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Here we have a beloved album by metal titans Iron Maiden. This album gets fellated all the time by fans as perfect epic power metal and other terms of praise. Well everyone has an opinion but those that love this album are apparently finding something that I’m not, as this thing is weak outside of a few good to great tracks.
The first thing you notice on this is the guitar synths and the very different tone from prior Maiden classics. Personally I think this album sounds like crap. The synths tend to dominate the mix and really detract from the guitars and drums. Then you get to the song writing. Well if not for Adrian Smith this would have been a terrible album on par with the Blaze material. Songs packed with unmemorable riffs with weak choruses abound on this disc. The title song is a prime example. Bruce just sings “Caught somewhere in Time” over and over and it jars me every time I listen to it, not to mention those crappy synths I was talking about earlier. It’s got a good Maiden gallop but that can’t save it. Bruce sounds great but the chorus has no real flow to my ears. Heaven Can Wait is a prime example of Maiden writing songs for the live environment that don’t really hold up at home listening to the album. It’s not bad but it’s not really good, it just goes and then is over with plenty of opportunities for sing along by the crowd at a gig. Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner is another track that seems like it has potential but weak lyrics and by the numbers riffage makes me lose interest soon. The chorus, like the title track’s, really does nothing and sounds forced. The closing track is another one that gets much love from fans of this album but it seems like an attempt to write another Rime type epic. It fails. Its riff is decent but the song is just middling and a bit boring and at times the lyrics sound forced like Bruce is having trouble making Steve’s writing flow melodically.
Did I mention I hate the synth sound on this album? The next disc would incorporate such things much better.
The drumming is quite fine but wasted on this substandard material. Good Lord Nicko’s bass drum foot is so damn fast! With that kind of speed who needs a double bass kit? I think he was really coming into his own here, not to downplay his great playing on earlier discs. Another high point is the generally high quality solos, especially H’s work on Wasted Years and Stranger in a Strange Land. The instrumental work is all well played for what it is, but it’s just not very interesting on repeated listens.
It’s not all bad so let’s get to the good. The first single “Wasted Years” is amazing. The main riff and the bass work are amazing, as is the emotion that Bruce is able to get into the lyrics and vocal melody. His voice soars on this but one thing soars higher, Adrian’s solo. Holy shit. That is an emotional solo. It’s so perfect in the way it fits the song that for me it’s the best guitar solo of all time. Not crazy shredding or anything, just pure emotional playing to fit the song. The only way I can describe how it makes me feel is to borrow from the song, “It makes me want to cry, and throw my hands up to the sky”! Typical song structure but really done well.
The next track is another quality piece by H with a slamming galloping riff and baseline that just moves the listener to bang that head. Great vocals and strong lyrics add to it with the usual excellent effort by Mr. McBrain. This is a rock solid tune that really helps boost my rating of this album. The chorus flows and the song flow with it, good songwriting.
The final song of note is another Smith creation, “Stranger in a Strange Land”. It is another emotional piece with lyrics of failed exploration and death. Bruce just nails it highlighting the emotional nature and then Smith hits us with another amazing solo. He was really nailing it here and carried the album in many places. Speed wanking on the fret board is impressive for a few minutes but real emotional playing is so much better and so much more satisfying in the long run and that is just what Adrian is giving us here. Go H go.
Ultimately they tried and the potential was there but the execution didn’t hold up. Dickinson was shut out of the songwriting process and ‘arry was not able to craft the good ideas into good songs. Throw in synths overpowering the rest of the music at times and you have an album that could have been great but falls well short. Thankfully they would get it back together for the next album, which would be the last really great Iron Maiden album.