The Mandrake Project

The Mandrake Project

For his seventh solo outing, Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson almost made a concept album. Instead, he made an album with a concept. Some of the songs on The Mandrake Project detail episodes from a 12-issue comic series (also called The Mandrake Project) created by Dickinson, scripted by Tony Lee, and illustrated by Staz Johnson. “It was never intended to be this big,” Dickinson tells Apple Music. “At first, I had an idea about doing one comic only, like a little bit of extra vibe around the album. I was already thinking in the comic world, because originally the title of the album was taken from a Doctor Strange episode called ‘If Eternity Should Fail!’ I came up with these two characters, Dr. Necropolis and Professor Lazarus, and it’s a really dark story. It's not a superhero story. It’s more like a Watchmen-style comic in 12 episodes.” With longtime producer and guitarist Roy Z, Dickinson wrote songs that tie in with the comic storyline, like “Afterglow of Ragnarok” and “Resurrection Men,” and others that are completely unrelated, like “Many Doors to Hell,” about a female vampire, and “Fingers in the Wounds,” which imagines Jesus resurrected as a social media influencer. And then there’s “Eternity Has Failed,” an earlier version of which was nicked by Iron Maiden for their 2015 album, The Book of Souls. Below, the singer details each track. “Afterglow of Ragnarok” “This is meant to be like a hallucination from mandrake juice. Dr. Necropolis is a brilliant scientist, and an orphan. He’s interested in bringing back his brother who died at birth. He’s wondering why he survived and his brother died. And he’s tortured by this voice in his head, which he assumes is his brother. The voice just says, ‘Save me,’ over and over. It hits Necropolis like a depression. He gets into drugs and sex magic and the occult to try and contact his brother and try to figure out a way to bring him back. That’s what drives him and propels him through the story.” “Many Doors to Hell” “This is about a female vampire who wants to be human again. She wants to feel what it's like to not just bite people in the neck, but to maybe kiss them or make love. Instead of the weird vampire orgasm of drinking blood and stuff, she wants to feel what it's like to be a woman again. She's fed up with living forever with dead people. So she's waiting for the moment when she can step outside. And that moment is when there's an eclipse. During the eclipse, she can go out and she can be human. And maybe there's a way back for her to be human permanently.” “Rain on the Graves” “The title is a phrase I’d written down 10 years before I actually wrote the song. I was in a part of England called the Lake District, a very beautiful area that lots of poets and artists lived in. William Wordsworth had a cottage there and wrote a lot of his best poetry there. He’s buried in the local church, which is where this wedding was that I was invited to, and I decided to find his grave. It was raining and really atmospheric, and I sat there for about 40 minutes just thinking about what an incredible creative mind he had. Years later, Roy and I decided to write this song, which is kind of like ‘Cross Road Blues’ by Robert Johnson, where he meets the devil, but instead of at a crossroads it takes place in a graveyard.” “Resurrection Men” “This one is related to the comic. The Resurrection Men are Professor Lazarus and Dr. Necropolis. While I was doing the beginning bit with these open guitar chords, I noticed the tremolo button on the amp. I went, ‘Hang on, what does this button do?’ It was the full-on Dick Dale surf sound, so I thought, ‘What would a Tarantino heavy metal opening sound like?’ So I played that on guitar. I thought Roy would redo it, but he decided to keep mine. And then I put the bongos on it later, because if you’ve got a Tarantino thing, you’ve got to have bongos on it as well.” “Fingers in the Wounds” “The fingers in the wounds are the stigmata of Christ. I think it was St. Francis who had the stigmata appear, which proved that he was holy. The song is about the wonderful world of influencers, but with a twist: What if Jesus came back as an influencer? Like, ‘Put your fingers in your iPhones, put your fingers in my wounds, I’ll sell you a piece of my cloth. I can sell pearls to oysters, feed them to swine.’ It’s the way that everything on the internet now is just degraded by trolls and idiots and fake news and all that stuff. And all these influencers are just worthless, fake people. What have they done in their lives to justify all these people following them around like little dogs? I hate all that. That’s why I’m not part of it.” “Eternity Has Failed” “Originally, it was entitled ‘If Eternity Should Fail.’ The title comes from a Doctor Strange episode. It was going to be the title track to the record, but then Maiden co-opted it onto their record. By the time I returned to it, I'd already got this idea for the comic series pretty well developed, so I thought I'd just tweak a couple of the words to make it reflect the story more. So we did that, and then stuck a few more bits on, like the flutes and percussion at the beginning that give it that spaghetti western type of feel. The last bit of spoken word is the last slide of episode one of the comic.” “Mistress of Mercy” “Who is the mistress of mercy? It’s music. I wrote this on acoustic guitar, but the middle bit, the funny little Jeff Beck-type guitar riff, I wrote on a keyboard. And then Roy played it on guitar. I wanted a mashup of something that was really thrashing, like some garage band going apeshit, along with the acoustic feel. The idea is that the music is the dominatrix. She holds you, pins you down, but you can’t help but adore her and love her. The ecstasy, the harmony, the melody drives you absolutely crazy. That’s what the song is about.” “Face in the Mirror” “This is a melancholy tune. It's about alcoholism, but also it's about the way people judge other people and judge themselves. It's sung from the point of view of somebody who is a drunk, but he's turning around and saying, ‘You're laughing at me because I'm lying on the ground, but when I hold my glass up, I can see right through you. I can see all your bullshit. I can see all your lies. You’re going to judge me because I’m an alcoholic, but take a look in my mirror, because you might see yourself as well.’” “Shadow of the Gods” “This one goes back to just after Tyranny of Souls. This and the title track from that album were written as a pair for a project that never happened called The Three Tremors, which was supposed to be three metal singers, like The Three Tenors in classical music. It was going to be me, Rob Halford, and Ronnie James Dio. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen because Ronnie passed away. So I recorded ‘A Tyranny of Souls’ for myself and then kept this one. When I revisited it, I put a couple references to the comic in it. There’s a part two-thirds of the way through that sounds very reminiscent of Judas Priest because that’s who was supposed to sing it.” “Sonata (Immortal Beloved)” “This is the oldest song on the record. It’s almost 25 years old. There’s a sample of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ running underneath the drum machine, so Roy and I were just calling it ‘Sonata’ for a while. Roy later told me it was inspired by the film Immortal Beloved. He went to the movies, came home, and pulled an all-nighter, layering keyboards and guitars just for the hell of it. When he sent it to me, I didn’t have any ideas, but I just gave it a try and what came out was about 80% of the vocal, including the spoken word. I just did it freestyle, with no notes or anything. I don’t think that’s happened to me ever again in that way, with that level of detail.”

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