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(This is a review of the european single)
The X Factor was the album that introduced me to this magnificent band, and naturally, by first hearing Blaze Bayley as the lead singer, it gave me a whole different perspective of their music compared to the hardcore fans that'd stayed on since the beginning. It's no secret that people pretty much despised Bayley for "stealing" Dickinson's place in the spotlight, and at the time, nobody really gave him a chance to prove himself. Naturally, the new frontman was blamed for the album's low chart positions, but was it well deserved or just a sign of the fans' and reviewers' distaste for the recent changes in the line-up?
'Man on the Edge' differs a lot from the rest of the album; a relatively short, speedy song, full of bile and hell's fury, and it really paints a good picture of the breakdown that Michael Douglas suffers in the movie that the song is based on (Falling Down). It's obvious that this is the work of Janick Gers, as the riffs are more upbeat and have a bit more of that classical rock sound than we're used to with Harris and Murray at the helm, at least on this album.
Next on the list is 'The Edge of Darkness' which just might be one of the best work they did during the nineties, at least during Bayley's stay with the band. Granted, the music had been simplified conciderably compared to their work in the eighties, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Though different subjects, most of the songs deals with very dark themes, such as war and the frailty of the human mind. 'The Edge of Darkness' starts out with a smooth and gentle introduction until it builds up to a satisfying climax where our soldier gets his task of killing his superior. What strikes me after listening through it a few times, is how much they really get out of such a thin sound. Harris pounds away on the bass like a frigid monkey as usual, but there's barely any sign of the distortion and powerchords we're used to. Even so, the solos near the end of the song, complimented by Bayley's butch voice really gets the blood pumping in your veins.
The songs 'Justice of the Peace' and 'Judgement Day' were understandably cut from the album. They aren't necessarily bad songs, they simply didn't fit in. 'Justice of the Peace', as with the title track, is a combined effort between Gers and Bayley, with a more classic, melodic heavy metal sound. It has an insanely catchy chorus, but the lack of power is a lot more evident than on 'The Edge of Darkness' and doesn't catch on fire like it should. It's like train that almost could. 'Judgement Day' doesn't differ much, but picks up the pace to some extent. It switches between Murray shredding like it's 1982, and, unfortunately, the same limp sound as on the previous tracks. It really takes the vigor out of these songs, and you're constantly leaning forward, waiting for the take-off that never comes.
All in all it's a nice, little collection of songs, but it's a half good/half bad deal. It's like buying a really comfy matrass, but someone pissed on it. While 'Man on the Edge' and 'The Edge of Darkness' are both really good songs, worthy of mention in Maiden's lengthy history, the other two tracks really pull it down in the mud. As I said, they aren't necessarily bad, but they have an unfinished demo-sound to them. I think they have great potential that just weren't realized. So, if you're a hardcore fan, you'll try to get a hold of the european single with the extra song, but for anyone else, it's just not worth it, since you've already got the best tracks on 'The X Factor'.