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When it comes to aging metal bands, I really do not expect a whole lot. This is not me being cynical, but rather that I don't expect them to add another classic to the discography (i.e. Seventh Son or Powerslave), and I suspect with most bands of this longevity know this deep down too. However, effort still goes a long way. For this, Iron Maiden comes out in spades with Dance of Death.
Iron Maiden's aesthetic is probably best summed up by their energetic frontman, Bruce Dickinson. He flies their jet, jumps all over the stage during their shows (he's always drenched in sweat by the time the show is over) and pursues a gaggle of outside hobbies. This attitude is reflected in the music of Dance of Death. The structures have now long moved away from simple verse-chorus-verse for most of the songs, instead opting for more progressive songs that use orchestrations more prominently, feature epic compositions from the band members, and just like how I feel Iron Maiden delivered on Brave New World, I doubly feel so for Dance of Death. The first half of the album is arguably the more conventional half, with more traditional opening songs Wildest Dreams and Rainmaker (although rainmaker oddly struck a chord with me). It is interesting to note that, for while this half of the album features No More Lies and Dance of Death, which are long form epics in the vein of Dream of Mirrors from their last album (as well as live favorites), that it is the more conventional half. It is symbolic of Iron Maiden's tireless pursuance of quality and consistency that this grade of songwriting has become standard!
The second half, however, is at hands both movingly joyous and movingly solemn. It features the gripping Paschendale, a raw account of trench warfare from a soldier's perspective, as well as the more traditional Gates of Tomorrow and New Frontier. It is with the last 3 songs, however, that I feel most impressed with Iron Maiden's scope. The intros and more sparse/melodic parts are seamlessly blended with the fully saturated sections in the songs Face in the Sand and Age of Innocence. Both these songs feature heavy orchestration, and I feel Iron Maiden, the one metal band who I would say defines the word "class", used this orchestration quite tastefully. It is with the last song, however, that I feel Iron Maiden risked the most, and through the logic of "greatest risk, greatest possible gain", Iron Maiden achieved a poignant and dignified epilogue that outshined a good chunk of an already amazing album, all of which is done without using any gain on the guitars at all during this song. That is quite a monumental feat, as far as I'm concerned. To this day, I consider Journeyman to be the best - written song here.
Lest you think that the Maiden has sold out, this album delivers on the guitars for damn sure. The solos are all done immaculately, and the triple guitar approach creates a dense set of layers that are capable of so much more, sonically speaking, that just two. Each guitarist here puts forth a truly earnest effort here, and it shows. As usual, Steve Harris proves once again why he is heavy metal's best bassist -- and that is because he forms the fourth layer in the stringed, amplified instruments of Iron Maiden with just as much ferocity and just as much drive and lead in the melodies and harmonies as any other of the guitarists, and eclipses them in quite a few parts. Nicko McBrain is, as always, a driving, completely fluid and natural feeling, and a plus on the album is that the drums have significantly more commanding presence and low-end thud (as if McBrain were playing a 10 ft tall kit made of steel-reinforced wood) and this definitely accentuates Nicko's style. If this sounds like standard issue Iron Maiden to you, then remind yourself of why you're an Iron Maiden fan, because it's this devotion to quality that has become Iron Maiden's brand, and that extends to the competency, composition, and use of the instruments on Dance of Death. I should expect the best from Maiden, it appears, because they are still fully prepared to deliver it.
Truth be told, even if Iron Maiden put forth a C- effort, I would be prepared to give them 85% or so simply because at this point in their careers, I didn't particularly expect another classic. Whether or not Dance of Death is a classic is dependent on who you ask, but this is an honest effort that goes quite beyond my expectations. The fact that for a cumulative 20 minutes or so of this album essentially does nothing new at all does not seem to bother me at all. This is because on Dance of Death, we got several sections (I'd reckon an addition 25-30 minutes worth) that, I would dare to say it, redefine what it means to be NWOBHM, 30 or so years after the fact, or even heavy metal in general, I would reckon. Not in a truly revolutionary way, mind you, but Iron Maiden take enough (successful) risks here that any flaws are immediately blown away by their tireless devotion to their art (as implied in the title).
At any point in a band'e career, I would consider a record of this caliber to be truly an achievement. The fact that Maiden have been at it for nearly 30 years at the time of this release is something to marvel at, yet isn't intrinsically apparent in the music. That Iron Maiden have reinvented themselves as a progressive heavy metal band this late in their careers and managed to still capture a feeling of youth in their music is truly mind-blowing. I try not to get this giddy any more, but after a gazillion listens, Dance of Death still makes me poop hammers, so to speak. If you haven't already heard it in its entirety, I urge you to do so. This weathered veteran still has some aces and wild cards up his sleeve, it seems.
'Dance Of Death' marks the second chapter in Iron Maiden's six-piece lineup. Although changes within the ranks and the addition of a third guitarist would normally be something only fans would be interested in, it did mark a musical shift for the band. Starting with 'Brave New World'- an album that's been since considered one of the greatest metal albums of the new millennium- Iron Maiden brought their distinctive style back to the forefront, and haven't looked back since. Most notably, singer Bruce Dickinson was back with them, but there is also a progressive edge to the songwriting that makes this period in Iron Maiden's history arguably their most exciting. 'Dance Of Death' balances out between their classic style and more intricate composition, and despite the relatively weak album art, Maiden makes it clear that they are far from exhausting their artistic spirit.
There will certainly be those who argue that Iron Maiden have 'barely' changed their sound over the decades, but comparing their early, punk-infused energy to the symphonic grandeur of the title track on 'Death Of Death', it's undeniable that Iron Maiden have picked up some new tricks. Perhaps moreso than 'Brave New World', Iron Maiden balances two distinct approaches on this album. The first is their classic brand of songwriting, one that often uses the signature 'guitar gallop', biting solos and choruses that could get a stadium's worth of metalheads singing along. 'Rainmaker' stands out particularly in this regard, with a futuristic main riff and pleasant vocal leads from Dickinson. 'Montsegur' is arguably the most traditional Maiden track here, a song somewhat reminiscent of 'The Trooper' that could have snuck onto an earlier Maiden album without arousing much suspicion.
As many of Maiden's fans might agree however, the highlight of Iron Maiden's recent work lies in the 'epic' songs they have been focusing on. Although they flirted with longer song structures as far back as their debut album, 'Dance Of Death' truly indicates their recent preference for involving, progressive composition. Without the slightest doubt, the two highlights on 'Dance Of Death' are the occult-themed title track, and the cinematic 'Paschendale'. The first of these sees Iron Maiden going down a familiar route of storytelling, about a man abducted and taken to an undead ritual. 'Paschendale' is a tribute to the eponymous battle in WWI, attempting to give the same sense of grim reality that 'The Trooper' gave the Crimean War. Musically, both tracks represent some of the most powerful songwriting I've ever heard Iron Maiden do, opening gracefully, and dramatically building to something powerful and even symphonic. As has become the standard for Maiden, the lyrics are handled with sophistication, generally falling upon history or philosophy for inspiration.
'Dance Of Death's weakness comes in the form of songs that come close to being called 'filler'. 'No More Lies', 'Gates Of Tomorrow' and 'New Frontier' are all pleasant enough Maiden tracks, but even after giving 'Dance Of Death' many enjoyed listens, I found nothing stirring about them. Thankfully, the is more excellence than disappoint on 'Dance Of Death', and while I could have asked for a greater consistency and flow, Iron Maiden's progressive material here is some of the best work I've heard them play.
Maiden continue with their fairytale return of Dickinson in the form of Dance Of Death, the much anticipated follow-up for the competent Brave New World. For this album, Maiden take more of a progressive approach to things. Where Brave New World was a safe, structured, and to the point album, we see songs being more varied in the structure for this album. A good thing, one might say, especially if a band is experimenting in new territories, but what if the band fails to deliver enjoyable music and gets lost determining the approach to be taken? Here the problem arises with Dance Of Death. The album is basically comprised of Maiden’s traditional sound merged with some traits identified with Dream Theater and Rush. The lyrics are traditional Maiden, concerning historical battles, personal issues, literature, etc.
