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Backward Messages

Backward Messages

In general, a backward message is some message in a song which is heard backward when the song is played normally. It is necessary to reverse the song in order to understand the message. This was usually done by spinning the turntable backwards, although it is possible to reverse a cassette by playing the back side of the tape. Nowdays, the easiest way to reverse a song is to sample it digitally into a computer and use sound-editing software to reverse it.

Some psychologists believe that it is possible for the human subconscious to decode and understand backward messages, and that such messages are particularly suggestive. This led to a wave of backward-masking hysteria in the 70's and 80's, which included several high-profile and ultimately unsuccessful lawsuits against various heavy metal bands. Check out the following links for more information on backward-masking.

Internet Infidels: Web scan – Feb. 1998
Audio Reversal In Popular Culture

Backward messages in music fall into two general categories, explicit/engineered and implicit/phonetic, which can be defined as follows:

Explicit or engineered backward messages are intended to be there, and are unintelligible when played in the normal direction. Often they consist of a separate track which is recorded normally and then reversed before being mixed into the song. Occasionally a vocalist will memorize the sound of a phrase backwards so that it can be sung or shouted live. But in all cases, the message is intentionally added by the artists, and can usually be heard in the normal direction as something backward-sounding.

Implicit or phonetic backward messages occur through random chance when regular forward lyrics are reversed. In my opinion, the vast majority of these are a result of wishful thinking on the part of the listener. Most of the time one cannot hear the message until they already know what it is supposed to say, although when they do hear it, it becomes uncanilly clear. But in any case, this type of message is never intended by the artists – it would take a huge amount of time and energy to identify suitable phrases that worked in both directions, and I cannot believe that the musicians actually do this.

There are actually very few backward messages to be found in Iron Maiden's music. The explicit message in 'Still Life' is known by every fan, but there may be a few others that are less well-known. These are the only backward messages that I am aware of in Maiden's music.


'Still Life' #1 (explicit)

    This song appears on the Piece Of Mind album. Perhaps the most common question by Maiden fans is the meaning of the backwards message just before 'Still Life' begins. Even if you reverse it, it still remains mostly unintelligible, as you can see from these Real Audio samples:

    backward (as it appears on the album)

    The message is actually Nicko McBrain speaking in a thick accent (actually doing his impression of Idi Amin Dada) and saying:

    Hmm, Hmmm
    What ho sed de t'ing wid de t'ree bonce
    Don't meddle wid t'ings you don't understand.

    This essentially means: "What ho said the monster with the three heads, don't meddle with things you don't understand." The message is mainly intended for the religious bigots who had condemned the band as devil worshippers. See the Iron Maiden FAQ for more details on the possible origins of this message.


'Still Life' #2 (implicit)

    Thanks to Gary Bates, who discovered this implicit backward message. It can can be found on the Piece Of Mind album.

    forward (as it appears on the album)

    First, listen to the message. Do you hear anything intelligible? Probably you don't – usually one needs to know what an implicit message is before they can hear it. Now click on the button below to find out what the message is supposed to be.

    Now that you know what it supposedly says, you should be able to hear it very clearly! When I first posted this backward message, I didn't tell what it was supposed to say, and asked people to respond and tell me what they heard. NOT ONE person was able to hear the supposedly correct message! I think this proves my point that this type of implicit message almost always is a complete accident.

    People hear exactly what they expect to hear, even when the message is not really there at all. So the next time you hear some religious bigot blabbering about implicit backward masking, don't waste your time.


'Drifter' (live) (explicit)

    This is a live version of 'Drifter' that appears on the B-side of the Sanctuary single, and also appears on the Castle Records bonus disc for the Iron Maiden CD. At the very end of this version of 'Drifter', something strange is shouted to the crowd. When I first heard it, it sounded very much like a backward message that had been pre-recorded and played to the crowd at that instant. So I reversed the message:

    backward (as it appears on the CD)

    To my ears, the message sounds like this:

    I want you to sell your soul to Satan!

    Later Rolo of RIGID emailed me and suggested that this wasn't a backward message at all, but instead Steve on another microphone saying something like:

    (th)'anks a lot! See ya guys, see ya 'morra. Cheers!

    I listened to it again very carefully, but though it might have have been true I wasn't able to tell for sure. However, several months later I stumbled upon a rare live recording of a Killers concert which also had this strange bit at the end of Drifter. However, on the new recording it was much clearer, and it was obvious that Rolo of RIGID was correct. (Good ears, ROLO!) It's definitely not an intentional backward message. The fact that the Satan bit seems quite clear when played backward is a testament to the wishful thinking of people who search for such messages.

    Note: "Satanic" has been a common image in metal music, just like "gangsta" is virtually a given with the hip-hop MTV lemmings. It doesn't mean anything to me, since I'm an atheist and lack belief in both God and Satan. So if this had turned out to be a genuine backward message, it wouldn't have bothered me although I'd have been a bit disappointed that Maiden felt they needed to pander to this lame stereotype. But they didn't and I'm happy.


Back In The Village

    Thanks to Evil Noddy for pointing this one out. It isn't backward, but it's still pretty cool so I decided to add it anyway. This one is from the Powerslave album. When Bruce sings "...sixes all the way..." there is a background whisper saying "six six six".

song clip

    I've listened to this song hundreds of times, and I feel a bit lame for never noticing this before.


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