without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
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.