If there is one reason to listen to this album, it has to be Bruce Dickinson. The man’s magical voice gives life to otherwise hollow and dead songs. Let us face it gentlemen, Bruce sounds even better since his return to Maiden. The three guitar army is in fine form and do not commit too many mistakes, but only the serious ones that seep the enjoyable contents out of the songs. The lead work in most of the songs isn’t composed as finely as in their earlier songs and mostly is just random shredding. Steve Harris’ bass lines are competent as ever in the fast parts, but when the pace goes below that (which is the case most of the time), we have a problem. The drumming is highly competent and flawless as ever, but I would rather have listened to Rush or Devin Townsend if drumming was all I wanted to hear. The production is great as all of the instruments can be heard superbly.
So we start with Wildest Dreams which keeps up the Maiden tradition of opening the album with a speedy, catchy rocker. The chorus is descent and the song is entertaining in itself. Rainmaker is the best song in the album with an epic chorus and excellent lead work, bringing the glory days of Somewhere In Time to mind. Sadly, the song is under four minutes and the listener can get frustrated when the song ends so suddenly. No More Lies starts softly but fails to be epic. This is the first in the series of longer tracks where the band displays their “see, I am influenced by Geddy Lee” Rush-isms. Where being epic and progressive isn’t bad, there however is a line between epicness and the ability to bore which the band apparently haven’t drawn. The upcoming Montsegur, whose name could have found place in a Robert Jordan novel, is much better. The chorus is again fantastic, showcasing that the band still has creative energy within them. The title track is not bad, but tries to be epic with the one guitar melody that drives it, but sadly is neither epic nor exciting. The fact that they take three minutes of utter snoozefest before launching into the melody is even more frustrating. Gates Of Tomorrow sucks on any given day. The song has practically nothing of note. New Frontier thankfully is much better and works as one of the highlights. Paschendale is again boring, overlong, and unstructured. The chorus again tries hard to be epic, but lacks depth. Thankfully, Dickinson manages to make the song at least listenable. Face In The Sand is good and this time is successfully epic. It becomes very frustrating by this time as the listener realizes that they practically have crap alternately placed between the highlights. No More Lies is again quite good. The final Journeyman is an attempt at an epic ballad. While it is not a bad one, they have had better ballads and the epicness just does not stand out. The chorus is bad, just bad, and we seriously could have done without at least three minutes of the song.
The major problem with this album is that they somewhat got confused whether it has to be epic and progressive or plain and catchy. Whatever progressive elements are present, they are blown away by serious songwriting faults. The album at times does give a glimpse of the band’s compositional prowess, but these moments are far and little. The weak compositions of this album do not support the progressive elements whereas Brave New World was equally long and epic, yet with enjoyable songs. Here the songs succeed at putting you to sleep rather effortlessly. Overall, this album is good for a one time listen, but definitely not beyond that.
Brave New World brought a ray of hope back into the hearts of many an Iron Maiden fan, but three years later, the hysteria over the band's reunion would subside. The honeymoon was over. Could the band deliver another album of the same quality? Or would the creative curse the band suffered in the latter half of the 90s rear a head so ugly it makes Eddie himself cringe? Well, unlucky no. 13, Dance of Death sort of falls somewhere in the middle of the two possibilities. Like Brave New World, it's got an excellent production and a very bright, life affirming feel to the compositions, but at the same time, it's a little darker and certainly more mellow. The result is an album that, while not unpleasant to listen to, simply doesn't inspire or aspire to the heights of the band's older works. Ultimately, there are about 2-3 good songs and the rest feels like filler with reasonable intentions.
Now, mind you, despite the flaws, Dance of Death is not as miserable an album as the two the band put out with Blaze Bayley. There is plenty to be bored with here, but the album never hinges on any brand of audio torture that will have you questioning the existence of whatever God you pray to. The songs are somewhat busy, even if they don't often imprint themselves upon your memory. The lyrics are a lot like the previous album, a mixture of historically based musings and self-reflection, so it's unfortunately not a complete return to the subject matter of their 80s albums. But perhaps with age the band's fire for such pulp has died, and the band simply wants to say something more...poignant? I can't exactly fault the band for this, but the end result is that it's just not the same amount of fun...and that cannot be denied.
Dance of Death at least follows Brave New World's example of putting its best feet forward. In this case, most of the better songs occur very early on in the record, beginning with the count off to the mildly catchy "Wildest Dreams", which is an uplifting track in the vein of "The Wicker Man" but with more backing vocal melody to the chorus, which also features a swath of biting chords that mark the climax. The lead is fair, but the riff the band breaks into directly after that is an entirely generic sequence of notes that no band should be considering in the 21st century. "Rainmaker" is far better, and in truth one of the few tracks I actually still listen to on a normal basis. It's a pretty memorable rocker with a memorable impact to the verse and chorus, due not only to Dickinson's performance, but some nice, choppy melodic guitars that bust into solid, driving chords. "No More Lies", however, is 7+ minutes of mediocrity, from yet another of the band's soft spoken intro sequences up to the bland payoff of the chorus. About the only thing that stood out here were the post-chorus guitar melodies, which reminded me a little of Amorphis' "On Rich and Poor" sans the power.
The album returns to compelling, though, with "Montségur", one of several songs that take inspiration from historical battles, in particular the sack of the Cathar's final keep at the hands of the Catholic Albigensian Crusade in the 13th century. There is a nice, impulsive anger here delivered through the vocals and the careful intensity of the building guitars, and the two entwined through the chorus are probably the single most glorious point of the entire album. "Dance of Death" is another slow moving piece, over 8 minutes, which works best whenever the orchestra gets involved, but is otherwise quite dull, with nary a moment of memorable writing aside from the fact that the core band is 'not alone'. Dickinson does build up some aggression here, similar to the previous track. It's not entirely flaccid, but even then I am hard pressed to remember a note of it. "Gates of Tomorrow" has revisits one of those old, tremolo guitar riffs which make you feel that ZZ Top, Van Halen or Dire Straits are about to rock your socks off, and while I don't care for much aside from the chorus, at least that part is graceful enough to hang it by a thread above the mundane.
The rest of the album is where I generally draw blanks when I try to think back about it's strong points. "New Frontier" is aggressive and melodic, and in fact seems like the track here that I'd like the most on any given day, yet I just don't find any solace in the melodies or any desire to revisit it. "Paschendale" is another of the historic battle themes (God Dethroned also wrote an album about it a few years later), and it does build a little fire as the verse starts to rollick, with some well-timed symphonic swells, but so much of the 8:30 minutes could simply be clipped to get to the good bits, that it's a tough sell. "Face in the Sand" reminded me of "Blood Brothers" from the last album, but perhaps diving into a little more of a serious, atmospheric bridge. "Age of Innocence" has some nice, Bond-like digs in its surging melodies, and it was probably my favorite track on the latter half of the album, especially when it launches those insane melodies before 4:00, and "Journeyman" at least has that one catchy line in the verse, but again, I could have done without at least 2-3 minutes of the song. Not that there's anything wrong with a longer song, and Maiden have executed them successfully a number of times, but it seems for every memorable moment on this album there are 2-3 that just don't register.
From a technical standpoint, Dance of Death delivers yet another massive, wafting sound, as if you were witnessing the album live, in crystal clarity, and its melodies and tones were rising up to the rafters on the wings of skull-headed angels. There is a certain maturity and refinement to the songs that one might expect of any old metal or prog rock band of Maiden's status, but like so many of the band's peers (or even older rock bands that are still alive and kicking out hugely professional, big budget albums), the full body, the completeness of nearly 70 minutes of 'okay' material just doesn't add up to the primal vitality of their better years. I don't have a hate on for the album, because it's like picking cherries. The juices start flowing with anticipation in your mouth, but after a few bites...the romance is ended. But I'm sure there is some obsessive cherry lover out there who would disagree, and now I'll shut up.
