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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.