Review Summary: Maiden, the gradual return
I remember being ecstatic at first hearing the news that the Maiden line-up that gave us “Number of the Beast” and all the other great 80s albums associated with the better days of the band was going to reform. I also remember staking out the local CD store in West Chester Pennsylvania in early June during a summer session at college, anxious as hell to get myself a copy of the album that had given true metal its first slot on the Billboard Top 40 list in quite a while. In retrospect, if I had written a review for the album at that time, it would have been loaded with endless fan boy praise and worship loaded with all the complementary metaphors I could throw at the band. Although since that time my love for this album has moderated itself quite a bit, there is still much to be liked on here.
“Brave New World” listens mostly like a continuation of the sound that began to manifest itself on “The X Factor”, although there are some throwbacks to the later 80s material as well. For the most part, the songs tend to be long and loaded with atmosphere. Riffs tend to step aside to make room for melodic hooks, sectional development, and a lot of Bruce Dickinson blasting above the arrangement in a manner befitting of the air-raid siren. The 3 guitar arrangement gives the album a very dense feel, not so much in a heavy sense, but a thickness that is likely more characteristic of 70s progressive rock music.
For the most part, this album works the best when the songs don’t break the 8 minute mark. Shorter, compact fast numbers like “The Wicker Man” and “The Fallen Angel” prove to stick in the memory the easiest, and finally bring back the hit making machine that is Adrian Smith to the fold. His solo offering on “The Wicker Man” is the best lead put to a Maiden song since 1988, relying equally on flash and a developed storytelling approach to soloing. “The Mercenary” has a solid main riff, but lags a tiny bit on the chorus, which is far too repetitive.
As the songs get longer, the influences shift away from the older Maiden to the free form compositional approach that was typical to Maiden’s early 90s material with Bruce, but with a better vocal performance. “The Ghost of the Navigator” and the title track are the most memorable and exciting of the bunch, although “Blood Brothers” doesn’t ride too far behind and sports the most interesting string arrangement heard yet from the band. These songs also make a greater use of the 3 guitar format, utilizing varied accompanying guitar lines to fill out the background while the lead puts forth one of many variants on the classic “Fear of the Dark” oriented melody.
As the songs get even longer it gets difficult to keep of track of where you are. “Out of the Silent Planet” is probably the most unlikely candidate for a single of any song on here, and I would argue that the abridged version used for the music video utterly destroys the song. The intro line sounds very similar to that classic keyboard intro that kicked off “Moonchild”, accompanied by a pair of acoustic guitars. Of all the songs I’ve heard before the “A Matter of Life and Death” album, this is probably the most formally complex thing to every come out of Maiden.
After this the songs get very Virtual XI sounding; and basically go on too long for their own good. Unfortunately, like many of the long numbers on that album, there is usually a ton of repetition and very little development. “The Dream of Mirrors” just takes way too long to finally get going, and when it does, if you’re still listening, it doesn’t quite live up to what is expected for a 5 minute build up. The first half of “The Thin Line between Love and Hate” is pretty solid, but then it just fizzles out at the end. If they cut the last 2 minutes off of this song, it would have been much better. “The Nomad” also loses most of its punch about halfway through, and spends too much time in dreamland during the slow middle section. You can find bits and pieces of excellent ideas throughout it, but there is nothing that really holds it all together enough to make it worth 9 minutes of your time.
All in all, I would still venture to say that this is better than everything that the band offered up during the 1990s, but it’s not quite the unrelenting classic that I had thought it would still listen as when I first heard it. The best parts of this are usually where Adrian Smith is running the show, which is the way I remember it being back in the mid-80s when this band was at its peak. Prospective buyers are encouraged to pick up “Dance of Death” and “A Matter of Life and Death” before getting this one, mostly because they are much more consistent listens. Like with all metal reunions, things often start off slow, but given enough time the old beast re-emerges to reclaim its crown.