Music Banter - View Single Post - Is the Number of the Beast Up: Iron Maiden 1986 - 2015
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Old 05-24-2021, 07:30 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Chapter IV: Say your prayers: The Requiem Mass Begins

You can probably consider Seventh Son of a Seventh Son as the crisis point. Since the pinnacle had been reached with Powerslave Maiden had been desperately trying to equal that success, regain the formula, and it had resulted in one okay album and one very good one, but neither were ever going to be Powerslave II. Maiden's focus had, since Powerslave, been shifting very dramatically away from the standard/NWOBHM metal of Killers, The Number of the Beast etc in a much more progressive rock/metal direction; songs had become longer and more involved, themes had become centred on historical events more, lyrics deeper and the dreaded keyboards, always slated by the band, had wormed their way into their repertoire. It wasn't quite the beginning of the end, but it was the beginning of the beginning of the end. Maybe.

Believing they had perhaps overstretched themselves on the last two albums, Steve Harris decided the time had come for a more stripped-down, back to basics Maiden, even insisting that the new album be recorded in the UK, their first since The Number of the Beast (the next three were recorded in the Bahamas, while the band went to Germany to record Seventh Son) and more, that it should be in, um, a barn on his own property, using the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio.

By the time the next album was ready, and in pre-production phase, Adrian Smith was so unhappy with the new direction that he quit the band, going off to put together his own solo outfits. He was replaced by Janick Gers, who had worked with Bruce on his first solo album. The new Iron Maiden album, their eighth, would see a dramatic shift downwards in their fortunes, with the album only gaining gold status though hitting the number 2 spot and giving them their only number one single. Nevertheless, none of the songs, bar that hit, seem to have survived into a live setting. And there's a very good reason for that.

No Prayer for the Dying (1990)
Spoiler for No Prayer for the Dying:

Tailgunner (4:13)

My initial impression on hearing the opening song was, and remains, this is just “Aces High” rewritten. And it is. It doesn't sound exactly the same, but we're still talking about World War II pilots (bomber this time instead of fighters, but that's a small distinction really), and I find the melody somewhat similar. Bruce's voice has changed; it's more raspy, rough rather than the operatic wail we've been used to, and I don't think it suits him at all. The chorus in “Tailgunner” is really pretty awful, though the idea of the guitar riffs counterpointing the words “Tailgunner, you're a tailgunner” do work well. I will give it that it's a fast, punchy, powerful opening to the album, and for a short while it maintains the kind of quality that makes you think maybe it will be a vindication of the band, but it doesn't last.

Holy Smoke (3:47)

The first real effort by Maiden to take on organised religion, with Bruce actually taking the persona of Jesus works well and this is also I believe the first Maiden song that flirts with humour, which again is very effective. Dickinson changes his persona during the song to go to the other side, becoming Satan and to be fair his growl here suits the song well. It's another good guitarfest, and while I'm not saying I don't miss Adrian, Janick fills his shoes admirably. Dave is on form as always, and the songwriting partnership of Harris and Dickinson produces two damn good songs. It's not an original theme of course, but you can't help thinking the boys are getting their own back on the ones who demanded copies of The Number of the Beast be burned before they could corrupt young minds.

No Prayer for the Dying (4:22)

Almost a sense of slowing down here, with a slightly introspective guitar nodding back a little towards the previous album, though the melody and structure for me point more towards Somewhere in Time. The first song written solo by Harris, as he has written almost all the title tracks on every album (when there is one), it has its moments but they're few and far between. The guitars do get going nicely about halfway through as the tempo picks up in an almost end of “Hallowed Be Thy Name” kind of way, but really that burst of fretboard fever is about the only really decent thing about a song which fails to live up to the promise of its title, or indeed fulfils the responsibility of being the title track.

Public Enema Number One (4:03)

The mildly amusing title of this one is all I ever really remember. It does romp along nicely with some very chunky, growling guitar, but I feel it's a bit of a mess. You can hear elements, lyrically, from “Two Minutes to Midnight” and “Die with Your Boots On”, though this song is nowhere near in the league of either of those two songs. It's one of two efforts from Dave Murray, on this occasion with Bruce, while the next one teams him up with Harris.

Fate's Warning (4:09)

Another one I can never remember. You'll notice that so far there have been no long tracks, nor will there be, the longest on this album being five and a half minutes, but whereas before that benefitted Maiden in snappier, sharper songs, here it's almost as if they just can't write those songs any more; with a few exceptions, inspiration seems to have dried up, and though this has a decent guitar instrumental intro and then bursts into life, and has a hook of sorts, it's a weak one and doesn't grab my attention. There's a good idea in the melody in the middle eighth but they don't develop it and it really falls flat. Even the solos are quite meh.

The Assassin (4:16)

Continuing what will be a recurring trend on Maiden albums of song titles beginning with the definite article, the opening of this sort of reminds me of “The Prisoner”, with elements of both Powerslave and Seventh Son thrown into the guitar riffs. Another long instrumental introduction, which fails to live up to its promise. Another Harris solo effort, lyrically it reminds me of the rather poor Genesis song “Just a Job to Do”, which was on their eponymous 1983 album. The chorus is dire - “Better watch out (vocally harmonised, and at which you're tempted to sing “better not cry, better not pout I'm telling you why...”) cause I'm the assassin.” Yeah. Marillion did this far better in 1984 mate. The solos are all right but nothing special, and it just sounds, I don't know, amateurish. Again, there are some good ideas but they don't come to anything.

