The lead single off of the lauded Powerslave, "2 Minutes to Midnight" is a track that defies its parent album's beloved Egyptian imagery and instead turns it focus to the ever-delightful topic of potential nuclear armageddon.
With its artwork displaying Eddie on horseback pointing to the viewer while in front of a mushroom cloud, this was never exactly a secret. What is slightly more cryptic, however, is the song's anthemic refrain: "Two minutes to midnight / The hands that threaten doom". While some believe the "hands" in this instance are literally those of world leaders, hovering precariously over the nuclear button, the truth is far more interesting.
Instead, this chorus draws from the concept of the Doomsday Clock, which was first invented in 1947 to serve as an analogy for the looming threat of nuclear war. The perceived likelihood of such an event is measured by the Clock in how many "minutes to midnight" there are on it. For example, the Clock was at its furthest from nuclear war in 1991 after the end of the Cold War and the downfall of the USSR, displaying 17 minutes to midnight.
The closest it ever got to midnight was in 1953. After Operation Ivy and the USA and Soviet Union both extensively testing nukes on their own soil, that was the year that saw the Clock advance to, you guessed it... two minutes to midnight. Thus, this is where the title of the song emanates from, with the "hands that threaten doom" literally being the Clock's, as opposed to an actual person's.
For a little bonus titbit, do you want to know how many minutes to midnight there are on the clock as of June 2017?
Yes. Right now, the world is the second closest it has ever gotten to nuclear war in all of history, apparently.
Have fun with that.