Highlights: Rainmaker, Montségur, Age of Innocence
Okay, I like certain aspects of this album and I would not call it an over all horrible release but I will start by immediately pointing out the weaknesses. On this album it becomes very clear that Dickinson is getting older. When hearing him sing higher pitched vocals one can hear his voice struggling all the time. It’s not that natural sounding anymore as it did on Seventh Son. This of course is logical since many years have past but it really is something that tempers the enthusiasm about some songs.
Secondly the guitar sound is more messy and blurry than on Brave New World. I’m really missing that old staccato sound on some songs. Remember the days of Aces High and Flight Of Icarus? Well SOMEONE on this album is playing his parts to pretty sloppy. SOMEONE doesn’t have that metal staccato feeling and is playing certain riffs with a hardrockish right hand. This once again is a bummer. I'm getting annoyed.
Thirdly Steve Harris is relying on bass power chords too much instead of those galloping parts he was once famous for. A lot of songs feature him stroking his bass instead of truly playing it. At certain point we can even call it a lazy performance. This will not do! since I looked up to that man when I was a jong boy.
Last but not least the album is very inconsistent. I’m not talking stylewise here like Fear Of The Dark but in terms of quality.
Now for some positive aspects. The albums opens with 5 good or decent songs in a row. “Wildest Dream” isn’t as good as earlier Smith singles, but it is an enjoyable rocking tune with a sleazy chorus but would’ve been a B-side in the eighties. “Rainmaker” has a good drive, sweet melodies and a catchy chorus in the “No Prayer for the Dying” album sense. Fourth song “Montsegur” is equally strong yet has a slightly better chorus.
“No More Lies” however is a real masterpiece. Now this is Maiden. A strong epic filled with changes in pace and Dickinson performs rather well here. The title track is majestic as well. It combines the folky touch of the earlier Blood Brothers (from BraveNewWorld) with the epic approach of eighties Maiden and a touch of “Fear Of The Dark”.
Only two songs from the rest of the album are good. “Paschendale” is another epic that does well live especially and has a very catchy beautiful intro. Closing song “Journeyman” can be considered a ballad but because of its folky vocal lines it is never cheesy. A good tune with a very good Dickinson!
The remaining songs is were it all goes horribly wrong. “Gates of Tomorrow” has a hair metal intro that is even weaker than Lord Of The Flies (X-Factor, 1995). “New Frontier”? Just dull. “Face in the Sand” and “Age of Innocence” are both songs that have some nice ideas but fail to deliver as a whole. The lack of a strong chorus in both cases makes these songs fail in the end.
So you see, there is a lot to complain about concerning “Dance Of The Dead”. The album however features 7 songs that are worthwhile from which 3 can really be considered really excellent. 7 out of 11 is pretty lacking though. This would result in giving the album 64 points. The sloppy rhythm performance of a certain guitarist, the laziness with which Harris plays some basslines and the decreasing quality of Dickinson’s voice however do drag it down to 55 points.
It’s because of this album I’ve concluded having three guitarist is unnecessary, makes it even sound sloppy and Dickinson is really getting old. They should be grateful I’m not deducting more points for the second rate cover art.
For anyone who purchases an album for the purpose of listening to it all the way through, the pacing of any opus is an essential element that must be well ordered so that entire experience can maintain a sense of organization. The metal genre is, by nature, systematic and methodical. Even the most avant-garde of acts in the most obscure of sub-genres will rely on an underlying symmetrical structure in order to keep the listener hooked in.
Iron Maiden had always kept a very strict structure to their work from their first album on, until the notable exception of “The X Factor”, which ushered in a potential alternative approach of writing longer songs and modeling entire albums after the longer winded, epic style of 1970s progressive rock for the band. Since that time, Steve Harris and company have tried to marry their older approach of evenly paced songs with the occasional long number with the “4 or more songs timing over 7 minutes” structure.
“Dance of Death” represents the most moderated combination of length and brevity, switching gears every couple tracks to keep the listener guessing, while putting forth the most consistent and quality based songwriting since “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”. The capabilities of the 3 guitar arrangement are exploited well enough, but for the most part this album listens more like the ones where 2 guitarists were in congress. In fact, apart from Bruce’s vocals, Adrian Smith providing his invaluable input on songwriting, and a slightly more upbeat overall lyrical approach, this album bears the most resemblance to “The X Factor” of anything to date.
Things start out pretty fast and optimistic with “Wildest Dreams”, kicking up the riff and tempo assault a notch from previous album opener “The Wicker Man” and offering something quite similar to Maiden’s faster work in the early 80s. Likewise, “Rainmaker”, “Montsegur” and “Gates of Tomorrow” come in and out of the works, before and after longer winded songs and keep the overall flow of the album constant and driving. Particular mention should be given to “Gates of Tomorrow” for having the most energy I’ve heard out of a fast Maiden song since 1988.
The longer songs on here spare us no amount of enjoyment either, as all the contrasting sections are appropriately spaced out and the over-repetition that haunted much of 1990s Maiden epics has been cut away. The band’s own musical take on the Danse Macabre and the album’s title track throws an intriguing mix of Celtic inspired melodic ideas along side their standard thematic material and succeeds at sounding quite theatrical. Bruce Dickinson would often assume many of the roles depicted in the lyrics while touring on this album, be it the masked dancers or the Grim Reaper, all in one single performance between the many instrumental breaks. Other songs that make exceptional use of atmosphere and thematic contrast include the World War I inspired “Paschendale”, the heavy and socially conscious “Face in the Sand”, and the all acoustic epic tale of self-actualization “The Journeyman”.
From start to finish, everything on here just begs to be listened to, and in the order that it is present in. The same can’t really be said for most of what Maiden had put forward in the 13 years before this came out. It doesn’t quite reach the same magnitude of the early years or their zenith in the mid 80s, but it gets extremely close. If you liked “Brave New World” and “The X Factor”, and if you aren’t dissuaded by a somewhat goofy looking album art, this successfully merges the best elements of both of those albums and injects the resulting hybrid with a needed dose of energy.
The newer Iron Maiden albums are always good for stirring up a bit of controversy, and while it's obvious that the band will never again produce songs as fine as "Aces High" or "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," they will keep coming really close. This is their second "comeback" album, Dance of Death, and while I might be in the minority on this one, I say it's much better than the overrated Brave New World.
This album showed Maiden spanning out a bit and introducing some progressive elements into the familiar galloping, air-raid siren Heavy Metal we all know and love, and I think it did them good, for they were already growing stagnant on the last album. The opening "Wildest Dreams" is a classic Maiden rocker, catchy as Hell and fun to boot, but the second song is where they really start to step things up. "Rainmaker" is a slightly Middle Eastern tinged tune, bringing to mind sandy, barren deserts with a bloodied, punishing sun overhead by utilizing mindblowingly cool guitar trills, along with a unique, fresh chorus melody that is quite unlike anything they've done before. The title track is also a great song, with oriental folk melodies creeping about in the shadows as Dickinson gives off a dark, reedy performance that sets the mood perfectly. Dickinson really has improved over the years rather than aging - his soft, balladesque voice was never this good.
"Gates of Tomorrow" and "New Frontier" are classic Maiden rockers in the style that we've come to appreciate from them, and albeit a bit slower than the classic Maiden hits, they are satisfying appetizers for the oncoming feast - and what a feast it is! "Paschendale" is one of the very best songs Iron Maiden has ever written, just as good as "Hallowed Be Thy Name" and "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," and bar none the best song on this album. It's an epic 8 minute entourage of classic metal riffs and epic overtones the way only Maiden knows how to do it, and the vocal lines are stirring and riveting in their passionate, agonized delivery. Fantastic song. And it follows up with one that is almost as good, the highly overlooked "Face in the Sand," a midpaced quasi-epic with one of the best choruses the band has written in recent years. The album closes with the acoustic "Journeyman," which is not the best song, but it works well as a closer to this darker, sprawling, more progressive sound that Dance of Death flaunted so boldly.
