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Fear of the Dark is often bunched together with No Prayer for the Dying as Maiden’s two mediocre albums, before Bruce left and the dreaded Blaze era began. The difference between the two albums, however, was that while No Prayer… felt like a mediocre album that, while not bad, was entirely forgettable, Fear of the Dark gave us an album that was a very mixed bag, and while No Prayer felt less like a return to the roots and more like “Maiden By Numbers” or a tribute band doing original material, this sounds like a band that is trying to respond to that criticism, but is entirely unsure of a new musical direction. Musically, it goes back and forth between experimentation, standard fare Maiden sound, and “what the hell were they thinking?!”. As a result, we get a confused album that hits the mark and, well, quite a few times gives us a few of Maiden's greatest, if not least memorable, moments as well as some of the worst material they have ever written.
The great stuff: Be Quick or be Dead kicks off the album with some immense power and speed with Bruce spitting out his vocals angrily, but right off the bat it’s obvious he’s still going with his more raw vocals from No Prayer. Still, this is up there with Aces High as far as energetic, speedy Maiden songs. Afraid to Shoot Strangers starts off very melodic with Bruce singing in a raspy near-whisper. The first several minutes are actually quite beautiful, and let me tell you, it was really something when I saw it live as well. It gets a little heavier about halfway through and goes through an aggressive solo before going to a more melodic ending. Childhood’s End is a darker, mid-paced song. The chorus is a little odd, consisting of a sort of short tam drum spasm and riff being repeated as Bruce spits out two-word chorus lines, but it’s direct and to the point. It’s a little out of the ordinary for a Maiden song, but not as much as some of the other experiments on the album, and it gets to the bridge/solo section that’s classic Maiden. Overall, it’s a decent and memorable song. Judas Be My Guide took a while to grow on me, but it’s a fun song with a catchy verse and catchy chorus. The verses and choruses focus on simplicity and it works for what might have been an okay live song if the band had been a more cohesive unit both live and in the studio at the time. I always thought it was strange how pessimistic the song was for a Maiden song. Not that I’m not used to any dark Maiden songs, but unlike most others where the darkness seems like a foreboding warning or some kind of depressing reflection song, the attitude of this song, along with lines like “Everything’s wasted, is that all there is, can I go now?” seem genuinely pessimistic. Maybe this is a reflection of Dickinson’s feelings on the band and his interest in a solo project at the time. Or maybe I just read into these things too much and it’s about war or something.
What could I be forgetting? Oh yeah, apparently some people appreciate the title track. It seems like while the quality of any of the aforementioned songs could be argued as well as any other song on this album, just about every Maiden fan loves the album's closer, the epic Fear of the Dark, and why not? It’s an amazing song, especially live. Melodic, dark, beautiful in the intro, and then just exploding where even on the album version you can imagine how Bruce would be running around the stage like a madman in an arena. And do I sense some Middle Eastern influence in the very beginning? God, how I love that style in metal. It truly is classic Maiden and is really a fine example of it on an album that otherwise sounds like it’s written by a band whose unsure of who they are anymore. It’s also one of the moments on the album where Bruce shows his voice still has some fucking power behind it. Although his rasp is still certainly here, there are also times it sounds like it was recorded with the Bruce from Powerslave.
The decent stuff: Fear is the Key is an average song with a cool, Middle Eastern-sounding riff which, as I mentioned before, is a sound I’ve always loved in metal, however it’s much more predominant in this song. The chorus is pretty fun and catchy enough, however there are the forgettable verses and the inclusion of a middle part that just doesn’t fit feels a little forced and features Bruce saying the word ‘lies’ about 30 times. It was as though they felt the need to add a progressive part or something for no reason. There’s also a strange noise and guitar squeal part that sounds like Dimebag Darell might be getting ready to play Floods in there somewhere. However, Bruce does a pretty fucking sick Ian Gillan impression at one point. Overall, not a song I’d call good, but also not bad. The Fugitive begins rather heavy, the chorus is catchy, and the “I AM A FUGITIVE” part would have probably been a good live piece, but the rest is pretty forgettable. Neither of these songs are terrible. I never feel the need to skip them, but if you asked me what songs were on the album, these are the ones I’d probably forget.
