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Somewhere in Time is loved by virtually every metalhead in the world, has amazing riffs, vocals and solos and is in my opinion the best album Iron Maiden has released so far (along with Brave New World and Powerslave). This album's lineup (with Murray, Smith and Dickinson) is the one that made Iron Maiden one of the most famous heavy metal bands of all time (and in my country, by far the most famous). Given the album’s fame and critical reception (even if the latter was not as great as in Powerslave), it is natural to ask me some questions before reading my review. The first and most important one is certainly “why the hell would you review an album that every single person living on our crappy planet knows about?”, and the answer is that this album means a lot to me. It was the first metal album that I owned, and it was also the one that got me into metal.
And what an in introduction to the genre I had! The band’s members were inspired as hell when they recorded this. The songwriting is very solid: there are no overused riffs or choruses and you feel the need to hold your breath for as long as a solo lasts. Dickinson was shut out of the songwriting process, since he was not extremely inspired from 1984 to 1986 (can you remember his “contributions” to Powerslave?) but his vocals are even more emotional and epic than in Maiden’s previous releases. Even the predictable lyrics (if you guess what Bruce sings during the chorus of "Caught Somewhere in Time" correctly you WILL NOT win a cookie) helps to set the atmosphere.
Technically speaking, this album is great. The guitar synthesizers and the vocals are clearly highlighted by the production, and the guitars are much heavier and more aggressive than in previous Maiden’s releases, where the band played heavy metal riffs with hard rock guitars. The drums are typical 80’s heavy metal drums. They are faster than usual, but apart from that detail they are just your regular Iron Maiden drums. By the way, this recording is much faster and much more technical than Maiden’s previous works, and the synthesizer fits perfectly with the music, which is weird since this is Iron Maiden's first attempt at using one. It is definitely cheesy sometimes, but hey, this is a cheesy album after all. The only thing that kept me from giving 100% to this album is the lack of bass: the band focused their attention on the highs, and the production ended up taking the bass out of all the songs except Wasted Years and Sea of Madness. The bass is not inaudible or unnoticeable, but since Iron Maiden usually focuses on the bass, it is weird to see it as a secondary instrument.
The album begins with one of the most emotional songs Iron Maiden has ever recorded: “Caught Somewhere in Time”. The riff that introduces us to this album is powerful, slow and truly creative, but the song gets even better as the time passes. The melodies are carefully constructed, the guitar synthesizer does its job forcefully and riffs are given birth to at an alarming rate, but they aren’t simply discarded: we get to see most of them appearing at least twice while the song lasts. Dickinson does an astounding performance thorough this song, and his vocals are highlighted by the (very clean) production. “Caught Somewhere in Time” is not only a perfect introduction to an almost flawless album but also the best possible prelude to the song that is in my opinion one of the finest (if not the finest) song that Maiden has ever delivered.
The second song, Wasted Years, is the only song in this album that doesn’t use synthesizers, and… Meh. Honestly, trying to describe this song is painful for me: it is my favorite song from the album, it is my favorite song from Iron Maiden, and it is simply my favorite song ever. For real, it is probably the best song ever recorded. The riff that introduces the song is perfect; the vocals are perfect, and the solo... Will you believe me if I tell you that I actually cried when the solo met the vocals at 3:41? This song is interesting because it is both emotional and traditional, relying on an amazing solo and a powerful chorus while not needing the help of synthesizers. I am not trying to say that the use of synthesizers was a mistake in this album; I am just saying that this song proved me that Harris knew exactly where one would fit and where one wouldn’t.
“Sea of Madness” is the most powerful song in the album when it starts, suddenly becomes the calmest one at 2:53, when the guitars begin doing minimal sounds and the bass becomes the focus and at 3:40 the mighty reverb of the guitars come back with more powerful and emotional riffing. The bass line (the second best of this album) makes me feel very optimistic while listening to it and the synthesizer delivers some of the cheesiest riffs I have ever seen, which is ironical, considering that this song has one of the darkest and most pessimistic lyrics that Harris has ever written.
“Heaven Can Wait” is another song that is way too happy for its lyrics: the chorus is happy and catchy, and yet Bruce is singing about a person who died but cannot accept going to heaven because there is too much left undone on the Earth. This song is weird because it has all the elements that it needs in order to be a great song, but it feels like filler. It is actually very enjoyable and has that epic feeling that is omnipresent in this album, but the rest of the album is so great that it feels like “Heaven Can Wait” is simply there to increase the album’s length. Thankfully, just after it is over we get to hear “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”, a song that suffers from weak lyrics, but overwhelms anyone with its sad lead introduction and its riffing. The melodies created here are among the most beautiful of the album (in terms of melody this song is as good as Déjà Vu and Wasted Years) and at 3:30, during the solo, there is one of the most interesting lead breakdowns that were ever written, which is followed by the climax of the song.
While all of the other songs in this album would be rated as masterpieces by anyone who listened to them, “Stranger in A Strange Land” is simply good, which is a terrible surprise. This is not one of the best metal songs that were ever written, and since this album is full of those I sometimes skip this song. I wouldn’t be brave enough to skip this song in (almost) any other album, but since every time I put this album on the maximum volume I am suddenly surrounded by some of the best stuff that was ever written I feel that it is unnecessary to listen to the overly calm vocals and the not-so-creative bass line. The solo here is amazing, and is the only part of the song that can be compared to the rest of the album.
Déjà Vu is not only excellent, but also one of the catchiest songs that were ever written by Harris. Melodically speaking, this is one of the most beautiful and creative songs ever to exist. It starts out slowly (just like half of the album) and progresses towards awesomeness. The vocals here are the second best of the CD (unfortunately nothing beats Wasted Years) but during the chorus they are backed up by the lead guitars in a way that makes it (the chorus) my favorite one of all times.
The album is finally over with “Alexander the Great”, an historical masterpiece that unfortunately has an introduction that lasts for way too long. Or not: While the introduction feels long, I doubt that it would have the same effect if it was ten seconds shorter. The lyrics are weak, but the theme is great (yes, it is actually possible) and the riffing and soloing as close to perfect as music can be. “Alexander the Great” runs for more than eight minutes, but you will enjoy every second of it, with the possible exception of the very start (the song begins with some narration, which is backed up by wind effects).
This album should be owned by anyone that enjoys living, which doesn’t exclude people who simply are not into metal at all. It is not only Iron Maiden’s best work, but also one of the best works that were ever done. Each song is almost perfect, and if played from beginning to end, the album is simply amazing. I wish I could rate this 100, but I can’t help but miss Harris’ bass a little.