This album doesn't get anywhere near the amount of credit it deserves. While it's not classic Maiden, it is a bold epic modern day Maiden that won't fail to please. Repeated listens do this one good. Recommended.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
Iron Maiden has been around for a long time, a very long time. They were formed on Christmas Day in 1975, went through dozens of lineup changes until they settled on their most stable lineup 8 years later. Most bands are not even around for that amount of time, but somehow, the UK metallers survived their growing pains and made it as one of the most successful heavy metal bands of all time. It's currently September of 2006, and just a few short/long (take your pick) weeks ago the band released their 14th album, A Matter of Life and Death. After listening to it constantly the last couple weeks, I decided to look back on Maiden's previous efforts, of course starting with 2003's Dance of Death.
Like the new Maiden album, Dance of Death seems to be one of those albums that will receive plenty of praise and at the same time, plenty of criticism among fans. As with both Brave New World and A Matter of Life and Death, this album contains longer tracks with plenty of soft intros, winding interludes, and time changes that can change on a dime. Though Steve and Co. haven’t completely mastered this new take on song writing, through songs like Paschendale, Dance of Death, and Face in the Sand, Iron Maiden shows that not even Father Time can slow them down, or at least, not yet.
Dance of Death features a few surprises, a few new elements that have not been present on any of their other albums. First off, Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain's first ever writing credit comes on the album. The song, titled No Frontier, is surprisingly better than one would think, though certainly not a classic Iron Maiden track. No Frontier starts off weakly, but eventually round out to be a pretty enjoyable track. Notable is both the very catchy chorus, and the two energetic solos from Smith and Murray. The other surprise is the closing track, simply titled Journeyman. Never before has an all acoustic song been found on an Iron Maiden album, and the band decided to change that here. Journeyman is an impressive mid-paced 7 minute outer with excellent lyrics. The song is very epic sounding, especially the long build up in the middle of the song, with an emotional feeling to it that is only matched by the likes of Paschendale. Though the song contains no solo, it is among my favourite songs off Dance of Death and certainly one of the best.
Interestingly, the Dance of Death album contains not only Iron Maiden's best song, Paschendale, but it also contains one of their worst, a track titled Gates of Tomorrow. With its boring, uninspired riffs, annoying rhythm, and bad lyrics, Gates of Tomorrow is a very forgettable track and does not represent the attitude of Dance of Death very well at all. On the other hand, Paschendale gives listeners a real taste of what the album tried to accomplish. With its heavy riffs, operatic vocals, melodic instrumentals, emotional lyrics and atmosphere, Paschendale is quite easily the ultimate Maiden masterpiece. Along with the likes of Hallowed Be Thy Name, Powerslave, and Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Paschendale has Maiden achieving their full potential in a track that best exemplifies the theatric moments the band was shooting for on the Dance of Death album.
Though the album contains many long epics of at least 6 minutes, Iron Maiden does not forget their past. No, there are a couple tracks that pay homage to their past efforts. The likes of Montsegur and Rainmaker remind fans of the highly energetic 80's sound that had become such a hit among metal fans. Montsegur in particular could easily fit on the Piece of Mind album and not look out of place. Wildest Dreams and New Frontier are also shorter songs similar in structure to the previously mentioned tracks, and contain many of the same high energy characteristics.
With Dance of Death, Iron Maiden sought to continue their musical growth, taking the long prog rock influenced sound found on their reunion album Brave New World, and adding a new epic, theatrical twist to it. With cuts such as the title track and Paschendale, they certainly succeed, producing an album that although long, is very interesting to listen to. Don't let the terrible art work deter you from purchasing this album, as it deserves a spot in your CD collection.
(Originally written for Sputnikmusic)
Almost 30 years after their incarnation, Iron Maiden has retained the distinct ability to sound like Iron Maiden. Sometimes it’s a more formulaic, repetitive Iron Maiden, but other times it’s an ingenious, creative, powerful Iron Maiden. Dance of Death is one of the finest hours of that second group, a testament to a band that can still release passionate, original heavy metal nearly three decades into their career.
Continuing with the progressive stylings of Brave New World, Dance of Death generally consists of longer, more intricate compositions than their earlier albums. Unlike BNW however, the band’s classic songwriting style is applied quite a bit. There’s still a fair amount of synthesizer integration, but the songs are catchier and more memorable. Whereas BNW had all quality songs but no standout tracks, Dance of Death is almost all standouts with a few weaker spots, similar to Piece of Mind in that sense. The first track, “Wildest Dreams,” is arguably the catchiest Iron Maiden song since “Hooks in You.” A lot of the songs utilize clean riffs and synth textures, but others are just plain heavy as hell. The album is very diverse and it makes for a powerful listening experience from beginning to end.
It must be noted that all three guitarists have gotten even better since BNW. The solos throughout the album are among the band’s most technical and several among their classics. The riffs are really good too, with a good variety of sound and application. Bruce’s vocals are still great, with tons of memorable vocal melodies. Several of the songs have absolutely classic lyrics, although the repetitive choruses start to get a little old (much more so than on BNW). Steve’s bass work is solid and the mix keeps him from sounding obnoxious. Instrumentally there isn’t really anything to complain about. The band is talented and they aren’t afraid to show it.
As far as individual songs, there are indeed some true classics on here. “Dance of Death” and “Paschendale” are the epics of the album, both of them being unbelievably well-written, full of amazing guitar playing, and powerful atmospherically. Other songs like “Wildest Dreams” and “Rainmaker” show off a more classic Maiden sound and are quite catchy. A personal favorite of mine is “Montsegur,” notable for its inherent heaviness, awesome riffs and melody lines, and THE sing-along chorus of the album. It’s impressive, to say the least.
I don’t see how Iron Maiden fans could possibly be disappointed with this album. It’s not the band’s best work per say, but it has the power and speed of their older songs as well as the aesthetic songwriting and progressivism of their later work. Several of the songs can hold their own against the band’s best work and it doesn’t take the open-mindedness required for appreciating BNW, this album is immediately accessible. The only thing I don't like about the album is the stupid CG cover. It's a cool concept, but would have been a thousand times better as an illustration. Regardless, Dance of Death is indeed a testament to the band’s skill and it provides a glimpse of what the band might be capable of in future releases: if they follow its example, chances are the next one will be even better.
There are bands that you cannot judge by general standards since they have set their own standards. This is why they enjoy being "the titan" or "the giant" band in the metal scene, but also the reason they face the most violent demise when they can't decide where to stop. Iron Maiden still is the no.1 top-class metal band that has ever existed on this planet no doubt, especially if we take the long 10 year period between 83 and 93 into account, the time they exposed their fans to constant and intense thrashing without mercy by throwing nine albums (seven studio and two live - Real Live/Dead One omitted) one after another that were worth a whole discography each. But in 95, with The X Factor, Maiden began to suck, with Virtual XI they sucked more and by Brave New World they had become Charlotte The Harlot themselves. By releasing Dance Of Death, they are turning the copyright holder of many albums, The Iron Maiden Holdings, into 22 Acacia Avenue. My God, I have never felt so distant to a band that I nearly worshipped just a few years ago.
The thing the sickens me most in this album are the never ending intros of tracks. A clean guitar begins the music, and some time later Bruce Dickinson accompanies it, but they go on tingling there for minutes but still no hint on where the hell the fucking song may be. They wait until you begin to crawl in stomachache and then unleash the most boring, incompetently imitated Iron Maiden riffs one after one (well, those "one"s take a long time to end, anyway). This is what they call "Maiden's new style". To hell with that. A combination of new generation, depthless, standard music and poorly imitated old Maiden riffs cannot be considered a new style, a new direction, or a new whatever the fuck it is.
Might be because of his age, or his loss of excitement, or the music itself, Nicko seems to have lost his energetic drumming and transformed into a standard drummer, even abandoning his trademark alien rhythms. Bruce Dickinson's voice is still good when taking into consideration the general music scene, but music scene comparisions doesn't apply in this case, does it? This is Iron Fucking Maiden, as Dickinson says. Well, supposed to be, I shall say. Guitar work sound mechanical to me (of course played clean and excellently, you cannot expect those guys to mess up any riff), it just doesn't have that kind of vibration within - the one we know too well from the 83 - 93 era.
