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Having made an impressive comeback with 1997’s "Accident of Birth," Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson and his strong entourage sought to take their brand of heavy metal to the next level with this 1998 effort. As expected, they created an album that was so successful that it still manages to stand up strongly to most of the material of Dickinson’s alma mater.
The first thing you may notice is how this effort is even heavier than the albums before it. I’ve been told that guitarists Roy Z and Adrian Smith actually used bass guitar strings while they recorded this album and it really shows. Each song is packed with dark and heavy riffs that complement the album’s mystical atmosphere quite nicely. Fortunately, the melodic elements are still in practice with Dickinson delivering his trademark tenor and even including more mellow moments on tracks such as "Jerusalem" and "The Alchemist."
Adding further to the album’s atmosphere are its equally mystical lyrics, which seem to revolve mostly around the poetry of poet/painter William Blake. I’m still unfamiliar with the bulk of Blake’s poetry but Dickinson has done a splendid job incorporating the themes within the tunes and even manages to quote the legendary "And did those Feet in Ancient Times" word for word in the previously mentioned "Jerusalem." Also interesting are the spoken narrations performed by shock rock pioneer Arthur Brown. I’m also unfamiliar with Brown’s work but he has a refreshing voice that sounds particularly haunting on the epic "Book of Thel." Too bad he only performs on two songs (three if you include the bonus track "Confeos") ...
Conveniently enough, there are very few flaws to be found on this album. Every song has been carefully constructed and there is no trace of filler to be found. However, there are times when Dickinson himself doesn’t seem to be able to keep up the aggression of some songs. Despite the rest of the song being mysteriously haunting, the chorus on "Killing Floor" feels rather awkward due to the inclusion of the raspier vocals that plagued his early solo albums. The same can be said for "Machine Men," which features somewhat awkward vocal lines during the verses despite inspiring the Finnish metal band of the same name.
All in all, it’s one of the strongest albums that Dickinson has ever been a part of and is an excellent example of high quality of melodic modern metal.
1) Heavier guitar tone and powerfully executed vocals for the most part
2) Interestingly written lyrics and poetry quotations
3) A few melodic flourishes keep things interesting and varied.
1) Dickinson’s vocals sometimes feel out of place during the more aggressive tunes.
2) May to be tougher to get into for some listeners
My Current Favorites:
"King in Crimson," "The Chemical Wedding," "Book of Thel," "Gates of Urizen," and "Trumpets of Jericho"