With Bruce gone, Harris hired ex-Wolfsbane vocalist Blaze Bayley to fill in the shoes of his legendary predecessor, the inherent issue here is that Bruce was a tenor, he had a naturally high range, and the tracks he recorded along with Harris' writing reflects that, enter Blaze, who has an incredibly low baritone register, so for Maiden? Not a good choice irrespective of how good Blaze is in his own right (which he is) but how was the new line ups first album? Well... It's important to establish that at the time of writing Steve Harris experienced a lot of personal trauma and it's apparent, for better in my opinion, regardless of any criticism levied against individual tracks one thing that I consistently praise The X-Factor for is it's lyricism, some of the most emotionally driven ever produced by Harris, in addition the actual musicianship from Harris, McBrain, Murray and Gers is superb consistently, however after the first few tracks they are never truly given a chance to shine
Track 1: Sign of the Cross - Starting things off we have a masterpiece. Not what a lot of people expected but Sign of the Cross penned by Harris is an 11 minute long opus that experiments with the new progressive style Maiden would become known for, the use of chants is intensely unsettling and Blaze even does churn out some impressive vocals later in the song, despite being rather pathetic towards the beginning in which he mumbles through some well written lyricism, the main star is the time signature changes and the way Harris has orchestrated the Guitars within the verses and lyrics, that long with the scorchingly well performed by Murray and Gers solos make Sign of the Cross an absolute classic that is sadly left due to the cure of the 'Blaze albums' that many fans won't venture into, regardless the Rock in Rio performance featuring Bruce Dickinson stands as one of the best ever
Track 2: Lord of the Flies - Another track that I believe is up there with Aces High and 2 Minutes to Midnight, not in style but quality, the surreal riff that opens the tracks lends itself to the story being told of the book of the same name, and the lyrics along with how the Riffs are choreographed against each other during solos and verses create an extremely memorable track
Track 3: Man on the Edge - This is the cracks begin to show for Blaze, whereas live Bruce contrasted his vocals during the chorus, Blaze doesn't, it drones and becomes mundane making the track feel like a drag and bringing down what is otherwise a decent track lead by inspiration from Michael Douglas' 'Falling Down'
Track 4: Look for the Truth - An average track that isn't let down by anything than its own restraint, it never really takes off, the track is a relaxing one but it feels off centre in the album based around the previous tracks and the ones that come after it, highlighting the main issue with The X-Factor being that it feels so Simmilar throughout, not in a consistent way, but that each song is a rip-off of the last
Track 5: The Aftermath - A fantastic opening riff then spoiled by a generic succeeding one that feels like something from a bad AC/DC record, Blaze doesn't sound too bad, except his lack of ability with vibrato is clearly evident and it makes some of the longer notes, not only monotone but boring, suffering the same fate as Man on the Edge
Track 6: Judgment of Heaven - Arguably the worst of the album so far, the lyrics are such an antithesis to the chords being played that it creates a strange almost uncomfortable atmosphere, Blaze mumbles throughout and struggles to maintain a presence throughout, regardless the Chrous does have some emotional resonance which is almost spoiled by the rest of the song and Blazes insistence on saying 'Yeah yeah'...
Track 7: Blood on the World's Hands - A surreal introduction to the song makes it immediately interesting while Harris creates some mesmerising bass patterns, this first minute of experimentation makes up the best segment of the track before it is devolves into what is typical of the album, a strong track throughout as it is executed much better than Judgment of Heaven for example, nevertheless it is a strong track in its own right and stands up with Lord of the Flies
Track 8: The Edge of Darkness - Inspired by the Heart of Darkness, the source material of Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece 'Apocalypse Now' The Edge of Darkness is another stronger moment for the album, Blaze's mumbling actually matches the rising symphonic melody of the rest of the band, and it provides a good insight into the material, and it actually builds towards something that pays off, rather than ending on a weaker note, a better track
Track 9: 2 AM - A Hidden gem among the Maiden catalogue, and acts as one of the most emotional songs ever produced by the group, quite literally a representation of Harris' life during the period, the intro riffs are performed wonderfully and is perhaps Blaze's best performance on the album, it remains consistent and stands out against the other tracks musically, with a Chrous that is as relatable as it is impactful, truly mesmerising music
Track 10: The Unbeliever - Possibly Maiden's weakest ever closing track, The Unbeliever is bad, it sounds almost as though a 13 year old has a Yamaha practice keyboard and kept pressing demo during the intro, when the vocals kick in and become apparent, it is infuriating as the lyrics are wasted amongst a flurry of flat notes and mismatched riffs
To conclude, The X-Factor is Maiden's most polarising album by far, on one hand it has 3 almost masterpieces, 2 great ones and, 1 decent and 4 bad ones, it is worth a listen all the way for the musicianship, but the lack of consistency in track quality makes it stand out as an overall weaker album for Maiden, what next for Blaze's Maiden?