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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.