Getting old is no excuse, if you are old just quit it. This is not what people are expecting, and when you cannot meet expectations, you go, that's the rule everywhere. I think a few release later, even the Iron Maiden logo will not be enough for many highly adaptive fans out there, and the violent demise I have mentioned earlier will take place in the form of "one of the most lame NWOBHM albums ever". There is a lot of difference between "You remember Maiden? They fucked us up," and "Do you remember Maiden? They fucked it up." Well, Maiden has obviously fucked "it" up.
Though being a song of extreme repetition both musically and lyrically, Rainmaker shines as a pearl within the shitty mud of Dance Of Death, and can even be inserted somewhere in the playlist that contains The "True" Iron Maiden.
When I think of IM’s catalogue, strangely this album (Dance of Death, for those who forgot!) comes off as the strange one. Perhaps it’s the production, which sounds rather different for Maiden, perhaps it’s the ‘1-2, 1-2-3-4’ count that begins the album or perhaps (and most probably) it’s the hurried songwriting one can detect here. Maiden I guess must have written the album in quite a hurry to capitalize on the frenzy Brave New World created. Anyway, despite how odd it is or how hurried the writing process was – this is still a damn good album. Although some of the tracks do seem unnecessary (‘Age Of Innocence’, ‘Montsegur’, ‘Journeyman’). Although all three are decent tracks, they just don’t seem to fit in with the rest of the album. ‘Montsegur’ has Bruce singing too fast for the song’s own good but the song still is decent with some excellent soloing in it. The riff though, is ripped off from ‘The Fallen Angel’. The lyrics to ‘Age Of Innocence’ is excellent but the song itself has an oddly happy chorus – just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the song and the solo just sucks although the twin-lead is excellent. Maiden’s worst closer – by far. Also, the chorus to ‘No More Lies’ is silly and repetitive, but the song itself has an excellent vocal performance, a great tense atmosphere (especially during the beginning with Bruce doing excellently on vocals) and masterful soloing. ‘Journeyman’ is the best of the three and is a complete ballad. Very pleasant and nice, but not quite a good way to end the album.
Now that all the flaws are out of the way – only the good is left. And oh my, what is left isn’t just good, it’s damned excellent material which wouldn’t be out of place in early Maiden. ‘Wildest Dreams’ is an excellent opener, it isn’t as breakneck as Maiden’s other speedy tracks but it’s extremely catchy with killer melodies and a great solo by Adrian in it. ‘Rainmaker’ has that genius opening riff and is another very catchy song. The twin-lead here is marvelously melodic. The title track starts off with some beautiful strumming and picks up rhythm steadily as it goes on. This track is the strongest of the three epics (‘No More Lies’, the title track, ‘Paschendale’) on here. It sounds epic and exquisitely epic, just check out the brilliance of that melody at 2:59 followed by the mesmerizing celtic melody after it. Also, the soloing here is absolutely brilliant – the band still has everything going right. While Brave New World sunk in the middle and gave its best at the end, DoD gives its best in the middle and sinks in the end. ‘Gates Of Tomorrow’ is an absolutely delightful track with a very catchy chorus and excellent melodies. I just wonder how anyone can deride this ultra-catchy track as filler. ‘New Frontier’ is another amazing track – this quite possibly may be the best track on the album. A very spirited performance by Bruce on vocals here. This thing has absolutely fantastic chorus and pre-chorus both of which are catchier than anything I’ve ever heard, honest. The soloing and riffing here are both incredible. The song maintains a precise and tasteful melody throughout. This is an incredibly underrated song – people must be snoozing off while they listen to this as they call it a ‘standard’ Maiden track. If this was a ‘standard’ Maiden track, this might as well be the best ‘standard’ track they’ve made – so pay attention!
Suddenly now, after the rather happy ‘New Frontier’, the album gets all dark on us. ‘Paschendale’ is a dark epic with morbid imagery. The song starts off slow with a rather haunting keyboard melody and then turns into one of Maiden’s heaviest songs with a monstrous riff. Bruce performs excellently here and of course, the soloing is excellent. The chorus is mind-blowing with a clear contrast in it, while it starts out optimistically it ends with a rather pessimistic note – which is what gives it the charm. ‘Face In The Sand’ has Nicko using double bass for the first time in his career. The orchestral build-up is excellent and charmingly dark and unsettling. The song then morphs into another Maiden classic with a brilliant performance by Bruce. The soloing once again, rules and the ‘oh-oh-oh’ singalong section at the near end fits in very well. The atmosphere around the song is what gives it its charm – very dark and unsettling indeed. The lyrics too sound absolutely brilliant – the band never ever lost their touch with the quill.
The album is very consistent and just as good as Brave New World. Although Iron Maiden would perfect this mixture of traditional Maiden and the The X Factor on their next album A Matter Of Life And Death, both these albums too are essential listening as they show the transition of the group to that masterpiece.
So, after Brave New World, I seriously had my hopes up for this one, seeing how that album was pretty damn brilliant and ranked among Maiden's top five easily. Boy, I sure was in for some serious disappointment here. Killer songs are hardly present at all, originality is mostly missing, the production is weak (in fact, any production that I point out as weak has to be pretty damn lacking, cause I don't care for it all that often) and does not in any way indicate there's 3 guitarists playing here rather than two, and many songs get old and uninteresting too swiftly. Replay value is low. The vocals aren't overly great in the first place and come out weirdly muffled thanks to the weak production.
That said, as this is Maiden, there's at least some pretty owning tracks that manage to save them from truly sucking. After all, there's not a single Maiden album that didn't have at least two to three tracks that really owned.
The truly great tracks are: The immense anti-war-epic Paschendale and the for Maiden rather strange tracks Face in the Sand and Journeyman. Face in the Sand, a dark semi-ballad, probably stands out the most, with its slow intro, a powerful emotional chorus and an even more emotional solo. Paschendale is a massive epic monster and one of the heaviest Maiden tracks around. Journeyman is a grand all-out ballad to finish off the album, and has Bruce doing some damn nice softer vocals - ever since after the World Slavery tour, that's what he was best at anyways, so of course it rules.
Other good tracks would be: The semi-epic No More Lies, which is one of the Maiden songs that suffers from the syndrome that's been around ever sicne Somewhere in Time - overrepeated chorusses (( though fortunately, this is a Virtual XI case of a good chorus overrepeated, not the SiT/SSoaSS type bad chorus overrepeating), but otherwise is pretty good, especially in the verses. Age of Innocence is another slower, softer track leaning towards ballads and manages to work decently. Dance of Death is acceptable and has a brilliant solo, but overlong and fails to stand out and riffs are again overrepeated.
So, the other tracks then, what about them? Well, they're pretty forgettable at best, and pure feces at worst. Pretty forgettable - Gates of Tomorrow and New Frontier are standard semi-speeder Maiden songs with fast but very plain riffing, and happen to sound almost exactly the same. They sound good for maybe five to ten listens, until they get old and you notice there's really nothing deeper in them. Rainmaker has the best intro riff on the whole album - but after that, all goes horribly wrong, the riffs are getting overrepeated, the vocal lines are bad and the lyrics are worse. Oh man does that chorus blow. Wildest Dreams is worse yet - kinda like Rainmaker but without any good riffing at all, this is sure some crappy opener. Montsegur is the biggest piece of shit on the whole album - starts out with a heavy if simple riff, then degenerates into a poor parade of weak repetitive riffing and the worst vocals Bruce has done ever since Can I Play with Madness.
There's a lot of weaknesses on here. There's too many bad songs. There's a severe lack of killers. Chorusses are overrepeated, both good and bad ones. The production is inexcusable, seeing how Maiden are just about the biggest metal band around. It might just be my least favorite Maiden album ever. Somewhere in Time and Seventh Son had some of those lackings, but at least they were original, experimental and had good production and many killer riffs and solos, if overrepeated. This album is not good, and mostly useless. Avoid it. Download Paschendale, Face in the Sand, Journeyman and No More Lies, and maybe Age of Innocence - they're worth hearing. Possibly also Dance of Death, for the solo.
