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A Blaze In The Northern Sky (Part II) - 38%

OzzyApu, August 13th, 2010

Filler be damned, but even the mightiest get caught up with such deception. Fear Of The Dark could have been a well-thought out follow-up to the mundane No Prayer For The Dying, even though it still wouldn’t live up to the previous ‘80s flock. That’s a hard family to stick with because heavy metal calls upon them like superheroes. For the ‘90s flock, Maiden sort of crept under the radar instead of going out with a blaze (uh oh) of fury, but Fear Of The Dark proves that the band at least attempted to bring back some of that glory. At heart, the band still had it in them, but it was one wasted bullet that turned into a wasted album.

Unlike No Prayer For The Dying, some good songs shine on amidst the clutter of bad ones. The bar has been raised a centimeter, thankfully, but we’re still a far ways away from “Caught Somewhere In Time” or “Die With Your Boots On,” which is an understandable disappointment. More or less, I was expecting another offering in the same ballpark as No Prayer For The Dying, and new listeners should expect the same to save themselves from utter dismay. The main difference is that when throwing this album in the garbage, there’s a hint of legacy – you can take something away from this that you can look back on and cherish. For me, it was the title track, though for you it’ll probably be something else as well.

Production wise the band sticks to the dry, stock job that excels in mixing and then-modern power, but lacks certain character and style. This can become a love / hate deal between listeners since such production benefits the instruments but detracts from the music in certain ways (atmosphere, for instance). I’d expect the band to notice this and create what they can using the trademark Maiden ambition, but instead they opt to go for flaccid heavy metal (read: rock) tunes that make up the majority of this album. Some of them pass the mark for a number of reasons – amusement, energy, harmonies, riffs, vocals (advice: pick one) – but this album is basically a bunch of copper and a piece of gold in a cove of shit.

You get the Beavis & Butthead-lambasted “From Here To Eternity” (a poppy hard rock jingle), the harmony-driven brooder “Afraid To Shoot Strangers,” the grim “Childhood’s End,” the poignant “Wasting Love,” and the epic monster of a title track to seal the deal. These tracks to me make up the true spirit of Fear Of The Dark; everything else gets in the way with their suckage. This makes five good tracks scattered with seven mediocre-to-lame tracks in a whopping kiddy pool of twelve tracks, which is not the kind of album anyone wants to be stuck in. Between these tracks, Steve Harris is able to make one last stand; it’s a desperate attempt and the organization isn’t better than No Prayer For The Dying, but it serves as a ray of hope for the rest of the band to follow suit. Like the previous album, there are bits and pieces – riffs, verses, solos, etc. – that reside in fractured songs… songs that are butchered by the band in more than one way.

First up is Dickinson, who by this point I’m assuming gave less than a shit. We all know his vocals – those well-known wails burned like stomach fuel and launched like a rainbow in the dark – yet only one track really nails it down. This would be the title track, where Dickinson lurches during the calm intro and initiates tremendous howls of fervent emotion as the song progresses. With “Wasting Love” (for this album) I can bear to hear his soft croons as he delicately cries and moans passionately; each line of the verse is met with flurrying acoustics before the excitement overcomes the listener. Both these songs mark the high points of the album, with the title track being the fluctuated opus penned by an incredibly melodious main riff while the latter serves as the ballad (at most) to show us what the band really wanted.

Hardly any other of the tracks I chose are as impactful as those two aforementioned songs, and the tracks I haven’t mentioned (the ones I’d rather feed to sharks) are too disjointed or flat-out pathetic to live up to the Maiden name. To me, the band got very lazy and decided to keep piling on one song after the other without actually fleshing any of them out. None of the other tracks are worthy because they aren’t very developed – for some shitty band, sure, but by Maiden’s standards this is a mess. The band shouldn’t have to be held to their greatest potential all the time, but there should always be a fine line to keep them from producing mediocre or lifeless songs. I’m trying to get my head around Nicko’s drum beats, which remain the only piece not completely overwhelmed by the same shallowness as the rest of the band. The guy is a comedian at heart, and the same thin hat tatters filled by buoyant snares are the route he goes to keep his kit afloat; the drum bass is still a bunch of dead fish being clubbed, though.

For the rest of the album, listeners have to defend themselves against wasted vocals, incredibly dumb lyrics, some annoying choruses, lackluster riffs, shallow harmonies, inert solos, and shadowy bass lines. Now this is spread out across seven boring, studio filler tracks that you need to put up with unless you burned your own copy with a shorter tracklist (which would be wiser than buying this if you really need a physical copy). Harris usually manages to emulate the guitar harmonies on his sovereign bass with his own licks, but here he mostly follows in their footsteps. Therefore, you’ll get everything mundane played both by guitars and by a blubbery bass, which is still nice in an “every Iron Maiden fan loves Steve Harris like a father” kind of way.

For the guitar duo, I’m not hearing a whole lot of commitment, either; it’s the kind of thing a metalhead can just tune in and notice. On the chosen tracks they mean what they play, but everything else is taken up for the sake of existence – alive, but just breathing. I wouldn’t back anything that isn’t meant to last, and that’s where the majority of Fear Of The Dark disagrees. The precise, consistent flare of the guitar tone is mostly wasted on shallow rock tunes with immobile choruses that bailed on the listener within the first lines of their shameful lyrics. Aggressiveness, class, caution, fervor, and the Maiden style show up too few and dispersed, with even fewer moments of true glory; the band gives us a lot, but unleashes very little – we get quantity over quality.

I figured this had to be better than the previous album and in the end it still seems that way. What good that came from Fear Of The Dark outdoes what good came from No Prayer For The Dying; they both are still pretty bad, though. Pick either one that’s mediocre and bad as a whole or one with crap interspersed with some good, but you’re still digging in the wrong pool. Yes, this is the kiddy section – you want the big kid’s pool, which consists of classics like Piece Of Mind, Killers, and Somewhere In Time, among others. Every decade has its own pool, and this ‘90s kiddy pool still has some crap that needs to be eradicated.