Getting Into: Iron Maiden: Part II
|Written by:||ScreamingSteelUS, RaduP, omne metallum, tominator, nikarg, Abattoir, musclassia|
As they did for so many other titans of heavy metal, the 1990s brought unrest to Iron Maiden. Adrian Smith exited the band in 1990, dissatisfied with the direction of what would ultimately become the lackluster No Prayer For The Dying, and though inspiration struck once more with the more warmly received Fear Of The Dark in 1992, it was not to last. Producer Martin Birch, who had given Iron Maiden their perfect sound during the 1980s, retired after completing work on Fear Of The Dark, leaving a noticeable void on future releases. More controversially, Bruce Dickinson, burned out from heavy touring and itching for a change in scenery, departed Iron Maiden to focus on his solo career, begun with 1990's Tattooed Millionaire. First accompanied by future Maiden guitarist Janick Gers and later joining up with Adrian Smith once more, Dickinson adapted well to the changing metal climate and managed to score a couple of classic albums in his own right; Iron Maiden, trailing in the wake of these personnel shifts, was not so lucky.
Wolfsbane vocalist Blaze Bayley was scouted to replace Dickinson, a decision that proved to be the most divisive in the band's career; Bayley's voice had a quality markedly distinct from Dickinson's, and the differences in their natural ranges caused Bayley to experience difficulty in performing the band's classic material while on tour. Steve Harris, facing turmoil in his personal life and feeling the absence of several major creative forces in the studio, pushed the band's sound in a darker direction with two albums that infamously incurred the distaste of critics and fans alike. After several years, Iron Maiden decided that the experiment was over, reuniting with Dickinson and Smith for a high-profile tour in 1999 (though Gers would remain as the band's third guitarist); they began the new millennium with another lauded release, Brave New World, which marked another shift in sound but one more favorable to the palates of fans.
Since then, Iron Maiden has only continued to grow: the albums get longer, the tours reach farther, and the fan base multiplies. For several world tours, the band even chartered its own airplane, dubbed Ed Force One, flown by none other than Bruce Dickinson, an experienced pilot. In the present, we find Iron Maiden as relevant as they were decades ago; it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a band playing heavy metal or any adjacent genre that does not owe some inspiration to them directly or indirectly, and this legacy will continue as surely as Eddie the Head graces album covers from Alaska to Zanzibar.
In this article, which does not have quite as many releases to cover from Maiden themselves, we have included the "where to next?" segment that mentions a few of the members' other projects. With any luck, we'll get to do a third part at some point in the future.
1995 - The X Factor
Say what you will about "Invaders" or "Tailgunner" being less-than-stellar Iron Maiden openers. But I put on The X Factor and its opener "The Sign Of The Cross" and at around the 2-minute mark I had already forgotten I was listening to music, but when the vocals kicked in, I was sorely reminded of just how bad of a fit Blaze Bayley's voice is for Iron Maiden's music. A lot of the music on The X Factor is pretty boring and lackluster, and would be so regardless of who was at the helm of the vocals, but a bunch of these songs, including the aforementioned "The Sign Of The Cross", sound pretty great with Bruce on vocals, as if he is injecting new life into these songs. Blaze Bayley, previously of Wolfsbane, and since leader of his own band, is far from a bad vocalist, but he and Iron Maiden's epic style that tries to build upon the grandiosity of Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son is like oil and water. The album feels a lot like soul-searching and trying to see what works, hence why this is even more bloated than Fear Of The Dark at 71 minutes, and also this being the first Iron Maiden album since the debut not to be produced by Martin Birch, with the role taken over by Steve Harris. I can't say there's really any song here that I would be enthusiastic to re-listen to in the form present here instead of as a live version of either Blaze's solo band or a Bruce-fronted Maiden.
