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If you're making a list of Maiden's albums, from best to worst, and put The X Factor at the bottom (and/or Virtual XI for that matter), using "Blaze Bayley" as your argument, you can shove your list where no light should shine, because it's wrong. And now that I've explained invalid 90 percent of all Maiden album rankings in existence, I'll tell you why. After the happy eighties Maiden's sound gradually got darker, more introspective. Actually, it started already on 1988's Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son before culminating in The X Factor, released in 1995.
But even with its darkness and its gloomy sound, the album does hint at positives. Most often in the guitars. Like before the blistering guitar solo in 'The Aftermath' or the quick leads in 'The Edge Of Darkness'. Dave Murray and Janick Gers make their third Maiden record together and their chemistry is tighter than before. The overall guitar sound is also a big improvement from the previous two albums. Sometimes Murray feels a bit laid back while the brisk Gers keeps even the darkest tracks alive. Very few Maiden albums have had song material this strong. Most albums have one or a few half weak songs, but The X Factor has zero. In its entirety, the album reaches 70 minutes. That's a pretty long album. Despite this, no single song feels like filler, even to the point that I'd have wanted at least one more song. 'Judgement Day', found on the 'Man On The Edge' single as a B side would have worked as an opener and a single of its own, and 'Virus' fits the whole theme of the album perfectly and would have made an excellent addition and album closer.
Of course, the one who takes the hardest beating for this album is Blaze Bayley. Only because he isn't Bruce Dickinson or his clone. But the truth is he is perfect for the part. His deep, dark voice makes excellent in mid tempo tracks like 'Lord Of The Flies' and 'The Edge Of Darkness'. But, also the fastest track, single 'Man On The Edge' gets a solid delivery by Bayley. The song is straight to the point, hinting of classic Maiden, with a sublime bass line by Steve Harris, with a distinct 90's touch. Many of the lyrics Bayley gets to sing are soul searching, introspective, almost haunted. They are clear testament to Harris' mental health at the time, having gone through divorce, the loss of front man Dickinson, long time Maiden producer Martin Birch and the passing of his father.
"Oh man, he's a tortured motherfucker, Steve is sometimes", Dickinson has later said. Harris' sound on The X Factor is deep and dark and seems to go hand in hand with Bayley's uncontrollably emotive voice. The bass intro to 'Blood On The World's Hands' is 70 seconds in length and gives the song a distinct sense of self. The guitar leads in the song are also close to perfect, while the vocal melodies do lack in something that I can't put my finger on. The chorus somehow feels incomplete, and the song reminds me a bit of 'Face In The Sand', to show up on 2003's Dance Of Death. It's by no account a bad song, quite the opposite, but still is the weakest on the album.
As I stated earlier, The X Factor has some of Maiden's best song material to date. 'Fortunes Of War' is unbelievably underrated. A seven minute relic where Bayley goes through close to every emotive state there is. Somewhat repetitive in its "chorus", but Harris makes one of his career's best deliveries. And the lead guitar, melancholic, foreboding and among the best I've heard. Another highlight is 'Judgement Of Heaven'. It's insane that Maiden haven't played it live. It's only as of late that Bayley has picked it up for a few solo performances. Even though it goes through the same darkness that the rest of the album does, it does hint of some positivity. As if Heaven's judgement might not be bad, in the end.
'The Unbeliever' would have been praised had Dickinson sung it. Written by my personal favorite duo in Maiden songwriting, Harris/Gers, it closes The X Factor and reminds a bit of Harris/Gers penned songs to come, like 'Dream Of Mirrors' of Brave New World (for which Bayley actually wrote some lyrics!). 'The Unbeliever' would have fit better closer to the middle of the album. In fact, that might be the biggest flaw that The X Factor makes. Song placement. 'Man On The Edge' should have opened. Instead, the opener would have been my choice of closing song. It's Maiden's most theatrical song. And one of their best.
'Sign Of The Cross' has been praised, and not just Dickinson's version (it was played on the Brave New World tour, making an appearance on live album Rock In Rio), just like it should. It's a "Harris epic" dealing with the Spanish inquisition. 80 seconds of Gregorian chanting opens the song ominously before guitar and bass makes their entrance. Slow, low key and foreboding. It's the greatest song Bayley has ever sung, and as I said, one of Maiden's greatest tracks. In its eleven minute run time, it has everything. The slow build up leads to fast, heavy parts where Bayley's singing is simply sublime. Murray and Gers shines with perfect guitar parts. In short, probably the most underrated song ever.
