26 October 2013

Iron Maiden - The X Factor

This is the tenth studio album by Iron Maiden (Which I guess is where the 'X' comes into it as 'X' in Roman Numerals is '10) and it's also the first one since 'Killers' which doesn't have Bruce Dickinson on vocals. He'd left after the 'Fear Of The Dark' tour to persue a solo career. In his place, the band hired Blaze Bayley (Formerly of Wolfsbane) and began about writing and recording the material which would make up this album.

Released in 1995 to a lukewarm response, it's possibly the darkest album the band have created, due in part to band bassist and leader Steve Harris going through a divorce and grieving over the death of his father. As far as Maiden fare goes - it's business as usual. Seriously. Songs about books and movies? Check. Galloping basslines? On a couple of songs, check. Duel guitar leads? Check. Epic centrepiece? Check. Soaring air-raid siren vocals? Nope, Blaze has a lower range. That was really the only change for this album. Well that, and the cover art which wasn't a painting this time round but a photo of Eddie getting dissected or something. It's shit, to be honest hence why I've used the alternative cover here.

Let's get the elephant in the room out the way - Blaze Bayley's vocals. Honestly - he's a good vocalist. Nothing spectacular but he does the job. At least on the albums he plays on. He just couldn't cut it live as his voice cannot match up to the Dickinson-era. The stuff on this and Virtua XI (A really shit album, Maiden's worst) perfectly suits his voice as it was written with his vocal capabilities in mind. In a roundabout way, it reminds me of Sylvester McCoy as Doctor Who in the sense that both were actually quite good in their roles but with the odd exception (You be the judge) the material being written for them just wasn't up to speed. For every 'Sign Of The Cross' there was a '2am', for every 'Lord Of The Flies' there was a 'Look For The Truth'. The rest of the band weren't much better. They go about their thing with typical Maiden fashion but there is no energy there whatsoever. I doubt that's because the majority of the material is slow, they just sound disinterested. Seriously, listen to Powerslave and then this, you will see the difference. Granted there is 11 years difference between those albums but that's not the point. Having said that, the 90's were not a good time for Maiden. Nothing to do with changing music demographics but that Maiden were seriously off the boil. Fuck, I reckon you could make a CD of all of Maiden's highlights from the 90's and you'd be lucky to get TEN songs. Be honest, you know I'm right. Instead of going through the motions, they should've taken time out and taken stock of the state of the band and what direction they wanted to go in. Steve Harris is also notorious for his quality control - did he seriously think this was good enough for a band like Maiden? If he did then he was so fuckin' wrong. Mind, he's only a poor little Hammer so what does he know? Only kidding Steve! But yeah, fuck West Ham!!!

Opener is 'The Sign Of The Cross' which at 11 minutes or so long is the longest song Maiden had written by this point (The first being 'The Rhime Of The Ancient Mariner'). This is possibly an example of a Maiden curveball as prior to this, the first song on a Maiden album was usually a fast, rocky number. It's a good song but it seems a bit of a lumbering number to open an album with. As mentioned, Blaze's voice really suits this song. 'Lord Of The Flies' quickly follows before we hit the second highlight of the album - 'Man On The Edge' which is based on the movie 'Falling Down' (Possibly one of the best movies of the 90's) and tells the story of a man struggling with life in the 90's - kinda like Maiden themselves I suppose. This is the song that should've opened the album, and frantic pace and duelling guitar leads. It's no 'Aces High' but it does the job!

Then...nothing, for about 40 minutes. At this point, the songs tend to merge into one as they all start off in a similar format. Clean into with a guitar melody over it before launching into some maudlin about something or other. Actually, that was a bit strong, there are some good songs here - namely 'The Aftermath', 'Blood On The Worlds Hands' and 'Edge Of Darkness' which is about 'Apocalypse Now' (That would've been a great movie but Marlon Brando ruined it with his shit performance). However, I can try and big it all it likes, it doesn't hide the fact that it's just a continuation of the downward trajectory Maiden were on at the time. '2am' is abysmal but at least it's not 'The Angel And The Gambler'.

At least the production by Steve Harris is well done. No consolation though. Maiden are a band with a rich history so one stinker is allowable - but three in a row (Five if you count the 'A Real Live/Dead One' live albums - I wouldn't know about 'Live At Donington' as I've never heard it) is inexcusable. It just shows that the band were running out of ideas and steam at an alarming rate. Some time off was definately needed. I'd also go out on a limb and say that even with the return of Bruce and Adrian, they're still not as good as they've previously been (Since the return of Bruce and Adrian, they've done something like FOUR studio albums and FIVE live albums as well as reissue Maiden England - lose money in the 90's lads?). I'm probably gonna get a lot of shit for this but it seems like a band who were out to have a laugh now seem to be chasing lost revenue - and what better way than by releasing live albums with your most popular vocalist doing all the classics?

1/10 - You really are touching the bottom of the barrel.

Chris J.

You can buy this album on iTunes.

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