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NOWBHM gods, Iron Maiden, really dropped the ball on their 1992 album, “Fear of the Dark”. Within this mess of filler and directionless generic pop rock sounding songs, a few gems like the title track (“Fear of the Dark”), “Judas Be My Guide”, “Afraid to Shoot Strangers”, and “Childhood’s End” really stand out. The problem is that to find those songs, the listener has to sift through eight terribly inane tracks where either the band ran out of ideas and just began repeating choruses at random times or decided to use three minute filler solo and riffing sections that just go on and on. Rather than go through how horrible the eight tracks are, I’ll focus on what gave this album fifty percent.
“Afraid to Shoot Strangers”, the first of the “big four” in this album contains what some would consider filler at the beginning, but this catchy and emotional song still brings a good rousing anthem later on, has some amazing soloing, and changes tempo at 3:44 to ensure that “Afraid to Shoot Strangers” is a quintessential Maiden song complete with minute after minute of harmonic riffing and single guitar soloing, a chant of the song’s title, and a ballad to open it. The drums on this song, as well as the rest of the album, aren’t as well pronounced as in other Iron Maiden albums and seem to have lost the gallop that songs like “Run to the Hills”, “The Trooper”, and “Hallowed be Thy Name” had. Instead, the upturn in the “Afraid to Shoot Strangers” has more of a constant thundering as in “Aces High” that favors the sound of the bass guitar and ensures a clean sounding mix production-wise.
As was stated above, there really isn’t any direction for this album. Other than the title track at the end and “Fear is the Key” in the middle, “Fear of the Dark” goes from being about the first Gulf War to descriptions of our decaying environment to a ballad containing a love song and to what seems as though a continuation of “The Prisoner” from their 1982 album “The Number of the Beast”. The sporadic themes in the songs reflect an attempt to modernize Iron Maiden’s message from the Medieval, historical, and glory-bound focus of NWOBHM to a standout attempt to deter people from fighting, clean up the environment, and try to find a little peace, love, and understanding. Through listening to the album though, this message is easily lost as two thirds of the tracks become exercises in futility rather than meaningful social commentaries.
“Childhood’s End” begins with the combination of each guitar and the drums all kicking in at once creating an interesting harmony. The song brings its tempo up again in Iron Maiden fashion to introduce the solos, riffing, and every other aspect of a Maiden song, but though their formula is so obviously pronounced and the lyrics compare to those of “The Prisoner” and “Children of the Damned” in “The Number of the Beast”, the song is still just as good as their classics. The guitars in this album seem to have the same formula when it comes to their soloing, though. Each guitar takes a solo, and then both guitars join in for a third solo. The formula is repeated sometimes in songs like “Afraid to Shoot Strangers”. Though it’s not a boring formula, it’s still another formula that Iron Maiden has piled up to create most of the tracks on this album.
“Judas Be My Guide” is a really good song that again is held back by the formula. Beginning with a solo at sixteen seconds and then kicking into the vocals, Iron Maiden actually struck some gold with this track though it must be mined out by the endless minutes of mediocre filler tracks surrounding it. The tempo and feel of the song is positive and catchy, the lyrics again are catchy, anthemic, and take some risk in upholding the man who betrayed the Nazarene. The solos are blistering and powerful, and (in a stark contrast from the rest of the album) the song ends when it should. Rather than go on for another chorus or an extra set of solos, Iron Maiden did well to make “Judas Be My Guide” a song that leaves the listener wanting more.
Despite the overall failure of their message, “Fear of the Dark” is still the perfect song to close any true metal album, and the best song on this album. The lyrics are rather lame, granted, but that is completely overshadowed by Bruce Dickinson’s very English accented delivery during the intro, the amazing guitar playing, soloing, riffing, harmonies, (and everything that makes Maiden’s guitars great) the intensity of the song’s tempo, the anthemic delivery by all members of the band, and the fact that this song is an epic, clocking in at over seven minutes long. This song is the kick in the balls that Maiden needed from the first note of “Be Quick or Be Dead”, and by the time this song comes up, it completely wipes the slate clean of the previous futile attempts. If you are to buy this album, it is either for this song, like I did, or because you want to beef up your Maiden collection, either way you can’t go wrong with “Fear of the Dark” for an outro track, but beware because lurking behind the album and song title comes a heaping pile of shit that you must force your way through until you find the prize you seek.
The reason I gave this album fifty percent is the following: ten percentage points for each really good track on the album, “Fear of the Dark”, “Afraid to Shoot Strangers”, “Judas Be My Guide”, and “Childhood’s End”, five points for good production (a band as rich as Iron Maiden could afford good production by 1992 so it doesn’t matter as much as bands in underground extreme genres), and five percent for excellent though formulaic musicianship (something that is expected from Iron Maiden, therefore it isn’t worth as many points as newcomers to the metal scene). Despite the collaboration of each instrument resulting in some pretty terrible tracks, and the fact that the music itself is nothing really new, just repackaged and written with different riffs, the music is still executed well. In all, this is the kind of album that you should expect to be wasting your money on because with four good tracks out of twelve, no amount of good production or amazing musicianship will make “Fear of the Dark” worth the money you’ve spent. Iron Maiden could have done much better with this album, and fifty percent may be a generous score, but the four songs making up a third of this album that are deserving of recognition and review definitely make this album deserving of the points it gained.