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Wow. This is what Iron Maiden should have been doing in the 90's instead of busting out sub-par 'No Prayer' and 'Fear Of The Dark' and shoddy 'X Factor' and 'Virtual XI.'
Bruce left Iron Maiden in 1993 to focus on a solo career, and in 1997 this burning chunk of metal hit the stores. Adrian Smith (YES) also appears on this album, and well, it just slays. Let's get to the songs.
Starting us off is a song called 'Freak.' This has an awesome heavy riff and some very venomous vocals from Bruce. It's mostly speedy and very punishing. The vocals get a little repetitive near the end "who leads you to the dark secret?" is reapeated many times, but the song is winding down anyway, so it's all good. Great opening track.
Next is a little weird thing called 'Toltec 7 Arrival.' It lasts about 40 seconds and isn't much but some weird noises and a strange voice... whatever.
Track 3 is called 'Starchildren.' This one is heavier than 'Freak,' and takes a bit of a slower pace. Bruce's vocals on this and The Chemical Wedding are amazing. So much different from his soaring Maiden vocal work, this stuff is dark, deep, and menacing. Awesome. Big chunky hi-hats throughout this one and some nice riff work. Very cool instrumental bit with some neat riffing about 3/4 of the way through, and then a decent solo, I think done by Roy Z. Doesn't sound much like Adrian, so it's gotta be him. Anyway, this song is solid in all aspects.
Next up is 'Taking The Queen.' This one starts off slow, with some melodic and soft vocals from Bruce. About 2 minutes in, it starts to get a little more riff-driven, but then slows back down for a little bass work and a nice solo. This is a ballady style track, but is well done.
Track 5 is 'Darkside Of Aquarius.' This one starts off harmlessly with a nice melodic intro, but then starts to build and BOOM. We lay into a nice rolling riff, and Bruce hits us with some more punishing venomous vocals. Nice speedy solos in the middle and some cool drum work. Haunting bass section and then riffs rebuild... metal. Another cool song.
Track 6 is called 'Road To Hell.' Neat drum part leads us into the riff, which is quick. This song is pretty straightforward and doesn't really stand out terribly, but still solid.
Track 7 is called 'Man Of Sorrows.' It begins with some cool stormy sound effects and a piano. This is another ballad, and it is very well done. The piano can be heard throughout, and there is some string arrangment thrown in as well. More solid melodic soloing here as well.
Track 8 is the title track, and my goodness. This is METAL. Cool pounding intro with Bruce growling away, and the guitars lift up for a second and then drop us into a brutal riff. A cool fade-in/cutoff effect and Bruce is singing again. Very cool chorus in this one "Welcome home..." Nice licks and solos in here as well. The vocals are very venomous (as with most of the album) and everything about this song is brutal and very very metal.
Track 9 is called 'The Magician.' The riff here is interesting, but stays quick. Bruce's vocals sound a bit like they do on Brave New World here, very uplifting and head-on. A couple cool solos are found in the middle of this one. It's not very spectacular, but still alright.
Track 10 is called 'Welcome To The Pit.' I love the lyrics on this one, and the riff is slow and pounding. I love Bruce's dark lyrics, he teeters so close on satanism with some of them (esp. on The Chemical Wedding) but this one could easily be taken in that light as well. I love Bruce's evil voice, it's very raspy and gruesome, and his laughs are great. Great instrumentation on this track as well with some kickass soloing. Right after the solos is one of my favourite Bruce solo moments: "Hahahahaha.... you feel it strike... you feel it BITE YA!" Awesome. I love this song.
Track 11 is called 'The Ghost Of Cain.' Nice guitar work starts us off, and we go into a fairly heavy riff for a bit, and the bass is prominent throughout. The guitars are commanding on this track, and the vocals are as always, wonderfully done. Nice drum bit near the end (yeah drums!). This is another solid Bruce track.
Track 12 is called 'Omega.' Wicked vocals here, and the instrumentation is very laid back. It speeds up near the end, and there is some nice work by both guitarists here. Near the very end, there is a mad heavy riff. Lots of progression here, another very well done track.
Closing out the album is the ballad 'Arc Of Space.' I love the guitarwork on this track. It is very classical in nature, and the vocals are heartfelt and very well written. This is my favourite ballad on this album, but the others are also very good. Normally metal ballads suck (as I've mentioned in other reviews) but Bruce does them well. When you have as amazing a voice as Bruce does, you just let your vocals carry it, and wonderful things happen. This is a great way to close out the album. Very mellow, very moving.
So, basically, as I said near the top, this album rocks hard. There are a few weaker tracks, but nothing stands out as being totally sucky. Everything is very solid throughout, all the instrumentation is great, and Bruce obviously slays behind the mic, but we all knew that. It's good to know that at least 2 members of Maiden kept it real during the musical crap-fest that was the 90's. Obviously there were some gems released in the decade, this being one of them. A bastion for true metal in a time when it wasn't wanted.
Grab this if you don't have it. Highly recommended, and the cover art is wicked too.