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Old 05-03-2021, 04:59 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Old 05-03-2021, 12:03 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Chapter II: Strangers in a Strange Land: Writing the Future

So where to begin our exploration (deconstruction?) of Iron Maiden? Well, as I already mentioned, there's no need to involve the first five albums, so here is, for me, the jumping-off point, the album on which the smallest cracks, which would later develop into wide fissures and threaten to ruin this band for me, began to show.

Somewhere in Time (1986)

This album has quite a few firsts. It's the first to feature Eddie, the band's ubiquitous mascot, who has been on every album sleeve bar three since the debut, in a futuristic setting. Looking quickly back, you had a contemporary, almost punk Eddie on the debut, a maniacal, homicidal but still modern times Eddie on Killers, a scene out of some horror movie but set in current times or thereabouts on The Number of the Beast (though I guess you could argue that was the future, perhaps depicting Judgement Day) and then Eddie in an asylum of the sort we (apparently) don't see these days on the cover of Piece of Mind. Powerslave of course went all the way back to the ancient past, depicting him as an Egyptian god. So this is the first time we see, if you will, future Eddie. It will also be the last, so far, as even though 2010's The Final Frontier is a futuristic painting, it's not Eddie who graces the cover.

It's also the first time since he joined that we hear of tensions within the group between Bruce and the other guys, notably Steve. After a gruelling tour to support Powerslave, which lasted almost a full year, Bruce was exhausted and his ideas for songs, mostly based around acoustic styles, were rejected by the band. Bruce, however, felt there was a definite need for change, as it could be said that the band had reached their commercial and creative peak on the last album, and if they didn't do something to change things the only way was down.

Somewhere in Time was also the first instance of the use of synthesisers by Iron Maiden. Although they were only guitar synths (keytars) it was still a major departure from the pure guitar sound and something of a mockery of the legend printed proudly on the back of The Number of the Beast: “No synthesisers or ulterior motives.” Were there ulterior motives in bringing keys into a band who had thrived and made their name on a twin guitar attack? Was there concern over either the prowess (surely not) of the two axemen or their dedication to the band? Adrian Smith would in fact be the first to leave, and he may have been influenced by Bruce Dickinson's dissatisfaction with the direction of the band, I don't know. Maybe they just wanted a fuller sound, or maybe they felt the album, loosely based on science fiction, needed a more futuristic sound? Either way, it was the beginning, but certainly not the end, of Maiden's flirtations with the ivories, and it did change their sound somewhat.

The album was also their first to have more than a year between it and the previous outing (Iron Maiden – 1980 – Killers 1981 – The Number of the Beast – 1982 – Piece of Mind – 1983 – Powerslave – 1984) and in that context should have stood as one of their best, considering how long they took to get it right – twice as long as the other five. But that's not how it has ever sounded to me. Finally, it was also the first Maiden album to feature songs written solo by Adrian Smith, three in all, something that would never happen again. While he would co-write songs on the next album (after which he would depart till 2000) and again on later albums, for whatever reason he would always collaborate with usually Harris or Dickinson. Given the songs he wrote solo here, I'm not quite sure why, but again we'll get into that. One more point to note: this is the first album of Iron Maiden's to feature – if we accept any song seven minutes or over as being “long” - three long tracks, with one of them coming in at eight and a half, making it – after “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, of course – Iron Maiden's longest song to date.

So, the album then. We have a total of eight tracks, leading to a playtime of just over fifty-one minutes. Of those, three, as already mentioned, are penned solo by Adrian Smith, four by Steve Harris and one a collaboration between Harris and Dave Murray, only his second foray into songwriting, unless you count the two bonus tracks “Eclipse” and “Twilight Zone”. It's clear that even though the songwriting is shared a little more evenly here, Harris is still in control. No writing credits appear for Dickinson for the first time since he joined the band, as already explained above.

Somewhere in Time (7:22)

The first thing that impresses me is that the guitars in the opening riff have a very distinct Egyptian sound, perhaps a holdover – conscious or otherwise – from the previous album. Since the main culprit I see of Maiden's shall we say staggering onto the wrong path or taking the wrong fork in the road is the increasing length of their songs, I want to examine the longer songs on every album with a view to deciding if they need to be that long. Is every minute used, or is the song padded out unnecessarily? Could it be shorter and still work, or does it need its full length in order to achieve its objective and get its message across? How much, in other words, if any, of the song is wasted or not needed? The opener and title track (a Harris tune) kicks off with about one minute of instrumental intro, but that's fine: Maiden songs don't usually punch right in with the vocal straight away, and there's a need and an expectation of setting the scene musically as it were. I do note, for future reference, a very similar melody here to a song which will surface on the next album, and I wonder if this song was on the mind of Steve when he co-wrote “The Evil That Men Do”?

