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By A Customer
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This review is from: Virtual XI (Audio CD)
While being grouped in the category of less successful and obviously less interesting Maiden albums, Virtual XI is not the worst they have written. The X-Factor, despite what I read in the reviews on these pages, is a bad album. Musically it is bland and feels like it has been stuck permanently in the 80's. No Prayer for the Dying was also not great but at least Bruce was singing. The inclusion of Blaze Bayley was, I'm afraid, one of the deciding factors in forming my opinion on the new material from the band. But I must say that although he started off badly, he found his footing with album no. 2 (or 11, whichever).
As a whole, Maiden seem to have gelled nicely. It feels as though they enjoy playing again, which is one of the reasons why their first 7 albums were all so good. Music should be enjoyed not only by the audience. Maiden make you feel as if they have returned from a long sabatical with Virtual XI.
Futureal is a classic Maiden track, as good and as exciting as The Trooper, Can I Play With Madness and The Prisoner all rolled into one. Possibly one of their best ever tracks. That is what was missing from post 7th son recordings, any sign of a true Maiden classic. It is short for a Maiden track, only 3 minutes, but it is a great opener to an album that is dotted with good songs although it does falter towards the middle. The Angel & the Gambler is far too long but, somehow, does not get tedious. Lightning Strikes Twice is a worthy track but is missing something. The Clansman is actually rather good, very overblown but a true Maiden saga track that just about ticks all the boxes. When Maiden do an epic, they usually do a good one. Just take Dream of Mirrors and The Nomad from Brave New World (a much more exhilarating return to form). The following three songs are very close in style and execution to Lightning Strikes....
What really sets this album apart from the X-Factor, No Prayer for the Dying etc is what holds it all together and makes you want to listen to it all the way through: the opening and the end track. Futureal and Como Estais Amigos are true Maiden classics that rise above anything they've produced on their previous 3 albums. And listening to Bruce sing Futureal live on the B-side of The Wicker Man suddenly makes you realise that it is a song that could have been written back in their Powerslave or Somewhere in Time era.
Not exactly vintage Iron Maiden but back-on-form Iron Maiden. Bruce is still far better suited to the frontman role but every effort is made with this album to forefront Blaze's vocals, which are very good.
If you want an album that is typical of Maiden, try Number of the Beast or Piece of Mind, or indeed 7th son. Virtual XI is purely for the die-hards. Nevertheless, a 4 star effort and a glimpse of their fabulous rebirth.