The controversial stuff: these songs will probably fit into either the decent or shitty category depending on who you ask. I don’t think you’ll find many who will say these are amazing because they’re not. However, liking or hating them is completely dependent on musical taste. They all sound like things Maiden would have never done on any album before this, so I credit them for trying new things. Unfortunately, just attempting an experiment doesn’t necessarily make it successful. From Here to Eternity: Have you ever heard an AC/DC song? Well then you’ve heard every AC/DC song ever. AC/DC wrote one song, then wrote it 500 more times. Why do I bring this up? Do you like AC/DC? If you do, you might dig this. If you don’t, you WILL hate this because this song is that one single AC/DC song. Bruce even seems to be doing his best Brian Johnson impression. Personally, AC/DC is alright with me, however I only like them when I’m in the right mood, and if I want to listen to AC/DC, I’ll put on AC/DC. I don’t put on Maiden to hear AC/DC. So while I don’t hate this song, I see no use for it. Wasting Love is a power ballad, pure and simple. You should be able to tell from that opening riff. I’m not entirely sure who the hell was ever asking for a power ballad from Maiden. If you’re the kind of guy saying, “FUCK POWER BALLADS!!”. this might not be for you. Personally, I enjoyed it and thought it was interesting to hear Maiden do something along that line. I originally thought I never wanted to hear Maiden do a power ballad and I originally skipped this song constantly, but it ended up growing on me. It also chooses to be an entirely depressing song, seemingly about loneliness and isolation rather than a love and/or lost love song like many other power ballads I’m familiar with. Ok, not a massive change of pace, but I think we all feel that way sometimes, whether you’re that guy who can’t get into a relationship or have been married for 20 years. Decent stuff either way as far as I’m concerned.
The shitty: The Apparition is just an awkward song. I can’t even say I have a straightforward opinion on it. It has what couldn’t quite be called a riff, maybe an awkward groove and Bruce almost doing a rap-type thing, a short, decent solo, and then back to the groove rap. Again, I appreciate the band trying new things, but this experiment didn’t quite make the grade with me. Although maybe shitty is a little harsh, Chains of Misery feels like filler. It’s a little too average rock and the layered vocals on the words “he’s got your chains of misery” makes it feel like they wanted to make an arena rock anthem or something. However, the part of this song that really made me group it here rather than controversial is the incredibly and undeniably awkward “he’s got the key to your heart” part.
Then there’s Weekend Warrior. Both The Apparition and Chains of Misery I could see enjoying and, really, I can listen to the album without skipping them, but this song just pisses me off. It’s apparently about a soccer (sorry, I’m North American, “football”) game which, while I suppose is understandable as they all are apparently soccer (/football) fans, there isn’t shit about soccer that’s metal or belongs on a metal album. The lyrics are relentlessly cheesy, especially in the context. “Maybe someone will die… someone will die… someone will die.” Shut up, Bruce. No one dies in soccer. The intro attempts to be melodic, but just kind of meanders, then it goes into a groove similar to The Apparition in a way. Before each chorus the meandering riff from the intro comes in as Bruce repeats whatever the last two words he just said 4 times or so and complains about his friend changing and being an asshole when he plays soccer. The chorus is pretty generic Maiden stuff, but the lyrics for it suck. Even the chorus is among the least interesting I’ve ever heard from Maiden. It’s like they wanted to try my patience for 5 and a half minutes before giving me the godly Fear of the Dark. This song alone impacts my view of the album to drop the score about 3 percentage points. Maybe I’m being a little harsh, but this song exists to piss me off and accomplishes it in ways that are unimaginable. This isn’t a song Iron Maiden should have ever written. Fuck Weekend Warrior.
So, while No Prayer for the Dying disappointed fans by being a somewhat safe, back to the roots album and having for the most part a lot of/too much continuity, Fear of the Dark disappointed fans by having very little continuity. The album blasts off with Be Quick or be Dead, possibly one of the heaviest songs the band has written, into an AC/DC-sounding rock song. From the worst song on the album, Weekend Warrior, to what is considered the best, Fear of the Dark. The band tried too many things on one release, and while many individual songs definitely work, the whole album is less effective and comes off as confused and disjointed. About half the album the average fan will enjoy more than No Prayer, while the other half will be hated, resulting in something of a musical cocktease.