It's a powerful punchy start, and certainly gives you the idea that this album will be a worthy successor to Powerslave. I wouldn't say it's one of my favourites on the album, but neither is it one of the ones with which I have a problem. There's the obligatory solo about halfway through, and there's a decent hook in the chorus. It takes up about two minutes of the song, but again that's all right: we're used to Dave and Adrian bossing the show; they don't do short solos, and unlike some guitarists theirs never seem boring or overstretched, and they never seem to be showing off how good they are. Both have always given me the impression that they play purely for the joy of it, and seem to have a great time doing it. So as we head into the sixth minute Bruce is back, and the song of itself seems pretty well structured and balanced, so in answer to my own question as to whether or not this song is too long, in this case I would say no, it isn't. I can see a few seconds here or there being snipped off and the song being no worse for it, but I don't see that its length detracts from the song itself. It ends well, it's a good opener and it gets things going. For such a relatively long song, it goes by quickly and there's no sense of when is this going to end?

Wasted Years (5:03)

Next up is Adrian's first attempt at a solo composition, and overall I'd have to say it's pretty damn good. Perhaps because it's his first try, it's a decent length, as you can see, and in fact none of the songs he writes here even reach the six-minute mark, though this is the shortest of them. Not surprisingly, there's plenty of work for the guitars to do, but then you could say that about any Maiden song really. It's also gone on to be one of the few tracks to survive the album into live concerts, which might kind of prove my point, but more of that later. To give Smith credit, there's much less of a guitar intro to this one that the opener, and it rocks away really well, with a fine hook in the chorus, leaving scope for vocal harmonies, unlike the one that preceded it. It's fairly typical of the Maiden songs of old – short, to the point, memorable, simple.

It of course features a guitar solo halfway but again it's nowhere near as indulgent as it could have been. It really only has the one verse with the chorus repeated to the end, finishing on the same guitar riff that opened it, and that's perfectly understandable for a first effort. No point in trying to run before you can walk.

Sea of Madness (5:42)

The next one is his, too, and in fact one of my favourites on the album. A very chaotic opening quickly settles down on a thick chunky bass line from Harris and the guitars more buzz than scream on this one. The hook here is probably the best on any song on this album so far; it's right through the bridge and chorus and it's hard not to sing it. Is the title related to their epic? Maybe, I don't know: the Ancient Mariner would certainly have felt he was on a sea of madness, but song lyrics can be so esoteric, it could be about a state of mind or politics or anything really. In the end, that's probably not as important as how the song sounds, and halfway through I find the solo very Thin Lizzyesque, which is not a criticism.

I like the thinning out of the sound then, in what I can only characterise as a sort of Police “Walking on the Moon” style, where the guitar is stripped back down, and then the song gains power and volume on the back of Dickinson's voice before crashing back into the opening riffs and into another verse (the same as the first? I think so; I'll have to check back) and to the chorus which then takes us to the end on Bruce's scream. That's how to write a song!

Heaven Can Wait (7:24)

Having ceded the floor to Smith for the last two tracks, Harris is back with another seven-minute-plus composition which, despite its length, is another of my favourites. You can hear the guitar synths this time as the actual guitars bite into the melody and slowly bring up the atmosphere, another long intro as you might expect in a song of this length. Faster than really anything that has gone before, it retains a slight edge of Killers-era Di'Anno I feel, though the hook is beautiful and perfect and very commercial. It's even possible this could have been a single had it been shorter, but I'm not sure it could have been cut down from its present form and not lost something. The solo comes in earlier this time, and if I remember there may be a second one.

After the solo the rhythm turns into a sort of slower march, leading to the familiar cries of “Woh-oh-oh!” which, let's be honest, are put in for audience participation purposes but show either laziness or the lack of need for this section of the song. It's fun to sing along to and throw your fists in the air, sure, but it takes up about a minute of the song and it could probably have survived just as well without it and yes, as I thought, there's the second solo. I've no problem with multiple solos, but take out that second one and the “Woh-oh-oh”s and this song could have been stripped down to a lean six minutes or so. But on we go. There is another verse, and at least it's not just a repeat of the first one, back to the chorus and, rather like Smith's “Wasted Years” it ends on the guitar riff that opened it.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (6:31)

This is where the album began to take something of a nosedive for me. I've pretty much always hated this track. It's not that long, as you can see, but I feel little happens in it. There's a powerful guitar intro which then almost seems to get elbowed aside, dashing the hopes that this was going to be something decent. Reminds me very much in ways of “Gangland” off The Number of the Beast, or maybe “Invaders” from the same album; either way, two tracks agreed to be the weakest on the album. There's an attempt to insert a hook in the chorus but for me it just does not work. I guess I'm biased against it and am looking for negative things to say about it, but I'm trying to see it with new eyes – or, I should say, hear it with new ears – and give it a chance, but there's no getting away from the very clear fact that everything – everything – that has gone before it has been superior, and it really isn't going to get a lot better. The quintessential album of two halves, I personally feel there's not much to recommend side two of Somewhere in Time.

