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Teaching moment

Music | Heavy metal Iron Maiden serves up a lighter compilation

Issue: "Ethiopia's new flower," May 31, 2008

In a 2007 National Public Radio interview, Alice Cooper explained that his notorious stage show, the climax of which included his decapitation by guillotine, was simply contemporary vaudeville, something, he said, that his fans George Burns and Groucho Marx always "got."

Christians persuaded by Cooper's argument may also want to reevaluate the English heavy-metal titans Iron Maiden.

The group, which took its name from an 18th-century torture device and whose album covers featured "Eddie" (a kind of Grim Reaper on steroids), made an easy target for anti-rock evangelists. Somewhere Back in Time: The Best of 1980-1989 (Universal), a new 15-track compilation, suggests Iron Maiden may have been targeted too easily: Amid its shrieking, high-decibel assault, the band may have actually focused the attention of its millions of teenaged-male fans on the very Western culture that their schools were either attacking or ignoring.

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"Churchill's Speech," a 49-second excerpt of one of Churchill's famous World War II exhortations, leads into "Aces High," an Allies-vs.-Axis air battle described from the point of view of a British Royal Air Force pilot. "Phantom of the Opera" is based on the classic novel of the same name. "The Evil That Men Do" takes its title from Antony's funeral oration in Julius Caesar. "The Number of the Beast" comes straight out of Revelation. And "2 Minutes to Midnight" (about the Doomsday Clock's direst reading during the Cold War) numbers "kill[ing] the unborn in the womb" among mankind's depravities.

In short, Somewhere Back in Time contains a curriculum's worth of "teaching moments." About what other platinum-selling hard-rock catalog-Alice Cooper's included-can one say that?

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