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You can’t write a complete review of a new Bruce Dickinson album if you don’t compare it with the latest Maiden offering. That is an unspoken law that has ritualistically been kept since 1990. I will avoid head to head comparisons, because the result, in 99% of the cases has been solidified by the time the reviewer sees the band logo on the front cover. I will, however, mention what parts of the album, which ideas, which methods I’d like to suck into a syringe and inject them into the iron skull of Mr. Harris.
Since I am on my first listens, it is difficult for me to do a song by song review. Let me compose my review with remarks I made in general:
-As expected, Bruce’s voice doesn’t sound strained on no groove of the album. Take note of that Steve next time you decide to record “live”. True, the high end vocals here are not as common or as high as the eighties albums where Bruce sings, but that doesn’t seem to be missing. Bruce has mastered his voice and knows how to deliver the goods, even without his 1983 vocal range.
-Also as expected, the guitar section is good but orphaned from the absence of Adrian. His fluent solos that seem to branch of the song as naturally as they return to it are missing. Not that Roy’s playing is bad. But what I like most of him as a guitarist is his crunchy riffs which are sown through the album.
-Unexpectedly, many of the vocal lines of the album, in my opinion, sound less musical and fluent than what I’ve come to expect from Bruce’s solo albums. They sound a bit forced, a bit read through instead of sung, suffering a bit from Acute Harrisitis (when else has Bruce tried to fit “With wood string and wire we can barely control our desire” into one breath?). I hope our boy pulls through in time for the next Maiden album because I was counting on him to kick some sense into Sgt Harris on that matter. (Note: I have just started the second listen, and Bruce’s vocal lines on Abduction, which stink of Silver Wings, reassure me that the vocal lines could have been better). The situation seems to get better as the songs advance, and surely hasn’t affected the choruses, which are catchy and witty, which brings me to the next observation:
-The lyrics are as mystic and carefully crafted as ever. Bruce even managed to avoid lyrical cheesiness on Kill Devil Hill’s subject. This album is further proof that he must be the central lyricist in Maiden, Eddie knows we don’t need any more lyrics about hardcore Christian beliefs on genetics or about petty crimes punished with a holiday. Let me note simply that Bruce seems to wink at Maidenheads on more than a couple occasions during the album: Blood Brothers, Icarus and Wildest Dreams, all found their way on the lyrics, surely without Bruce thinking that some of us would take notice.
-The rhythm section is solid and crisp. I wouldn’t even think of comparing the bass player with Harris (of old). The drummer, compared to Nicko is what the T1000 is to TX on Terminator 2. He’s faster, he’s updated, he’s louder, but he doesn’t stand a chance in terms of character when compared to Nicko. In fact, I thought it was the T1000 playing drums on Navigate The Seas Of The Sun, because it is a mellow song which requires not power but versatility and jazziness, and that is where David Ingraham, the Tribe Of Gypsies drummer, would have surely done miracles.
-The production is great, Bruce seems to bring out the best in Roy Z… Not one muddy guitar. I wonder what magic Bruce does on Roy every time they work together, because almost all of Roy’s non-Bruce productions have been muddier than a tar pit. After this realization, I would even dare to consider him as the No2 option, behind Andy Sneap, for the production chair in Maiden, which is currently shared by Kevin “Pontius Pilatus” Shirley and Steve Harris.
-The cover artwork sets the mood perfectly, the choise of painting is great, although the yellow with a white border of the band’s logo really clashes with the rest. It clashes enough to believe that it was pasted atop it by someone who wanted to show what the artwork could be like, knowing which painting Bruce was going to use. But we know what happened last time we speculated that the cover was fake, don’t we…
-All in all, buy the album. You know you will anyway. It is quality stuff and will surely fill the gap between it and the next Maiden offering. Or maybe it filled the gap between Chemical Wedding and the next Bruce solo album. It depends which side you’re on….. errr…. what you like best.