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It’s almost astonishing how much life Bruce Dickinson brings to Iron Maiden. The two albums recorded in his absence were unbelievably devoid of energy. There was no feeling and no intensity to the music, just uninteresting, drawn-out recordings. Jump forward a few years to the release of Brave New World and the triumphant return of both Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith. What we get is not the greatest album of all time, but an impressive release nonetheless. The sound is a little different, but it’s still distinguishably Iron Maiden in its purest form. Just make sure to give it more than one listen before you judge it.
Brave New World is perhaps the artsiest Maiden release yet. Most of the songs are longer than typical, with a lot of lush synth textures mingling with the guitar work, especially in the mellower sections. It’s somewhat progressive in that sense, similar to the way Somewhere in Time and Seventh Son are presented. Unlike those albums, Brave New World has no stand-out tracks, which is its only notable flaw. There are no songs as magnificent as “Infinite Dreams” nor are there any on the level of classics like “The Clairvoyant,” “Wasted Years,” or “Alexander the Great.” However, that doesn’t mean that the album is weak in any sense. Every song is incredibly well-written and polished. There is no filler; every song lets you hear that there was an incredible amount of effort put into composing and recording it. The general level of consistency and quality is a lot higher than most of the band’s other releases. Whether the song is a straight-forward rocker like “The Wicker Man” and “The Mercenary” or a more diverse epic like “Dream of Mirrors” and “The Nomad,” the album just kicks incredible ass. The songwriting has progressed way beyond the band’s heavier albums, but there is still a fair amount of pure metal riffing integrated. It’s not the album you’d generally listen to for casual head banging since its more of a ‘progressive’ experience, but that doesn’t mean it’s not heavy in its own right.
As noted before, Bruce Dickinson returns on this album and his presence is most welcome. His voice hasn’t sounded this good since Seventh Son. The vocal melodies are absolutely amazing and the production allows his vocals to be delivered articulately, another plus for this album. Even the lyrics are really good, though that’s not much of a surprise on most Maiden albums. Adrian Smith’s return is also welcome, considering that he’s twice the player that Janick Gers is. But Janick has stayed on, even with Adrian’s return, making it the largest Iron Maiden ensemble to date. Three lead guitarists may seem like overkill, but it allows for a more complete live performance. Iron Maiden is not the kind of band to waste three guitarists by writing parts with only one or two in mind. Besides, the Eagles did it years beforehand and made it work.
One of the best things about Iron Maiden is listening to the guitarists progress between albums. From the band’s first release all the way up the this one, you can hear the solos getting better and better, rather than more repetitive and formulaic. The guitar tone on this album is stellar, probably the best yet, allowing it to meld beautifully with the synth layers. It’s a really polished album, but doesn’t sound overproduced. Another thing easy to notice are the drums. I’ve never really presented Maiden’s drum work as one the band’s outstanding aspects, but the drums sound really good on here. The drumming itself is quite intricate, even incorporating double bass pedal, while the mix is almost perfect. All the volumes and sound are ideal and it doesn’t go unnoticed. Great production on this album, especially since they managed to keep Steve Harris’ bass in check.
I really can’t find fault in this album, except that I wouldn’t put any of its songs on a Maiden greatest hits. The album on a whole is outstanding, a natural progression of one of metal’s most respected groups. It’s powerful, heavy at times, mellow at others, and it’s one of the band’s most melodic and overall well-written releases. It takes a little time to get into, but once you do, it’s an incredibly rewarding experience.