musclassia:Few changes in vocalist are more notorious than the replacement of Bruce Dickinson with Blaze Bayley of Wolfsbane after the former left to pursue a solo career. The new partnership lasted but two albums, which were plagued by poor commercial performances and fan receptions, in addition to issues during live performances related to Bayley's allergies. Bayley-fronted Iron Maiden is an easy punching bag, and I take no pleasure in lazily piling on, but the simple fact is that The X Factor is a boring dud of an album, and Bayley was a poor fit for the band. Plenty of people remark that Bayley is unfairly blamed for the record's failure, that the material would have sucked regardless of vocalist, and in some ways that is true; however, Bayley was an incredibly poor match for the band's style. "Sign Of The Cross", surely the best song from the Bayley era, sounds sensational when performed live with Dickinson, but Bayley's lower register and tone singularly fail to convey the epic feel of this song in the way that his predecessor/successor manages to. This epic feel is also undermined by the band; the song is performed with far more energy, particularly on the part of the percussion, in live shows than it was recorded with on The X Factor. A lack of energy is an issue on many songs; part of it seems to come from the production, as there's a general lifelessness to the sound here, but it also comes from the reliably forgettable riffs and compositions. "Man On The Edge" at least has the courtesy to be fast, which adds a small degree of excitement to proceedings, but several songs either open with extended soft sections or remain soft throughout ("Fortunes Of War", "Look For The Truth", "The Edge Of Darkness", "2 A.M."), and none of this softness is delivered with much in the way of intelligent melodic ideas to compensate. Additionally, the other heavy songs are almost all mid-tempo trudges bereft of memorable hooks. Add in a woefully ill-fitting vocalist who manages to take these flat compositions and make them even more tedious, and you get what must be the worst album in the Iron Maiden discography. I was harsh about Fear Of The Dark, but that's merely bad for an Iron Maiden album; The X Factor is just a genuinely bad album.
1999 - Virtual XI
Oft regarded as the nadir of Iron Maiden's career, it's a reputation that finds itself the musical equivalent of Schrödinger's cat, being both an album that makes you want to headbang and bang your head against a wall with tracks that are surprisingly strong and woefully weak. Some people erroneously lay the blame for the album's lack of quality solely at Blaze's feet although when you listen to the album there are few moments that even having Dickinson back behind the microphone could save with the likes of "The Angel And The Gambler" or "The Educated Fool". When given strong tracks like "Futureal", "The Clansman" or "When Two World's Collide" not only does Blaze do a good job but the band as a whole click to life and produce a quality that was lacking in the Blaze years. While he was a square peg trying to fit in a round hole, Blaze was also saddled with some poor material which did not help his case. A mix of the wrong person at the wrong time, Virtual XI has its moments for both good and bad though too few of the former at the expense of the latter. An album best left towards the end of your journey into the band's back catalogue unless you get a kick out of listening to a band running on fumes.
The second Blaze-era album starts completely opposite compared to the previous record. Instead of a long epic, we get a more traditional opener. A fast-paced energetic song in the form of "Futureal". A solid opener in my book. Next-up we have "Lightning Strikes Twice" which is... What's that? Another song? No, I don't think there's another song before it... "The Angel And The Gambler"? Never heard of it. Anyway, I can't deny it any longer, sacrifices must be made and, in this case, it's me listening to "The Angel And The Gambler". If songs on an album are like the small links of a bicycle chain. This link is so weak that the chain completely snaps. Easily the worst song Iron Maiden has ever made and it absolutely deserves the lambasting. It's atrocious! Now, my feelings about this record are very similar to my feelings about No Prayer For The Dying. This album is spotty as hell. The first two tracks are already a good indication of that. The soundscape is not that spectacular either. I know that not everyone is a fan of the production on The X Factor, but to me it has the best production out of all the 90s albums. This feels like a step down again. It doesn't create a strong mood like the previous one and it sounds a lot more flat. All that being said, this album still has its moments. "Futureal", "The Clansman" and "Como Estais Amigos" are really good tracks. In Fact I feel that "Como Estais Amigos" has Blaze's best performance with Iron Maiden. There are bright moments on this record, but also some of Maiden's biggest lows in their entire career. You just have to remember one thing from reading this: SKIP "The Angel And The Gambler"!!!
