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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.