Iron Maiden
The X Factor


2.5
average

Review

by DrJohn USER (22 Reviews)
July 27th, 2014 | 33 replies


Release Date: 1995 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Maiden utilising a baritone? In "The X Factor" they sincerely tried...

Let’s pretend you have listened to all Maiden’s releases prior and post The X Factor. For reasons omitting the obviousness of placement the opener stands out. After one hour and eleven minutes has passed you will notice; “Sign of the Cross” is maybe the best song present in this album. Another thing you will notice almost instantaneously; this is the one opener out of all Maiden’s discography, which will not get into the first verse of the song within its first minute of playback (not taking into account intros like the Ides of March or Satellite 15).

Iron Maiden were always straight ahead in their approach musically. None of them were virtuosos on their instruments (except Nicko maybe with regard to classic metal), moreover and similar to the vast majority of rock and metal musicians they lacked the theoretical aspect of musical composition, yet they managed to elevate their cumulative result through simplicity, achieving legendary status within the genre… because Steve is an inherent workaholic with an ability to focus and along with him, they had two additional non-academic yet talented songwriters in Bruce and Adrian. Catchy twin guitar melodies supplementing the riffs, adding harmonic range with the vocals, the trademark gallop of Steve implementing mobility - the kind of a metalers idea about groove if you may- From their early punkish Di’Anno days to the progier later half of the 80s, Maiden delivered by utilising their strong points. Popping in each of their albums till 1992 you could tell within the first few seconds, that the record is a Maiden release! This is the one album that sounds less Maiden than all, including the following Virtual XI and if you are like me, believing that the X-Factor is better than Virtual XI, you may already have given yourself the answer to - is it always a bad thing to not sound like Maiden?

Blaze Bayley is restricted here and rightfully so. His vocals are pushed back in the mix, the songs were written with him in mind… small range, just use of dynamics, don’t go where you cannot go, let the band do the rest and being shy is not always a bad thing. Additionally, I cannot deny that Harris’ sincere depressive touch back in 1995 pervades the album, and the lyrics are relevant to the sound. The whole album emanates certain… darkness.

Now is Blaze the main reason for this album not being reminiscent of Iron Maiden? Not directly, as he was not the direct reason behind Virtual sounding more maidenish than this yet worse.

A way one can realise if someone is a promising singer or not is the following.
Give him lets say eight bars of a verse to sing over. At first, play a riff accentuating-doubling the voice (e.g. “Iron Man”, or “Prowler”). If one cannot sing over that adequately don’t bother with him anymore…
The second time give him only a chord at the start of the first bar (e.g. “Heaven and Hell”; which is basically an Ebm chord implied by the bassline, or “Flight of Icarus” if you prefer a Maiden analogy). If he can perform under such context, then you may be on the verge of finding a competent vocalist.

Now if one passes only the first case scenario and fails the latter, it is not necessary for him to be dismissed; even if Iron Maiden could find someone more fitting their musical formulas. So how can you utilise the interviewee of the first case?

Help him, with the songwriting, help him with the dynamics… don’t put him front spot. Cover up his deficiencies. In The X Factor, Maiden sincerely tried…

Check out “Look for the Truth”. Every single piece of Nicko’s Drums is accentuating Blaze’s dynamics. No more gallop on the bass; root over Blaze’s dynamics, guitars doubling the bass…over Blaze’s dynamics. Plus a layer of keyboards trying to disguise rhythmic stagnancy. There is no other way to make that work period. Progressive my ass some may think and I would agree, but offer an alternative.

Coming back to the musical simplicity encrypted in Maiden’s DNA strand, you may have noticed the numerous times their song structures, follow a certain code…The guitars offer the exact or approximate vocal melody reproduction before the verse. Actually the song is based and structured around a single melody (Prowler, Running Free, Run to the Hills). That was mostly evident in their early releases and though they abolished it during their prime years, they got back to it in Fear of the Dark (“Afraid to shoot strangers” – btw the one old Maiden tune Blaze could reproduce live without struggling - and the title track). They also did it in the X-factor. But there were some strand deficiencies that time – DNA holes - which made the simplicity once providing the basis for metal compositions ranging from good to classic, to now border auditory plainness. You see there is a difference between playing the same notes, and playing the same notes at the same register…

The simple musical framing Adrian and Dave provide to a tenor like Bruce with a high upper range, can work when they mostly play at lower registers than him. That is because usually the higher voice/notes stand out (that’s the way human ears work), being the vanguard of the tune hence disguising/covering what lies underneath. Imagine Bruce hitting an F5 note while the band accompanies him with a lower registered D chord… the song gets a certain range…it opens up. The other way around rarely works - the accompanist playing higher than the melody- especially in rock music. Even Paul’s strong notes were in a tenor range, contrary to Blaze's.
Iron Maiden should not have picked Blaze, not because he is a bad singer, but because Maiden don’t have the tools to optimally utilise him… they don’t know how to do it.

Blaze is a limited baritone and the morphology of guitars or bass, considering that Maiden never used alternate or drop tunings, limit the lowest range they can provide. Furthermore Iron Maiden are strangers to harmonic embellishments other than basic chords or catchy melodic lines, when accompanying… So the end result with the above formula and Blaze sounds confined, as Murray, Gers and Harris move around the same range as he does; the extract is limited, suffocative at times. It was a thought in the right direction to try and provide some lengthy instrumental passages throughout the songs, mostly evident in the likes of “Fortunes of War” and “The unbeliever” to break up the monotony of delivery… but still, there is a difference between disguising the problem and it not being there in the first place. I am not contradicting myself; the same formula that made this album mediocre and not poor is also responsible for not allowing it to be any better. Check the live Rock in Rio or Death on the Road with Bruce to witness the vibrancy, the openness permeating tunes from the X-factor such as “Sign of the Cross” and “Lord of the Flies”.

