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So, it's been fifteen years since your band formed, and two crucial members of your lineup have returned? What is a band to do? Well, Iron Maiden decided to release this monster, almost as if to say "We're still around, and we're not going away". From the opening riff to "The Wicker Man" (even if it is ripped off) to the closing notes of "The Thin Line Between Love And Hate", this album screams excellence. Granted, it took a few listens to some of the slower tunes to really get a feel for them, and the repetitive choruses can be a little irratating, but on the whole, it's a worthy release that's found itself a comfortable home in my player.
The whole band goes all in one this one. Bruce's vocals seem to actually get stronger as he ages, and he nails everything this album demands of it. Maiden now features three guitarists, as they did not drop Janick Gers or Dave Murray when Adrain Smith returned. Each have their own playng style, and they bring their own touch to the album. This is particularly true of the incredible solos found on every song. As usual, Nicko McBrian's drumwork is top notch, and it provides a powerful backing to the music. Steve Harris throws some strong bass lines at us, and although they often lack the gusto that he showed on earlier Maiden release, it's still a dominant force throughout the album. He also handles the keyboard work.
The album opens with the Wicker Man, and like most Maiden openers, starts off the album perfectly. Featuring some excellent guitar work, it really sets the tone for the album. However, almost as if a sign of things to come, it has that infamous repetitive chorus that the post-Blaze Maiden has featured on far too many songs.
"The Ghost Of The Navigator" is one of those songs that you immediatly know is going to be a live classic. It builds up from the intro inro a great riff. Bruce nails this one vocally, and does this really cool sounding thing in the prechorus where it sounds like he's dragging his voice. The chorus itself is fantastic, almost defying you to not sing along with it. The solo, as per usual, is awesome, and a nice little riff section ties it back to the chorus. All in all, a very strong song.
The title track slows things down a little bit, but it's still a great song. The song gathers speed as it goes along, gradually drawing you into it. This is one of those songs that take a few listens to truly enjoy, and you'll probably skip it until you really listen to it. However, once you really get into it, it becomes one of the strongest songs on the album. Bruces vocals are nothing short of impressive, and the lyrics are excellent. The solo section, as usual, borderlines on overkill, and is immediatly followed by a ringing guitar riff that really brings it together. The chorus repeats, and the song shortly reverts to the slow verse that opened it.
Next comes "Blood Brothers", another slow song. A melodic riff and lead that is typical to new Maiden carry us through the intro and the verse, which leads into yet another repetitive chorus. Harris' bass is very strong during the chorus, but retreats into the background for much of the song. The first solo is short, but after some meandering and build up, the song culminates in a great second solo. However, one solo isn't enough to redeem the song, and overall, it seems like Brave New World if it never picked up.
Finally, Bruce and the boys decide to kick us in the ass. "The Mercenary" is a balls-out return to the classic Maiden mix of speed and heaviness that hasn't been seen since "Futureal". However, the song suffers from, what else, a repetitive chorus. However, a killer solo section will make you willing to forget all about it, and in the end, the song delivers what it set out to do.
"Dream Of Mirrors" has always been a bit of a toss-up for me. Again, it starts out slow, gathering speed as it progresses. It just takes longer this time. The lyrics seem familiar, probably because they released a little song called 'Fear of the Dark' eight years prior, and with yet another painfully repetitive chorus, I find it hard to want to listen to it. However, when it finally does get up to speed, it's a worthy tune. I think the biggest problem with this song is that it's needlessly long. At over nine minutes, I've often found myself wondering if they really needed to repeat the chorus so many times, or wishing that they'd shaved a minute or two off it. But, as the song nears the six minute mark, the song kicks into gear and makes it all worthwhile. In the end, I find this song to be best when you listen to it only on occasion.
After "Dream Of Mirrors" you're probably wondering when the album will kick into overdrive again, right? Well, you won't have to wait long. "The Fallen Angel" is here to kick you in the teeth and ask if you want more. It starts off with a totally badass riff that lets you know what this track is all about, and doesn't let up until it ends. It even features a chorus with more than one line! The solo is one of the best on the album, and towards the end of it, there's some wicked guitar work where the music gives you imagery. It's tough to describe in words, but you'll probably understand what I mean when you hear it. The solo leads back into the chorus, and at the end, Bruce holds the note in that special way that he does so well. Through and through, this song just oozes the good stuff.
Ah, "The Nomad". Where would this album be without you? It opens up with a great little insrumental section that lasts just over a minute and features a killer lead riff just before the vocals kick in. The song features two (!) choruses that aren't repetitive. The first one is great, but the second one's lyrics kind of pissed me off. More specifically, the last line "No man's, ever understood your genius". It just doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the song, and seems a little over the top. However, to redeem it, the first appearance of the second chorus is followed by an immaculate solo section where Adrian and the boys really lay it on you with that desert feel the song is just dripping in. After another verse and chorus, the song drops off into a great melodic lead with keyboards. The song goes back to the verse and chorus, and comes to a close.
Now for the really good stuff. "Out Of The Silent Planet" is an absolutely amazing track that really gives you a feel for what Maiden can throw at you. The lyrics are some of the best on the album, and Bruce puts some real oomph into the vocals. More than anything, this song feels like the band has reached their apex, where all cylinders are firing and gives off that spjne-chilling feel of excellent that songs like Hallowed Be Thy Name threw at you. Of course, the soloing is top notch, drives the song forward. All in all, the song is near perfect. I'm even willing to look past the repetitive chorus.
The album comes to a close with "The Thin Line Between Love And Hate". The lyrics are strange, and seem like they were written in high school. the whole song doesn't seem very Maiden-like. That is, until you hit one of the solos scattered throughout the first part. There are a few, and they scream Iron Maiden goodness. However, the song's climax is towards the end, when it kicks into a smart little instrumental section with an incredibly soulful solo. It leads into a wicked lead riff, another great solo, and the riff again. The song slows down again, and comes to a close. The last three minutes of this song are some of the most intelligent I've ever heard from Iron Maiden before, and when it's all over, you want nothing more than to hit play again and listen to the whole thing over again.
Overall, I found the album to be fairly accessible on the first couple listens, and it became deeper and deeper on subsequent play-throughs. Depsite the repetitive choruses, this album is very strong, and heralds in the post-Blaze era of Iron Maiden. Keep it coming, guys.