Forbidden Planet, human explorers struggle to survive on a world where the inhabitants wiped themselves out when they built a machine that could construct anything from pure thought – but failed to account for their own uncontrollable subconscious fears. In Out of the Silent Planet, an unwilling adventurer discovers that the benevolent keepers of other worlds have shunned Earth because it became evil, while the humans who have forced him to travel with them are planning a future where they exploit planets until they’ve been wasted, then move on to the next host.
Those socio-political concepts are woven together with the implicit suggestion from Dickinson that it's someone's fault: One of the cover paintings shows band mascot Eddie as a politician at a press conference, presumably lying and misdirecting through disingenuous soundbites. As a result, “Out of the Silent Planet” appears to be one of the band's more obscure "history lesson" songs.
Iron Maiden denied they had anything to prove with their renewed lineup, but they’ve always been known as a band determined to succeed. So, perhaps “Out of the Silent Planet” didn’t become a live staple because the single didn’t chart well. Or perhaps it was an experiment in harnessing 21st-century marketing, since multiple versions of the single didn’t offer the usual variety of different takes on the track. Maybe it was even a contractual obligation.
Regardless, Dickinson asserted that every track on Brave New World earned its right to be there: “We all worked on those combinations. We only kept the good ideas, but all the stuff we kept had been the product of people working together," he told Lollipop in 2000. "We didn’t have to worry about having everyone’s input represented because it worked out like that anyway. And the songs were up to our satisfaction.”
Whatever happened, “Out of the Silent Planet” retains historical value because of its classic-style composition, along with a political observation of the contemporary world that, while having been touched on in the past, would be fully explored in their darkly serious 2006 album A Matter of Life and Death.