As a whole, The X Factor is one of Maiden's most complete albums. Several lists that I've read ranks it as Maiden's worst, and to tell you the truth, that's all bullshit by idiots writing what "fans" want to hear; that everything Maiden has done after the 80's suck. The kind of people who covers his ears and goes "la la la la" when you try to convince them to give the album an honest chance. But no. And so The X Factor is the most underrated album there is. Simply because Bruce Dickinson or his clone doesn't sing on it.
Standout tracks: Sign Of The Cross, Fortunes Of War, Judgement Of Heaven
(And no, not many good things came out of it)
Life after Bruce… it wasn't an easy stage in Iron Maiden's career. Not only did traditional heavy metal as whole take a major bust in popularity during the 90s, but Iron Maiden's earlier studio output from that decade wasn't all that encouraging. It took them a long time to find a replacement for Dickinson, and by that time the band's popularity had dropped quite a bit. American metal was being (pun alert) dominated by Pantera and their clones, and on a much more underground level by the emergence of brutal death metal, while the European scene was teeming with (evil) life in the form of extreme metal and a handful of great power/speed metal bands. I'm afraid the task that was presented to “Blaze” Bayley Alexander Cooke was almost impossible to accomplish. But he was nonetheless chosen to carry Eddie's torch, and at least he tried.
Iron Maiden's tenth studio recording is quite a large beast, clocking at one hour and eleven minutes. There are, however, painfully few moments of true Iron grandeur to be found here. The production is pretty good, almost as good as their 21st Century material, albeit with a few drops in volume, like in the unnecessarily long intro to opener “Sign of the Cross” or the beginning of “Fortunes of War”. Greater emphasis is placed on the guitars and Steve's muscular and acrobatic as usual bass, as if to compete with the groove metal outfits polluting the scene. The solos are quite alright, but again, I believe Iron Maiden's golden era of guitar solos were the 80s. Nicko's drums also sound heavier than usual, not in a good heavy metal way, but stale and slow, heavy as in something that's difficult to lift, like he's playing without drive and energy. The snare in particular, almost sounds St. Anger-esque.
But unsurprisingly, the lowest point of the album is of course Blaze's voice, which has nothing incendiary to it. Au contraire; it's monotone, unexpressive and remains in the same gruffy mid-range register throughout the entire recording. He attempts a few Dickinsoninan, passionate screams, but the unaccomplished results sound fake and unoriginal. In fact, he does try to sound like Bruce most of the time, but ends up sounding like an older, yet to be heard, version of him. Why did they choose this bloke as their frontman is beyond me, but history has been written. Unlike Judas Priest's replacement for the Metal God during the 90s and beyond, who at least had the technical chops, Blaze is mediocre at best and gets tiresome really soon. I couldn't help myself but to envision these eleven tunes with Bruce at the mic. The magnificent 2002 Rock in Rio's version of “Sign of the Cross” is a legit indicator of what this release might have sounded if Dickinson had remained in the band. Not that it would instantly transform it into a masterpiece, though.
Speaking of “Sign of the Cross”, it's hands down the best composition here, mid- paced but epic, and while it's still a far cry from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” or “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”, it is a pretty good composition, memorable and unique in Iron Maiden's discography thanks to its heavy use of Gregorian chants. “Man on the Edge” is the faster, shorter number here, recalling “Be Quick or Be Dead” not only because of its speed, but also due to its social-themed lyrics, which are however a bit weird. That's right, I also prefer Bruce's lyrics to Blaze's. Even so, it is my favorite Blaze-era song. The middle of the record is totally meh to me, but other decent tunes appear towards the end; “Blood on the World's Hands”, which has a fairly cool bass soloing intro by Harris and transforms into a solid track, and the blue-collar hymn “2 A.M.” with a catchy chorus that is Blaze’s best performance on the album, by far. But truth is most songs blend into one another and lack enough personality to be remembered or recognized. They do still sound Iron Maiden, but in a generic, uninspiring way.