Having listened to “Dance of Death” numerous times over the last couple of years, I thought I might enhance my original review by chiming in with a few general remarks as to whether the album has ultimately stood the test of time. For the most part, my previous conclusion still holds true: after two rather mediocre albums with Bruce Dickinson at the mic and two largely forgettable efforts with vocalist Blaze Baley, Maiden came back in 2000 with a strong release in “Brave New World” and then topped it off with the even better “Dance of Death”. As far as songwriting is concerned, Steve Harris and company mostly deliver on this 2003 output, the way they unfortunately didn’t on the two albums with Baley in the lineup. Let’s face it: “The X-Factor” and “Virtual XI” weren’t bad primarily because of Blaze’s vocals. It’s true that he doesn’t hold a candle to the mighty Air Raid Siren, but then again, what singer does? No, what those two albums lacked in the first place was consistently good, sound songwriting, and sound songwriting is exactly the reason why “Dance of Death” is indeed a very good record.
It doesn't take long to realize that “Dance of Death” is an even stronger album than “Brave New World”, mainly because Maiden succeed in avoiding the same mistakes that detracted somewhat from the overall very positive impression left by its predecessor: the choruses are a bit less repetitive (there are some glaring exceptions, unfortunately), there is more heaviness and speed and the trademark guitar harmonies, which were not used nearly enough on “Brave New World”, make a triumphant comeback.
However, there are also a couple of downsides to this otherwise excellent record. First of all, the production once again is nowhere near as good as it should be. By now we all know that Kevin Shirley is no Martin Birch – sadly, he does not even come close. In comparison with the great production Roy Z put together for Bruce’s brilliant solo efforts “Accident of Birth” and “The Chemical Wedding”, the sound on “Dance of Death” is anemic and weak, even more so than on “Brave New World”. It would be really nice, at some point in the future, to see Steve Harris either work with Roy Z (or another top-notch metal producer) or at least give Shirley a little more leeway instead of constantly meddling with his settings during the recording process (at least that's how I'm imagining it), but that will probably never happen. Maiden are and always have been Harris’ baby and he is not exactly known for being open to any outside advice telling him how to handle his business.
Another downside to “Dance of Death” is that it is again a bit overlong – the final two songs are just not on the same level as the rest of them, as “Age of Innocence”, while otherwise passing as a pretty solid headbanger, has a weak and awkward chorus and rather strange lyrics, and “Journeyman” is just a more or less forgettable ballad. (Note that other reviewers see that particular song as one of the highlights of the album, but I still believe it's rather bland and uneventful.) Luckily, as they did on “Brave New World”, Maiden were smart enough to put the weakest tracks at the very end of the album so as not to make us use the skip button. Anyway, I really believe they would do better to only put eight or nine songs on a record, like they did in the eighties, and save the weaker ones for EPs or single B-sides. After all, a good metal album doesn’t have to run for over an hour – 45 minutes are easily enough, as long as there are no fillers to be found.
The album starts off with a song called “Wildest Dreams”, which may not be very spectacular or inventive but passes as a solid speedy opener – much in the vein of “Be Quick or Be Dead” and others – contrasting nicely with some of the more progressive cuts coming later on. The subsequent “Rainmaker”, “No More Lies” (despite its repetitive three-word chorus) and “Montségur” kick off the finest and most consistent part of the album. Particularly the latter is the best song on here and might as well be a leftover from the “Powerslave” recording sessions: it is crushingly heavy and has guitar harmonies galore that almost bring tears of sheer enthusiasm to my eyes every time I hear them, reminding me why Maiden are still one of the most revered bands in the entire metal genre. “Dance of Death” and “Paschendale” are the two most complex and progressive songs the album has to offer, and they are both top-notch, even though I think they would have been even better with the keyboards a little lower in the mix and the guitars a little more to the forefront, but that’s probably just me. “New Frontier”, surprisingly written by drummer Nicko McBrain, is one of those gritty speed metal tunes (think “Back in the Village”) that were largely missing on “Brave New World”, although it doesn't feature much variation and feels somewhat underdeveloped. The hard-rocking “Gates of Tomorrow” is another ho-hum affair that feels way too predictable and gets old fast, while “Face in the Sand” is a pounding if largely unspectacular mid-tempo banger featuring some of the best drum work on the entire record.
Overall, while being far from perfect and leaving plenty of room for improvement (which promptly came in the form of “A Matter of Life and Death”), “Dance of Death” is a strong release that should please most metalheads and proved once and for all that the reunion with Dickinson was more than just a short-lived cash grab. It is marred by some filler material and the production as well as the artwork (the front cover must be one of the most poorly done Photoshop jobs ever) are definitely sub-standard, but it's also more adventurous and has more truly fulfilling moments than the somewhat tame “Brave New World”. While it's not as good as the two albums that came after it, it serves as further evidence that after so many years in the business, Maiden are still on top of their game and deliver where many of the once-great bands from the eighties simply fall short nowadays.
Choicest cuts: “No More Lies”, “Montségur”, “Dance of Death”, “Paschendale”
Ya know, the first time I heard it, I didn't like it at all. So I didn't listen to it for another two weeks. But then I went back to it, gave it another chance, and now I'm a better person for it. Let this be a lesson for you all, everyone. Give things another chance. That includes Drano. If you can survive drinking Drano once, I don't see why you can't survive it twice.
Back to the review... it's not the greatest thing Maiden has ever released, and it's not quite even as good as the album that came before this one, but it's still pretty decent and has some really fucking spectacular moments that scream "tell me why I have to be a powerslave!" The choruses aren't nearly as repetitive as on Virtual XI, though they still grate a bit. But still, we've got good songwriting and memorable melodies - oh and the three guitar factory is going strong, and bands like Beyond the Monkey Suck just wish they could sound like this.
Highlights... intro riff of Rainmaker, is just fucking brilliant. Wildest Dreams is a great opener and is gonna be a well-deserved live staple. No More Lies is the first epic number, and it builds up well, and the only fault I can find with it is the goofy chorus. But you've got Bruce dead on ... "time is up, it couldn't last"... and the soloing is completely fucking excellent - more in the style of Fear of the Dark than Killers, but still quite excellent.
Oh and the absolute fucking highlight of the album... New Frontier. Why didn't they bring in Nicko the Songwriter before this? Oh those duelling guitars. Oh that excellent sing-along chorus. They haven't written a number quite like this since Twilight Zone, really. Magnificent. If they don't play this one live, I'm personally standing in front of Nicko's Jaguar and demanding justice!!
The rest... Montsegur and Paschendale will always be completely twisted together in my mind because they're both big words that mean nothing to me. Both songs are about average quality, except Paschendale sounds like something completely out of the X Factor sessions, except for that crazy beginning part, which sounds like something out of a Commodore 64.
Face in the Sand has a nice orchestral buildup but is fairly pedestrian when all is said and done. Decent chorus, when all is said and done. Gates of Tomorrow is another decently cool upbeat number, while Age of Innocence another darker one that sounds very X.
Oh yeah, the closing track. Sorry, but Bruce has been involved in far better ballads recently (Tears of the Dragon, Man of Sorrows) - this one is a disappointment. And the title track is long but fails to be epic.
But great fuck almighty, New Frontier is basically this album's Ghost of the Navigator - one mind-blowingly amazing, amazingly mind-blowing number that brings to mind glorious days of caught somewhere in time and friends. So when all is said and done, this is worth getting. Though I would suggest accidentally spilling some white-out on that horrible, horrible album cover.
Honestly, I wasn't expecting much from this album. Wildest Dreams didn't impress me when I first heard it a while back and I heard rumors of a more progressive, 70's rock sound. WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING! Even though they have put out some less than stellar albums, this is fucking Maiden we're talking about. This is the perfect follow up to Brave New World, not changing the sound too drastically, but progressing enough to make it fresh and interesting.
