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A Glorius Return to Form...
on 15 August 2003
After three years of waiting, the loyal fans of Iron Maiden have been rewarded with a cracking studio album from the UK based sextet. Dance of Death, their 13th studio opus, is as hard hitting as earlier releases such as Powerslave, but combines a beauty so far unheard of on Maiden albums. Much more varied songwriting, past and present influences abound through this album and these show up most in the latter stages of the tracks. Speaking personally, I did approach this album with a fair degree of anxiety after I found that Brave New World marginally failed to deliver to my huge expectations. And I was stunned...
1. Wildest Dreams. The first single from the album, is a catchy little rocker, taking the listener back somewhere between Somewhere in Time, and relatively recent Bruce solo work on his experimental album Skunkworks. Penned by the flawless and criminally underated Adrian Smith, it is a single which will be likely to make a massive indent into the UK charts come September 1st. I urge you all to buy this now!! Already a live favourite on the Give Me Ed...Til I'm Dead tour, it's the shape of things to come on Dance of Death.
2. Rainmaker is a stunningly melodic penned track by Dave Murray. His songwriting always seems to be discarded for some strange reason (nods in the direction of Deja Vu and Judas be my Guide) but hopefully this melancholic yet beautiful use of the three guitars will find it's way into the live set on the Dance of Death tour. Bruce Dickinson delivers his first, but not last, blistering vocal performance on this track.
3. No More Lies is the first of the mid-range to long songs on this album and the mood turns markedly dark (reflecting perhaps the title of the album). A cracking performance by Nicko McBrain and Steve Harris forming that tightly bound rhythm section of this band. This Harris only penned epic will surely replace a similar track (The Clansman) as another live favourite. A superb, triple guitar assault midway through the album speaks volumes for the more tightly woven triumvirate of Janick Gers, Adrian Smith and Dave Murray. A main theme of this album in fact, and whereas you could argue the three guitars weren't used to their greatest effect on Brave New World, they are certainly on show on Dance of Death which spells good times ahead for the boys.
4. Montsegur. Ah, Montsegur! Quite possibly the most unique sounding track Iron Maiden have written. Janick has really come on as a songwriter in recent times and this odd blend of crushing heavy major riff into minor riff really works to my ears. The chorus is somewhat reminiscent of heavy metal for the new millenium, as seen on The Chemical Wedding by Bruce's solo band. Excellent vocals, excellent vocal harmonies, cleverly stacked guitar layers and a chilling ambience. Superb stuff.
5. Dance of Death - the darkness continues. After the staggeringly heavy Montsegur, it seems difficult to complete the aesthetic. But the theme of the album, to some extent, is played out to its fullest in this track. 8 and a half minutes of some shattering different guitar work. Another Janick penned track, the three pronged guitar assault is in abundance throughout this song, especially during an arrangement which is the centre point of the latter stages here.
6. Gates of Tomorrow. A decidedly more upbeat track ofsets the mood a little bit. A more midpaced rocker is a well earnt break from the previous 20 minutes of darkness.
7. New Frontier. Well well well. Here's a first! Who would have thought that Nicko McBrain, the veteran drummer of 51 years, would finally deliver a brutal selfpenned track worthy of a place on a Iron Maiden studio album! Not I. Really quick, another classic rocker with a superb solo by, once again, Adrian. This song sets up the last chapter of the album perfectly....
8. Paschendale. Adrian's mournful tale of the 3rd Battle of Ypres is harrowing, stunning and blistering all in the space of 8.5 minutes. He's never written an epic of such proportions before and I hope that he will do from now on. This song is destined for instant success. I don't think I could ever describe it's majesty that accurately, so just buy this album and witness it for yourself!
9. Face the Sand. And another track from Adrian, this time evoking some of the progressive aspects of earlier releases, such as 2 Minutes to Midnight. This progressive element is another theme to take in on this fantastic album, running through the last three tracks. It is complex but sounds as though it could become a live track if manipulated correctly.
10. Age of Innocence. A lovely sweeping intro into a strangely heavy track, this one by Dave. The album is peaking in quality at the right time, towards the end. More progression here and changes in rhythm abound. Hints of 70s influences run through this song.
11. Journeyman. Oh wow! This just gets better. After so many themes, progression, uniqueness, variety of writing styles, darkness, bleak tales, upbeat rockers, Iron Maiden surprise us all with a totally acoustic, ambient yet bitter tale. Beautifully sung by Bruce, superbly written by Adrian, this track is just the icing on the cake of what will surely be one of Iron Maiden's most loved studio album.
The elements combined to make this album all work. The topics covered, musicianship, lyrical content and delivery is such a staggering step up from Brave New World it's frightening. Just buy Dance of Death - it's a true return to form.