Review Summary: Iron Maiden add to their sound without sacrificing what made them great.
U]Iron Maiden discography - 3/15
When a band has just released a record widely known as a masterpiece in the genre, what they usually do is continue releasing the same style over and over again. “The first one was successful, so surely the next few will be, huh"” Well, fortunately, Iron Maiden is better than that. Instead of continuing to release more Powerslaves, Iron Maiden decided to experiment and build upon their original sound. The most notable change is the addition of guitar and bass synthesizers, which enhance the album and give it a futuristic, spacey feel. Iron Maiden is a good example of a band who knows how to experiment without sacrificing their musical quality for effects.
This may be one of their overall fastest albums so far, with songs such as Caught Somewhere in Time and Sea of Madness speeding along at a frantic pace. However, at the same time, it is their most melodic. There are slower and softer intros and interludes frequently, which is a trait Powerslave lacked. You may think that this would lag the track, but the exact opposite is true. The synth-led slower parts add a sense of depth to the tracks and give them more variety. A good example for this the gorgeous melody at the beginning of “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner”, which explodes into the fast verse. The complex song structures on the album are in perfect balance; nothing feels out of place. The album represents perfectly the yin and yang of heavy metal music: melody and power.
The instrumental work really stands out on the album. The two guitarists, Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, never fail to come up with a great riff or solo that leads the track on the way to greatness. The solos in the first two songs are especially great, and are some of Adrian’s finest. Steve Harris’s bass-work is very prominent (almost too prominent, honestly). Some of the best work of his trade-mark “galloping bass” style are on this album. Drummer, Nicko McBrain, is also at the top of his game, delivering some of his fast beats ever. Overall, this may be one of the best showcases for Iron Maiden’s instrumental talents yet, if not the best. The lyric-writing is also very good, despite no showings from vocalist, Bruce Dickinson.
There is something notable about this album that is rarely seen in Iron Maiden albums, and that is the consistency of the tracklist. Other albums would always have a Quest for Fire or a Gangland, or some other track that didn’t live up to the other’s standards. There is no such problem here, because every track is excellent. Every song is different from the last, so the album doesn’t stagnate. But the tracks are not so different that they cause the album to become disjointed. This is something I look for in a record. The eight songs are separate, yet unified.
It’s difficult to choose a favorite track from the record, but if I had to choose one, it would be “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner”. This song has always had a special place in heart due to the simple, yet relatable lyrics, the previously mentioned intro melody, and the relentless speed of the verses and chorus. That’s not the only track that stands out though. “Wasted Years” is simple and quite radio-friendly, but is absolutely a highlight, with that famous intro riff and chorus that’s easy to get stuck in your head. The bookend epics “Caught Somewhere in Time” and “Alexander the Great” showcase the band’s instrumental and songwriting abilities, but in completely different ways. The former has more speed and intensity, and the latter has more melody. Again, this is an example of the record’s yin-yang, soft-hard quality. “Heaven Can Wait” is a happy-sounding song, despite its lyrics, and contains a “Ohh-ohh-ooh”-type bridge, handcrafted for live concerts. “Sea of Madness”, “Stranger in a Strange Land”, and “Deja-Vu” are also great songs, each with great choruses, solos, melodies, and other stuff.
Unfortunately, there are a few things stopping me from giving this five stars. A major problem is the album’s production. The album sounds as if it was recorded underwater. Every instrument sounds muddy and blends together badly. The mix is poor; the synths sound muddy and drown everything else at times. The guitars squeal too much, the bass is a little too high in the mix, and the drums sound flat and lifeless. Bruce’s voice is also a problem. Bruce is usually very good, but here, it sounds as if he had had a cold during the recording sessions. I’m sure he tried, but it didn’t work out this time. Whether this is his own fault or the fault of the production is debatable; I think it’s mostly the latter, because he sang very well on the far-better produced follow-up to this, “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”.
Although this record is often overshadowed by other classic Maiden albums, this is certainly one that should not be missed. The experimentation is well-done. The songwriting and instrumentals are at their best. (The cover art rocks too ;D ) Unfortunately, it is held back by the watery production and Bruce’s vocals. If there ever is a better remaster of this, I will not hesitate to bring this up to five stars.