Even the guitar solos sound forced; I don't get the impression of anyone enjoying participating in this song, and I kind of wish they had even tried one of Bruce's acoustic songs instead of this. After the power punch of “Heaven Can Wait” following “Sea of Madness”, it might have been a nice change of pace. I've never been able to remember this song, and even now I know that as soon as the next track starts I'll have all but forgotten it, whereas the other four are still clearly and loudly playing in my mind. Yeah, it just sort of fades out and away – not musically; few if any Maiden songs actually fade, but in terms of remaining in the memory, already forgotten.

Stranger in a Strange Land (5:43)

The last Smith effort on the album, it swaggers in on a punching guitar riff that makes you sit up and take notice, and whether the lads got permission for Heinlein for this or not I don't know, but it's interesting to hear the title of a future album in the lyric, and in fact the album that would see Smith return to the fold as Bruce sings “No brave new world, no brave new world.” The hook in the chorus is okay, but it doesn't quite grip in the same way as the first four songs did. I'm impressed too that Smith resists throwing in the guitar solo until nearly the fourth minute, and when it does come in it's quite restrained, almost you could say acoustic in nature, until it then picks up in intensity and power, and seems to fit just perfectly.

There's no doubt it's a huge improvement on “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”, and probably the best on side two, as it were, but “Stranger in a Strange Land” still doesn't come close to the quality of any of the four on side one. And what I said about songs fading? This one does. It must be one of the only Maiden songs to do so.

Deja Vu (4:45)

The shortest song on the album opens a little like “Revelations” on Piece of Mind I feel, with a haunting, wailing guitar before thundering up into a breakneck guitar intro that flies along nicely but is rather basic and sounds like something they might have saved for Fear of the Dark. This is the one song on which Steve Harris pairs up with Dave Murray, and again I think I can hear those keytars; they don't make a huge difference here, and I'd have to say they don't have a massive impact on the album in general: had I not read they were there I probably would not have noticed them. There's a pretty long instrumental section in this song, but given its short length I don't have an issue with that. If anything, it's probably more a standard Maiden song than the last two; I'm not convinced by Bruce's raspy, supposedly threatening vocal delivery though. Not sure what that's about.

The hook is okay but nothing special, and even the guitar solos seem a little tacked-on and copy and pasted from the Great Iron Maiden Songbook. You'd have to wonder when Bruce sings “Feels like I've been here before” is he unintentionally delivering a message to the band?

Alexander the Great (8:35)

Harris's love of history comes through in the lyrical matter of the closer, but it also comes across as highly indulgent of him. The song is, as already mentioned, the longest on the album and indeed to this point the second-longest recorded by the band. Taking that into account, its lengthy instrumental intro (preceded by a spoken passage where Alexander's father mourns his failure to provide a better legacy for his son) is understandable and acceptable. Once it gets going it gallops along nicely in a sort of mid-paced way, but you do get the feeling (well I do anyway) that the rest of the band realise they're servicing Harris's personal vision here and that it's his project; they're playing his song, which of course you can say about any of his solo penned tracks, but here it just seems... different somehow.

I feel the attempted hook in the chorus fails miserably, and so I don't see any hook in it, no memorable chorus you can sing. The again almost acoustic solo in the middle is interesting, building up on Nicko McBrain's staggered drum patterns, then it smashes into a very slow, graceful section, beginning a gradual march to the denouement of the song. It's epic, certainly, though not, I feel, in the same way “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is epic, and considering its length, I think even “Phantom of the Opera” is better constructed. Another, more standard guitar solo now as we head into the sixth minute, and at least Harris resisted the urge to throw in some “Woah-oh-oh”s as there is a place in the song where you could definitely hear that, and perhaps onstage they do that, but they kept it out of the studio version, which I think is just as well.

I feel the ending is a bit of a damp squib, and as a closer to the album I don't think it really works that well at all.

What is significant is that as I mentioned, none of these songs, bar “Wasted Years” and “Heaven Can Wait” were added to the live setlist, proving perhaps that the boys realised many of them were too long to keep fans' attention in a live setting. I'm not going to put the album down too much, as it does have some great tracks, and even the weaker ones are not terrible (with one exception) but I do remember being all excited having bought the album, still riding on a Maiden high from Powerslave even two years later, and being underwhelmed by this one. That is, generally, still the feeling I get from it, playing it now for this review. It's almost like the comedown, or the return after a great holiday to normality, rain and wind and work. The idea, the feeling that something wonderful has taken place and will never be so again permeates this album for me; the idea of a band desperately trying to equal or (impossibly) surpass their greatest achievement, and probably quite aware they had fallen far short. I wouldn't call it a failure, and in terms of sales and charts it was definitely a hit, but I wouldn't call it an unqualified success either.

