Track of the Day: ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ by Iron Maiden

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Reader Max calls my attention to a classic I hadn’t yet read—or heard:

What of Iron Maiden’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”?

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 626-line tale of a cursed sailor’s sin and redemption is a lot to take in, I soon discovered, if you haven’t read it before. Luckily, bass player Steve Harris’s lyrics provide a pretty straightforward summary, and the music—shifting from shouted lyrics and frantic guitars as Death descends on the mariner’s ship, to a spooky, atmospheric section that recalls a glassy sea—helps to dramatize the mariner’s story. Heavy metal and Romantic poetry might seem like an unlikely combination, but the noise, the drama, and the driving beat of Iron Maiden’s interpretation feel right for Coleridge’s horror story—most of all because they capture the urgency of a curse that forces the mariner to tell his tale, as the song repeatedly puts it, “on and on and on.” Update from Max:

I would have written something about how the track led me to Coleridge, culminating in a hard slog of a course on 17th-century British literature; about how Iron Maiden always managed to throw a bit of history or literature on the albums back in the ’70s and ’80s, and how it led to greater discovery; or how my friends always thought that “Rime” was kind of the worst Iron Maiden song, but it was my favorite. But, it’s fiscal year closeout here at my office, and so really nuts.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)