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This was Iron Maiden's much lauded comeback album from the depths of mediocrity, and it gets a lot of praise for just being a good old Maiden album with Bruce on vocals and the mouth-watering twin leads taking the spotlight. Indeed, Bruce Dickinson had indeed returned to the band, and indeed, these songs are not the Blaze albums or the horrible hard rock abominations that were Bruce's last albums with the band before those, but it's obvious that Brave New World was tragically over-hyped upon its release, as was expected. Simply releasing an album that doesn't blow donkey cock (anything sounds good compared to the awful Fear of the Dark for instance) does not a good album make.
If you're an Iron Maiden fan, you'll most likely find something to enjoy here, as all the elements are in place for a nostalgic time-warp back to the days when Maiden were the kings of the metal genre: We have Bruce's soaring, air-siren wailing belting out some of the catchiest choruses the band has done to date over a cascade of jumpy, rock-solid heavy metal riffs, courtesy of the band's three guitarists (!), Nicko McBrain's skin-pounding fury on the drum kit, and Steve Harris's trademark basslines, which are decidedly low in the mix this time around, puzzlingly enough. The production is clear as day, and musically the band haven't slacked off at all here. However, a lot of these songs seem to be trying to sound like old Maiden songs, but they just don't quite cut it a lot of the time. I mean, really, this isn't a bad album, but it's just too "safe" for Iron Maiden; as if the band was afraid to dive headfirst into the proverbial metal pool.
Instead, Brave New World is pretty much an entire album the band edging nervously around the aforementioned pool, lightly dipping their toes into the water every now and then, but never really taking any chances and jumping in. Come on, "The Mercenary"? The title track? "Blood Brothers"? "The Fallen Angel"? "Out of the Silent Planet"? B-sides at best. Even the energetic, catchy advance single "The Wicker Man" is restrained and doesn't show what the band is capable of. I understand the band was sort of testing the waters with their fan base again after a decade of more negative feedback, but they never really let loose here like they should. Iron Maiden was a band with boundless enthusiasm, and it showed in their heyday, with vibrant, speedy cookers like "Aces High" and "Flight of Icarus." They were never the best band ever, but what they were was consistent, and also passionate. This album is neither of those things, sad to say, just a sort of "we're baaaaaack!" album, for the sake of being back, and nothing else.
Fortunately, the band clearly hasn't really lost it, as there is a slight progression in evidence here. There are three songs above the 8 minute mark on display here, and while "The Nomad" drags a bit (still a fine song), "Dream of Mirrors" is a fantastic song; 9 minutes of pure heavy metal class and style, the way only Maiden can do it, leaping head first into the proverbial metal pool and making a splash. Shifting from an acoustic crooner to a mature, rocking headbanger, it doesn't fail to please, with some pretty damn cool lyrics to boot. "The Thin Line Between Love and Hate" is somewhat along the same lines, with the odd attribute of being the only song Maiden's ever done with backing vocals on the verses instead of the chorus, which is sung solely by Bruce. It's not Maiden at the top of their game, but it is a cool song, and it closes the album with style and class. However, the real gem here is a 6 minute exercise in pure metallic bliss, titled "Ghost of the Navigator"; a brilliant, riffy tune that's probably the best song the band has done in 15 or 20 years now, since the Seventh Son era. Bold words, but it's not that hard to agree, considering the magnitude of everything they've released since. The song is reminiscent of a condensed version of "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", boasting a catchy chorus and a commendable set of riffs, alongside lyrics that will beckon you to the old sea with a ghostly, welcoming hand. Magnificent.
There is good stuff here, but this isn't the best Maiden can do, and it's actually very disappointing when you look at the bigger picture. The title track is the only real dud here, as every other song is at least listenable and fun, and overall this isn't bad in the least - it's just a legendary band going through the motions; Iron Maiden at 75% of their power. It's respectable that they can still pump out an album like this after 25 years of existence (most bands don't), but it's safe to say that this isn't an album that will be in constant rotation even by Maiden die hards after the shock wears off.