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I had expected it would be a matter of time before Dickinson would rejoin Maiden or even another vocalist replacing Blaze eventually. I never expected to see Adrian Smith again though. Glad he’s back though. Even though Gers was the more flashier player, I prefer the looks, style and coolness of Smith. Not forgetting to mention that smith is able to write far more rocking metal tunes than the lightweight rock ‘n’ roll Gers from time to time writes for the group. But now we have all three guitarists in the band and this seems somewhat overdone. I understand they just can’t fire Gers because Maiden are a bunch of swell guys and because it is a challenge to try it with three guitarist but it still remains weird to this day.
Anyway, Smith and Dickinson immediately wrote a fair bunch of material for this album and the credits show this album was written more by the band as a whole than a few individuals bringing finished products to the rehearsal room. In some cases this works (Blood Brothers, Ghost Of The Navigator) but sometimes it becomes an overstretched mess (the title track).
It is good to hear Dickinson singing Maiden songs again. He has a clear voice with much dynamics, giving the music something extra. How classic the X-factor would have been with Dickinson singing those songs. He couldn’t have saved the awful Virtual XI album though. This album mostly mixes the X-factor style with No Prayer for The Dying and incidentally refers to their eighties days. Don’t expect really fast songs of intense riffing on “Brave New World”. The album is more about chord progressions and melodies. Adrian Smith did however put riffs (Wicker Man, The Fallen Angel) back into Iron Maiden fortunately.
As said two of the highlights are Ghost Of The Navigator and Blood Brothers. Both are lengthy epic tunes from which “Ghost of the Navigator” sounds most traditional in the “Afraid To Shoot Strangers / To Tame A Land” kind of way. “Blood Brothers” brings interesting string arrangements to a folk-orientated waltz. A new approach which works out remarkably well.
Opening tune “The Wicker Man” shows Adrian Smith at his best. A simple rocker which balances between good old hardrock and heavy metal with some steady riffing and a decent chorus (not mind blowing though). The fourth track worth mentioning is the epic “Dream of Mirrors” which features Gers in the credits and he has surpassed himself here. Even though the chorus is a bit too hardrockish it remains a solid epic Maiden classic.
Then there are the fillers. “The Mercenary” and “The Fallen Angel” have a lot in common with the average song on No Prayer For The Dying with some hints of 1986-era Smith material and are decent Maiden tunes with some good moments but never becoming true masterpieces because in both cases the chorus should have been stronger. Also on these songs it becomes most obvious the production has its shortcomings. The drums are too damn heavy. This lumberjack sound makes the songs heavy but also makes them feel slower and more dragging.
Now, the Murray-Harris tune “The Thin Line Between Love and Hate” is pretty bad. Even though it has Dickinson singing, it still sounds as if it’s coming straight from Virtual XI. The vocal line is dull and monotone and the song as a whole an annoying dull hardrock tune without balls. “Out of the Silent Planet” has some sweet ideas but is far from memorable.
“Nomad” suffers from the Mother-Russia-disease. The song is based around some ethnic sounding melodies but fails to deliver as a whole. The chorus is pretty weak as well. The remain really bad track is the title track. Now this song has enough ideas and lyrics for a two and a half minute song yet manages to drag on for over six minutes! I haven’t counted the times we hear Dickinson sing the title but it is bloody annoying.
So there you have it. Great to have smith and Dickinson back and great to have some new Maiden classics. But there are too many fillers or really bad tunes here to consider this a classic Maiden album.
Blood Brothers, Ghost Of The Navigator, The Wicker Man, Dream Of Mirrors
The Mercenary, The Fallen Angel, Nomad
Brave New World, Out of the Silent Planet, The Thin Line Between Love and Hate