2000 - Brave New World
Brave New World is the reunion album. It's not like Iron Maiden stopped existing in the 90s, but Blaze Bayley's albums have sunk Iron Maiden's reputation, not entirely to his fault, as his solo career since proved he can make some pretty good music. Bruce Dickinson's solo career was somewhat more successful. But Brave New World was precisely what the world needed at the right time. The return of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith created the most stable Iron Maiden incarnation, one whose songs and albums would grow longer and whose tours and fanbase would grow larger, so much so that for a huge deal of us, this is the Iron Maiden that we knew all our lives. I can't even begin to imagine how important Brave New World was to the metal world. How many successful reunion albums do you know that came prior to it? How many that came afterwards? Precisely! And it isn't just a "historically significant" album for both the band and the metal world, it found the perfect balance between the longer and more progressive side and the chorus-heavy side of Iron Maiden. The triple guitar attack from Murray/Smith/Gers makes the galloping feel more alive and brooding, Dickinson's vocals may not go into "air-raid siren" territories as often, but he's fully utilizing the wails he's honed in his solo career. A lot of the music here still has a bit of its roots in the Bayley albums, with a couple of songs sounding like they were written while he was still in the band, but Bruce fitting like a glove on them shows that they never really were written for anybody else than him. "The Wicker Man" is Iron Maiden's best opener in the new millennium (don't even think about the technicalities of what millennium 2000 is in), "Ghost Of The Navigator", "Brave New World", "Out Of The Silent Planet" have became live staples, as well as among my favorite Iron Maiden songs ever, and even the "filler"-er songs never feel like they drop the ball due to how strong their choruses sound. Brave New World might not be the Iron Maiden that old time fans have known, as much as it was a return to that, but it was the start of my Iron Maiden.
Brave New World marked 20 years since Iron Maiden's debut album and also spawned the new-millennium "grey Iron Maiden" sound that has come to define their 21st-century material. It was a triumphant return to glory, though not to form - the reunion with Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith signaled a continuation of Iron Maiden's progression rather than a reversion to the style of its heyday. Retaining Janick Gers even after Smith's return, Maiden adapted to a three-guitar lineup by shifting further away from its trademark riff harmonies and towards a combination of gently plucked transitional segments and thundering walls of chords, sometimes interspersed with warm, rounded leads that have a much bluesier feeling than the electrified shredding of old. Producer Kevin Shirley, who took over from interim producer Steve Harris and would ultimately replace Martin Birch as Maiden's producer of choice, helped shape a dark, dense, and mysterious sound for Brave New World, which indulges in lengthy digressions and dreamlike asides even as it crams two or three wailing choruses into every track. Though not exactly more of a traditional Iron Maiden album than the Blaze Bayley duology, Brave New World feels alive, overflowing with energy that had slowly dissipated over the previous decade. Between the renewed vigor of the band members and a strong roster of anthemic tracks, Brave New World was not only a splendid way to mark the return of Iron Maiden but one of the band's strongest efforts to date.
Standout Tracks: "The Wicker Man," "Out Of The Silent Planet," "Blood Brothers," "Dream Of Mirrors"
2002 - Rock In Rio [Live]
Throughout their long-running career and hundreds of live shows executed all over the planet, Iron Maiden have had the opportunity to shot/record a quite few of those. As one of their very special live releases, a cut through the midst of their career, is a groundbreaking live performance - Rock In Rio (Live). Recorded in January 2001 at the same-named festival, known for hosting the biggest and most popular music acts within the music industry. Rock In Rio festival is also known for having one of the biggest crowds and, characteristically, very passionate and temperament. Usually it does help to take a rise a level or two in general show atmosphere, yet, the fact seeing Iron Maiden live is already enough to get the multi-generational crowd going crazy, whether being among the Latin American crowd or anywhere else in the world. According to the several sources, this particular event allegedly featured around 250,000 fans, which is absolutely astonishing. This gig was part of their massive 'Brave New World Tour', in support of the same-titled record from 2000. Consequently, also one of the reasons that the setlist featured one third of the songs from this particular album. Not that anything would be wrong with it, cuz hell, it's a strong one to say the least. Prior the Brave New World release and the following tour, one of the crucial moments in the band's career had happened, the move that strengthened the formation with devoted comradery for another 20+ years - the comeback of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith. With the latter forming the indestructible guitar trio and seeing them live for the first time on this tour, this show, was a quite special experience to witness. And Bruce? Well, if someone can initiate the adrenaline rush throughout your body in an instance, than that's the unique presence of Bruce. Unambiguously one of the most charismatic and energetic (live) performers that ever lived. A driving force, literally. Even though some might have a bittersweet feeling regarding the setlist in general, take into account that it's not an easy task to create a two-hour long set with 25 years of material available, the revived Maidens and their high-octane live shows and the involvement of the sightless-numbered chanting/cheering crowd, made this performance unforgettable and grandiose.
