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I've got to say that prior to the release of this album I played through the last three albums a few times. Particularly BNW and AMOLAD were my long time favourites, and I really doubted that they could top the last one.
When El Dorado got released, it has gradually grown on me, as to be one of my favourite tracks from Maiden. The same goes to the title song, even though I was a bit surprised that the opener was not a fast one like usual. And then the album came.
I've got to say it - wow! I'm pretty impressed with how it turned out. After hearing the 30-second snippets I thought that it will be quite interesting, but rather slow and calm, but spacey and proggy. It turned out that it is spacey and pushing their prog direction to the limit, but far from being calm. The tracks are long, but one can barely notice this - after hearing the last track I was surprised how quick those 11 minutes past - not a moment of boredom!
One of the most impressive things about this record is the multitexturing of the sound, that was barely hereable on previous records. Instead of just repeating the same riffs on all three guitars, one can often hear those small nuances that add so much to the song. And they often reveal themselves only after numerous listenings.
At times, this album does not sound like Maiden at all, not mentioning the intro, that is something completely different to their previous work. Not only that, some songs have a really weird feeling, and only the occasional twin leads and bass gallop remind who are we listening to. Also, except for the title track, the band has abandoned the formula of writing simple choruses and repeating them ad infinitum. Here, they are complex and at times it's hard to discern which part is really the chorus, maybe because the band has often omitted the standard bridge/chorus/solo/chorus structure and let the songs live, twist and turn on their own. This album never sounds forced, instead it's brimming with creativity and fresh ideas. I also deeply enjoy the fact that Adrian 'H' Smith was involved in writing almost all of the tracks on the album. His brilliant ideas, as well as riffs and solos really shine here. Also, Bruce sounds really convincing here, and so do the lyrics. Overall, the whole bands perform flawlessly, but it's really the Smith-Harris-Dickinson trio that really turns this one into an instant classic.
This album came almost from nowhere, with little information coming from the band, and it turned out to be one of the greatest surprises coming from Iron Maiden. A peak of their proggy influences, resulting in one of the, if not the strongest effor yet. Highly recommended.
The highlights? The paganic Isle of Avalon, the cosmic Starblind, the adventurous The Talisman and of course, one of the best ballads since Bruce's 'Tears of the Dragon' - Coming Home.
(Originally written for the Wrecking Crew forum.)