Review Summary: "I know what I want, I'll say what I want, and no one can take it away!!!"
In 2003, a legendary Metal band who revolutionized heavy Metal and are a respected namesake in the Metal family released an album that shows they still have what it takes to blow people's minds in their old age.
Sorry, Metallica, but you're not who I am referring to (and neither is that album either... let's just leave it at that). I do mean, of course, Iron Maiden. Iron Maiden have proven time and time again with each release that age is just a number. The London-based heavy metal band that shook the world may have been the relics of their time in the eighties, but that was the eighties, and they were young and foolish and drunk all the time. Cut to 2003, Maiden are in their 40s. Their music style has changed, while still sounding like Iron Maiden- harmonizing guitars, soaring vocals, thumping drums and galloping bass is still prominent. But this time, they're now more mature and thinking-man kind of music. Their songs are longer and more progressive. They have more tempo and key changes than ever. They have long instrumental sections. And really, it still kicks ass. The aforementioned specifics of their newer style are sadly common in bands who seem bent on releasing tepid wankfest after tepid wankfest in the noughites (Dream Theater, I'm looking at you), yet surprisingly Maiden still manage to avoid all that and make music that's constantly exciting and adventurous. And it's at this point where I mention that Dance of Death
may as well have been the saviour for metalheads in an age where old bands were releasing subpar material, and the airwaves were littered with either nu-metal or mainstream rap.
Dance of Death
has Maiden doing what they do best and even more. I mean, of course you have to expect the kickass anthems with the double guitars and blistering solos, but keeping in touch with their ever-changing style, Maiden bring a new element to their sound. This time they've introduced a Celtic touch to their music, with even some gothic elements. Picture a Venetian masquerade soundtracked to the kick-ass sounds of Iron Maiden, and you have what this album feels like. The album is rife with Celtic-sounding riffs ("Face in the Sand" and "No More Lies" to name a few) and lush, gothic orchestral arrangements ("Journeyman" being an example) with synth string sound effects. And yet, it's still Maiden. Sure this album is also in some ways a bit more reminiscent of their older, eighties style, but what really counts is the new stuff they've brought to an already fantastic sound.
So if you're looking for more eighties style stuff, well, you'll find it on a few tracks. The first two tracks get the album on a quick and upbeat start- "Wildest Dreams" starts on a more forceful note with Nicko counting the band in, followed by some edgy power chords. The lyrics are very motivational and Bruce's delivery is just plain brilliant- the chorus of "I'm on my way/Out on my own again/I'm on my way/I'm gonna breakaway
" will sure remain stuck in your head as soon as the song is over. "Rainmaker" is insanely catchy and probably the most "radio friendly" song they'll ever make, but that's never a bad thing- the song is still plenty badass and Davey's solo in particular reminds us yet again why he is one of the best guitarists, if not the best guitarist, in Metal. And just after "No More Lies" has calmed down, prepare to have your Senses trampled by the all-out heaviness of "Montsegur", a short and sweet rockin' and heavy tune that sports 'Arry's galloping bass and excellent vocal deliveries from Bruce- especially the choruses is where he really delivers, and special mention of this incredibly badass lyric must be made: "Facing the sun as they went to their graves
But that's where it ends. The rest of the album sports the aforementioned more progressive and experimental style, showcasing Maiden's more creative side. "No More Lies" is nothing short of awe-inspiring, with the obvious Celtic influences and synth strings, and dramatic vocals from Bruce, with lyrics about Jesus Christ's final hours. Even if you're very anti-religious, you can't deny this line is especially brilliant: "They're all sitting at my table/talking tall and drinking wine/Their time is up just like me/But they just don't know it yet
". Even though the chorus is just a touch repetitive, the song overall is still fantastic and one of their best. The eponymous track, "Dance of Death", begins with an acoustic intro that is really kinda spooky, before Bruce comes in and tells us "a story to chill the bones". The song has one very epic and gothic feel and as Brucey thrills us with details about how he was summoned over to join in the dance of the dead, or how "the blaze of the fire did no harm upon me, as I walked onto the coals" (seriously amazing delivery there), the song just gets more lush, epic in scope. From there in, we get a blistering metal tune with synth orchestras and epic riffs abound, with three blistering solos from Davey, H and Jan. "Paschendale" is one terrifying war themed epic, that is also very beautiful too. The opening hi-hat taps symbolize a morse code, and a completely brilliant lone-guitar riff from H follows, before one of the most beautiful examples of nerve-shredding terror and amazing beauty all at once. The band help you imagine the battle of Passchendaele through the eyes of a soldier with brilliant musical imagery (the heavy riffage makes you feel as if you're caught in chaotic battle) and lyrics that speak a soldier's mind as he witnesses horror, death and loss of hope around him ("Blood is falling like the rain/Its crimson cloak unveils again/The sound of guns, they have no shame/And so we die in Passchendaele
The two best songs, however, are songs that I hold above some of ther finer stuff from the eighties, as bold as it may seem. "New Frontier" marks Nicko's songwriting debut, and boy, is it good, or is it GOOD!!! From the "silly guy" of the group, you wouldn't expect such an excellent set of lyrics, but come on, they're brilliant. "Out beyond the new frontier/Playing god without mercy, without fear/Create a beast, made a man without a soul/Is it worth the risk, a war of god and man?
". The lyrics seem to be inspired by Frankenstein, as there is even a mention and references to how Victor Frankenstein has made a monster he cannot control. In addition, he even wrote the bassline to the song. It has one of the best basslines in Maiden's music, and Arry didn't even write it. Crazy to think for sure. And then there's the ballad, "Journeyman", that caps off the album. It was meant to be an electric guitar song, and a demo of it in its electric form exists, but it's not hard to see why it's an acoustic song. The mix of acoustic guitars and lush string arrangements is just stunning. They go well with Bruce's theatrical style of singing, and the soft drumming and acoustic bass add a signature folk feel to it. The song announces that no matter what happens, who does what or where they get in the future, Maiden will always be around for us. As Bruce so elequently puts it: "I know what I want, I'll say what I want, and no one can take it away!
This isn't their best album, of course, I rank it as the lowest of their post-2000 output- songs like "Gates of Tomorrow" and "Age of Innocence" don't simply stand out like the rest of the songs, and the songs do tend to get repetitive at times. But It's still one of their very best, and for the worst, I'll still take it. I mean, for Eddie's sake, Maiden aren't in their 20s anymore, of course they're going to change, and the main part is, it's MAIDEN. Take it or leave it. They care about the fans and know what we want. Though they make changes and go in new directions a lot, they'll always be Maiden, and we know what to expect. And this album is evidence of Maiden's dedication to their craft and their insistence on staying relevant for as long as they remain a band.
And three more words: UP THE IRONS!!!