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Iron Maiden: The Legend of the Black Cat

Eddie has been the face of Iron Maiden since day one. From seedy underworlds of urban decay to Egyptian pyramids and hostile ice planets, creator Derek Riggs has famously buried jokes and messages in the landscapes that Eddie called home. One particularly murky legend is that a black cat is hidden in each Iron Maiden album.

The black cat legend is rarely discussed. I wondered if the concept was some half-invented figment of my imagination. A Google search yielded no conclusive evidence. If not for fruitless inquires posed by random Iron Maiden fans, I would have doubted its existence entirely.

Perhaps the real world held the answer. I put the question to a close friend that happened to be a Maiden fanatic. I casually asked, “Have you heard something about Derek Riggs and black cats?” His response was immediate. “Oh yea, apparently there is a black cat on every Iron Maiden album.” When pressed for details, only a shrug of the shoulders was given as a reply.

So, the legend of the black cat IS a thing…at least a myth. People seem to have HEARD of the phenomenon, but no one can elaborate. It was up to me to uncover this great heavy metal mystery. Armed with vintage pressings of the Iron Maiden catalogue, I took to my record collection in search of the mysterious black cat!

Sitting down with a legitimate pressing of the first Maiden album, I came face to face with Eddie. Looking into his eyes, it was hypnotic. I’m not imagining this. You get lost in those eyes. Riggs puts substantial effort into the smallest of details.

As I glanced beyond Eddie, the famous Derek Riggs logo was spotted in a brick. This curious symbol functions as a signature and graces each painting. It’s the sort of eclectic touch of someone that would find humor in hiding black cats in album covers.

Obviously the cat would not be out in the open. My eyes glanced to the outer regions. Not much was there to explore in this early portrait of Eddie. A lamppost. Building. No cat in the door OR the window. All that’s left is a trash can.

But wait! The trash can is labeled “Litter.” As in litter box? Like the sort used by a CAT!?

Now, I’m not sure WHAT they call a wastebasket in England. Perhaps trash is commonly known as “litter.” From my inquisitive American perspective, it appears I had found a clue!

Still, there was no black cat. There ARE, however, deep black lines that form a mysterious shape inside this “litter” box. My mind tried to rationalize the shape of a contorted cat. I can visualize one line to be a leg. Could there be a cat curled up, sleeping, or maybe even dead?

In the end, I feel I’m seeing what I want to see. Still unsure of exactly WHAT is inside the trashcan, I’m content with the “litter” clue. It’s enough encouragement to continue my exploration.

My instinct told me the REAL saga would begin with Killers. Unlike the first rendering of Eddie, Killers was created especially for Maiden. With great expectation, I drop the needle on Side One and begin a new search as “The Ides of March” fills the room.

Brandishing a bloody ax with a long mane of hair, this was an Eddie worthy of a METAL band! The background images are more complex. If there was any truth to the legend, a black cat is lurking in this vast urban landscape!

One of Derek’s hidden messages is immediately observed. A sign for “Ruskin Arms” is partially obscured behind Eddie. Nods to the famed pub that gave Maiden their start would return on the Somewhere in Time sleeve. It’s clear that Riggs is fond of recurring themes. I’m certain that a black cat is near!

The neighborhood is the type where one may be murdered with an axe. Windows offer a voyeuristic view into seedy apartments. I’m pretty sure I see a woman undressing. Perhaps she’s affiliated with the “Kinky Sex Shop” below.

Other windows offer nothing beyond a few bright colors. One window sits apart from the others. My eyes go to the bottom left corner and I finally see it. A black cat!

I’m surprised the cat was discovered so quickly. With the entire right portion of the sleeve unexplored, I opt for an exhaustive examination of Killers.

A larger building sits to the right of Eddie. It’s all very dark. One can barely make out the weather vane that extends into the cloudy night. Atop sits a lone black bird. He is separate from the flock that lines the rooftop next door. I ponder the significance of a bird theme and wonder if these winged black creatures somehow denote a link to the cat.

As I look down I see it. ANOTHER black cat! A straight line south, the bird has led me directly to the black cat! I’ve barely explored the largest building and I’ve already discovered TWO black cats! There IS truth to the legend.

