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I'm confused by all the praise this album receives on the internet since I haven't met a single person face to face who has had anything positive to say about this album. I'm a tremendous fan of Iron Maiden's early work and Bruce Dickinson's solo albums with Roy Z but nothing post Seventh Son has really done anything for me. This album is no exception and in fact I think this is a step in the absolute wrong direction. I'm not some death metal fan with no love for the classics of the genre. I’m a follower of the NWOBHM first and foremost but I expect a band as influential and innovative as Maiden to sound that way, not to stagnate in mediocrity.
The first thing that really needs to be addressed is the production, I find it to be overly quiet and ineffectual. I'm all for having dynamics and not brick walling the music in the mastering process but this album sounds as if it wasn't mastered at all. I'm a bassist, Harris is a huge influence on me but he's a little high in the mix even for my taste. The music just doesn’t have the raw power that you’d expect from a band with three guitarists. I’ve felt that since No Prayer for the Dying, Maiden’s music has really taken a steep decline in the heaviness department, it just doesn‘t have that adrenaline inducing, galloping bottom end that it used to. I had hoped that bringing Adrian back while retaining Janick might beef up their sound but, as with the previous two albums, they’re not really attempting anything that couldn’t be achieved just as well with two guitar players and a little overdubbing
I found the songwriting to be really artificial in parts, the riffs don't really flow into one another very well. It seems almost like the band took a bunch of riffs and tacked them together. It all sounds really forced; not the organic, from the heart sound of Beast or Killers. Another weakness in the songwriting in my opinion is that almost every chorus is the title of the song sung over and over, this lyrical repetition isn't uncommon on newer Maiden albums but given the more progressive (read: repetitious) nature of this album, it tends to wear down on the listener faster than before.
There aren't really any flaws in the vocals or musicianship that were immediately discernable, Bruce is still holding on to the title of "Air Raid Siren". Maiden is still a very formidable live act and have aged quite gracefully in that respect but they've suffered incredibly in the songwriting and lyrically departments. It’s really upsetting to me because I wanted to enjoy this album, I don’t find any pleasure in nitpicking through it’s flaws. I understand this album is meant to be progressive and epic, I’ve given it plenty of chances in numerous states of mind but this album just doesn’t speak to me.
I guess as a fan it's not my place to tell Maiden that they're going down the wrong path, they've certainly earned their place in heavy metal history and it would be foolish for me to try to sway them from their artistic vision but personally I would love nothing more than for Maiden to pull off their equivalent of Judas Priest's Painkiller. A crushingly heavy reinvention of their trademark sound that redefines them and takes them to new heights of musical complexity, speed and brutality. Such an album would certainly bring fans like myself back into the fold but judging from way things have been going since the reunion; this dream is never going to come true. Hopefully Bruce has some more albums with Roy Z up his sleeve.