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I never thought I'd ever stop and say "wow, this sucks total monkey scrotum!" so many times while listening to an Iron Maiden album, but here it is anyway; proof that anything in the whole wide world is possible. Maiden were on a downward spiral after their prestigious Seventh Son, which was a masterclass, epic power/heavy metal album that managed to pack a grandiose sense of world crushing power into a mere 40 minutes or so. They released the merely average No Prayer for the Dying after that, and then hit rock bottom when they released this, their worst studio effort to date and most likely ever. Fear of the Dark isn't consistently bad, as we have a few cuts like the speedy, pugilistic "Be Quick or Be Dead", which is one of their fastest songs to date, the epic "Afraid to Shoot Strangers", the majestic "Childhood's End" and the dark, moody title track which everyone and their catatonic grandmother knows already, but just about everything else is complete and utterly worthless fecal matter that the band should've just released under a different name.
This is barely even Iron Maiden for most of its duration; instead sounding like some awful garage rock band covering them and doing a generally fucked up job of it. And that about sums it up; as half the time, this album is not even metal, leaning toward a very hard rock-ish sound on several songs here. It wouldn't be so bad if they had turned into a classy hard rock band as Slough Feg have recently done, but this is a really fucking terrible hard rock album. Dickinson's vocals are raspy and strained and too loud in the mix (although this opinion may be influenced by the fact that they're so irritating; I'm not sure), and the riffs are a groovy mishmash of half baked ideas by a band that had run out of ideas by this point. Seriously, the riffs may be there and the solos may be pretty good, but there's nothing new on display here. At all. It's just Steve Harris recycling the same old, tired ideas for one more agonizing ferris wheel ride, except this time we have some truly bad outside influences barging their ways in. The production is hollow and dirty and it basically sucks. As for the songwriting...who the fuck are you kidding? "Fear is the Key" is awful, as is "The Apparition" and "The Fugitive", all stupid, groovy exercises in boring, insipid heavy metal touched up with annoying, repetitive choruses. "Chains of Misery" and "From Here to Eternity" are listenable - if you're a fan of shallow, substance-less glam rock. "Judas Be My Guide" sounds like the band wrote it in 15 minutes without much effort put into it, and "Weekend Warrior" is bar none the worst song the band has ever written in their entire career. I could say a lot about the numerous displays of amateurish fuckery the band displays here, from the annoying, overly repetitive chorus to the idiotic, bouncy riff that chugs its way through all 5 torturous minutes of this song, but I'll just say that it sounds like a...well, I honestly can't think of an adjective insulting enough to describe this piece of trash. Ungodly bad.
So, this can be viewed as a collection of Iron Maiden's worst ideas ever, and it's really only necessary for absolute Maiden completionists and die hards. There are some surprisingly terrible, terrible songs here, the likes of which Maiden fans never would've dreamed of before this album was released, and it's puzzling - how does such a mature, sophisticated heavy metal outfit as Iron Maiden sink this low? Maybe they were just "having fun", but that's no excuse at all for how bad this is. Bad songwriting, bad vocals, bad production...this is just all around BAD. I'm done wasting time on this, so in closing, avoid this aberration and just go listen to Powerslave again.