Iron Maiden Ramblings

July 26th, 2000

No, this post isn’t really about loving or hating Iron Maiden, it’s just gonna be a long Maiden-related post, and that song is going to be featured. Sumeet asked about my opinion of Brave New World a few days ago, so here it is, along with a bunch of other stuff. If you’re not Sumeet, you may just find this a bit boring, believe it or not.

Basically, I think BNW might be my favorite Iron Maiden album. The common line people have been using (so much that it’s become cliched) is “It’s their best since Seventh Son!” For me, sure, maybe it is. But in that case, it’s also the best since their first album, as I think The X Factor is better than Seventh Son, or any of their previous albums. By the way, is Seventh Son EVERYONE’s favorite Maiden album? If so, that would be one of the strongest general agreements ever in the metal community; if not, it seems like I would have heard someone say “It’s their best since Number of the Beast” or something like that.

So at the moment, the crown of “Neil’s favorite Maiden album” is being tossed between The X Factor and Brave New World right now. Only time will tell the victor of that battle, as I recognize that right now BNW has a host of environmental factors in it’s favor. First is the season. I wonder if record companies ever decide to release albums at a particular time of the year, and I don’t mean just so they match up with other releases or something like that. I mean do they match albums to the weather and climate? Because BNW appeared at the beginning of summer (in the Northern Hemisphere), and if there’s a better album to crank up on a sunny day while cruising down the highway with the top down, then damn, I’d like to hear it. By contrast, something like The X Factor would clash with the season; that album does it’s best magic in the darkness and cold. The second environmental factor is my purchase and first impressions. I bought the album while on vacation in Venice, Italy, and the first couple times I listened to it was while sitting outside on a bench in a classic Venetian campiello. Wonderfully, BNW and Venice are now inextricably linked in my mind. Finally, three days after purchasing the album, I saw Iron Maiden perform live on one of their first shows of the “Metal 2000” tour in Monza, Italy. Seeing the songs so soon in such a fantastic live setting is also obviously going to change my impressions. Anyway, none of this really has too much with Iron Maiden specifically, but I’m always curious of other people consider these kinds of things when reviewing albums. There’s plenty of people around here who seem to post their thoughts on an album after listening to it one time, and I find opinions like that to be completely worthless. For me, there’s a whole lot more involved in figuring out what I’ll think of an album in the long term.

Now, how about the album itself? It’s definitely met or surpassed my expectations, which were admittedly a bit low. Since The X Factor was my favorite Maiden album previously, and I’ve never been as enamored of Bruce as most, I was a bit afraid that they’d go and wreck all the things that I’d grown to love about them. Thankfully, the music didn’t go retro; it pretty much continued along the path Maiden has been going on. And Bruce sounds fantastic. I find the production to be perfect, nice and clear but not squeaky-clean, and not as punchy as more modern bands. I like Bruce’s harmonies, how the higher line is pushed really far back in the mix. The drumming totally rules, and anytime I specifically listen to that part of the band, a grin spreads across my face as I can see Nicko bouncing in his chair, constantly making faces with each flourish. Here’s a quick runthrough of the songs, where as usual, my opinions seem to differ a fair bit from the standard.

