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This album has been panned quite a bit by Maiden fans, citing lacklustre songs and poor vocals from Bruce Dickinson (A phrase I never thought I'd hear). Rarely any of the songs are ever included in the modern-day setlists, same as the next 3 albums, but does it really deserve to be shunned so much? Is it actually quite good?
Well, on first impressions, not really. Tailgunner is not bad, but could be better. I was expecting a galloping headbanger like Aces High or Where Eagles Dare, but what I got instead was an odd beast, which was as Prog as can be, without actually Progressive at all. The riffs reek of Genesis or Yes, but in a very bland way. It is good, but nowhere near as good as I thought it could be. Holy Smoke is reeeeally fucking bad. Absolutely terrible. I forgot just how poor this song sounded until I listened to it again. Christ, it is bad. This is Pop Metal, lacklustre rock riffs, Maidenized. So generic, and bland. It basically consists of Bruce ranting over riffs which AC/DC rejected.
No Prayer for the Dying is actually a really fucking epic song, or it could've been. It is way too short, and shows oodles of potential, but it just slithers away until you've noticed it's gone and you think "Fuck, that was quick, a bit TOO quick". This should've been another Hallowed Be Thy Name-style sing-along. 7 minutes long and drenched in darkness, a true classic. But it's not. It really isn't. It's way too short and just makes you think how amazing it could have been. Public Enema Number One has a horrific title. Who actually thought that was a good title? This too is a great song, I really like it. Nothing can save it from that wretched title though. I don't even think I could put this in a Dream Setlist if I wanted to, because of that title. It's embarassing, but good nonetheless.
Nooooow we're talking! The air siren's back and in force! Bruce goes back to his high vocals on Fates Warning. This suffers from the same syndrome as No Prayer for The Dying. This should be 15 minutes long, and in the vein of Rime of The Ancient Mariner. Nonetheless, it is a really good song, which could be better. The Assassin isn't too bad, just quite boring to start with, but the Chorus is quite good. Once again, this doesn't sound like it should. It should be in the vein of The Trooper or something like that. But it isn't. It does get repetitive after a while though. Starts out boring, ends boring, with an interesting bit in the middle.
Run Silent, Run Deep is actually really quite good. It restores us to the generic Maiden fare of old. You know, the filler tracks you never bothered about... Ganglands, Quest For Fire, Back In The Village. But on this album, sounds really good compared to the rest. It's nice to be comforted by familiarity once in a while. Hooks In You has cowbell. and a chorus that goes on forever, and is terribly "alternative" with Bruce does his boring "spoken-word" vocals.It had outstayed it's welcome by the second chorus, but continues to go on and on and on.
Then it all picks up on the last two songs. Bring Your Daughter... To The Slaughter has taken a lot of stick over the years from the Maiden elite, citing it as being "too popular" due to appearing in A Nightmare on Elm Street. The stick got so bad that Maiden dropped it from their setlist, saying that the fans were bored by it. And it's a shame, as it is an amazing song, a true anthem and one of Maiden's best songs ever. Bruce's vocals are at a peak on this track, truly the best vocal performance he's ever done... on this album. This is the song where they take all the elements panned on this album (the "Pop Metalness", the odd vocals) and makes them work. It's a song where the songwriting truly shines out, they got it right on the money with this. Mother Russia is another highlight, where they finally realise their ambition of writing an epic song. This is epic, but as highlighted in other reviews, it pales in comparison to Maiden's other great epics such as Hallowed Be Thy Name and Children of The Damned. Nonetheless, it is still a great song, and the nods to traditional Russian music are a great touch.
In conclusion, this album is OK, a bit mediocre. The problems on this album are endless. Songs are either too long, outstaying their welcome or waaay too short. There should be 7 minute epics but there's not. It seems Steve said "Right lads, on this album. every song should be under 4 and a half minutes long" and then told them to go "Let their hair down" on Mother Russia, but not too much mind. Although i can see that maybe they wanted to distance themself from the Prog of Seventh Son, it seems that they just tried to capitalise on the success of that album's singles, and tried to keep up the momentum by trying to make every song a hit single, and failing miserably.
This album also has another big fat dog turd in the form of Bruce's vocals. They are terrible, I don't know what happened since Seventh Son but he just lost the inability to do any Clean vocals whatsoever, and adopted a strange voice, which make him sound like he has a chest infection. He also likes to do a lot of the songs in an odd spoken-word style, that doesn't really work. And although it works on Bring Your Daughter,,,, it fails practically everywhere else. Every other member is putting a hardly-groundbreaking yet commendable performance, but the vocals drags everything down. And this pisses me off, because it's the biggest reason why this record is so panned. There are songs which would work really well live today, now that Bruce has had his Lemsip and has his voice back, but because the album was panned, due to the vocals, they refuse to play any of it today.
If this album had better vocals and songs were allowed to flow past 4 and a half minutes, this would be in the high 90s in terms of rating. There is some songs which sound different from what they should, and epic tunes which should be twice their length, and if they WERE twice their length, this would be a masterpiece. Despite this, it is a not bad performance. There is some good tunes on this, but nothing too major (Bar the final 2 tracks) as well as a lot of filler material. You should probably put this near the bottom of your Maiden shopping list, but buy it anyway, if not for completion, but also due to the presence of a couple of a good songs.