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Following the rather amazing, yet somewhat inconsistent "Piece of Mind" album, Maiden offers up yet another studio effort that evolves the standardized formula that began with "Number of the Beast". But unlike the rather giant progressive leaps that were taken from their first two albums, the evolution at work here is very gradual.
This album is structured a bit similarly to "Piece of Mind", starting off with a fast track and putting most of the longer winded material towards the end of the album. However, the scope of the songs is much larger, as both Steve Harris and the other composers of this band are broadening their horizons. This can be observed both in the rather long epic "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", which is loaded with changes, as well as the harmonic progression of such tracks as "Two minutes to Midnight" and "Powerslave", both of which are musically more complex than what is found on the previous release.
The guitar work on here has been taken up a notch, as the difference in sound between Adrian and Dave's solos has become a bit more distinct. The dueling solos on "Powerslave" and "Aces High" give us a good back to back example of this. However, Adrian's highly melodic style is really brought out in the solo of "Two minutes to midnight", which is super-imposed over a fairly complex chord progression.
The basswork on here is also noteworthy, as Steve Harris is never one to be upstaged by the others in the band. His own set of melodic fill ins on "Powerslave", as well as his dreary drone during the quiet section of "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", reveal a character to his playing style that sets him apart from most of the other NWOBHM bassists who were content to merely play the root and do support work only.
Bruce's vocals are as riveting as ever, shooting up into the upper stratoshpere at times. His final note on "Aces High", as well as a rather nuerotic scream at the end of a development section of "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" rival the work he did on the two previous albums. In fact, I would argue that this album is his finest work as a vocalist, not to mention that "Powerslave" is probably the best song he's ever written for the band.
Unfortunately, just as on Piece of Mind, we have a couple of tracks that don't measure up to the standards that Maiden had already set for themselves on earlier albums. "Back in the Village" is not a throw-away song, but I can't really get as excited about it as I did it's lyrical predecessor "The Prisoner" (both songs are about the same TV show). "Losfer Words (Big Orra)" is probably the weakest instrumental effort Maiden has ever put out, and is probably the reason why they haven't written anymore since.
But on this album, there are so many good things happening that it makes up for the less than stellar songs. "The Duelists" is a bit simplistic considering how long it is, but it's quite catchy and Bruce helps it to shine with his vocal delivery. "Flash of the Blade" is a very unusually progressive, yet quite good sounding rocker, kudos to Bruce once again for writing this one.
In conclusion, this album has some changes in it that make it a bit more exciting than "Piece of Mind", yet carries a similar collection of classic Maiden tracks. Songs like "Aces High" and "Two Minutes to Midnight" rock about as hard as they come, and are probably the most accessable to fans of earlier work of Maiden with Bruce as vocalist. I recommend it highly to any fans of traditional metal, as well as to younger fans who discovered Maiden since 2000 when Bruce re-united with them. This album contains some elements of the style that they carry today, which is reaching out to a whole new generation of Maiden faithful.