Overall, the band sounds tired and aged, as if this release was recorded 15 years AFTER The Final Frontier, and not the other way around. It's amazing how the return of our beloved Bruce and Adrian would reinvigorate and rejuvenate the rest of the Irons at the turn of the Century. As for The X Factor, whenever I'm curious enough to revisit it, which doesn't happen too often, I just can't avoid picturing a geriatric Eddie, reassembled from the pieces the industrial butchering on the Hugh Syme cover artwork left, and strolling in a wheelchair at a slug pace, mindlessly drooling, its glowing tiny eyes staring lifelessly at a fixed point (maybe a Blaze pic hanging on the wall). Bayley would remain with the album for yet another disappointing release, but fortunately for us, Eddie would return later, as mighty as ever.
As I sit here listening to The X Factor, I can't help but feel frustrated with the undeserved hatred towards this misunderstood masterpiece. If you ask metal fans what they think about Maiden's first album with Blaze, more often than not they'll say it was a mistake, the album that should've never been, the lowest point in Maiden's career.
Granted, everybody is entitled to their opinion and many of my Maiden-loving friends share this attitude towards The X Factor, but I certainly wish there were something I could do to make them appreciate the dark beauty of this superb album.
Now, I've always thought that if you have to explain why something is good, chances are it's actually not that good at all. See, you can't make people like sushi if they find it disgusting no matter how many times you explain why sushi is delicious. They know what they like and what they don't like, but sushi is an acquired taste... just like The X Factor.
I'll admit that I didn't like The X Factor either the first time I listened to it. I was sitting there in my bedroom feeling totally baffled. I just couldn't figure out what Maiden had tried to do with such a weird collection of sad and dark songs. There was no The Trooper, no glorious choruses, no hooks, no catchy songs, no trace of the Iron Maiden I'd come to love. Nevertheless, The X Factor grew on me and if you were to ask me what my favorite Iron Maiden albums are, I wouldn't even have to think about it and I'd say "Piece of Mind¨ and ¨The X Factor".
The biggest problem with The X Factor is not the music, but the fact that people fail to appreciate it for what it is. Fans of Maiden that don't get The X Factor compare it to the albums Maiden recorded with Bruce back in the early 1980s and that's where the problem lies.
Let me explain why I love The X Factor and the reasons you should listen to it in a different way. If this review makes you want to listen to it again and give it another chance, I'll be satisfied. Who knows? You may well rediscover it and come to love it.
There are bands that have chosen to always write about the same topic over and over again, bands like Cannibal Corpse (gore) and Deicide (Satan and a never ending war against Christianity). Not that there's anything wrong with that. I actually happen to like them both, but there are other bands that like to write about many different topics. A myriad of them, if you will, bands like Megadeth, Metallica and Iron Maiden. 22 Acacia Avenue? A song about a prostitute. Fear of the Dark? Self-explanatory. To Tame A Land? A famous book you should read if you haven't already. Where Eagles Dare and Tailgunner? World War II. Weekend Warrior? Soccer hooligans.
What am I getting at? Well, Steve Harris has never restricted his songs to a single topic. He's penned songs about movies, TV shows, literature, history, etc, etc., and he's even written some very personal songs (Blood Brothers and The Educated Fool - both of which were written after The X Factor came out, but you get the point). Such composers can't help it if the way they feel in a particular period of their lives influences their songwriting. I mean, I guess Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse) will always write about zombies, regardless of what's going on in his life. But not Steve Harris, and that is something people always forget when they bash The X Factor. They forget that when it came to writing songs for the album that would eventually be called The X Factor, four major changes had taken place in Steve Harris' life, changes that undoubtedly impacted his music. What changes? 1. He got divorced, 2. Bruce left Iron Maiden, 3. Martin Birch stopped producing Iron Maiden records, and 4. His father passed away.
These four major changes are not to be underestimated and neither should their immediate effect on Maiden. First his divorce. He had been married 16 years. Not 2... not 5... not 8... but 16 years. And it all came crashing down in 1993 with all the pain a divorce usually entails. How do you think he felt? I don't know how many years he dated his ex-wife before they got married, but we could be talking about a relationship that may have well lasted 20 years. Maybe even more.
Then, Bruce announces he's leaving the band. Another important relationship in his life comes to an end, and a painful one at that. Remember, Bruce Dickinson never told Steve he was leaving the band. Steve found out because Rod told him, and according to the official biography, Steve felt betrayed and hurt. The frontman of your band, a person you may not be the best of friends with, but with whom you undeniably had an important relationship with, stabs you in the back and walks away after what? 10 years or more? How would YOU have felt?
