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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