Review Summary: Iron Maiden's second album after Bruce Dickinson's return is a bit uneven, but overall is excellent and contains some of the band's best material.Iron Maiden Discography 2/15 - Dance of Death
Iron Maiden had just released their 2000 comeback album "Brave New World", which featured the long-awaited return of vocalist Bruce Dickinson. At this point in time, the band was just trying to get comfortable writing new material that the fans would appreciate. So for this album, they decided to take a step back from the highly progressive "Brave New World' and draw more influence from their classic album era. That is: nice, heavy metal songs. It's not entirely a return to roots though, as there are still some longer progressive-influenced tracks that would have fit in on the band's past few records. Finally, there are a few songs that venture into territory never walked upon by Iron Maiden.
The album at the beginning is a little disconcerting. The album cover is horrid for Maiden's standards, or any band's standards for that matter, and a bad cover art always leaves a poor first impression on the listener. Anyway, after you've cleaned the puke off your chin induced from the album cover, you turn on your CD player (or iPod, or whatever you've got) and press play. You are greeted with "Wildest Dreams", which is decent, but nothing more than another Maiden song
. It's not very catchy, and it doesn't have the drawing power that other Maiden openers do.
At this point, the listener may be worried that this is just going to be an average metal album, but fear not. Track 2, "Rainmaker" is a rocker that encapsulates everything that "Wildest Dreams" was not. You have the iconic "raindrops" riff, a great solo, positive lyrics about changing your life for the better, and that famous chorus. "You tell me we can't stop the rain, you tell me that we all can change, you tell me we can't find some way to wash the tears away." Leading into this is "No More Lies", which is calmer than the previous songs, and also longer. It's a perfect song to listen to during a thunderstorm with the Celtic intro and soft verses building up into the heavy chorus. Speaking of the chorus, the song has been criticized a lot for the repetition of the song's title in the chorus. This only bothers me during the first chorus, because every time after that, the chorus speeds up halfway through and is amazing to listen to. Track 4, "Montsegur", is one of the heaviest tracks by Maiden in recent years, and could have been at home on Powerslave. The track certainly rocks, but is on the weaker side due to the repetition of the chorus and the cheesy lyrics which don't match the track's feel.
The two major pillars on the album are towards the middle, tracks 5 and 8. Both are 8-minute long epics, yet completely have a different structure and feeling. The title track begins slowly enters soft verses with Bruce's haunting voice. Midway through the song, the pace accelerates, leading into some the guitarists', Adrian Smith, Dave Murray, and Janick Sers best solos ever. The guitar interplay is fabulous throughout the album, but it really stands out here. The song is huge and complex, but when I hear it, I just imagine Bruce sitting by a campfire with an acoustic guitar, telling a story.
The other epic on the album, "Paschendale" is even better. To this day, it remains Maiden's most moving war epic. Everything in the song is constructed and built to perfection: the guitar solos, the chorus, the lyrics, the Nintendo-like intro, etc. It remains one of the best songs from the band. Orchestral versions of both this and "Dance of Death" exist and improve on the original, making them even more epic.
Sandwiched in between these two songs are two 5-minute rockers. "Gates of Tomorrow" starts out promisingly with a cool riff resembling X Factor's "Lord of the Flies", but once it gets going, it falls apart in pretty much every way and thus wears the dreaded label of "filler". "New Frontier" is just the opposite. The intro riff is boring, which is distressing to me, as I feel that the intro is the most important part of the song, because when someone mentions a song, the first thing I think of is it's intro. However, the song picks itself up and delivers a fantastically catchy chorus. This is also the first song to feature a writing credit by drummer Nicko McBrain, and he did a very good job with his lyrics!
Speaking of Nicko McBrain, his drumming on the album is very well done. But, he certainly stands out on one track, and that is "Face in the Sand". This is the only song in Maiden's discography that features a double bass pedal, but Nicko pulls it off (even though he won't play the song live claiming it is too difficult.) The song starts with a deceptively simple melody, but wait until the song gets going. The track's two-minute intro/buildup is the best in Maiden's discography. The song stays strong throughout the six-and-a-half minutes, and is one of the best songs on the album.
There's not much to say about "Age of Innocence". Compared to everything else on the album, it is underwhelming compared to the others on the album and doesn't bring much new to the table. "Journeyman" on the other hand, is one of the best and most memorable songs by the band, for being the only fully acoustic song yet. The song is very relaxing, yet features an intense, uplifting chorus. "I know what I want, and I'll say what I want, and no one can take that away." An electric version for this song exists, but the acoustic version is unparalleled in its beauty.
I have not yet mentioned Bruce's vocals. Bruce adopts a slightly more nasal quality to his voice, and I personally think that this is his best performance of the post-reunion albums. He sings calmly a lot of the time, but when he hits those powerful choruses, he hits them hard. When he hits the high notes in the title track, his greatest vocal work to date, you can't help but get shivers down your spine.
Final thoughts: This is a collection of very strong songs. Unfortunately, that's about all it is. The album doesn't have a set theme or direction like the other post-reunion albums and feels like a bunch of random songs, not a cohesive whole. Also, the weak songs (Wildest Dreams, Gates of Tomorrow, and Age of Innocence) bring this album down. But when a song on the album is good, you can bet your soul that it's really damn good