Is this, then, where the rot began to set in? Not quite, you'd have to say. Maiden were able to bash out a pretty awesome album two years later, and while the ones following that certainly had their flaws, they managed to maintain a pretty high standard overall, even gaining their first ever number one. But the days of Powerslave and Piece of Mind were, if not gone, receding in the rear-view mirror, and as Maiden knew, and we all knew, when the past is gone, it's impossible to get back to it. Maybe that's why they tried looking to the future, but in that future they may have seen some warning signs, leading to their looking to the past again for their next album, unsure where they were going for the one after that, till eventually they ended up a tree, clutching frantically at shadows in the night, still trying to claw back the creativity and spontaneity they had enjoyed on three Dickinson-era albums, surely fearing the future and unsure how to get their feet back on the ground.

Trouble was, by then even that ground was beginning to crumble beneath their feet...
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Old 05-03-2021, 06:48 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Picture This: The Rise and Fall of Iron Maiden
in Sixteen Album Covers

A Personal View
Well, maybe not. Probably not, really, but it's interesting how you can trace the change in the band's fortunes through the various album covers over the course of their career.

1981 – Iron Maiden

“Hello there, I'm Eddie, nice to meet you. Now die!”

Look at the face of Eddie on the cover of the debut. He's a punk, isn't he? Without the capital P. A loser, a ne'er-do-well, a lout you wouldn't want to run into down a dark alley. He's sporting crazy spiky yet long hair which would later be robbed by a band called Sigue Sigue Sputnik for their signature look; it doesn't have the appearance of even knowing what a comb is, much less having used one. Like many Iron Maiden covers, it's drawn taking place at night. The moon is high and pale in a gloomy sky, and Eddie is standing – perhaps we might say lurking – under a streetlight, obviously up to no good. He's angry, he's aggressive, he's out for your blood. Like Horslips once wrote, “if you see me you had better run, run run!” And you would. This guy isn't going to ask you for a cigarette, unless it's made out of your windpipe which he'll happily extract with none of the precision of a surgeon, or if you happen to know the score of the big match? He's a troublemaker, a skinhead with lots of hair, a headbanger.

And it's your head he wants to bang, preferably against that wall behind him.

So our first introduction to Eddie – and by extension, Iron Maiden – is hardly a welcoming, pleasant one. Perhaps Eddie is saying “come and have a listen if you're hard enough”, who knows? But it's an aggressive, threatening cover that simmers with barely-restrained violence and possible murder, which will take its natural (!) course on the cover of the next album. One thing is for sure: Eddie is in control here, and if you want to survive you had better pay him big respect! This is a band who say “We're here; don't get in our way or we will fuck you up, and if you can't handle our music go listen to Barry Manilow or the Black and White Minstrel Show!” Or something. The point is, it's a statement of power, intent and aggression. Iron Maiden have arrived. Deal with it.

1980 – Killers

And if you can't deal with it, here's what will happen. Eddie has now evolved (devolved?) from the street punk threatening you on the corner to a full-blown maniac, his hair more carefully arranged but that snarl still on his face, a face that enjoys slaughter, pain and terror, and in his hand this time is an axe. Careful with it, Eugene! I'm not Eugene, I'm Eddie, and I'll put it where I like. And where I like is the centre of your head!

If any album cover depicted naked aggression, many do but this one certainly does, and it ties in well with the album title, leaving you in no doubt as to what to expect on the album. In terms of power, Eddie has grown from the dodgy punk throwing shapes at you from under a streetlamp to a dangerous, homicidal killer who's ready to satisfy his awful urges. He's taking no shit from anyone, and as the lyric in the title track growls, “he laughs as he's watching you bleed.” But you laugh too, because this music is so good. On the last album Maiden announced their arrival, on this one they declare their intention of not just making up the numbers. But if world domination is on their minds, there's a small problem to be dealt with first, a kind of symbolic murder as one member is torn out of the band and left bleeding on the darkened roadway, and the remaining guys in the band slouch along the street, deaf to his cries, searching for a new leader.