The Wicker Man: I couldn’t imagine a better first track for this album. Perfect leadoff, and the ending rules.
Ghost of the Navigator: One of the highlights of the album. In addition to the whole song being unique stuff, some of Bruce’s vocal melodies must have come from somewhere no one has looked before.
Brave New World: Another strong one to keep the pace going.
Blood Brothers: I read a pre-release interview saying how great the orchestration in this song was, so maybe that’s why I’m a bit disappointed with it. Still, a good song.
The Mercenary: Not bad, but it seems pretty much like a filler song to me.
Dream of Mirrors: This one seems to be a favorite of a lot of people, but it fits somewhere in the middle of the pack for me. I love long intros and repetition, but Maiden’s done it better before.
The Fallen Angel: A good bit better than The Mercenary, but still behind Wickerman, amongst the three “standard” songs.
The Nomad: Another general favorite that I’m not as crazy about. The rhythms are great and the mellow section in the middle is awesome, but all the “NOOOOMAD!!!!” gets to be a bit much for me sometimes. It’s the same reason I’m not too crazy about “The CLAAAANSMAN!!!”
Out of the Silent Planet: One of my favorites; great groove, great pace, great melodies.
The Thin Line Between Love & Hate: Finally, the track that has me completely baffled. In nearly every review I’ve read of this album, opinions of this song have ranged from “forgettable” to “terrible”. For me, it’s the best song on the album by far, and possibly my favorite Maiden song ever, right up there with Hallowed Be Thy Name and Afraid to Shoot Strangers. The song has great variation, cool use of the three-guitar attack, an awesome change near the end with some beautiful leads, and when Bruce soars “I will hope / My soul will fly / And I will live forever”, I swear it nearly brings a tear to my eye. What more could you ask for in a song? I’m beginning to think I must have a different version on my CD that everyone else does.

Incidentally, doesn’t it say a lot about Maiden that they get so many song-by-song reviews? I don’t see that so much with too many other bands. For those disappointed with the album, I don’t find that all that surprising, since this is a prog-metal board, and Maiden isn’t all that much of a prog-metal band. As I’ve said to people for their last few albums, if you don’t like the new Maiden stuff, go back and listen to the old Maiden stuff, and you may discover you don’t care for that too much anymore either. I maintain that Iron Maiden hasn’t changed nearly as much as some of their listeners have.

Ok, and a couple more pseudo-related topics, then I’ll finish this book. First, Maiden live at Gods of Metal in Italy. The 3 bands that played before Maiden were Sentenced (great), Dark Tranquillity (they completely blew me away, amazing performance), and Demons & Wizards (great, but the crowd was starting to murder me at this point). Since I was up front and dying for those three bands, we needed to take a break and go back up into the stands while Maiden set up. I naively thought maybe we could just stay up their for their whole set, it was a pretty good view after all. But as has happened to me before, as soon as Maiden started playing, I had to get down there with the crowd. It was amazing to see the crowd of people down on the field who were previously milling around the t-shirt booths and food stands be instantly drawn into a tight pack before the stage like iron filings to a magnet. As usual, the band was pure energy, and the sound was absolutely perfect. Bruce sounded unbelieveable, literally. I found myself trying to look closely to make sure he wasn’t lip-synching. They opened with the first four off BNW, and the transition from Blood Brothers into Wrathchild (“And now for something completely different!”) kicked my ass. Other highlights were Sign of the Cross with Bruce appearing tied to a cross rising above the stage, and Fear of the Dark with the moon appearing with perfect timing in a break in the clouds. It was the first outdoor metal show I’ve ever seen, and the first real big stage show from Maiden, and my first time seeing a concert in Italy, so all in all it was pretty unbeatable. I have tickets for their upcoming show in Chicago, and I’m sure it will be cool, but I fear it will end up being a bit of a letdown.

Finally, I picked of the new Blaze album, Silicon Messiah, and it seems rather cool. Although there’s one song that’s vocally very similar to Man on the Edge, there really isn’t a whole lot of Maiden similarities, even with the singing (although it’s obvious who is behind the mic). There’s actually one song where they ripped of Helloween. The band seems really good, the drummer is a real ditch-digger. And Blaze’s vocal melodies are both complex and memorable. The production is real nice and heavy, it’s good to hear that they didn’t go retro. Overall, it really seems to me like the type of metal someone like Ralf would like; it doesn’t seem all that different than something like Lefay to me. And it keeps growing on me more and more too. By the way, did anyone else notice Blaze looks really skinny in the photos? You think Maiden would have given him at least enough money to feed himself.

Ok, I’m done (for now). It’s a bit more disjointed than I planned, and longer, but hey, I warned you!

Final thoughts on Brave New World, as it just finished playing: I don’t know if I can claim yet that it’s my favorite album of the year, but I can say that I’ve been playing it more than anything else I’ve gotten.