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Music

Hear the isolated vocals on the Iron Maiden song 'Run to the Hills'

@TylerGolsen

Heavy metal and classical music always had a strange sort of cohesion. From the very earliest days of the form, metal music was borrowing elements from the likes of opera, orchestral music, and chamber music in order to heighten the drama of the genre. Tony Iommi’s doom-laden riff for Black Sabbath’s ‘Black Sabbath’ was pulled from Geezer Butler’s attempts to learn Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars’ from The Planets. Only a few years later, virtuosos like Yngwie Malmsteen and Uli Jon Roth helped solidify the bond between the two forms.

Operatic vocals also began to invade the genre. Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan was the logical bridge between the bluesy squeals of Robert Plant and the more precise high notes of Jesus Christ Superstar. Rainbow’s Ronnie James Dio and Judas Priest’s Rob Halford helped refine and perfect the classical-infused vocal style of heavy metal, but it was when Bruce Dickinson joined Iron Maiden that heavy metal truly went all-in on piercing operatic vocals.

Prior to Dickinson’s arrival, Iron Maiden was caught between the aggression of punk and the precision of heavy metal. The new wave of British heavy metal had bands like Motorhead who could freely mingle with the punk scene, but Maiden leader Steve Harris despised the genre. The man who kept Maiden from going full metal was vocalist Paul Di’Anno, who had a singing style that was raw and immediate. Maiden’s first albums are noticeably rougher around the edges than their exacting later work, and when Di’Anno was fired in 1981, Dickinson stepped in to redefine the band’s sound.

If ever there was a go-to example of Dickinson’s operatic command, it would be Iron Maiden’s signature song, ‘Run to the Hills’. Featuring both rugged growls and piercing shrieks, ‘Run to the Hills’ lets Dickinson show off his full range. Even though the signature chorus vocal line was influenced by Frank Sinatra, the rising sixth interval is also featured in a number of classical compositions.

One moment that stands above the rest is right before the song’s final chorus. The rest of the band goes into a frantic breakdown section, highlighted by Harris’ galloping bassline and Clive Burr’s breakneck hi-hat work. Meanwhile, Dickinson starts at the bottom of his vocal register and begins to climb higher and higher, eventually breaking into a final scream that catapults the song into its final refrain. That kind of drama and vocal gymnastics would have been impossible if heavy metal would have only stuck to Ozzy Osbourne’s workmanlike vocal stylings. 

Check out the isolated vocals on ‘Run to the Hills’ down below.