As before, windows offer a glimpse inside. One dark figure peers out. Sinister and ominous, his gaze is fixed upon the murder scene. As dying hands cling to Eddie, fresh blood drips from an ax. The figure has a morbid curiosity with the grisly display. Is he connected or merely a macabre witness?

Below the sinister man, Derek’s logo appears. As with the bird and cat above, it’s a straight line between the evil man and the logo. To the right sits a third cat. Sitting side by side, it strikes me as a subtle message from Derek himself. It seems to say, “Yes, I have orchestrated this whole mad plan.”

With the black cat saga aligning beyond expectation, it struck me that I should also explore artwork associated with the singles. A glance at Purgatory offers little room for a black cat to hide but I stop dead at Twilight Zone.

Comedy contrasts with horror. A woman holds the death card as a ghostly Eddie stands poised to attack. We also see a different side of the undead mascot. A framed photograph of Eddie is signed “With love” and underscored by kisses. Behind the picture frame, a cartoon bearing the likeness of Mickey Mouse waves hello. Finally, in the mirror is a reflection of the bed. In plain view a napping cat advances the great black cat legend!

Black cats have even infiltrated the art of singles. With great anticipation, I turn to The Number of the Beast. Once again I drop the needle. As the sound of “Invaders” fills the room, my eyes fall upon the iconic image of Eddie towering over the devil himself.

Beneath Eddie, a tiny world of damnation comes to life. Forsaken souls writhe amongst flames and winged demons. Surely if a cat were to be hidden, it would be scattered in the masses below.

One can spend hours studying the assortment of strange shapes. Some figures are tortured. Others appear in revelry. Yet, no black cat in sight. It’s a vision of hell…and…well, hell is just no place for a cat.

Disappointed, I turn to the back cover. More scenes of damnation play out. Just out of scorching distance from the main fire pit, Iron Maiden casually poses for the camera. Dave is off to the side. Between him and the band, a tiny devil waves his pitchfork. A curious goblin picks up a poor soul for some precarious purpose. That’s when I see it! Right next to Dave Murray was the BLACK CAT!

One must look closely. The distinct characteristics of a cat are present. One clearly sees a head with two ears but the dead giveaway is a very distinct tail.

Still…this is not the black cat of Killers. By no means does The Number of the Beast offer a clear feline hiding in plain site. This cat is obscured and riddled with anomalies. A bump between the head and tail indicates an arched back. After all, this cat is in defensive mode. He is trapped by open flame with a monstrous goblin behind him. Perhaps this may explain the strange shape of his front legs. Poised and prepared for attack, this hell-bound cat does not have the luxury of being at ease.

If Twilight Zone had featured a black cat, it was entirely possible that a single from The Number of the Beast cycle may also harbor a wayward cat. Run to the Hills seemed worthy of close examination.

Capturing the precarious moments before Eddie’s beheading of the devil, Run to the Hills is the natural counterpart to The Number of the Beast. Like the iconic LP art, a detailed vision of hell thrives beneath Eddie. This time the creatures come alive in brilliant detail.

Immediately the Derek Riggs logo catches my eye. It dangles above an interesting set of creatures. Careful attention to detail has gone into this mad assortment of monsters.

My eyes pass to the next gathering of damned souls. Strange aliens, terrifying skulls and grinning goblins gather amongst the flames. As with the LP, I concede that hell-fire is no place for a cat.

Finally my eyes arrive at this goofy bastard. Sitting just beyond the open flames, this hell-bound alien watches the mad scene play out.

Chaos is all around. Somehow this grinning monster seems harmless. My eye closes in for detail. That’s when I see it. A BLACK CAT.

Like its LP counterpart, one must look closely. Once you see it, the head, body and tail are clear. Black cats are becoming difficult to identify, but so far there is truth to the legend. Black cats lurk within the worlds of Iron Maiden!

Turning to Piece of Mind presents an immediate barrier. I see no conceivable place for a black cat to hide, though there ARE lots of shadows. If there IS a cat, it will be concealed in the darkness.

Eddie dominates the painting and an animal inside a padded cell would make no sense. There is nothing in the shadows but pitch-black darkness. Disappointed, I accept the end of my quest and simply enjoy a classic album cover.

Eddie is bald after a lobotomy. Now missing a literal “piece of mind,” the incision has been bolted together. It’s a significant moment in Maiden lore. This metal screw would accompany every future incarnation of Eddie. Here, the wound is still fresh as blood drips down his withered face.