The above approach of - all along now! Let's help our vocalist - cannot make an album stand out to my ears, especially when it exceeds the one hour mark… when your vocalist isn’t the best around though, or to cut Blaze a slack; when your vocalist is called to fill the shoes of one named Bruce Dickinson, amidst lack of thorough theoretical and compositional knowledge of how to utilise a baritone… it can make it at least audible.

2.3 would be my exact rating.



Recent reviews by this author
Wayne Shorter Speak No EvilThe Crazy World of Arthur Brown The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
Wipers Over the EdgePat Metheny Question and Answer
BABYMETAL BabymetalKenny G. Breathless
user ratings (933)
Chart.
2.8
good
other reviews of this album
1 of

Comments:Add a Comment 
menawati
Contributing Reviewer
July 27th 2014


16060 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

interesting stuff about Blaze and Maidens songwriting, pos

Digging: Lo-Pan - Colossus

BigPleb
July 27th 2014


37367 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Sign of the Cross is a really underrated song.

Digging: Kayo Dot - Coffins on Io

DrJohn
July 27th 2014


489 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Thnx mena

BigPleb, I don't think it is underrated, most maiden fans consider it to be one - if not the one - of the best tunes from Blaze's era. No?

Rastapunk
July 27th 2014


752 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Yep interesting to read. Maybe you could lower the number of small paragraphs. Anyways pos'd for the interesting stuff!

BigPleb
July 27th 2014


37367 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Well all the good stuff with Blaize is underrated to a certain degree tbh.

Sabrutin
July 27th 2014


935 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

pos'd for the interesting stuff! [2]
Well all the good stuff with Blaize is underrated to a certain degree tbh. [2]

Has its moments.

Digging: Riot V - Unleash The Fire

DrJohn
July 27th 2014


489 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

@Rastapunk

Hmmm... My small paragraphs provide introductory thoughts to the following paragraphs and I want them to stand out, but I can understand that format wise they may seem a bit awkward.

Xenorazr
July 27th 2014


460 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

The only thing that holds this album back for me is Blaze's vocals. Otherwise, I think it's a solid, underrated album, just not one that warrants multiple listens.

manosg
July 27th 2014


6307 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Great read DrJohn, pos.

I was actually reading the other day the issue of Metal Hammer that came out when this album was released and there were something like 10 short reviews written by staff members. There were a couple of guys giving this album a 10/10 and claimed that it was a stone cold classic raving about its dark atmosphere.

Regarding Bailey, more or less we're in agreement I think. He has a powerful voice but that's all basically, no range at all.

Digging: Woody Guthrie - Dust Bowl Ballads

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
July 27th 2014


6222 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Album's certainly not a classic, but imho it's not as passable as the review rating suggests. I still enjoy the album from time to time.

Digging: Seduced (AT) - The Proclamation

DrJohn
July 27th 2014


489 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Thnx manosg

Mate, I have no respect for metal press whatsoever. They are full of hyperbole most of the time without backing it up. Their reasoning is kindergarten-ish, though most of them are in their 40s... plus they think that metal is the most intellectual and foreword thinking genre in the world. They rarely criticize the "classics", considering them "untouchable" or something. So I am not surprised some gave this a 10/10.
There are exceptions of course...


manosg
July 27th 2014


6307 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Overall, I have to admit that I found a lot of interesting stuff via professional reviews especially during the 90s and before the youtubes and the sputnikmusics but reading these reviews now after all these years there are times where I literally cringe.

DrJohn
July 27th 2014


489 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

That's normal considering you are 20 years older mate. When I was thirteen, I though that contemporary music had its origins in Maiden's and Metallica's debuts. Now when one is 40 and makes a leaving out of writing reviews, I think he should be at least more polished, and have more reference points... even if metal is his favourite - or only - genre (that's perfectly ok with me).

facupm
July 27th 2014


8162 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

interesting read, even if i disagree on some points

also maiden's songwriting was always exquisite, especially Harris'

sign of the cross is amazing

Digging: Dissect - Swallow Swouming Mass

DrJohn
July 27th 2014


489 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

@facupm

"also maiden's songwriting was always exquisite, especially Harris"

Hmmm... there are even some tunes from their classic era that would hinder me from using the term "always" e.g. "quest for fire".
But as I stated in my review, I also consider Maiden talented song writers. Personally I prefer Bruce and Adrian over Harris... pertaining to lyrics at least.

facupm
July 27th 2014


8162 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

yeah "always" doesnt apply to ALL their songs, but for the most part of their albums

i didnt mean the lyrics though, i was focusing on the instrumentation and the structure which is done by Harris for the most part, almost every classic Maiden song is his (biggest exception is Powerslave by bruce)

DrJohn
July 27th 2014


489 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Agreed there, Harris has always been the locomotive behind Maiden. That is why I consider him to be the main accountable, when Maiden deliver and when they don't.

deslad
July 27th 2014


367 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Great review, pos. The album's is just OK though, agreed.

Digging: Willie Dixon - I am the Blues

DrJohn
July 27th 2014


489 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I respect the function of the neg button, but I would appreciate feedback on why you pushed it.

mike197
July 27th 2014


190 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I thought the songs were very strong on this album, but the mix was atrocious, especially the vocals. I mean, there's things you can do in the studio so that it doesn't sound dead, but as you say they seemed to not know how to use him. Even with Blaze it could have worked real well.



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





FAQ // STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2014 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Privacy Policy