1982 – The Number of the Beast

And they find it in Bruce Dickinson, the album cover reflecting their new power, as Satan makes Eddie dance to his tune, unaware that he is in fact the puppet controlled by a much larger Eddie. The symbolism couldn't be clearer, and Maiden are headed for big things. In terms of power, Eddie has now progressed beyond the lone axe-wielding killer and has the entire world at his feet, in a very real way, as Iron Maiden quickly became a household word on the back of this album, even terrifying the pop pickers on the local chart shows as their songs kicked their way up the “hit parade” (we'll just leave the “s” off the beginning, shall we?) and proved to all the world that metal was not only alive and kicking, it was taking over!

1983 – Piece of Mind

Ah, poor Eddie! He appears to have been caught and put in the loony bin, sorry that's very insensitive isn't it? Nut hatch: there, that's better. But while Eddie may be a prisoner in a padded cell, he's angry as hell and I don't think anyone believes those chains are going to hold him for long, and when he gets free – watch out! This could be interpreted (which I'm sure is not the case but for the fun of it) as a response to those on the moral majority and the Bible belt, the do-gooders and self-appointed guardians of decency who completely mistook the previous album for a pagan, Satanic expression of youth (rather like the same people, or their forebears – maybe only three bears, I'm not sure – did with Black Sabbath a decade earlier) and had it banned and, probably, burned in a knee-jerk reaction.

The message here could be, you've managed to get some of public opinion and authority against us, but we're not going to lie down and die. Maybe it's you who should be in this asylum, and maybe the likes of us are the only sane ones. Or not. Though this cover may seem, on the surface, to be stripping Eddie of his power, I think we all know it's only a temporary situation and he is going to break out. Can't cage the Beast! The album also coincides with more chart success for Maiden, despite (or perhaps due to) the backlash from the Christian Right, proving once again the more those in authority don't want us to do it, the more we want to do it.

1984 – Powerslave

And now Eddie achieves the ultimate. In every sense, he has become a god. He is worshipped by the faithful, frowning down on them from an image surely hundreds of feet high, a true Egyptian divinity. Interestingly, he no longer seems angry, just stern and unsmiling. Powerslave is widely regarded as the high watermark of Iron Maiden's output, which makes the depiction of Eddie as a god all the more appropriate. The title of the tour to support it was the World Slavery Tour, which is apt in two ways: the world essentially was enslaved to Iron Maiden: they sold out every concert, every venue, leading to a tour that spanned over three hundred days. On the other hand, having to work almost right through the year must have made the boys feel as if they had become slaves themselves: slaves to the fans, slaves to the tour, slaves to promoters, slaves even to the music.

1986 – Somewhere in Time

Eddie has now moved into the future, an alienesque bounty hunter, and his traditional scowl is back, not that it ever left, except for the cover of The Number of the Beast. He's searching, and in itself this is a significant point, as the band – certainly Bruce anyway, and maybe Adrian – were searching for a new sound, a way to top their apex album, a way to follow up almost that which could and would never be followed up. Searching maybe for relevance in a changing world. Eddie is either naked, wearing very tight (and transparent) body armour or an exo-skeleton, but whichever it is, it's the first time we've seen his body this way, and while it's musclebound and sleek, I think it looks a little vulnerable too, his head slightly bowed as if he's not quite sure where his quarry is hiding, or why he is here.

In a lot of ways, I think this cover represents the uncertainty among the band of stepping beyond that classic album, the trepidation and perhaps even fear that they would not be able to measure up to its phenomenal success, and the concern about what the future held. Eddie looks pensive, thoughtful rather than his usual angry scowl or even maniacal grin. Like the band, he looks unsure.

1988 – Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

But two years later he's a godlike being again, as Maiden retrace their steps, perhaps in an effort to recapture the essence and atmosphere of Powerslave, and go back, not forward, in time. Back to a time, in fact, which probably did not exist, to the age of legends and myths, the stories of the Arabian Nights and fairy tales and based around Orson Card's novel Seventh Son. This is also Maiden's first concept album – their only one to date – and returned them to the singles chart with a number three entry for “Can I Play With Madness”. Eddie looks pretty all-powerful, holding what might be his heart (or someone else's) in his hand and having no body below his chest, which always made me mistakenly see him as a djinn. Hugely successful, this album was nevertheless Maiden's first flirtation with progressive rock structures, which would lead them off in a very different direction to the one in which they had begun.

And those, if you will, are the positive album covers, with maybe two later exceptions. Following on from that album, two years later we have this

1990 – No Prayer for the Dying

Playing on the old Irish (?) idea of a prayer for the dying, this album cover sees Eddie in very much changed circumstances. He's in a coffin – admittedly, bursting out of it but still in his bloody grave! - and in addition this will be the first of five non-consecutive albums to use the theme of death in their titles. Considering Adrian Smith left after this album, would it be very unfair to say the title is directed at his departure? Yes. Yes it would. But it could be. I doubt it however, but it's an interesting hypothesis. Eddie, meanwhile, is out for revenge, and in terms of success this album gave Maiden their first (and only) ever number one single in the Dickinson-penned “Bring Your Daughter... to the Slaughter”. Ah, revenge is sweet!

