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Fear of the Dark might just be the least consistent Maiden album to date, with a broad spectrum of song types that maintain the stylistic departure that began with No Prayer for the Dying. And yet, I find most of the songs on here catchy enough to deem it forgivable as an album. Yes, this is quite mediocre for a Maiden release, but it has enough great moments to prove that even Maiden's mediocrity is quite listenable.
One of my biggest complaints with this is that the band is pushing no boundaries. The instrumentation on this album leaves you to believe they were more focused on releasing this album than writing it, leaving a lot to be desired in the songwriting department. I'd love to put some of the blame on Janick Gers, whose playing is mediocre and his writing much less than that, but this album's weaknesses are not entirely his fault (though a lot of the riffing is reminiscent of Gers' playing on Dickinson's first solo album, aka shit). The drumming and bass are pretty standard, many of the riffs are uninspired, and Bruce sounds like half the vocalist he was on Seventh Son. Iron Maiden didn't even attempt to make this outstanding.
And yet, every song on here manages to spark my interest, if only for a moment. "Fear is the Key" and "The Apparition" are meandering, but make up for it in atmosphere and melody. Straight-forward rockers like "Be Quick or Be Dead," "Chains of Misery," and "From Here to Eternity" have just enough energy and natural catchiness to be considered solid songs. And of course, "Fear of the Dark" is an atmospheric masterpiece, with great lyrics aplenty and a powerful sense of mood. I really can't find enough fault in any song to say that I don't like it, even if some of them are really begging for disapproval.
So I consider this a good metal/hard rock release, although not necessarily a good Maiden release. Fear of the Dark is definitely the underachiever in the band's catalogue, but it performs just well enough to make the grade.