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This review is from: Somewhere In Time (Audio CD)
Maiden's Sixth album is another album of transition and ambition, and may well be my favourite. It has some excellent singles, it has the usual hallmarks of concept, speeding guitars, has some of their best artwork and ideas, and retains the progressive elements of the two albums on either side of it whilst eschewing the epic for a more direct feel. Although the second half doesn't match up to the heights of the first it keeps the high quality of their other central 80s records. At this time in the decade thrash was king, with bouffant synth rockers clambering for position at the top of the charts. Maiden keep their own distinct style mixing punk and prog, but also take use of some of the new technology available and indeed make it effective creating a sound that is at once, 80s, futuristic, and timeless. Many feel this is one of their weaker releases, but with the first four songs it is easy to argue otherwise.
`Caught Somewhere In Time' is one of the band's most underrated songs and openers. It introduces us to the new sound with synthesized guitars sounding cool rather than immediately dated. We have a couple of memorable riffs, a soaring chorus, and a blend of high and mid paced tempos as well as strong atmosphere. The overall concepts of time and fate are covered, Harris' lyrics are fairly strong, while Dickinson lets his pipes loose on every syllable.
`Wasted Years' shows how Adrian Smith had grown to become secondary songwriter, this time on hiw own without the help of Brucie. It is one of the bets singles the band has released with an immediately recognizable introduction, chugging chords, strong melodies, and a wonderful chorus. Alienation, touring, and time passing all too quickly are the central themes and give an excuse for some great singing and guitars.
`Sea Of Madness' is, like the first song, an underrated song. It opens with a fairly groovy riff and builds to an interesting chorus which doesn't sound much like anything the band have done before or since. It is another Smith song which lends a different creative flavour sorely missed when he left the band. It has a nice middle section which explores new territory before once again building to a triumphant conclusion.
`Heaven Can Wait' rounds off the excellent opening quartet, an epic song which could perhaps have benefited from being a bit shorter whilst still getting the point across. Having said that, it doesn't drag at any point, is very fast, highly melodic, and has yet another brilliant chorus. This remains a firm live favourite which garners much crowd interaction with its sing-along vocals and lyrics. The middle section shifts in melody, tone, and timing and has some effective, non-Maiden like choir woo-oohs. We then return back to the original form where the song continues for a few minutes till the end.
`The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner' begins promisingly enough with a soft, atmospheric part. This shifts into a quicker paced section with some good background guitars and typically belted out vocals. This one lacks the melodic power of the previous song and sounds longer than it actually is, although this seems to fit the subject matter quite well. The effects on the guitars stand out here and sound quite unique, and the middle solo is strong. The song chugs along to the end quickly enough and is a good addition, but after the first four songs it seems like a slight come down.
`Stranger In A Strange Land' picks things up again with another Smith song. This is actually one of the band's most interesting songs, having many different shifts and rhythms. There are groovy parts, fast fist pumping guitars, big riffs, and a big chorus with and edgy tone. The lyrics fit well with the varying sounds to create an imaginative mood which Dickinson takes full benefit of.
`Deja-Vu' continues with the futuristic, technologically enhanced guitars opening in typically moody fashion, seemingly setting the tone for another melancholy epic. This suddenly changes into a high paced collage of melodies and riffs. This melds all the themes of the album, speaking of a character who may be dreaming or remembering these visions of the future as if has lived them before. We have a big chorus, though not as immediately catchy as others, a middle break of synth and overlapping solos before returning to the main riff and verse. Like many of the songs on this album this one has been forgotten amongst the wide collection of singles and better known songs.
`Alexander The Great' closes the album, going way back through the years to the time of this great leader. It is suitably epic considering the way Alexander conquered most of the world. We open quietly, quickly moving on to trotting chords and lyrics which tell us of the man's life in simple, devoted terms. We get some of the synth and effects of previous songs but in many ways this sounds out of place on the album as it doesn't have the futuristic feel. Perhaps that is the point- that after all the looking to the future we end up in the past. After an interesting middle section of complex guitars and shifting pace we return to the main portion which rambles on for another few minutes. This may be the weakest song on the album but considering the high mark achieved throughout that isn't much of a slight.
While Somewhere In Time is in many ways the archetypal Iron Maiden album, it is also one of their most unique. Never before or again would they sound so futuristic, like a bunch of time traveling guitar wielding assassins. There is a powerful coherence to the album in terms of music, style, and lyrical themes and content which they would struggle to equal again and the album manages to fit the restrictions of the `concept album' without resorting to overtly complicated or long songs. The ambition is still on display, though everything is condensed and focused when compared with the sprawling predecessor and follow up. Aside from a greatest hits and Number Of The Beast, this is perhaps the album you should give to newcomers to welcome them into the mouth of hell.