But beneath the accolades and vindication as a songwriter for the band, an undercurrent of unease and restlessness was bubbling, and like Eddie suddenly exploding out of his coffin and taking the unfortunate grave-digger by the throat, things were coming to a head, and could not be left to rest for much longer.

1992 – Fear of the Dark

Fear indeed. Transpose Eddie to Bruce and I think you have a pretty good idea what's going on here. On the face of it, you have Eddie in a tree, waiting to pounce on the unwary, but my reading is that this is Bruce, forced into a defensive position, (perhaps literally barking up the wrong tree?) and trapped with nowhere else to go. Eddie is melded with the tree – is the tree – and Dickinson at this point might certainly have seemed to be so much a part of the band that leaving them would be as unthinkable and as much a wrench as pulling himself free from the embrace of the wood that is, in the picture, part of Eddie/Bruce's body, but knowing that if he did not extricate himself he might be absorbed into something he had no interest being a part of any longer.

The title of the album can be interpreted two ways: Bruce could be afraid of leaving the band and facing the dark – the future – alone, and he could just as easily fear the idea of remaining with a band with whom he was having less and less in common, being sucked or trapped into a situation he did not want to be in. If the tree represents the band's family tree, then Dickinson was about to cut a branch off of it, and one had already gone with the departure of Adrian Smith two years and one album previously. The absence of Derek Riggs, who had designed every Maiden album cover up to this, shows another crack appearing in the once-watertight relationships within the band, and perhaps the title could also refer to a fear of the remaining band members as to what they would do without Bruce on board?
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Old 05-03-2021, 07:03 PM   #14 (permalink)
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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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Old 05-04-2021, 11:11 PM   #15 (permalink)
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You wanna know the biggest issue with Iron Maiden translating themselvea to the new millennium? They had Brave New World that was just a really good version of an old school Iron Maiden album and A Matter of Life and Death was the best version of Maiden doing a more prog version of Maiden, but they've never managed to sound vital since the mid 80s. Even their good **** since Powerslave was just reputable rather than any kind of exciting sound.

Whereas Judas Priest has had many a non-starter sound or just okay sound since the mid 80s bit they still recognized that part of being a relevant metal band was managing to sound like they were coming for your jugular.

And so they threw caution to the wind and recorded Painkiller. That was an actual reinvention of their sound which Priest has done many a time whereas Maiden never did anything other than say how can we sound more like a more mature version of how we.already sound
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Old 05-05-2021, 05:13 AM   #16 (permalink)
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I'd agree with that 100%. It almost looks like, as I said (despite the sales and acclaim) Maiden have been somewhat lost since Powerslave; that the majesty of that album has proven impossible to even duplicate never mind exceed, and so they've sort of retraced what they think are their roots, thrashing about confusedly like a drowning man desperately trying to keep afloat.

You could probably take the last four albums, take two or three tracks from each and come up with a half-decent album, but even then it would never equal the power and grandeur and (as you'd say) total bitchin-ness of the first three, even five.
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Old 05-15-2021, 02:19 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Chapter III: Sibling Rivalry: Fanfare for the Common Metalhead

Hell don't worry: I'm not going to take this album apart. It wouldn't even be here as an example of how Maiden began to veer off the path were it not for the fact that it very clearly indicates their initial interest in expanding into progressive territory, something they had dabbled with slightly as far back as 1980, when “Phantom of the Opera” could conceivably be considered their first suite (although not broken into sections like a traditional prog rock suite), followed later by “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and maybe even “Alexander the Great”. This however was the first time they had a) based their music on one subject, in this case the novel Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card and b) written a concept album focussed on that material, so it's hard not to see the album as a progressive rock or metal one.

That would have been fine had they left it at that. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son stands as almost the last point in their golden period (I don't consider Somewhere in Time part of that, but you can't ignore it), giving them a good run of seven albums – five from the Dickinson era – that really all but defy criticism. After this, the slide towards mediocrity comes really quickly.

But right now we're talking about this album, and it has all the great signs about it. Eddie towers over the fantasy city on the cover in almost a nod back to Powerslave and to some extent The Number of the Beast, and the boys have had the sense not only to make this an album of ten or fifteen songs, keeping it to a modest eight, but they also resisted the urge to make any of them really long, as had been the case on the previous outing. Here, only one stands out – admittedly it's almost ten minutes long, but it is the title track, and anyway Maiden had been doing ONE long song on just about every album since, well, the debut. Or one song over seven minutes anyway. So there's no big seismic shift here.

