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This is really kind of a random gem here. I mean, nobody was really expecting great things from Bruce Dickinson after the subpar closure of his first tenure with Iron Maiden, and his largely unremarkable solo career. And hell, he already had his one moment of brilliance in Accident of Birth; that should have been enough. But instead, out of nowhere, Mr. Dickinson produced this really excellent piece of Kick Ass Heavy Metal™. It's not really comparable to glory-era Maiden, but it's very good in its own right.
The thing that must first be pointed out is the lyrics, which are very fucking cool. There's some great poetic and figurative stuff, and some sort of concept running through the album having something to do with obscure Biblical references, alchemical wisdom, and the Tarot. I could probably write a few pages trying to decipher it, but this is a music review, so I'll just state that the lyrics are very good (especially "The Alchemist") and move on.
The vocals on this album are obviously very good, as this IS Bruce Dickinson we're talking about here. Just as impressive are the guitars, tracked by the metal dream duo of Adrian Smith and Roy Z (who I once saw play a Glenn Tipton solo BEHIND HIS FUCKING BACK). The leads are precise and melodic throughout, and there's also some incredibly goddamn heavy riffs on here that just (sorry, Clanny) beat the everloving shit out of what Maiden was doing at the time.
The absolute highlight of The Chemical Wedding is the epic "Book of Thel," which goes from an eerie intro with almost jazzy-lead guitar to one of those heavy riffs I was talking about. The chorus is the best moment on this whole hour-long album, with a great bass line backing Mr. Dickinson's coolest vocal melody this side of "Caught Somewhere In Time." The group chanting at 4:15 brings back the eerieness in between two great solos, and the final chorus leads into a great vocal melody-driven outro and a trippy spoken epilogue. Stirring, haunting, heavy shit.
The other two really awesome songs are "The Alchemist" and "Jerusalem." The former (which masquerades as an eight-minute epic, due to about two and a half minutes of silence and an odd spoken bit) has some pretty basic guitar work, leaving it up to the vocals to carry the song. And once again, this IS Bruce Dickinson, so the song is carried to glory. Like "Book of Thel," this song has a catchy, soaring chorus and a cool wordless chanting section; it ends with a repeat of the pretty cool chorus from the title track with a varied melody. "Jerusalem" is just a beautiful ballad, with intricate acoustic guitar work supporting inspired vocals with lyrics based on the William Blake poem of the same name. The riff which kicks in at 3:36 rocks hard, and the solo section features some great dual lead work.
There's only one real loser on this CD, which is the title track. This is a crappy ballad with a boring intro riff and some stupid echoing guitar riffs under generally repetitive vocals. The only good thing is the chorus, which ends up getting way too repetitive. And that pops up in "The Alchemist," anyway, so there's no real point to this song (except for the "And all the lighthouses/Their beams converge to guide me home") vocal line at 1:56, which is pretty cool).
The other six tracks are all solid tunes. "The Tower" is the best of these, with great paired guitar work throughout and a jaunty, fun drum groove. "Machine Men" is one of the heaviest tracks on the album, and has yet another good, catchy chorus melody. On the downside, "King In Crimson," while a pretty good bit of music with a badass solo, comes across as dragging and low on riffage as the opener. (Actually, none of these songs seem fitting as the first track). And most of "Killing Floor" is just kinda forgettable, apart from the "Sleeping eyes awake..." pre-chorus, which is just creepy.
Overall, though, The Chemical Wedding is a really unexpected bit of solid, epic, and above all inspired heavy metal from a man whose solo career was really just a long series of forgettable hard rock-ish tunes. The main body of the album is good, enjoyable heavy metal, and the highlights are utter fucking highlights. Check it out.