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After 12 years of owning this, Maiden’s 8th studio effort, I still have a hard time believing that this album has 4 out of the 5 same guys that gave us "Somewhere in Time" and "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son". There are a few good songs on here, but the vast majority of the songs are completely uninspired. In some cases the music kills the song, in other cases the lyrics do, and in the case of "Holy Smoke", you reach for the CD player and fling it clear out the window. The production is not up to par with previous efforts, as it lacks the punch of the earlier stuff, and also the luster of the more epic music that followed.
As far as the various members pulling their share, it should be noted that Janick Gers is an excellent guitar player, technically he is probably better than Adrian Smith was, however he doesn’t write songs nearly as well. He and Dave Murray get the job done as far as leads go, but, regardless to what Kurt Cobain may have said, solos do not alone make a song good metal. Steve Harris’ bass playing is still as technically intricate as ever, but unfortunately his songwriting is not as consistent on this album. Nicko’s drumming is pretty much par for the course, although the dry, dead sounding production drags the sound of his kit down severely.
The overriding problem with this release is even more overt than the lack of songwriting prowess, and that is Bruce Dickinson’s vocals. They are extremely scratchy and inconsistent, at times becoming almost unbearable. The worst case is probably “Holy Smoke”, although even a good song like the title track suffers from Bruce’s seeming inability to hit a clean note. “Mother Russia” escapes much of this because Bruce is barely singing, and when singing he is doing so with a voice that you can discern some actual pitch quality from.
The lyrics also do their share to drag this troubled opus down. With perhaps the exceptions of the title track and Mother Russia, the best route is to not think about what you're singing along with, particularly if you are a Maiden fan that feels obligated to own and regularly play their entire catalog. Amongst the worst offenders in the lyrical department, "Holy Smoke", "Tail Gunner" and "Public Enema Number One" take the cake, with the misfire of a 3rd part to the Charlotte the Harlot series "Hooks in You" not far behind.
The music behind the antics masquerading as words and singing is mostly a mixed bag. Songs like "Fates Warning" and "Run Silent, Run Deep" have several inspired moments, but they don't cross over into being spectacular. "The Assassin" has some interesting riffs but it gets repetitive after the first 2 minutes. "Tail Gunner" and "Public Enema Number One" both have pretty good intros, but don't really go anywhere. "Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter" sounds like a knockoff of an AC/DC song from the early 80s. I don't loathe it quite as much as most others do, but it doesn't fit into the Maiden sound. And as far as "Holy Smoke" goes, unless you like bad, quasi-punk pop mixed with 80s metal, hit the skip button.
If the goal was to bring their music to a younger audience that wanted a dry sound with half-assed socially conscious lyrics, Maiden succeeded royally here. Musically, it’s a collective failure for all in congress, as even Adrian Smith’s lone compositional offering before jumping ship “Hooks in You” reeks of rock/metal mediocrity. This album sold well, and it featured the band’s only number one single. It is a testament to what the mainstream was demanding of metal at the time and why it ultimately went back underground. If you are someone who likes buying albums for two decent songs tracks, some mediocre filler, and a fair amount of crap, or if you worship Iron Maiden blindly and think they can do no wrong, I would recommend looking for a copy at $4 max