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A Blaze In The Northern Sky (Part I) - 34%

OzzyApu, August 13th, 2010

The ‘80s were a great time to be a fan of heavy metal and definitely a perfect time to be an Iron Maiden fan. From Killers on up to Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, fans were given albums ranging from good to genre masterpieces. Hell, the happiest people must have been the Maiden guys themselves, as they were pretty much on top of the world by the time Somewhere In Time became part of human history. Eclectic leads and riffs, jovial bass rhythm, usually upbeat songs, and vocals that aligned with the epic nature of the music towered above the heavy metal spectrum – Iron Maiden were the shit. Now fast forward to… now, and I’m stuck in a rut with Maiden’s No Prayer For The Dying, an album I knew would be a step down from the previous releases.

Now at the core it’s still Maiden, but the idea of starting anew sort of got to the band’s head in the wrong way. While each album has an engaging theme stuck to it like rubber glue, this one ends up with Elmer’s Glue, already making it a dull affair. The band doesn’t really go above and beyond like they did with most of their albums by that point, and while this isn’t a necessity, it does show the band getting a bit lazy ahead of their game. On laziness, Dickinson is the wailing ace no higher and more up-close than before; he’s had some fair performances before, but most of these tracks show us just how annoying his voice can get. Make way for out-of-touch (“Run Silent Run Deep” and “The Assassin”), overly-loud (the title track and “The Assassin”), wide shouting (“Bring Your Daughter… To The Slaughter” and “The Assassin”) before you get to hear the skillful eruption of stomach power manipulated into sympathetic singing and howling.

The first to get hit is the production; starting over shouldn’t always mean going for a straightforward sound again. No more profound, ethereal atmosphere or sonic soundscapes jolting like active particles in the air. No Prayer For The Dying goes for a cross between Powerslave (loosely) and Piece Of Mind (yeah, not much of that old school vibe), which is killer in theory but executed with the desire for mediocrity. While sensibly dissimilar to the debut album (the direction the band wanted to go back to, if I remember correctly), the dreariness of that particular album is reflected onto this one. However, the disjointed tracklist of the self-titled debut is cleansed in favor of a dry, level playing field; no track on No Prayer For The Dying truly trumps another. At the highest we get good tracks and at the worst we get pitiful ones; on average, though, it’s a logically stable endeavor.

Referring back to the production right quick, it isn’t abysmal in the sense of absolute abhorrence. Coming off the ‘80s ride, anyone will surely be disappointed. Personally, I think Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son has an infuriatingly monotonous production job, so No Prayer For The Dying falls in the crevice above it; non-echoed and neutral, yet properly mixed and obviously well-refined (money makes a big difference). For the first five varied songs (and with a lot of proper listens), I looked past these setbacks, but by the fifth track there’s a huge slump (likely because “The Assassin” itself is an atrocious song). The album goes from a set of only good to average tracks and then dips into an abyss of hopelessness; I could tell the band gave up with that song. The next album, Fear Of The Dark, would be chalked full of these filler, emotionless tracks, but this is the album where each one literally eats away at your intelligence.

By that point, I remember my first journey or two through this album; I remember how the band took a turn for less compelling riffs and songs altogether. Maiden still puts forth rationally fun riffs and infuses realistic songwriting to create ambitious or amusing tracks like “Tailgunner,” “Holy Smoke,” the title track, “Fates Warning,” and “Hooks In You.” As cool as these tracks are, the bar has been lowered drastically to accommodate the passing rate. Think of it like the current American education system – students basically having to suck up to decreased passing standards across the board, or else only a few would make it out unscathed. Maiden had set the standard during the ‘80s, but one step into the ‘90s and they already failed to meet their own benchmark.

The other half of this album, made up of lackluster or annoying tracks, drags what competence was agreed upon into the depths of degradation. Some decent riffs and solos manage to subsist in scattered forms, but not enough trust is mustered to join forces with other riffs, rhythms, and vocals to create another decent track. One major disappointment comes from a lack of organization – no track wants to work with another. No Prayer For The Dying offers a bit of variety, but every song is independent of one another in a whole effect sort of way. I jump from one track to the next, but any feelings built from the last song I heard evaporates like some scared apparition. Even at the core, Steve Harris can’t unify anything; his blubbery, autonomous bass lines trudge with the main rhythm or harmony of every track like a good parent looking out for their child. For this album he tries to be a shitty parent, letting his children run amok how they see fit – everyone wants a piece of their own action (yes, I know he didn’t write every song).

The guitar duo switch-up, then consisting of Murray and Gers, isn’t as memorable as Murray and Smith; the margin is beyond comparison. The fault is with the songs, of course, and even with this drawback the two are still able to utilize the rougher production – which doesn’t exactly emphasize the crisp guitar tone – to create blasts of harmony and heavy metal temperament (or lack thereof). Once more, they never blow your mind even passively (i.e. atmospherically), but they do pull it off with candid intentions. On the battery, coworker Nicko never projects himself in front of the band, always maintaining steady beats to compliment the rest of the gang. He knows them well enough to implement a good dose of cymbal / hat tatters and cut-off snare hits in a manner that’ll work around the music. Thankfully, the desiccated production does away with cold snares, although the double bass sounds like dead fish getting clobbered by a wooden club.

Overall, this one is dead weight resting on Maiden’s established career then and today. This is hardly a keeper, serving only as a dud looking to get laid like the previous hot streak of ‘80s albums. There are some nice songs to be heard here, but remember that just because this bears the Iron Maiden name, doesn’t mean you need to check this out. Nothing here will change your outlook on the band in a more positive light than say Powerslave or something. I know that’s pretty high competition to also live up to, but not every album deserves a chance. In the end, I can honestly say to skip over this one not because it flat out sucks, but because it’ll steer you away from that which has truly contributed to Iron Maiden and heavy metal.