Review Summary: Brothers and their father joining hands that make a chain
There is no overstating just how important 2000’s Brave New World has become, not just to Iron Maiden’s legacy but also to heavy metal in general. The album saw the return of guitarist Adrian Smith and lead singer Bruce Dickinson after years away from the band and proved to be commercially successful with songs like “The Wicker Man” and “Blood Brothers” since becoming live staples. It seemed to be an inspiration on multiple fronts, setting a standard for other old-timers to follow with their own comebacks and inspiring a new generation of younger listeners to explore classic metal. In its own way, I wager that Brave New World has become just as influential as the beloved 80s relics that it was hearkening back to.
What’s funny about this revitalization is how Brave New World’s musical template really isn’t that different from the two efforts that Maiden had released in the late 90s with Blaze Bayley on vocals. The overall atmosphere is rooted in the brooding melancholy seen on 1995’s The X Factor and the sci-fi touches of 1998’s Virtual XI with the songs carrying out a similar mix of upbeat anthems and progressive excursions. Rumor has it that “The Mercenary” and “Dream of Mirrors” were allegedly being written when Blaze was still in the band, and their structures make the assertions incredibly believable.
I think the musicianship is what makes this album so endearing compared to those efforts, placating old school listeners with name recognition while also trying out new ideas. This was the first effort to feature their now iconic triple guitar attack as Smith works alongside Dave Murray and Janick Gers to craft layers of interweaving harmonies and gallops that are intricate without getting too dense. Dickinson’s approach has also changed over time; the days of his ear-splitting siren are long gone, but the wizened wail that he picked up during his solo career is utilized with world-weary yet commanding conviction. And like every other Maiden album, Steve Harris’ bass playing is the clanky glue that holds it all together.
It also helps that the songs are just awesomely written and executed. Despite starting off with a riff pulled straight from Judas Priest’s “Running Wild,” “The Wicker Man” is a vibrant opener that plays like a 2000s answer to “Two Minutes to Midnight” as it effortlessly flows from its blazing verses to the chugging, chanted chorus. “The Mercenary” and “The Fallen Angel” subsequently channel this attack with equally engaging results while other tracks like “Ghost of the Navigator” and “Out of the Silent Planet” are played with life-affirming fervor. On the flip side, the title track and “Blood Brothers” carry out their anthemic hooks with somber overcasts while “Dream of Mirrors” and “The Nomad” do well as the album’s token epics. I especially love the Seventh Son lyrical callbacks on “Dream of Mirrors.”
But for everything that Brave New World has going for it, I must admit that it isn’t an entirely perfect album. Its hour and seven-minute-long runtime can be cause for concern, and the reliance on chanting one-line choruses can get rather repetitive. This album was also the band’s first collaboration with producer Kevin Shirley, whose raw, muddy touch has become a point of contention on subsequent releases. That said, I find myself unbothered by these factors; the songs don’t really wear out their welcomes due to the efficiently varied pacing, and the production reinforces the aged, earthy vibe that comes with the reunion. These factors would be more pronounced issues with some of the albums that came in its wake, but this one still feels fresh twenty years later.
While Brave New World isn’t the greatest Iron Maiden album ever, it is the first of the era that millennials such as myself have come to identify as ‘my’ Iron Maiden. I imagine it was a joy for old fans to see the band come out strong after a decade of uncertainty, but it was just as enjoyable for those of us who weren’t there during their glory days. The expanded lineup brought life to their familiar formula, and their signature blend of hooky, complex songwriting is given extra pathos that could only come with focused experience. This is the Iron Maiden that I have come to be nostalgic for, and seeing “The Wicker Man” performed in concert gave me the same exhilaration that others get from “The Trooper.” It is a true testament to their enduring legacy, and a reminder of no matter how old a band gets, an album with the right circumstances behind it can help shape a generation.
“The Wicker Man”
“Ghost of the Navigator”
“Dream of Mirrors”
“The Fallen Angel”
Originally published at Indy Metal Vault