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In 1988, Maiden released their mellowest, most epic and most transcendent album in Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. But instead of giving fans another dose of the same medicine, the band threw their keyboards into the fire and got back to the gritty basics. The result is one of the best albums in heavy metal: "No Prayer for the Dying."
The album sound is dirty. Bruce replaces his comfortable clean voice with his best impression of a bat getting raped by UDO. Musicially, the songs are stripped-down and not as epic. Even the closer Mother Russia isn't really an epic by Maiden standards. This would be a problem.... if not for the fact that the songs fucking rock. This album is the perfect blend of mandatory Maiden metal and down-and-dirty hard rock. The songs stick to a verse-chorus, verse-chorus format, but who cares? The verses fucking rule and the choruses will have even mutes singing in the shower.
You don't have to sift too deep through the dirt to find Maiden's trademark sound. The band's twin guitar harmonies rear their heads in tracks like "No Prayer for the Dying" and midway through "Fates Warning." The title track appears surprisingly early and is refleshingly concise: it's a rare example of Maiden in ballad form, with Bruce crooning his way through each sorrowful verse. "Assassin" has an "I'm Watching You" vibe that will make you get up and close the curtains. "Bring Your Daughter..." sounds much better here than on the Nightmare on Elmstreet 5 soundtrack. Martin Birch strips the track down, taking away the B-horror production and cheesy backing vocals.
"Mother Russia" marks the first time that Maiden experimented with the sounds of a foreign country (they would later tackle the Middle East with Nomad and achieve equal success). Female backing vocals build a misty mood, before heavier guitars implore the listener to dance Russian-style---don't spill the vodka. Lyrically, you can expect more profanity and anger, with politicians and TV evangelists falling prey to the beast. Anger carries the vocal-driven "Holy Smoke," until Jannick introduces himself with a scorching solo.
With "No Prayer," Maiden took a gamble that paid off a millionfold. Sure they lost some fans ("Boo hoo! This is too raw. Where's the cleanliness of Seventh Son?"), but these people are pussies that are better off listening to Michael Bolton records on their parents dusty turntables. Painkiller? Rust in Peace? These albums have their supporters, but "No Prayer for the Dying" is the true hero of 1990.