2003 - Dance Of Death
We've arrived at number 13 of the main records. Is that a bad omen? I'll be honest I wasn't too sure how many stars I would give Dance Of Death. You see, this one is kind of a two-faced album. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing on this album that falls down to the level of the weak songs on for instance No Prayer For The Dying or Virtual XI, but some songs do sound like they were written on autopilot. "Wildest Dreams", "Gates Of Tomorrow", "New Frontier" and "Montségur" are the most obvious ones. So, we've got that aspect of this album which leaves us with some of the more interesting songs. And these range from good to absolutely brilliant. Songs that add more atmosphere to them and have that little bit of extra inspiration which I missed with the ones I mentioned earlier. A fast and energetic kicker like "Rainmaker" absolutely hits the mark and "Journeyman" is a pleasant acoustic ballad. However, the two longest songs on this album are easily my favourites because of their storytelling prowess. "Paschendale" being my absolute favourite one. It is the absolute masterpiece on this record and it's one of Maiden's finest songs to date. Yes, it's better than "Hallowed Be Thy Name" and yes it's also better than "Rime Of The Ancient Mariner". In fact it's probably the second best song Iron Maiden has ever written. Both the lyrics and the music are intertwined into one visceral picture. It's storytelling in the finest form. Dance Of Death is probably the hardest album for me to give a decisive conclusion on. No big duds, quite a few very good songs and two brilliant tracks. There are a bit more autopilot songs on this album than on the absolute best Iron Maiden albums, but its best moments definitely are up there with some of Maiden's best work.
Dance Of Death is an album that has moments of brilliance in amongst large gaps of dead air which make up much of its runtime. While the band has a great history with epic tracks, they had done so ensuring that each minute was worthy of inclusion and added something as essential as the moment before and after it. For much of its duration Dance Of Death has you twiddling your thumbs waiting for the next big moment rather than listening to it. Case in point are tracks like "Face In The Sand" and "Paschendale", which, for as amazing as some moments are, much of the track(s) feel bloated and in need of editing to cut out the chaff. Add to this the tendency for too many of the songs to be good but not great ("Age Of Innoncence" and "Wildest Dreams" et al) and you have an album that has you waiting around for a killer part or a decent hook for much of its time leaving you holding on as the band connect the dots. There are however three tracks that see the band make the most of the runtime, with "Dance Of Death", "Rainmaker" and "New Frontier" showing the band were still able to add to their pile of metal classics. As good as these tracks are and the other few tracks that are enjoyable but little more and you have an album that is more filler than killer.