Even after a lobotomy, Eddie is not docile. Snarling and eager for a rampage, he is bound by chains and a straightjacket.

Around Eddie’s neck, a thick slab of metal holds the system of chains together. If someone were brave enough to get close, these chains could be undone by the simple turn of a key. A padlock holds the whole contraption together.

Looking closely, there is a marking on the padlock. Some figure lurks inside a circle. I wince and glare but cannot make out a distinct image. All that is sensible to the naked eye are three shapes that are almost circles.

Before jumping to conclusions, an attempt to expunge all possibilities was put forth. I was prepared to dismiss the symbol as Derek’s logo. It struck me as odd that he would purposely distort his signature. After flipping to the back cover, the actual logo appeared in style.

Once more my attention turns to the mysterious image engraved on the padlock. I can envision a head, body, and tail. Could this be ANOTHER cat hidden in an Iron Maiden album cover?

My mind goes wild with invented conspiracy theories. What IF a cat is engraved on the padlock? Is there somehow a connection between cats and the lobotomy of Eddie? After all, WHO or WHAT has captured Eddie and chained him in the padded cell? The image on the padlock is our only clue into the mystery of Eddie’s capture and subjugation.

Crazy theories aside, the picture in the padlock DOES resemble the shape of a cat. Until the image in the circle is identified otherwise, I remain convinced that a new twist on the legend has unfolded. It reminds me of the first record and the “litter” can. It’s possible that I’m imagining a cat, but at the same time, what else could it be? The clue is just enough to encourage my quest further. It’s on to Powerslave!

Powerslave is a curse for anyone seeking hidden messages. The tomb of this mummified Eddie is a haven of finely detailed, intricate drawings. A cat could be hiding anywhere in the vast sea of hieroglyphics.

Unlike previous Maiden sleeves, the colors are BRIGHT. It’s obvious there will be no BLACK cat. Piece of Mind had forced me to think outside of the box and it’s clear that Powerslave will ask the same.

Again, something feels wrong. Not only are dark colors absent….Eddie is flanked by two Egyptian DOGS!

They aren’t the only ones. Each time I look for a cat I find a dog instead. The cover seems to take on a distinctly CANINE theme. Could this be by design? Is Riggs mocking seekers of the black cat?

At the heart of the painting is a Sphinx. By definition, a Sphinx has the head of a man and the body of a lion. Technically, a lion is a cat. Could a Sphinx be the cat of Powerslave?

It’s too early for concrete decisions. Literally hundreds of tiny engravings decorate the pyramid. I search them for a cat until I’m cross-eyed. Luckily there are jokes that break up the monotony. The reference to Guinness is particularly entertaining.

“Indiana Jones Was Here” also brings a laugh. Of notable importance is the portrait of Mickey Mouse. I immediately recall the artwork from Twilight Zone. A similar mouse had stood waving beside a mirror that clearly reflected a napping feline. Feeling optimistic, I search onward.

To my frustration, not a single cat is found in the tiny engravings. I do notice birds that continually appear in the columns. Birds had littered the landscape of Killers and seemed linked to that album’s black cats. Could this be a clue from Derek?

A group of magnificent white birds take flight next to the Sphinx. Still dwelling on the cat/bird connection from Killers, I interpret the WHITE birds as a deliberate clue rich with meaning. Perhaps I’m not looking for a BLACK cat after all. I may not even be looking for a NORMAL cat.

Assorted drawings keep the rear sleeve sleeve interesting. I locate the Derek Riggs logo beneath a trio of strange creatures. It’s as if the artist is asking us to pay particular attention to this gathering.

The two on the end are half human and half bird. They have the legs of a man, yet the beak of a bird. The middle figure is even more odd. Human legs again but with a distinctly feline appearance. Could this be some strange Egyptian cat?

There is no black cat on the Powerslave sleeve, though there ARE two strange figures that oddly qualify as catlike. My interest in the legend starts to wane. Unless there was clear and distinct evidence of a BLACK cat on the next album, I vowed to abandon my quest.

Live After Death is essentially a counterpart to Powerslave. A live document to the “World Slavery Tour,” the two album covers could not be more different. Powerslave had been too bright to harbor a black cat. With a blue so dark it’s almost black, Live After Death presents the ideal landscape to harbor a lurking feline.

