Fear of What Could be There

Nighttime is usually for getting into pajamas, drinking some type of warm beverage and getting into your bed under the warm covers slipping in to a peaceful sleep and nice dream. But one aspect that comes along hand-in-hand with nighttime is darkness. Have you ever taken just a few minutes too long and your mind begins to wander? Turned off the lights too quick and all you experience is total darkness? You know the area you are in, but with the newly applied darkness brings a sense of scared curiosity that makes you wonder, “Is that just my pile of dirty clothes in the corner? I could have sworn I saw it move…” This experience is the result of differing levels of Nyctophobia, or a fear of the dark. “A lack of any kind of visual stimuli increases anxiety, uncertainty, and tension in people.” (Levos 103) In some cases, this fear can have a strong impact, mostly on children, but usually is just an irrational fear created by the fact that there is an uncertainty that lies in the darkness. That uncertainty is easily explained with a quick flash of the lights, but it is not always a permanent cure. The British Metal band, Iron Maiden, made the song Fear of the Dark with a purpose to trying to justify what we may believe is truly in that darkness through their lyrics and the Sound they create throughout the musical piece.

One of the inspirations for writing the song originally was due to Steve Harris, one of the band’s main songwriters and bassist, and the belief that he experienced a fear of the dark as a child and was able transpose it from a childhood fear to a relatable adult situation. The song sets an eerie mood with its slow-paced introduction of, “… a man who walks alone… on a dark road” (Fear Details), and suddenly he feels as if someone or something is watching him from a distance. Instantly with this few first set of lines, Iron Maiden establishes an experience that most people have gone through that is also easily relatable if someone has never tried to walk in the darkness by themselves. Then suddenly as the chorus of the song is introduced the pace of the song quickens as well. Which seems to enhance a feeling of panic induced by the man’s want to distance himself from his fear that is following him. He believes that “… Someone’s always there.” right behind him.

After the repetitive chorus, Iron Maiden shifts from the man’s experience and question’s the listener’s experiences. “Have you run your fingers down the wall, And have you felt your neck skin crawl[,]When you’re searching for the light? Sometimes when you’re scared to take a look[,]At the corner of the room You’ve sensed that somethings watching you…” (Fear Details) One of the most common places that nyctophobia is experienced is in a person’s home or room. Going down the same hallway you have gone down many times before and even though you have a hall light on, the contrast formed from the light casting an even greater amount of blackness into your room creating in turn an even greater sense of mystery towards what could be lying in wait for you. Another place that can commonly invoke someone’s fear of the dark is outside during the night either during a peaceful stroll down your street or even a quick trip to the outside trash. This is another place touched on in the 1994 Grammy nominated hit. “Have you ever been alone at night, Thought you heard footsteps behind, And turned around and no one’s there?” (Fear Details). That feeling is a common one that most people have experienced, myself included. That one noise that always seems to suspiciously catch your attention. You swear that something created that noise and is keeping its gaze on you but it’s never there once you try to confirm its existence.

Taking a break from the Lyrical content of the song, the title song of Iron Maiden’s 9th Studio album has an immediate stirring of fearful emotions through the album’s cover art. Depicted on a full moon night, are a series of leafless trees with thin branches extending in many directions. As you observe the image and move from the scraggly branches to the trunk of the tree, a figure of some type of creature is seen as a part of the tree with its fingers extending into branches.  There it sits lying in wait ready to snatch any inattentive passerby.

As the song progresses to its fourth non-chorus section, it sheds light on some possible causes that could spark a sense of fear in the darkness of night. “Watching horror films the night before [,] …” Or even, “The unknown troubles on your mind…” (Fear Details). Horror films are a justifiable reason for many children and even some adults. Even if monsters like Freddie Krueger, or Jason Voorhees are the made-up creations from popular horror movies, what is out there to truly say that they don’t exist, and are not lying in the shadows of your room or your dreams lying in wait? They do decent job of bringing up a strong subject that can keep many people up in the middle of the night, which are the fears someone might have about their life or the decisions they have to make. The “dancing shadows” are a perfect canvas for those troubles, maybe you have a large presentation the next day, or have to make a decision that not only will affect yourself but others around you. The darkness is perfect place for “your mind…playing tricks” (Fear Details).

The song draws to a close where it began, back to the man “walking a dark road… alone” (Fear Details). The way the song ends creates another feeling of mystery. Was that whole experience one big conversation in his head to try and rationalize the feeling he is going through? Or has he, like the music, slowed his wandering mind to in order to somewhat conquer his fear and now he no longer needs the accompany of people or light to travel? Steve Harris creates a great opportunity here to allow the listener to further engage in the song by allowing them to create their own interpretations of the ending. The conclusion that is the most prominent one that I came to when I listened to the song was that the man is cursed to carry the burden of his fear around with him everywhere he goes.

Iron Maiden’s Fear of the Dark solidifies a person’s fear of the dark through not only basing it off of one of their own band members childhood experience, but also through the creation of feeling of mystery and panic through their lyrical content all the while leaving listeners with a depiction of what could possibly be lying in wait for them in the darkness of night right on the cover of their album. To those who have read this if you are not a Maiden fan, or have never heard any of their music, let this analysis be the doorway that leads you to other examples of how good the British Heavy Metal band is at immersing their listeners with their lyrics and sound throughout all their albums.

Works Cited

Aragon, Adrian. “Iron Maiden – Fear of The Dark (HQ).” YouTube, YouTube, 26 July 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=p32b5nNq1zw.

“Fear of the Dark – Commentary.” Fear of the Dark – Commentary, www.ironmaidencommentary.com/?url=album09_fotd/commentary09_fotd&lang=eng&link=albums#track12.

“Fear of The Dark Song Details.” US, http://www.umusicpub.com/us/Digital-Music-Library/song/73903/iron-maiden-fear-of-the-dark.

Levos, Joshua, and Tammy Lowery Zacchilli. “Nyctophobia: From Imagined to Realistic Fears of the Dark.” Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research, vol. 20, no. 2, Summer 2015, pp. 102–110. EBSCOhost, doi:10.24839/2164-8204.JN20.2.102.

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