Music Banter - View Single Post - Is the Number of the Beast Up: Iron Maiden 1986 - 2015
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Old 05-03-2021, 07:03 PM   #14 (permalink)
Trollheart
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1995 – The X-Factor

End of an era, for now, and Eddie is beginning to lose his power. For the second time he is captured, this time held on some sort of medical/torture table and about to be cut up into pieces. There couldn't be a more literal representation of what was occurring among the band at that time. Longtime guitarist gone, followed by vocalist and frontman, even Eddie looks a little pathetic and worried as he waits for the saws to cut into him. The music was similarly ravaged, with this ranking as my all-time least favourite album. I can barely pick a single track off it that I like, or can at least tolerate. The departure of Bruce did not go down well with fans, which was sad for Blaze Bayley, as he really tried, but it's hard to replace such a legend, and as a result the album sold poorly, achieving only silver status and just barely scraping into the top ten in the UK, while it didn't even make the top 100 in the USA.

1998 – Virtual XI

And now Eddie is gone altogether. Did they slice him up on the table? Who knows? He will be back, but for now we have a similar figure (though clearly not Eddie) leering out of the album cover and looking rather demonic, which confuses the issue as apparently Steve Harris wanted some sort of crossover between their computer game Ed Hunter and the FIFA World Cup. I don't see it, personally, and the album was pretty much a flop, poorly received by fans and critics alike, again garnering a mere silver status and this time not even getting into the top ten in the UK, but languishing well outside at number 16. Is this Eddie-but-not-Eddie creature reaching out to pluck the very heart from Iron Maiden, grinning evilly as it does so?

2000 – Brave New World

Salvation as everything returns to normal. Adrian is back, Bruce is back, Eddie is back, this time a somewhat ethereal, ghostly figure looming triumphantly out of the clouds with evil glee, lightning bolts flashing around him, and Derek Riggs too is back. Could there be a more perfect synthesis of redemption for a band? Unless of course it's all style and no substance. But of course, that was not the case and the album is a rip-roaring return to form, an affirmation that this band can still piss over any of their competitors, that Dickinson still has it and a reminder why Iron Maiden are still seen as the premier heavy metal band on the planet. In stark contrast to the last two albums, this one quickly went gold, gave the boys two top twenty singles and rocketed to the dizzy heights of, um, number 7 in the charts (UK) which, while a long way from the top slot taken by previous classic albums was still a huge improvement on the last two. It even did well in the States, making the top forty. Just. Still, for a band who had kicked around on the lower fringes of the top 200 for four years, this was progress.

2003 – Dance of Death

While arguably (well, in reality, no arguing about it!) the most successful Maiden album since Powerslave, racing to number 2 in the UK and 18 in the US, this was the second album cover not to feature Eddie in any way. Instead we have that jolly old character, Death, and a sort of Roald Dahl/Ingmar Bergman-inspired illustration. This is the first album to use the word or concept of death in its title, something which would follow the band through the next three. This album also gave the band two more top twenty singles in the UK, and was also certified gold.

2005 – A Matter of Life and Death

Another album to use the death motif, the cover shows a dour picture of war, with a tank surrounded by soldiers rumbling on, perhaps recalling to mind the description I made of the band earlier? No? Sod ya then. This was in fact even more successful commercially than the previous album, finally cracking the US market for them after years and giving them a placing in the top 10, while in the UK it reached even higher than Brave New World, taking the number 4 spot. It also went gold, and platinum in Finland, where all its three singles also went to number one. No Eddie again, and I find the cover here quite depressing and reminiscent of a dull, plodding march towards the inevitable end.


2010 – The Final Frontier

It might be stretching it a little in terms of metaphysics, but you could see death as the final frontier, the last barrier any of us will cross in our lives, so I would stick with my comment about the band using references to death in their album titles. This is also the second album to look to the future, with a very sci-fi cover which again has no room for Eddie, who is replaced by a screaming skull and a strange futuristic monster or robot. In terms of commercial success, it improved on the previous album, taking the boys all the way to number one in the UK charts and 4 in the US, and going gold everywhere except – you guessed it – Finland, where it went, uh huh, platinum.

2015 – The Book of Souls

And finally Eddie is back with us, though looking distinctly primitive and suitably pissed-off, staring out from what is essentially a black cover at the world that has forsaken him for over fifteen years. I'm not sure if there was a genuine attempt to degrade Eddie in this way, show him as a “savage” compared to the more sophisticated creatures who had graced Maiden album covers since he had been away, but he does not look happy! Empire of the fucking what? Piano intro? You're having me on, lads! Eighteen... nah, nah, must be going deaf. For a moment there, (nervous laugh) I thought you said (hah) eighteen minutes!

Matching the performance of its predecessor, The Book of Souls went straight to number one in the UK and again 4 in the US, and went gold everywhere but oddly not platinum this time in Finland, though Hungary had this honour. Given that there had been five years since the last Maiden album, those rankings are not at all surprising, but foisting a double album on your fans, to say nothing of an eighteen-minute closer, either shows a band supremely confident in their ability and in their fanbase or one who just want to do what they want to do now and don't give a shit anymore.

So I hear some of you saying there you go Trollheart: hoist on your own picard. (It's petard, dumbass) Well whatever. You made the case that Iron Maiden's popularity was on the wane, and it's not. You've clearly proved they're as successful as ever, if not more so. Hah. You failed, loser.

Nah, you weren't listening. I never made any sort of case that Maiden were less popular (except around the Blaze era); I don't think their commercial appeal or their popularity among their fans will ever fade. People will still buy the albums – I'll still buy the albums – and go to the concerts, and Maiden will always be the number one metal band in the world. My point was that this was a personal opinion. I set out to show why for me (important two words there) Maiden began to lose some of their attraction and lustre after Powerslave, that I personally lost a little interest in them and didn't pay too much attention to their latter albums. And I didn't. Listening back over them for this journal may, or may not, change that, but at the moment I'm still not too bothered whether or not they ever release a seventeenth album.

The album covers here were used merely to illustrate – in a very tongue in cheek way – how the rise and fall of the band could be catalogued, but only really with respect to me. Others may not see it that way. Or they may. I really don't know. But for me, personally, the progression, or indeed regression, is clearly shown (or can be) through the successive album covers.
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