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Ever since the discovery of Iron Maiden, they have been my personal favourite band of all time. However, 1994-1998 marked some of my least favourite years of the band, not only with the departure of guitarist Adrian Smith (which resulted in the delayed listening to No Prayer for the Dying and Fear of the Dark), but also of the iconic voice of the band, Bruce Dickinson. The years without Bruce Dickinson saw the band release the disappointing The X Factor and Virtual XI. Fortunately, the same period of time saw Bruce Dickinson releasing some of his strongest solo materials, in particular The Chemical Wedding.
Unlike the increasing progressive and overtly dark direction that Maiden had been taking over the years, The Chemical Wedding sees Bruce Dickinson presenting some good old heavy metal without all that desperate efforts in sounding different. The album starts off strongly with King in Crimson, and Bruce Dickinson's vocals are immediately recognisable, and unlike the raspy style that he attempts on No Prayer for the Dying and Fear of the Dark, his vocal quality here is markedly smoother and more fluid, certainly sounding better than the strained attempt at sounding aggressive. Songs like Gates of Urizen are perfect for displaying the vocal prowess of Bruce Dickinson, and the reason why he remains one of my favourite vocalists becomes self-explanatory. The presence of fellow Maiden member, guitarist Adrian Smith is also significant, with the guitar solos that are unleashed extremely familiar, giving fans of these dark years of Maiden something that they can finally identify with. Add to that the often duelling guitar solos between Adrian and Roy Z, with each displaying their unique playing styles, makes for one hell of a fun and dynamic listen.
Bruce Dickinson also proves his abilities as a songwriter on the album, with the music sufficiently bringing out the dark feelings with an equally dark album concept that lies beneath the album, and penning music that suits the various emotions of the various songs. For example, the title track Chemical Wedding has a somewhat sad and melancholic melody to it, fitting to the lyrics on the song, while Killing Floor has a respective aggressive sound to it, and it is on this track where Bruce Dickinson attempts a pseudo-growl, adding to the fierceness to the song. There are also epic tracks such as Book of Thel and closing track, The Alchemist, with each running for more than 8 minutes long, and Book of Thel being the personal favourite track, especially with the drum fills in the middle of the track, and the epic feel of the song through the numerous transitions present throughout. The usage of keyboards on the track also helps in building and maintaining that tension in the air. The Alchemist sees a short reprise of the title track Chemical Wedding towards the end, and is the perfect close to this epic journey.
Lyrics-buffs who have found the epic lyrical concepts that Maiden albums often have nothing to worry about here as well, with The Chemical Wedding containing perhaps some of the darkest lyrics that Bruce Dickinson has ever penned, making the reading of the lyrics an outstanding journey in itself. The only minor complaint here are the slight nu-metal moments on Machine Men, that kinda spoil the mood a little. Overall, The Chemical Wedding is an album that more than makes up for the Maiden years and albums without Bruce Dickinson, and is perhaps even superior to most material that Maiden has put out to date.