The songs retain the epic and slightly progressive feel found in Brave New World, but the guitars are slightly less in the foreground and instead add to the overall sound instead of being the sound, which includes some nicely placed keyboards and orchestration. Some of the riffs aren't quite as strong as they could be, as the band go for a more progressive touch, but these are minor complaints, because the weaker riffs are usually accompained by some nice keyboards or a great vocal melody. Many people have complained about Bruces vocals not sounding right. It's inescapable the fact that Bruce is getting older and he can't belt it out like he could twenty years ago, but the man can still sing. His performance takes absolutely nothing away from the overall enjoyment of the album, and in fact is quite impressive. Another thing I want to touch on is the shit Maiden has received the past couple of years about their repetative choruses. Songs such as No More Lies and Age of Innocence do have repetative choruses, but the thing that's being repeated is quite catchy and enjoyable, so I don't see a problem unless they butcher that idea to death (which they haven't IMO). Shit, even such Maiden classics as Deja Vu, Caught Somewhere in Time, and The Evil that Men Do have slightly repetative choruses, so this isn't something new for them.
One problem this album has, and it's not a huge problem, is that none of the songs really stand out as classics or as obviously better than the rest. That's not to say that the songs are weak, because I don't think there's a weak song on the album. Wildest Dreams, Rainmaker, Montsegur, New Frontier, and Age of Innocence are all midpaced, kick-ass songs. Wildest Dreams and New Frontier have excellent choruses and the beginning to Montsegur reminds me a lot of Losfer Words (Big 'Orra) from Powerslave with the bass very loud in the mix and the galloping riff. The epics on the album, No More Lies, Dance of Death, and Paschendale are all very strong and enjoyable. They aren't as strong as Hallowed Be Thy Name, or even Ghost of the Navigator and Dream of Mirrors from BNW, but still great. The orchestration in the song DOD is at it's best and the song reaches it's high point at 7:11 when the guitars, orchestration, and vocals come together to create something truly epic and memorable. This one's definitly a winner. So is Paschendale. I'm not ejaculating all over this one like most people, but it's a great song with the best lyrics on the album.
Overall, this album is extremely consistent, not a bad song to be found. All the performances are top-notch and the lead guitars, of course, are absolutely spectacular. It just goes to show how great Maiden is when you consider that in my opinion, this is their NINTH best album. How many band's NINTH best album is this good? That's what I thought.
Highlights(if I had to choose 'em): Wildest Dreams, Rainmaker, Dance of Death, New Frontier, Paschendale, Age of Innocence
Saying goodbye may be hard to do, but sooner rather than later, it just may be time for metal legends Iron Maiden of London England. However, before we all start whimpering, I'd like to state that the end doesn't come with this album- the band's 23rd- but the warning lights come on all over the place here nonetheless.
First of all, through all the album's greatness, the songs do feel way too similar to each other. Doesn't mean that they're not good at all- "Paschendale", for example, details an interesting battle (supposedly about the World War I battle), while "Face Down" has a rather pessimistic Bruce Dickinson lamenting that "everyone's (in the world) nightmares will come true". War On Terrorism reference? Maybe. Yet, as strong as the songs may be, they don't do enough to really differentiate themselves from each other and stand out on their own, either as a concept album or as a regular one, except for the final track, "Journeyman". In that one, you get a sharp turn from the band- the previous eleven songs were all about pain and suffering in some form and how Dickinson just can't handle it, but here, Dickinson stammers confidently that he's not going to let any of that get to him. "I know what I want/And say what I want/And no one can take it away" he stammers with confidence, being the album's only real eye-opener.
Second of all, this album feels too tame compared to other metal releases. Sure, it's not produced to the same extent as say, KoRn, but compare it to the likes of Cynic or Danzig and the music just doesn't feel raw or loud enough. However, my biggest complaint is their sound is- ulp- starting to get a little dated. "Dance Of Death", oftentimes, sounds almost like a Led Zeppelin tribute album than an Iron Maiden album- not that there's anything wrong with Zeppelin, mind you, it's just a little unsettling, that's all.
Again, it's not like Maiden don't have anything left- their musicianship is, once again, top notch and very anthemic, producing some grand guitarwork and nearly as encompassing drumming complimenting Dickinson's Roger Plant-like powerful delivery. Songs like "Gates Of Tommorow" and "New Frontier" show just how far behind imitators like HammerFall are from matching the greatness that is Maiden, as they're filled with considerably more profound material and grander musicianship than any of them could ever pull off. It's just that "Dance Of Death" feels like a band that's just getting too old- maybe not at the irrelevant stage like, say, The Rolling Stones, but dangerously close. That said, "Dance Of Death" shows that the band just may pull off another classic down the road, but as much as I'd like to say otherwise, after hearing this album, the band just seems closer and closer to retirement- after twenty plus years, mind you. It's a sad development, yes, but that's just where they seem to be headed right now, and who knows if they'll ever come back.
I've been on a diet of Dance of Death only since I got it, I've played it over and over again, and god knows I've tried so hard to like it. The long awaited follow-up to the reunion album Brave New World (which was quite a lame album, but that's beside the point) is released, and I've never experienced such a bad case of Maiden-hysteria.
But, to be frank with you, Dance of Death sucks, even more so than Brave New World. Iron Maiden are going downhill.
First of all, we have the production. The sound is pretty sharp, especially on the lead guitar, but the rhythm section sounds somehow watered out and shallow- and that is not only a production problem but also a lack of quality in the songwriting. We still have the obligatory killer leadwork and soloing of any Iron Maiden album, but the rhythm section is extremely weak and uninteresting. The riffs are boring and forgettable, and rarely add much to the song.
This is most notable in the huge amount of mindless filler found on the album. This category of songs consist of the tunes Rainmaker, Montségur, Gates of Tomorrow, New Frontier, Face in the Sand and Age of Innocence. Which is more than half of the entire album.
All these songs are boring, uninteresting and built open very weak rhythm foundations.
There is yet another huge disappointment with the album that is most notable on these songs- the vocals. Bruce Dickinson hasn't been near his top shape in more than ten years, but his performance on BNW still did the trick.
His performance on Dance of Death, though, does not. Most of the time he sounds like he's singing out of nose, or maybe like he's got a severe cold.
Also, the vocal melodies are extremely poorly written on the above mentioned songs. There are no memorable vocal lines whatsoever, no incredibly memorable parts that stand out, and there is barely any variation at all.
Montségur is the very weakest part of the entire album and one of the worst Maiden songs ever. This because of a weak vocal performance and poorly written vocal lines that don't work with the music at all, and also the horrible sound on the guitars under the vocal lines. Age of Innocence also has the dumbest and most annoying chorus the band has ever written, and is overall incredibly pathetic.
So these are the album's weaker points, my friend. But there is still some good shit to be found on here. The single, Wildest Dreams, has some pretty solid although slightly forgettable underlying riffwork, catchy vocal melodies and an extremely fun singalong chorus.
The first of three epics on here, No More Lies, is tied with Wildest Dreams for best song on the album. The intro is pretty much a straight ripoff from their own song The Clansman, but it's still very nice, and the song has some awesome melodies throughout of total Fear of the Dark (the song) quality, and a very big, dumb and powerful yet simplistic chorus.
Dance of Death is also pretty damn solid. It gradually builds up with some nice guitar melodies until it gets into this mesmerizing acoustic section at about 1:45. The song moves on, and goes into some killer keyboard part that sounds like a bloody orchestra; a truly overwhelming moment. It then goes on at about the same pace, reaching over 8 minutes without getting boring. They've still got it in them, even though it doesn't show very often.
Paschendale is the third and final epic on the album, and also by far the weakest. It still has some pretty cool and dark keyboard melodies in total X Factor style, and a truly powerful chorus.
The closing track Journeyman is also very nice, and (as you've probably figured by now) it's an entirely acoustic track. It's very well done, even though at 7 minutes it gets a bit overlong. It has a nice atmosphere overall though, and is definitely a highlight.
I tried, I really tried to like this. But it seems as though the band has completely forgotten how to write an entire good album, even though their fans continue to hail them endlessly. The album seems to please the majority, but I'm not one of them. I shouldn't really be too disappointed, as they haven't written anything really good since '88, but I still got my hopes up.
There is some great stuff on here, but not enough for you to waste your money on. Download Wildest Dreams, No More Lies and Dance of Death, and you'll be fine.
Oh yeah, and the cover art sucks ass.