A cemetery in the dark of a stormy night is the scene of Eddie’s unholy rising from the dead. Many of the gravestones have messages inscribed in stone. A black snake wraps itself around a cross. Surely a black cat is near!

Eddie’s headstone stands out. An H.P. Lovecraft quote fittingly declares, “That is not dead which can eternal lie/Yet with strange aeons even death may die,” as Eddie bursts through his earthly grave.

The name Edward T. Head is engraved into the tombstone of our beloved mascot. It’s a direct link to Eddie’s earliest days when he was known as Ed the Head.

No longer a mummified relic of ancient Egypt, Eddie lives again. Lightning strikes the metal screw that remains from his Piece of Mind lobotomy. These links to the past convince me that “Live After Death” will reprise a classic BLACK cat!

Another headstone reads, “Here lies “Derek Riggs RIP.” A single red rose has been placed in front of the artist’s grave. Glancing at Riggs’s gravestone one immediately sees it. There stands the black cat!

No intricate search is required. The cat is clear and distinct, yet STILL mired in complexity. A halo around its head offers new confusion. Surely the halo must symbolize SOMETHING. What does it all mean?

Does the black cat symbolize Riggs? Perhaps it’s a guardian. There MUST be a connection between Riggs’s headstone and the halo. It’s easy to hatch ideas. Such guesswork has become an integral component of the black cat legend.

My interest in the quest was renewed! A definitive black cat, clear and deliberate, had reappeared. Additionally, Somewhere in Time was next on the list! The sleeve is notorious for being riddled with inside jokes and hidden messages. Surely a black cat would lurk in the vast futurist world!

Given the reputation of Somewhere in Time as being among Derek’s most complex paintings, I was prepared for a detailed, exhaustive search. To my surprise, the black cat is right out in the open, just behind Eddie himself! Simply look down and a cat captures the eye!

This time a streak of white adds a new twist. The halo appears again. Is the halo somehow linked to the sudden streak of white? What of the connection with the headstone from Live After Death? Curious minds go into overdrive at the myriad of possibilities. In the end, all one can conclude is that the black cat legend is very REAL.

Only one record remained in the classic eighties discography. Thinking ahead to the ice world of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, I KNOW there is no place for a cat to hide in the wide open world of blue. My gut warns me that the legend of the black cat has run its course.

In the past, finding Derek’s logo was a game in itself. No attempt to obscure the symbol had been made for Seventh Son. Here, the logo sits out in the open, floating in a sea of bright blue. It’s as if Riggs is saying, “There is nothing hidden here.” Regardless, I search anyway.

Flipping to the back cover, Eddie-esque ice sculptures ominously rise from the frozen ground. They are permanently locked in a rage that lends a sense of dread. Above it all, the ghost of The Number of the Beast Eddie haunts the ice-world. His content grin is eternally frozen in time.

There’s even life in the frozen wasteland. Fish dart about in the pond below that has somehow managed to thaw. One manages to find a food source. It’s unclear how this portion of water is not frozen. Perhaps there are strange mysteries afoot!

All that’s left to explore is the book. It’s old, tattered and looks to have survived a brush with fire. Upon close examination, strange shapes appear in the charred sides. The longer one stares, the shape conforms to the lines of a cat!

If one focuses on the white space, it’s easy to visualize an arched back. A small head protrudes north with a tail dropping from the rear. Yes, it’s contorted. It doesn’t quite fit the proportions of a cat and seems like a stretch.

Still, the markings on the book strike me as a very deliberate act on the part of the artist. Plunged into confusion once again, I continue to examine the charred sides of the book. Then I see it! The burnt stain takes on the shape of a black cat’s head!

Is it obvious? Not at all! The charred hint of blackness functions as a Rorschach test of sorts. A man who has been searching for black cats will surely see a cat’s head. It reminds me of the litter box from the debut and the padlock on Piece of Mind. It’s tough to determine exactly WHAT Riggs has created but he has created SOMETHING easily absorbed into the black cat legend.

Seventh Son is a fitting end to black cat exploration. Just when clarity returns, confusion reigns. No wonder that people have HEARD about hidden black cats but can’t elaborate! It’s a mystery that can’t be solved! Evolving with twists and turns, enough consistency remains to keep the narrative alive. Eternally perplexing, the legend of the black cat lives on!

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