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)

It's true to say though that Seventh Son is something of a missed opportunity; as Bruce himself would say years later, they didn't see the project through. There's no actual story here, no plot as it were, and though the songs are all linked by common themes – the future, madness, life and death – it's really not enough to call it a concept album, no more than the previous one was. But it's a step in that direction, and maybe because they had started down that path, though they had stumbled, they decided to explore it further. That decision would lead them into increasingly dark, tangled woods from which they would find it all but impossible to find their way back, until two shining lights pierced the gloom in 2000 and led them back to familiar ground.

But that's a long, long way away at this point, and the journey was only beginning, nobody aware what was waiting at its terminus.

This time around, there's plenty for Bruce to do. Steve apparently rang him up after he got the idea for the theme of the album, but had no songs, and between the two they wrote three of the eight songs here, though Harris being Harris, there are also three solo efforts from him. It strikes me as odd that, given he had no idea what the songs were going to be, and asked Bruce for ideas, that the title track ends up being his work alone. Bruce also collaborates with Adrian Smith on the opener, and Dave Murray has a writing credit with Steve for “The Prophecy”.

The album cover appears strikingly different to me. Up to now, Maiden album covers had been mostly dark, using yellows, oranges and blacks, and even though some blue had leaked in for the sky above Egypt on Powerslave, the bulk of that cover is yellow – yellow sandstone, yellow sand, yellow pyramids and yellow temple. Here we have, for the first time, almost exclusively blue, and it's as if the dark has been dispelled and light has come through, though there's no concern that this is going to be anything like an album of love songs or ambient music – Eddie's presence on the cover takes care of that. Still, it is, for want of another description, a relaxing cover.

Oh, and I've checked: it's not his or anyone else's heart in Eddie's hand, but a baby. All right.

Of the eight songs here, I can say with confidence I like five of them, and the others I just don't recall too well, so while reviewing this now I may end up adding to that total. I'm pretty certain there are no tracks on it that I actively don't like, much less hate.

Moonchild (5:38)

Opening on a deceptive acoustic guitar and Bruce's vocal, the album kicks off with dark, rising keyboards – proper ones this time, not keytars – already giving it a feeling of more progressive than heavy metal, and though the guitars of course kick in alongside the bass and thumping drums, there's a feeling of a seachange about Maiden here. Once it gets going the song romps along nicely, with a great hook in the chorus and Bruce in fine form, cackling and grinning evilly, while Dave and Adrian rack off the solos as usual and it's a powerful start.

Infinite Dreams (6:08)

A slower, more low-key opening to this track, though I doubt anyone would call it a ballad. Definitely more restrained, from Bruce's voice to the lads on guitar, and I don't hear much in the way of keyboards as yet. Again quite a progressive rock feel to it, nowhere near as punchy as we've come to expect from Maiden songs, but still undeniably Maiden. Halfway through it takes off one one of those rocking guitar rides which sort of puts me in mind slightly of “The Prisoner” and maybe “The Trooper”, the two guitars chiming and harmonising really well. I would have to be honest and say I don't hear a hook in this song at all, which may be one of the reasons why I tend not to remember it that well. After all, it's the hook we usually remember, but this is still a damn good song. I'd definitely put it on a somewhat lower level than “Moonchild” and some of the others though. I'm also not fond of the ending, but there you go.

Can I Play With Madness (3:30)

Speaking of hooks, this has them in spades, and so it's not hard to see how this was a hit single. Galloping along with a great sense of fun from the beginning, the acapella opening (the first since the title cut on The Number of the Beast, I believe – I wouldn't count “Alexander the Great” as it has the sound of wind accompanying the voice) quickly giving way to a guitar fest and bouncing keyboards, which do, it has to be admitted, add a lot to the song. Bruce tries to be all hard and evil on this one too but you can tell he's really enjoying himself, as are the lads once they let loose with the obligatory solos, though they are kept to a minimum, the song being so short. Ends as it began, and really it's possibly the perfect Maiden song, at least for the radio.

The Evil That Men Do (4:33)

And the good stuff just keeps coming, with a low-key guitar intro giving way to rolling drums and an insistent beat. Again that hook comes in, and it's really hard not to remember this song long after the album is over. In fact, the hook is both in the bridge and the chorus, which is not a unique occurrence but not a standard one. Bruce is back to cackling and growling at his best, some good vocal harmonies (minimal really but they work) and a relatively short burst of guitar solo sets fire to this song; it's one I could probably have wished was longer, though I'm sure it's exactly the right length it needs to be. I hear more of “The Trooper” in the melody there, just a little, and this time the abrupt ending is justified.