Run Silent, Run Deep (4:34)

I do like the thick ringing bass line that opens this, and if those are synthy keyboards making the dark, hollow noise then they're used to good effect. I have always assumed, from the title, that this is about a submarine, possibly a U-Boat, which both ties it into political lyrics and ones about war, making it the second on the album to cover that topic, and the sixth overall. The galloping beat is good, the solo a little over-screechy maybe, though parts of it seem to hark back to Piece of Mind, and in fact it's a better track than I remember it being.

Hooks in You (4:06)

The only track on the album to feature any contribution by the departed Adrian Smith to the songwriting, it's a fast, punchy, rocky song in the mould of “classic” Maiden, written in collaboration with Bruce, and looking back to the lyrical fare of Iron Maiden and Killers, with some very cutting wordplay ("I like a girl who knows where she's bound, don't like a girl who likes hanging around”) and tongue very firmly in the cheek, setting up the hit single. The amount of humour in this makes me wonder if Smith was having one last laugh at the guys, or with the guys, before he abandoned ship? Either way it's a fun little song that you can't take seriously, but with some serious guitar work. If you listen though, it's basically a retread of the melody from “Holy Smoke”. I always found it funny that Marillion, who released their “comeback” album, the first without Fish, two years earlier, also had a song by the same name on that album. Totally different lyrical content of course, but interesting.

Bring Your Daughter... to the Slaughter (4:42)

The kind of macabre humour continues as we head into the song which would give Maiden their only ever number one single. Now, don't get me wrong: I really like this song. I mean, really like it. But I have to admit, I don't see what makes it number one material. Maiden certainly have better songs, and I was quite surprised to see that it hit the top. Written by Dickinson and Janick Gers (the only track on the album on which the latter is credited) it was supposed to be on his debut solo album, Tattooed Millionaire, and was part of the soundtrack for the last gasp of Wes Craven's Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, but Harris wanted it for Maiden and convinced Bruce not to put it on the album. His version was apparently a lot different anyway.

Again, the tongue (when not being sawn off or pulled out by the roots) is firmly lodged in cheek, not that the stuffy old BBC could appreciate that, leading to a ban on the song both on radio and TV controlled by them. That it made number one in spite of that is a credit both to Maiden and their fans, who weren't about to be told what they could and could not listen to by Aunty Beeb. In fact, as is usual in these cases, the ban probably made the song the more popular and made more people want to buy it, pushing it up the chart no doubt to the rage of the suits at the Beeb.

It kind of has everything: a powerful, grinding guitar almost right out of Killers, insistent drumbeat, Bruce at his most menacing and a hook to, er, die for. I mean, what the fuck it is about I have no idea, but surely something like the need for young girls to rebel against their parents and hang around with boys they know they should not. There's a great singalong section in the middle, and it is, to be fair, the first song on the album where the boys break out the Woah-oh-ohs and they're handled well. Yeah I could see it, but I wonder if the ban was the reason it got to the very top, as it's a great song but there are better.

Mother Russia (5:30)

The last of Harris's solo efforts closes the album, and has always seemed, to me, to be very much the weak point in a not particularly strong album. Maiden have been known for strong closers, but this is not one. It's the longest (that's normal) but it just doesn't have the fire of the last few tracks, and seems to me to drag the album down. Reminds me a bit of “Powerslave” in parts, elements of a slower “To Tame a Land” too. The constant semi-Russian riff is just annoying, the choral voices presumably made on the keyboards add to the annoyance factor, and the song just plods along with no real energy or vibrancy.

It's perhaps no surprise that hardly any of these songs get played live any more. After all, if you need “Tailgunner” there's “Aces High”, and who really wants to hear “Public Enema Number One” or “The Assassin”, and most of all who wants to hear “Mother fucking Russia?” Jesus Christ on stilts! Oddly though, given that it gave them their biggest ever chart success, “Bring Your Daughter... to the Slaughter” isn't played either. I guess with a back catalogue like Maiden have, and even had at this point, it's easy to leave out songs, but you'd think one or two of them might have made it in.

No Prayer for the Dying would be a prophetic title, as the cracks that had appeared in the band began to yawn into fissures. Already annoyed at the way this album had been recorded, and later at its lacklustre reception by critics and fans – despite climbing to number 2 in the charts – Bruce was already packing his luggage, preparing for one last foray before he would split and vanish into the night, heading back to his own solo career which had stalled at the first album, and which would end up encompassing five more, the last of which recorded and released after his triumphant return to Maiden in 2000.

But right now, the coffin on the cover of this album looked like a physical representation of how the band was, with one member already (dearly) departed and another about to fall through the widening gap as the twin tectonic plates of musical differences and personal tensions ground together, heralding a seismic shift which would all but destroy Iron Maiden, but which, after a decade of failure, would finally see them back together, reunited and stronger than ever.

For a while.
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018

Last edited by Trollheart; 09-09-2021 at 04:55 PM.
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