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Classic Maiden bows out with dignity. - 70%

hells_unicorn, March 21st, 2008

While often associated with other parts of the largely forgettable 90s Maiden catalog, “Fear of the Dark” carries a similar sense of commercial viability to its incredibly lackluster predecessor “No Prayer for the Dying”, yet lacks a good deal of the problems the former had. The production has been cleaned up considerably, particularly the drums, and almost becomes too slick for its own good. And although the songwriting is still a considerable step down from the songwriting glory days of the late 1980s, there is actually a considerable collection of quality material on here.

Bruce’s vocals are still rough and throaty, but he makes better use of this newfound style and the music mostly conforms to it. “Be Quick or be Dead” and “Judas be my Guide” are the closest to what could be considered speed metal in the context of Maiden’s 90s sound, and between the melodic riffs and the shouted and over-the-top operatic bursts from Dickinson, a fun and memorable result is born. Likewise, slower versions of this can be heard in the arena friendly rocker “From Here to Eternity” (the 4th installment of the Charlotte the Harlot saga) and the quasi-epic film homage “The Fugitive”.

Naturally there are still some bad holdovers from the last album that worm their way into the mix, either sporting goofy lyrics, over-repeated ideas, or musical misfires. “Childhood’s End” has some solid musical ideas, but suffers from over-repetition and a halfcocked vocal delivery. Likewise, “Fear is the Key” has a solid main riff, but goes on too long and goes through an off-the-cuff tempo change with a silly sounding vocal ad lib section. “Weekend Warrior” and “The Apparition” are both decrepit outtakes from heavy metal comedy hour, their so cheesy sounding and musically comical that they induce laughter on first listen, but repeated listens might draw you to shake your head and wonder what the hell they were thinking.

But on the whole, this opus delivers some good listening material and a few classics worthy of a greatest hits compilation. If I had to pick two of the best representations of Maiden’s 90s material, they would come from this album. The title track is an obvious favorite live song; say what you will about the constant repetition and overly formulaic background music, the principle theme just never leaves you once you’ve heard it. Likewise, although the slow narrative section in the first 1/3 of the song drags on, “Afraid to Shoot Strangers” delivers one of the most dramatic interchanges of thematic material and guitar majesty to be heard circa 1992.

If you take this album all the way through, it is quite flawed and could only be qualified as good rather than great. But individually several songs on here shine like true diamonds in the rough. Although perhaps not the greatest thing that Bruce could have left us with before his 8 year hiatus, it is a strong constellation that we were left with this rather than what immediately preceded it. It is a good entry level album for a classic rock fan looking to ease his way into the NWOBHM sound, and it is worthy of, although far from equal to the 80s Iron Maiden that most have come to know and love.