The thing about cover art is that it graces only the cover, and you can use it to judge the album no more than you can judge the book by it. That said, sometimes the cover art penetrates deep into the work in insidious ways, and nowhere is this truer than in the case of Iron Maiden’s work. All that heavy-metal cartoonery, their mascot Eddie always inhabiting a different environ consistent with the album’s thematic conception—it goes to show that, contra Kiss, a band can use visual art to enhance good music, not simply as gimmickry to distract from music that is less-than-good.
In grade school in the mid-1980s, all the older kids wore Iron Maiden shirts—it was how one signified one’s edginess as a high-school grown-up. But kids too grow into high-schoolers, and sometimes they graduate, and then, rarer still, they actually behave as if they have graduated. And the appeal of Iron Maiden not only endures but enhances. All those songs based on literature sometimes achieve a state of literature themselves (“Brave New World,” “The Wicker Man,” “Lord of the Flies”). And even when they’re nothing more than mere transcriptions of someone else’s literature (“Rime of the Ancient Mariner”), they can transcend the literature from which they borrow, because they’re literature set to music. It’s literature that fucking rocks, and that’s a rarer thing altogether to behold. Meanwhile, history goes neither forgotten nor ignored, and the student of the past (high school or otherwise) can learn more from a song like “Alexander the Great” than from all the bloodless lectures ever delivered—to say nothing of an irresponsibly elided film like Oliver Stone’s Alexander.
The cover art wasn’t just neat, cool, or awesome; it was conceptual. It was concept art made to adorn concept albums, and I’m not embarrassed to admit that one particular artifactual representation of it—specifically, that of Powerslave—I’ve found striking enough to wear not only on a T-shirt, for my body, but on a banner-poster, for my wall. There are plenty of examples of this vivid imagery contributing to packaging as an enhancer of content: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, Piece of Mind, Somewhere in Time, Fear of the Dark. Just because school’s out doesn’t mean you stop appreciating the high finer things. Usually it can mean the very opposite. What a concept.