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (9:52)

Were it not for that song, this would stand as Maiden's longest up to this point, only eight seconds short of ten minutes. That said, it is the only one that comes even close to that length, so it doesn't seem as if the boys are dragging things out, and given that this is, in essence, a progressive metal album, well, you probably knew there would be at least one really epic track on it, didn't you? There's a long intro, as you might expect, and in many ways it harks back to the days of Powerslave, with a kind of chant of praise and a very Egyptian feel to it, a much slower track but not the least bit less heavy. Actually, I'm wrong: the intro isn't that long and Bruce gets singing about the second minute. It occupies the kind of territory that songs like “To Tame a Land” and, to a lesser extent, “Stranger in a Strange Land” and “Alexander the Great” have trod before, perhaps a little too fleshed out by the standard “Whoa-oh-oh”s, but they fit in well.

You can see it as a sort of semi-suite, to quote Tom Waits, with the first part, the slower, marching and perhaps introductory section taking us to the fourth minute before it slows down on Adrian's introspective guitar which leads into a dark spoken vocal from Bruce and gives Steve a real chance to bring the bass front and centre almost, though not quite, in a “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” vein. It's almost an interlude in some ways, driven all but solo on the bass and synth with a choral vocal coming up in the background giving the song a sort of sepulchral, reverent feeling, then for the third movement, if you will, the guitars punch back in again just before the seventh minute and some fine fretwork takes place as the solos rip through the tune, but the feeling is very much of a song rooted in progressive rock, especially the early Yes or Rush style of thing. More chanting and whoa-oh-oh-ing, but essentially it's an instrumental finish, and a fine one.

The Prophecy (5:04)

One of the songs I either don't care for, or can't remember enough to care for, it slides in on soft acoustic and then electric guitar and lush keyboards, sort of puts me in mind of “Infinite Dreams”, but then breaks down into a rolling, galloping, loping run on the guitar, a sort of almost blues feel to it. Not quite vocal harmonies here – not sure what you call them: staggered maybe? Bruce sings one thing and then a second or so behind him he sings another almost call-and-response sort of idea. The guitar work here sounds like it comes from the sessions for Somewhere in Time, then bursts out into a solo worthy of The Number of the Beast or Powerslave. Yeah it's still one of the weaker tracks for me, and again without a hook you can hold on to. No real chorus even, which makes it even harder to get a handle on the melody. Some nice almost medieval bass there at the end, reminds me of something but I can't quite put my finger on it right now.

The Clairvoyant (4:26)

Another one I don't recall making too much of an impression on me the last time I listened to this album. Good bass line opening it certainly and then some choppy guitar, with a really nice motif when it gets going. Moves along at a nice pace, faster than the previous two, kicking the tempo of the album back up as it heads towards its conclusion. Can't say I'm impressed by the chorus though; seems very weak. Good guitar work from Dave 'n' Adrian keeps it moving and it ends strongly, but yeah, again, not one of the better tracks, which is to say, weaker than the really strong ones. But not a bad song, all in all.

Only the Good Die Young (4:40)

And speaking of ending strongly, as a kind of bookend for the album this works really well. The start of it does seem a little abrupt, like it came out of nowhere, or was meant to follow on from another track, but that's a small niggle in an otherwise brilliant song. The boys really don't put a foot wrong on this closer, and it's the one that stays in your head and on your lips as you pack the album away/shut the file down. Great hook, the first song on side two that seems to have one, wonderful driving beat, and it doesn't rely so much on the guitar solos this time – though they are there – instead standing as a piece of music in its own right. Bruce puts in a terrific final performance, and you might be tempted to think this was the last time he really enjoyed himself on an Iron Maiden album. I like the sign-off in the lyric: “So until the next time, have a good sin!” Powerful, crashing guitar ending with a real punch to the jaw as it explodes to its end. Superb. And then the coda as the opening line from the album is repeated. You could, quite easily, make this an endless loop, which might not be a bad thing.

I mentioned that this album seems to have been the last time Bruce enjoyed himself, and I think you could extend that to the rest of the band too. I'm not sure how Dave, Steve and Nicko felt about the change in direction they took from the next album on, but they don't seem as cohesive a unit from this till the time of the departures, Adrian first and then Bruce. So to a very real degree, allowing for the weaknesses on Somewhere in Time, you could say this is the end of an era. Either the first period of Iron Maiden, from the debut to now, or the second, from The Number of the Beast. Either way, the next album would show a marked difference to the last two albums – oddly enough, not due to long tracks or the interest in progressive rock, almost the opposite – as the band seemed to struggle to find ideas, melodies, but not hits, as the next album gave them their first ever number one.

Ah yes, but one silver lining can't dispel the dark clouds, and the thunderheads were massing on the horizon, about to burst in a deluge of mediocrity, disappointment and lack of ambition.

And under that cloud, one man would decide he had had enough.
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