Good god. How can Maiden, after 13 albums and almost 25 years on the scene, STILL kick this much ass? Dance of Death is a freaking amazing record. This is like Brave New World crossed with bits and pieces of every classic Maiden album, making it one of their best. This record is 68 minutes long, and feels like it's about 40... the music is so enchanting, so enthralling, that you'll lose all track of time. The boys have proven once again that they are the ultimate metal band, and they still hold the torch that was passed to them way back in 1982 when they hit it big with NOTB. Let's get on with it.
We open the record with the fast-paced rocker single (as usual) "Wildest Dreams." The band wastes little time getting started, laying us into a nice rocking riff. The first thing you'll notice about the album is how solid the band sounds. The three guitars are now all audible, Harris' bass is a little more subdued than it was back in the 80's, but you still can tell he's there. Nicko McBrain proves that old men can still beat the tubs. Bruce sounds like he's 25 again, his voice still solid as ever. This track was penned by Adrian Smith, and just past the 2 minute mark, he nails us with an amazing solo. Great little atmospheric section with slow soloing (not unlike 2 Minutes To Midnight) follows, and then the band rocks us back up to pace, back into the chorus. This song is just plain rocking, total sing-a-long stuff. Nicko lays into some nice fast kick to power us through a final chorus, and we slam to a close.
Next up is a futuristic sounding riff that opens "Rainmaker." This is another no-nonsense rocker. Keyboards back up the guitars here and there, and Nicko lays down another fantastic rhythm. Great chorus here. Another improvement over the BNW songs is that the lyrics are much more varied and never get too repetitive. This one is a little more mid-paced than "Wildest Dreams," but still rocks nicely. 2 minutes in, we're treated to a blinding Dave Murray solo (he can still tap 'em out) followed by a trademark harmonic section. Back into the chorus riff for a couple more choruses, and then we ride the intro riff out to a finish.
Track 3 is a Steve Harris track called "No More Lies." Atmospheric bass and guitar intro (not unlike The Clansman) opens up this song. First use of symphonics on the album (they are extensive on the record) give a very nice accompanyment. Bruce sings us through a verse with the slow pace, some nice vocal harmonics are used as well. At the 2 minute mark, the drums and guitar slam out as Bruce yells "no more lies!" a few times, and the song takes off! Great rocking riff with the trademark Harris bass clanking away powers some raspy Bruce vocals. Little speed-up for another verse, and then another slamming chorus. 4 minutes in, we're treated to some lovely harmonics and then amazing triple solo section. Janick's first solo on the album is great, his playing in the studio is getting alot more controlled. Adrian takes the next solo, and he sounds amazing as always. Dave finishes off the section with another blinder of a solo. Couple more verse/chorus progressions, and we finish off with more wicked harmonics, then a couple bars of the slow bit from the beginning. Great song.
Track 4 is the hard-driving "Montsegur." Big, nasty riff opens things up. Total headbang stuff here. Great lyrics here, about a battle in France I believe... amazing chorus "at the gates, at the walls of Montsegur, blood on the stones of the citadel!" Bruce is going total over-the-top style on this one, raspy and operatic at the same time. Total rock-out section at 3 minutes, as the guitars warm up for another solo section. Adrian gets this one. Nice harmonics follow his solo, as Nicko pounds away on the ride cymbal. Big time double-guitar harmonic riff with the third guitar joining in for a bit. Tons and tons of orgasmic harmonics here, and a big messy crash to close.
Next up is the title track. Faint bass and guitarwork picks along to start us off, total Spinal Tap Stonehenge style! Great Celtic flavour to this song. Bruce hums us through a few verses, up to the 3 minute mark when this song finally takes off. A single guitar goes totally Stonehenge on everyone's ass before the rest follow in and build us up. Finally, the symphonics kick into the background. This song sounds very majestic, just big. Couple more verses, then some more tasty harmonics before Janick takes off on to a nice solo. We follow his solo up with, yes, more delicious harmonics. Now, it's Dave's turn for a solo, and of course, he rules with it. More great lyrics here, singing about a ritual dance that someone was lured into when walking in the woods. Lovely kick chops take us into another slow Stonehenge moment to close.
Track 6 is called "Gates Of Tomorrow." TXF style opening riff starts us off, giving way to a nice rocking section. Vocal harmonics take us through the first bit, then back into normal Bruce godliness. More subtle symphonics drag along in the background on this track. It just plods along until about 3 minutes when we're hit with another mind-bending harmonic and then a lovely solo, sounds like Dave Murray. Someone joins him in more harmonics afterward, then Janick rips in with a complete blinder of a quick solo. Another verse and chorus finishes it off. This is the first "regular" song on the album, not really mind-blowing, but still with lovely harmonics and solos.
Track 7 is a heavier number, and Nicko's first hand at songwriting called "New Frontier." Great drumming as always here, with a classic rolling-style Maiden riff. Great power-chord progression with nice drumming leads us into a great chorus with Adrian high-picking throughout. Nice riff change at 3 minutes as Adrian bites into another great solo. Very cool counter-point harmonic follows the solo. Another great rocking song.
Next is the pinnacle of the album. "Paschendale" is the best thing Iron Maiden has written since the Seventh Son album. Cool ticking hi-hats and keyboards take us through a quiet few lines, then full on ass kicking instrumentation bashes along, then drops back into the ticking and keyboards... then again, ass kicking! After that, we drop into a nice mid-paced verse. Big power chords drive us into another verse and chorus. Great mid-paced stuff here with the symphonics perfecting the mood. More bashing hits as Bruce hollers through another verse, then the instruments fade into the ticking hats. A lone guitar picks up, followed by Steve's bass and the symphonics. Add another guitar... total atmosphere here! Nicko tom-toms in, and we're into another tasty mid-paced riff out section. More great instrumentation, then at 4:30, a great bird of prey cry sound effect... perfectly fit. Time for solos! Janick starts us off with a fairly subdued solo. Adrian follows that up with a trademark solo. Another verse, then Dave rips through a solo. Another verse, then a soaring chorus section with some great vocal harmonies. The instruments fade, and we gently keyboard, hi-hat tick and sing our way out. Amazing... top 10 Maiden material, and we know that's saying alot.
Next up is another Adrian song called "Face In The Sand." Another great slow-moving intro leads into some heavy bass strumming with symphonics, total atmosphere. Great faint guitars, reminiscent of the middle of ROTAM. After about a minute here, Nicko lays into the double kick for the first time. Bruce goes over-the-top again here. Great atmosphere in this song, slow moving guitars with that pounding double rhythm throughout. Riff switch at 4 and a half, Adrian nails another amazing solo. Great keyboard and guitar section with Nicko going back to the regular beats. Great chanting part closes us down with the band fading out quietly.
Second to last is "Age Of Innocence." Another slow paced start here, leads into a nice mid-paced riff. This is a solid track, very inspirational type stuff. Of course, more tasty solos and harmonics in the middle, with a great beat from Nicko. We switch into a more menacing vocal tone and a bit of a heavier riff for a verse, then another soaring chorus. We close with some heaviness, a bit of a solo, then a quiet fade.
Closing out the album is an amazing ballad called "Journeyman." More flawless use of symphonics here with some great bass and guitarwork (do we ever expect any less?) open up the track. This one is slow paced, no solos, no flashiness, just a great Bruce solo style ballad. 7 minutes of completely gorgeous instrumentation with great lyrics. No better way to finish off a damn near flawless album.
It amazes me that the band can churn out such amazing material at this stage in their career. This album, as I said, is damn near flawless. Amazing work vocally, instrumentally, and lyrically. This is an improvement over BNW (a great album in its own right) in every way. The only flaws I can pick out here is the one song "Gates Of Tomorrow" is a little tedious, and some bits here and there sound like total re-hashing of ideas from FOTD, TXF and VXI... the three weakest Maiden albums. But thankfully those bits are used well and fit in nicely with the rest of the songs.
An absolutely incredible album from the world's best band. I can't wait to see this stuff live out on tour. The resurrection of Iron Maiden is complete... they're back, and they ain't messing around. UP THE IRONS!