Song: Woodkid’s “Iron”
Reason: Are you kidding me? Just listen to it!
The smart money says you have no idea who Woodkid is. To be fair, two weeks ago, neither did I. Woodkid, better known as Yoann Lemoine, is a French music video director turned independent recording artist, whose debut single, “Iron”, may be the best damn song I’ve heard all year. And I heard it in a trailer for a video game, which, to be entirely honest, is not typically a format anyone considers when looking for new and interesting music. Which is probably why I was so blown away when I first heard “Iron”.
As I first heard it, “Iron” was accompanying a trailer for Ubi Soft’s Assassin’s Creed Revelations, and I can’t imagine a more perfect fit. The song (as well as the trailer) is inherently about going to war, and its description of a lone soldier facing almost insurmountable odds is exactly the kind of heroic imagery that should resonate with everyone. It speaks to the classical belief in the heroism of warfare, and attempts to return the listener to a more romantic time, to before we realized that going off to war really meant dying in the mud in a country you don’t know for reasons you don’t fully understand. And as Lemoine sing-speaks lines like “I want to feel the pain and the bitter taste/Of the blood on my lips, again” he brings to the surface the overwhelming sensation and validation that only pain can provide. Like The Narrator in Fight Club, Lemoine’s character wants to feel pain, if only to feel something.
Because that’s the danger of becoming a warrior – once you’ve felt that overwhelming rush of being on the battlefield, of surviving life-threatening encounter after life-threatening encounter, nothing quite feels the same. It’s the same notion explored in Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar winning film, The Hurt Locker (and to a less successful extent, I suppose, in Tony Scott’s Top Gun) – war is a drug, and like any good drug, it’s incredibly addictive. It’s an addiction that blocks out anything and everything else. The soldier in “Iron” is almost incapable of thinking of anything besides the next battle to the point that when he mentions being unable to remember a presumed loved one’s eyes or face, the most shocking thing about the revelation is that, once, he cared for someone. And as much as the song extolls the virtues of glorious battle, it tempers its message with a warning for the easily addicted: To be a warrior is to suffer loss both on and off the battlefield.
But “Iron” wouldn’t be as effective as it is without the masterfully composed score backing up the lyrics. Lemoine’s style seems to lean towards sing-speaking, and as a result, much of the lyrical work in the song comes off as understated, lending it an air of seriousness it might otherwise be unable to maintain. This is of course balanced by the almost raucous instrumental interludes, featuring booming drums and deafening horns. They provide an excellent contrast to the quieter lyrical sections, until eventually the two come together in a triumphant crescendo towards the end of the song, with Lemoine falling silent after his persona hesitantly admits to being unable to recall a loved one’s appearance. This leaves the instrumentals to boisterously play us out, before eventually fading entirely, leaving only the maddeningly catchy drumbeat to finish the song.
More than because of the way it sounds, or its cohesion with the Assassin’s Creed trailer, however, this is my jam because of the incredible heroic and tragic imagery contained within the song. Even though he’s “Frozen to the bones/A million miles from home” there’s nothing the soldier in “Iron” would like more than to continue fighting. Since he became a soldier, a literal man of iron, fighting is all he’s ever known. And it’s all he’ll ever want.