2006 - A Matter Of Life And Death
Though Maiden has never recorded live in the studio, this album is the closest they have yet come; A Matter Of Life And Death was left unmastered to preserve the sensation of the original recorded tracks, and the result is one of the most absorbing production jobs in the band's career. Dark, resonant, and more inflected with age than previous works, a sound like the crunch of autumn leaves and an oncoming winter wind makes A Matter Of Life And Death one of Iron Maiden's heaviest and most portentous albums to date. The album contains two ready singles in "Different World" and "Out Of The Shadows" - contrasting in tempo, if equal in sharing the album's temperament - but most of A Matter Of Life And Death consists of sprawling, elaborate epics of ever-evolving instrumental work and bold, soaring vocal lines. The album is an unusually somber one, often interspersing powerful choruses with retreats into toned-down guitar lines and ruminating thoroughly on its meandering compositions; though minimally outstripped by The Final Frontier and dwarfed by The Book Of Souls, A Matter Of Life And Death is one of Iron Maiden's longest and most indulgently progressive albums, which may be a barrier for fans of the band's more upbeat and energetic material, but it makes the most efficient use of its time, balancing atmospheric repetition with plentiful hooks and performances that lose no passion for their wizening sobriety.
Standout Tracks: "The Longest Day," "Different World," "Brighter Than A Thousand Suns," "These Colours Don't Run"
By 2006 Iron Maiden have regained all the glory they had lost during the Bayley years and they are touring the world with their classic songs as well as the best ones of the new millennium. And then A Matter Of Life And Death came and they thought it was so astonishing that they decided to play the whole thing live with mixed response and with Dickinson famously ripping up the 'Play Classics' sign that was thrown on stage by a member of the audience at one show. But was the album that good to justify such a decision? Mostly yes, but the nature of the songs is not exactly live material. "Different World" is a cool opener in the vein of "The Wicker Man" and "Wildest Dreams", and it is also reminiscent of Thin Lizzy at times. But it is the only quick and direct track in the album along with "The Pilgrim". A Matter Of Life And Death is the darkest and most brooding album of the band, and it goes for long, epic, and progressive compositions, also boasting two of the finest Iron Maiden songs ever put on record ("These Colours Don't Run" and "For The Greater Good Of God"). However, the prolonged duration of the album is sometimes due to passages/verses being overstretched and/or choruses being over-repeated and this undermines the final product despite the many moments of greatness it possesses. Still, for a band that had four decades of history on its back at the time, A Matter Of Life And Death was almost a triumph.
The Final Frontier is probably the least positively received album released by Iron Maiden since the reunion with Bruce Dickinson; however, I probably look on it more relatively favourably compared with the other comeback albums than most. It's very much an album of two halves, with five relatively short songs (excluding the "Satellite 15" part of "Satellite 15... The Final Frontier") followed by five longer tracks, and the quality of that first half is certainly up for debate. "El Dorado" is a fun, fast-paced cut, and "The Alchemist" is a rather quirky effort for the group; on the flip side, the title track is a bit pedestrian for the group, and "Mother Of Mercy" and "Coming Home" are quite forgettable. On the flip side, I find the lengthy second half of the tracklist, a source of ire for some, to be a reliably enjoyable sequence of music. The clear standouts of this section are the urgent up-tempo "The Talisman" and quite lovely closing epic "Where The Wild Wind Blows", both of which I hugely enjoy; however, I also think the other three songs around them have quite a lot to offer listeners. I can easily see the flaws in The Final Frontier, but if I was planning to listen to a reunion album, I'd feel more inclined to pick it over most of the competition (bar Brave New World) than perhaps the fanbase in general would.
2010 - The Final Frontier
2010 - The Final Frontier
To say that Iron Maiden has gone in a more progressive direction since their reunion is kind of an understatement, but it's not like they weren't already going in one as far back as 1984, or even earlier (see "Prodigal Son"). This approach has been a pretty hit or miss element of their sound, that works best when properly balanced with the arena chorus-heavy Iron Maiden. The Final Frontier is weird in that regard, since it has most of the shorter punchier songs in the first half, but the album itself starts with an 8-minute track, unlike previous albums, even if that one is actually just two tracks stitched together. I can somewhat understand why this album was the least well received of the post-reunion albums: uninspired cover art, overly long songs, drums sounding awful, or the band going full on on the progressive side without completely pulling it off. And it might be because this was the first Iron Maiden album to be "the new Iron Maiden album" for me, as well as one of the first albums I ever bought with my own money, I just can't figure out what makes this album that much worse than the other post-reunion albums. Sure, "Starblind" is clonky, "The Man Who Would Be King" is unnecessary, but I can't find something worse to say about the whole album other than that it's pretty middle of the road. "El Dorado" fits its adventurous theme, "Isle Of Avalon" could've been a Rush song in another life, and "When The Wild Wind Blows" was the best post-reunion Iron Maiden closer until the next album came along.
