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Maiden continue with their fairytale return of Dickinson in the form of Dance Of Death, the much anticipated follow-up for the competent Brave New World. For this album, Maiden take more of a progressive approach to things. Where Brave New World was a safe, structured, and to the point album, we see songs being more varied in the structure for this album. A good thing, one might say, especially if a band is experimenting in new territories, but what if the band fails to deliver enjoyable music and gets lost determining the approach to be taken? Here the problem arises with Dance Of Death. The album is basically comprised of Maiden’s traditional sound merged with some traits identified with Dream Theater and Rush. The lyrics are traditional Maiden, concerning historical battles, personal issues, literature, etc.
If there is one reason to listen to this album, it has to be Bruce Dickinson. The man’s magical voice gives life to otherwise hollow and dead songs. Let us face it gentlemen, Bruce sounds even better since his return to Maiden. The three guitar army is in fine form and do not commit too many mistakes, but only the serious ones that seep the enjoyable contents out of the songs. The lead work in most of the songs isn’t composed as finely as in their earlier songs and mostly is just random shredding. Steve Harris’ bass lines are competent as ever in the fast parts, but when the pace goes below that (which is the case most of the time), we have a problem. The drumming is highly competent and flawless as ever, but I would rather have listened to Rush or Devin Townsend if drumming was all I wanted to hear. The production is great as all of the instruments can be heard superbly.
So we start with Wildest Dreams which keeps up the Maiden tradition of opening the album with a speedy, catchy rocker. The chorus is descent and the song is entertaining in itself. Rainmaker is the best song in the album with an epic chorus and excellent lead work, bringing the glory days of Somewhere In Time to mind. Sadly, the song is under four minutes and the listener can get frustrated when the song ends so suddenly. No More Lies starts softly but fails to be epic. This is the first in the series of longer tracks where the band displays their “see, I am influenced by Geddy Lee” Rush-isms. Where being epic and progressive isn’t bad, there however is a line between epicness and the ability to bore which the band apparently haven’t drawn. The upcoming Montsegur, whose name could have found place in a Robert Jordan novel, is much better. The chorus is again fantastic, showcasing that the band still has creative energy within them. The title track is not bad, but tries to be epic with the one guitar melody that drives it, but sadly is neither epic nor exciting. The fact that they take three minutes of utter snoozefest before launching into the melody is even more frustrating. Gates Of Tomorrow sucks on any given day. The song has practically nothing of note. New Frontier thankfully is much better and works as one of the highlights. Paschendale is again boring, overlong, and unstructured. The chorus again tries hard to be epic, but lacks depth. Thankfully, Dickinson manages to make the song at least listenable. Face In The Sand is good and this time is successfully epic. It becomes very frustrating by this time as the listener realizes that they practically have crap alternately placed between the highlights. No More Lies is again quite good. The final Journeyman is an attempt at an epic ballad. While it is not a bad one, they have had better ballads and the epicness just does not stand out. The chorus is bad, just bad, and we seriously could have done without at least three minutes of the song.
The major problem with this album is that they somewhat got confused whether it has to be epic and progressive or plain and catchy. Whatever progressive elements are present, they are blown away by serious songwriting faults. The album at times does give a glimpse of the band’s compositional prowess, but these moments are far and little. The weak compositions of this album do not support the progressive elements whereas Brave New World was equally long and epic, yet with enjoyable songs. Here the songs succeed at putting you to sleep rather effortlessly. Overall, this album is good for a one time listen, but definitely not beyond that.