President Obama has named this week Iron Week in honor of their first album of the new decade and their first album in four years, and to celebrate I thought I would look back at Maiden in the 1990s. My original plan was to review The Final Frontier, but the album is extremely complex and I have not had enough time to fully digest it yet--but look forward to a review post in the near future!
Anyone will tell you that the 80s was Maiden's best decade of songwriting, and they'll probably be right every time. Of course, all good things must come to an end, and with the departure of Adrian Smith in the late 80s, Iron Maiden began to show signs of weakness with the Nirvana and Grunge plagues killing off most GLAM (which is an acronym standing for Gay Los Angeles Music, according to Dave Mustaine) bands and metal as a whole. I will begin by analyzing each of the albums from the 1990s, followed by pointing out the changes the band went through during this time:
No Prayer for the Dying-
In my opinion, this is Iron Maiden's worst album ever released, and most other fans will either agree with me or claim Virtual XI is the worst (more on this later). In this album, we have Iron Maiden getting as close to the mainstream as we will ever see them along with an odd scowl (not quite a scream, not quite a growl) from Bruce Dickinson that was rarely seen but is now on every track. Fans of Dickinson's side project might recognize the scowl from his first solo album, as well as a "Maidenized" version of Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter which became the band's only #1 single ever. The song has a classic guitar solo sound, but aside from that, it has few redeeming qualities and several odd transitions throughout the song--such as the haunting humming or the clunky guitar strumming from verse to verse. Overall, each song showcases Bruce's new experimental singing style, delivers some new crazy solos from new guitarist Janick Gers, and overall could be easily skipped by most Maiden enthusiasts (with a few selections). Be sure to check out the awesome Holy Smoke video; while not a classic Maiden song, the music video is just silly and adds a great deal to the band's reputation: Holy Smoke
Holy Smoke (video)
What to Avoid:
Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter
Fear of the Dark-
This album is my personal favorite from the 90s, and most fans will agree upon seeing the title of the album matching up with one of Maiden's most popular songs. Upon first listen, the primary difference the listener will notice between this album and previous efforts is that almost every song is dark or has a dark side, and according to drummer Nicko McBrain, this may be in part to main songwriter Steve Harris going through a divorce at the time. This album contains it all: a few experimental songs, classic Maiden sound, a long-ish length song that would become a fan favorite, and outstanding guitar riffs and solos. The first track, Be Quick or Be Dead, is one of the experimental songs where Maiden cranks up the adrenaline, write some of their fastest riffs and solos, and show Bruce using the scowl he picked up from No Prayer. The song also nabbed the #2 position on the UK charts and had decent air time on MTV.
The next song, From Here to Eternity, was was a bit on the "poppy" side, featuring a sing-along chorus and a music video with explosions, a biker chick, the devil, and the band performing on an island surrounded by lava. Despite not being the classic sound I love, Beavis and Butthead gave the video a positive review, and in the end, isn't that the only thing that matters?
The high points of the album for me came from the title track, the underrated political statement Afraid to Shoot Strangers, and the chilling into from Judas be my Guide. Afraid to Shoot Strangers is, in my opinion, the only Dickinson-era song Blaze Bayley (who will be discussed soon) actually sings BETTER than Bruce, and as such, it became a staple in almost every live show the band played while Bayley was the frontman. In General, this album still features the questionable scowl of Dickinson throughout, but should still be given a solid effort by any fan, if only to learn the origins of the immortal title track.
Afraid to Shoot Strangers (there's a riff that starts about halfway through that's just amazing. Listen to the song and you'll know which one :D)
Judas be My Guide
What to Avoid:
Wasting Love (some like this one, but I only see it as a vain attempt to make a power ballad)
Most live performances during this time period; Bruce was planning on leaving for a while and only gives about 70% effort
Blaze Bayley Era-
I will preface this section by saying that I have not listened to either of these albums in their entirety, but I have heard almost every song on its own.
The X Factor-
Starting off with the Bayley section, I will give an enthusiastic nod to Sign of the Cross--a song from this era that probably makes my top 5 Maiden songs of all time. The song is, according to recorded length, the second longest song ever recorded by Iron Maiden, edging out the newest epic off of The Final Frontier and falling short of Rime of the Ancient Mariner. There's not much I can say about this song, other than it follows traditional Maiden protocol of epic songs (defined by Hallowed be Thy Name, Rime, Alexander the Great, etc.) with numerous time changes, thrilling mood changes, dynamic guitar solos, and a long instrumental section. This song was a rarity of the two, because three songs from this album would reappear on the setlist when Bruce Dickinson re-joined in 1999: Sign of the Cross, Man on the Edge, and Lord of the Flies.
Overall, this album once again shows off Harris' brilliant songwriting while showcasing a new vocalist with songs that were made specifically for him and his vocal range. Though this album is not strongly remembered by fans, Steve Harris claims that it is one of his best works of all time alongside Number of the Beast. The bottom line, of course, is that Harris is still the primary songwriter, so the songs still have validity even if you don't like Bayley.
Sign of the Cross
Lord of the Flies
Blood on the World's Hands
What to Avoid:
Man on the Edge
Bayley's version of The Trooper
This is the album I have listened to the least. It only contains eight tracks, and of those eight tracks, I would recommend the Scottish themed song The Clansman, the Spanish-titled-but-hard-rocking Como Estais Amigos, and the short and fast-paced Futureal. These songs carry on the trend of Harris writing songs to fit his new singer's style and are a staple of the Blaze Bayley era. To me, this album is a rarity because it contains a song longer than eight minutes that, for lack of a better word, sucks. Withholding any "that's what she said" remarks, the longer the song the better is a term that applies to most Iron Maiden songs, but the Angel and the Gambler is the surprise variable, and because it was a single, it is often the reason Virtual XI is overlooked. The chorus line is repeated 22 times for some ridiculous reason, with a good portion of them being sung at the end in rapid succession. The music video for the single (which was a considerably shorter song) featured some cheesy CGI music video effects that Maiden would tamper with over the next few years and a feature that never completely won me over. Not to mention that the song feels like a trip to a 50s diner with a dash of the Maiden sound.
Como Estais Amigos
What to Avoid:
Angel and the Gambler
This post has become rather lengthy, so I will conclude the only way I know how:
In conclusion, I learned a lot about the American Civil War and it was very inspiring to me. I hope my report was educational and fun to read for you.