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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars can Maiden really pull it off AGAIN?, 18 Sep 2003
This review is from: Dance Of Death (Audio CD)
Many will argue that reviewing an Iron Maiden album is largely pointless. Their loyal fans are going to buy it anyway (and that millions of sales) while the rest of the world shrug and say, "well, it's just another Maiden album, isn't it?" However, they're ignoring the fact that fans had to sit through a very rocky patch in the nineties where Maiden albums that excelled were not the expectation, let alone assured. The X-Factor and Virtual XI of the Blaze Bayley era are rarely looked back on fondly, save a few superbly written tracks, while No Prayer for the Dying and Fear of the Dark (the single notwithstanding) lacked that truly "Maiden" spark. Brave New World brought a hugely powerful comeback with the reunion of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith with the band, but could they really pull that off again?
I don't mind admitting that when I first heard "Wildest Dreams" I was distinctly unimpressed. Although it swiftly grew on me, I was very apprehensive about this new album, not least because of the artwork cover that seemed only half-finished (okay, that's growing on me a little too, but I'm still not happy!). Well, "Wildest Dreams", it turns out, is only an introduction. It makes sense as a first single, as a reminder to the rest of the rock world, "oh, that's how you do it..." Then suddenly "Rainmaker" kicks in, one of the finest shorter tunes the band have written yet with its triple-guitar harmonies. I'm quite sure something must have lit up in my eyes the moment the song started. I smiled, settled down comfortably with the sure knowledge that Maiden are back!
"No More Lies" is the kind of track the Blaze Bayley albums tried to produce, with a soft opening breaking out into a punchy, progressive seven-minute long piece that destroys the memory of those two albums singlehandedly. "Montségur" is the heaviest track on the album, and indeed, this melodic anthem of religious martyrdom is heaviest since the early Piece of Mind days. Few drummers could chase guitars at that speed! The titular "Dance of Death" is a Harris-penned epic of death and horror. The instrumentation reflects the storytelling, with truely chilling cybals. "Gates of Tomorrow" and "New Frontier" (with Nicko McBrain's first writing credit) bring back the old speed, surgingly powerful with occassional mid-tempo melody.
And then the war song. No one bar no one does war like Maiden. "Paschendale" is poignantly sombre and aggressive and filled with lyrical imagery and utterly epic and quite simply the finest piece here. Eight minutes of structural brilliance with the most incredible galloping twin guitar attack for a long, long time. The song most bands would finish with, in fact. But not Maiden. "Face in the Sand" spins round suddenly with slow, stately elegance fuelled by constant kick of the double bass drum, accompanied by an understated orchestra. "Age of Innocence" is lyrically somewhat cliché, but the clashing and wailing guitar sound lets them get away with it. And finally, the closing "Journeyman" is a spiralling swirl of soulful strings, a heartwrenching lament from Bruce, filled with woe. A masterfully understated closing to an album of blinding brilliance.
Producer Kevin Shirley has described Maiden as "the last of the naturally moving rock bands" and the reason is simple. These days, most bands use guitars to fill space around vocals, heavily distorted sounds that can provide fury, but little else. Maiden's clean guitars positively sing, terrifying or heartbreaking as the song requires, soaring alongside Bruce's operatic vocals in a way that must make The Darkness question themselves.
In Brave New World Maiden showed they still had it in them, with the exquisite songwriting skills of Harris and Smith reunited once more. In Dance of Death they've cut out any longwinded rambling, rekindling the old magic. And now that the fans can stop worrying about those bad albums of the past, long may they continue...
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