Following one of their least acclaimed records, The Book Of Souls is Iron Maiden's longest album at 92 minutes and features their longest ever song, "Empire Of The Clouds". This closing track is an epic masterpiece written by Bruce on the piano, with lyrics addressing the fate of the British airship R.101 which crashed in France. In my opinion, it is the band's best track after their reunion. The opener "If Eternity Should Fail" is also Bruce's work, and the scope and nature of the tracks that bookend the band's 16th full-length feel in line with the fact that Dickinson knew he had cancer during the recordings and he thought that this could well be his last album. Overall, The Book Of Souls is a challenging and versatile album, and a step up from its predecessor but it is also about twenty minutes longer than it should be. Iron Maiden in 2015 seem unable to self-edit and "The Red And The Black" is the best evidence of that; a great song with some of the catchiest guitar parts on the album but it goes on for 2-3 minutes longer than needed. On the other hand, the Zeppelin-ish title track is excellent because it finishes exactly when it should. And then, there are songs like "Speed Of Light" and "Death Or Glory" that simply prove why Iron Maiden would benefit from going back to shorter and punchier songwriting. Overall, the The Book Of Souls features less of Steve Harris than we are used to (both in songwriting credits and as far as how prominent the bass is), and has some rehashing moments (the intro of "Shadows Of The Valley" is identical to the one of "Wasted Years"), but for a late-career album it is impressive that they can still write and perform at this level. Very few classic bands can do that.
2015 - The Book Of Souls
2015 - The Book Of Souls
"Progressive" at last gave way to "unrefined" on The Book Of Souls, a full 90 minutes of music that stands as Iron Maiden's longest album and for no reason other than an undiagnosed aversion to brevity. The temptation of epic-length writing reaches the culmination of its decades-long encroachment on Maiden's predominant style, resulting not in "Rime Of The Ancient Mariner" or "Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son" but a colorless waterfall of repetitive riffing that demands more time than it has ideas to fill. Though the bones of contemporary classics sometimes claw through the mire, agglomeration is easily mistaken for inspiration, and the most exciting moments of even the shorter tracks are buried by excess. Where the songwriting falters, so does the production; the luxuriant darkness of Brave New World and A Matter Of Life And Death congeals into a dull headache reminiscent of the Blaze malaise. At its best, The Book Of Souls is a challenging album that gambles with the band's most progressive vices and sometimes pays off; at worst, and more frequently, it is a lethargic, swampy, and bloated album throughout which Bruce sounds haggard and strained while his bandmate meld together into muddied vibrations.
Standout Tracks: "If Eternity Should Fail," "The Book Of Souls," "Empire Of The Clouds"
Where To Now?
Escaping from the shadow cast by your former band is a daunting task for anyone and given the size of the shadow cast by Maiden Di'Anno faced an uphill struggle of epic proportions. Killers (UK) was one of the many projects Di' Anno fronted since his departure and is perhaps the best one he was associated with. Murder One may not be the most revolutionary record but it does what it sets out to do well, namely, traditional heavy metal that is fun and easily digestible. Tracks like "The Beast Arises", "Marshall Lokjaw" and "S&M" may not reinvent the wheel but they will take you where you need to go in good time, seeing Di'Anno whose voice has matured by this time sound larger than life and showing he wasn't kicked out of Maiden for a lack of talent. It is perhaps here where the biggest problem lies, that the band are very limited in their scope and do not reward listeners when they attempt to branch out; "Dream Keeper" and "Awakening" are notable attempts at trying something slightly different and failing in their execution while truth be told "S&M" veers very close to derailing itself in its attempts at sounding expansive with only some good guitar work keeping a few wheels on the rails. It is unfortunate that Murder One also features the worst tendency of his post Maiden career in that he repeatedly covers material from his tenure in the band, "Remember Tomorrow" is a great song but do we need yet another version of it? The shadow looms large when you keep running back to it.
