Ginger Nuts of Horror
Brave New World saw Bruce Dickinson return to Iron Maiden. Which made it fairly appropriate that this was the first Iron Maiden album that I bought. Thinking back (cue wavy ‘memory’ effect and harp music) it must have been about the year 2000. I was at that stage of my youth where I was obsessed with music. Every penny I had went on music, eyeliner and black nail varnish, or black t-shirts displaying the imagery of said music. I had exhausted the back catalogues of Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne and Kiss, and now Iron Maiden were recommended to me by a friend.
My existing impression of them at that time wasn’t particularly positive. Put down those pitchforks a moment, just hear me out before you chase me up to the old windmill. I was under the impression that Iron Maiden songs were all about dragons and goblins and such. Which I stand by, except it no longer bothers me because my music taste is much broader now. At the time, however, I was 15 years old and wanted my music to be about sex and girls and sexy girls. All three of which were things that I wasn’t getting much of. So, albums that seemed to me to be the rock music equivalent of Lord of the Rings? No thank you. Even if they did have a cool zombie thing on the album covers.
I was terrified of listening to this album. I had listened to X Factor long before Virtual XI and I hated it and this one was supposedly worse. However after giving it 3 or 4 tries, it kind of grows on you. The only issue I had throughout the whole thing was the sound of Blaze’s voice, which to me doesn’t really fit at all with Iron Maiden musically, but that’s just me.
Before I begin, allow me to explain….
I came at this project as someone who has never listened to an Iron Maiden album, but of course, I’m familiar with the band. Who isn’t? I’d describe myself as a fan of all types of metal and would like to think I have eclectic musical tastes. Before sitting down to listen to ‘The X Factor’, I had never heard the album, or any of the songs from it, and didn’t really have any feelings about Iron Maiden either way. I could name a few of their songs and would nod my head along sometimes, but I sort of ‘nothing’d’ them.
After sitting down for around 120 minutes with this album, I’ve changed my opinion, and my Maiden fan pals have already laid into me about it. According to them, my opinion counts for nothing because I don’t know Maiden well enough, haven’t given them enough of a chance (on account of only listening to one full album), and I just don’t ‘get’ the band or what they do. I’d disagree that my opinion is worthless, but can’t argue with their reasoning. I slagged off one of their favourite bands and they felt personally offended by that.
It’s the 28th August 1993. Iron Maiden has taken to the stage in what will be their last performance with vocalist Bruce Dickinson at the helm. Rumours are rife of band disruption and there are allegations of Bruce not performing to the best of his ability coming straight from bassist Steve Harris. Something has to give! The previous two studio albums, Fear of the Dark and No Prayer for the Dying, feel a little like Maiden were just going through the motions. Fear had some great songs; notably Afraid to Shoot Strangers, Be Quick or be Dead and of course the live favourite and title track Fear of the Dark….but the rest? The less said about No Prayer for the Dying, the better. To these ears it sounded like a band tired and lacking any real inspiration. Maiden revisited themes such as war (Tailgunner) and history (Mother Russia) and they were beginning to sound very dated. Maiden was in trouble and all you need do is take a look at the lousy Raising Hell video to see that Dickinson had somewhere else he wanted to be.
Continuing our series of companion articles where Iron Maiden virgins are exposed to their first taste of Maiden madness, George Illet Anderson pops his cherry with Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. You can read Steve Chapman's review of the album here
As I sit here and try and write my first impressions of hearing an Iron Maiden album the one thing I’ll probably say over and over again is how much I have reverted to being an adolescent. My head has been bobbing up and down, my feet pumping and my arms gesticulating wildly whilst I mouth vaguely formed words and sentences. I’m acutely aware of this phenomenon occurring the more and more I try and listen to the lyrics. There’s something just so gloriously freeing about letting caution fly and prancing around as if I’m Bruce Dickinson wailing about portents, signs and seals whilst alternately doing screeching air guitar solos legs akimbo and flailing my arms at the same time as my feet tap out a persistent beat. I haven’t done this sort of thing in an age. There’s an old saying, “dance like no one’s watching” and I think based on my experience with this album you can also add sing like no one’s listening.
By the time Iron Maiden’s ninth studio album Fear of the Dark rolled around in 1992, the band who ruled the 80’s as kings of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) were in something of a slump, at least with regards to the reception of fans and media to the album’s predecessor 1990’s No Prayer for the Dying. The heady days of the 80’s, where seminal albums like Powerslave, The Number of the Beast and Piece of Mind epitomised the sound of Iron Maiden, were gone, and the 90’s might have brought chart success and record numbers of sales, but they also brought turmoil and fan dissatisfaction.
Most fans of Iron Maiden will tell you this album is where the band first began slipping from the majesty of their classic material, and though that may be partly true, I find it strange that even diehard fans give this album unrelenting amounts of shit. It may be Maiden’s first album to not be a complete metal masterpiece, but it is still Maiden. I personally believe many just don’t give this one the time of day because it is such a departure from the trajectory the band was on at the time. Many people wanted more bombast, more Seventh Son styled epics, more boundary-pushing of what melodic metal could be (and they wanted these things for good reason). Instead we got a barebones, hard rocking platter of varying quality. There is greatness held within this collection of songs, but arguably for the first time in Maiden’s career, there was also plain mediocrity.