As Maiden were faltering in the late 90's Bruce Dickinson was going from strength to strength, reigning in his experimental tendencies that had marked his early solo career in favour of a more orthodox approach. Putting his erstwhile bandmates in the shade as they navigated the Blaze Bayley years (coming out a scant five months after Virtual XI), The Chemical Wedding shows that he came out on top when comparing the years subsequent from their split. Alongside the guitar work of fellow ex-Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith and regular collaborator Roy Z, The Chemical Wedding is full of strong moments and tracks that back up the oft made claim that this is the best album Iron Maiden never made. While much of the album is a platform for Dickinson's voice (although "Jerusalem" is pretty much made by it), it is merely the cherry on top of the cake with tracks like "Book Of Thel", "The Tower" and "The Alchemist" showing it is more than just a one man show featuring strong guitar work and well utilized drumming. The album does dip in places with tracks like "Killing Floor" and "Gates Of Urizen" being a step below the quality of the rest of the album, the former being too direct for its own good while the latter has all the ingredients but somehow just doesn't click the way it should, both however are enjoyable to a good extent nonetheless.
It should come as a surprise that the vocalist of what is commonly considered as the worst Iron Maiden albums has released some pretty good solo albums, so much so that, I kid you not, there are people who prefer them to the post-reunion Iron Maiden albums. I wouldn't go that far, but I can name at least one of those I like less than Silicon Messiah. It's amazing what a big quality difference there is between the two Bayley Iron Maiden albums and his solo stuff, and most of it comes from actually writing passionate music to fit his vocal styles instead of trying to do what usually would've worked with Bruce. No longer having to fill any shoes, Blaze is a lot heavier and manages to stay pretty anthemic without going to the obnoxious repetitions of Virtual XI. The guitar riffs are meaty, the songwriting is more modern, the production fits the music, and Blaze's vocals actually sound pretty great here. Turns out that oil and water are both good even if they don't mix. Blaze would soon turn into Blaze Bayley and the rest of the material would "blaze" on a pretty similar path, with Wolfsbane also reuniting with another album to show another sound that Bayley also fits better than what Iron Maiden were trying to do with him. But out of all of them, Silicon Messiah felt the most memorable to me.
The exact relationship of Steve Harris to British Lion has not always been clear; best as we can piece it together, British Lion was once a band that Harris mentored (without joining) in the '90s before their collapse, and some years later the project was resurrected as a platform for a Steve Harris solo album entitled British Lion. Eight years later, in 2020, a second album was released, this time with British Lion labeled a full band featuring Harris. Got that? Fortunately, the music is a lot more straightforward: hard rock with its head in the clouds. While the project lurched to a forgettable start with the self-titled album, on which Harris drowned out all of the other members and no other aspect of the album commanded the confidence to challenge him, The Burning offers a substantial improvement. The production is balanced and clean without letting go of an air of mystery - think a twinge of space rock a la UFO - and while Harris is still the only member with a remarkable, well-defined style, the other musicians at least sound comfortable and capable. The Burning occasionally leans a little bit into grunge, sometimes into heavy metal, but it is at its best when following some thread of prog influence into heady choruses and keyboards; hints of vaguely defined Celtic feeling akin to Black Star Riders also seep through. The album meanders from time to time, testing the limits of its melodies, which in some ventures leads to an enveloping mood and in others leaves the songs feeling bloated. British Lion is low-impact compared to Iron Maiden, but Harris is clearly enjoying himself on the club circuit again, and with the improvements shown on The Burning, British Lion clearly has something to offer beyond being simply one more Iron Maiden side project.
Standout Tracks: "Spit Fire," "Legend," "Elysium"
||Written on 24.04.2021 by I'm the reviewer, and that means my opinion is correct.|
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