And then another blow. His friend Martin Birch who had produced and engineered every single Maiden album since 1981 decides to call it quits. The man responsible for that classic Maiden sound we all love says "ok. I'm done". I'm sure that was not an easy time for the genius behind Iron Maiden.
And on top of all that, his father passes away.
So, in the face of all that, how can we expect Steve Harris to write about books, historical figures, or pyramids? The man was depressed, for God's sake, and that depression can be heard throughout The X Factor.
All you have to do is read the lyrics. It's pretty clear, actually: "I'm scarred for life, but it's not my flesh that's wounded", "Sometimes I wake, I feel that my spirit's broken", "Now that your faith will be put to the test. Nothing to do, but await what is coming", "I've felt like suicide a thousand times or more". These lyrics are, if you ask me, a cry for help. They're a unique opportunity to get inside Steve Harris' head and feel what he was going through in such a dark period of his life. So no wonder The X Factor is a dark album. It just couldn't have been any other way. Comparing it to Seventh Son of a Seventh Son or Piece of Mind is totally unfair. Iron Maiden was a different band when they wrote Infinite Dreams. It was a different time period with different circumstances.
Furthermore, The X Factor was not produced by Martin Birch. Sometimes it's easy to forget how much a producer can influence a band's sounds or the decisions made during the recording process. But remember the role played by Bob Rock in Metallica's eponymous album? Remember Scott Burns' influence in death metal? Birch ¨simply¨masterminded most of that amazing Iron Maiden sound that catapulted them to world fame. And he was now gone.
And then there's the issue of Blaze's voice. I think he takes too much flak, considering the fact that his voice fits perfectly with the dark atmosphere of the album. And not only that, you must also take into account the fact that the odds were stacked against him from the get-go.
He was chosen to replace Bruce Dickinson, one of the greatest heavy metal singers of all time. Blaze had big shoes to fill. Well, that sounds like an understatement. He had HUGE shoes to fill. There's just no way he was going to live up to the expectations. It was an impossible job. Even if there are many fans out there who like his voice, most people can't help thinking "he's no Bruce Dickinson", and that's also unfair. He did the job he was hired to do and his performance on The X Factor is superb. Period.
The X Factor is not an album for everybody. There are no songs to sing along to (with the exception of Man of the Edge, perhaps). It's not a fun album in the conventional sense of the word. It's slow and you won't hear Maiden doing what they do best, but every song is haunting and seductively simple. The lyrics are powerful and evocative. The feelings that emanate from them are not consistent with your typical heavy metal spirit, but that's the beauty of this album.
I don't know if I've managed to make you see things in a different way. I certainly hope so. But if not, let me try one more time before I end this review. Listen to The X Factor without comparing it to any other Maiden album. Appreciate it for what it is. Carefully read the lyrics and submerge yourself in Maiden's darkest period. Feel the pain Steve Harris felt and the endless questions that surely tormented him at the time. Let the gloomy atmosphere of The X Factor surround you and you'll understand why it doesn't have a single (truly) catchy song.
The X Factor is a beautiful masterpiece. A pessimistic, melancholic, and heartbreaking album. But it is indeed not beautiful in a conventional way. The X Factor holds the allure of the Doré illustrations for Dante's Divine Comedy. See for yourself.
Listen and understand.
¨Life seems so pathetic I wish I could leave it all behind.¨
I tend to talk a lot of shit on the Blaze Bayley era of Iron Maiden. I'm just not a fan of him fronting the band. However, I don't think I can deny that the first album with him, “X-Factor,” probably deserves more credit than I give it. I honestly disliked the album the first few times I tried it, and I was very open about it. However, in recent years it's grown on me a lot more, and while many of my original complaints are still intact, I think I rate this album much higher now than I would have even a year ago. And yet, I've never been as open about how I've come around to it as about my original dislike for it. So in a way this is something of me de-closeting my enjoyment for “The X Factor.”
Just about every Maiden album has that one song considered the epic, and while it's usually the closer, in this case it kicks the album off. “Sign of the Cross” starts with a dark sort of Gregorian type chant, before going into a dark synth driven intro with melodic guitars and bass, which then goes into a somewhat explosive mid-paced song after a few minutes. Blaze’s voice is deep and powerful, a contrast to Bruce's voice soaring over every other instrument, Blaze’s vocals aren't soaring much of anywhere. However, the rest of the band has adapted to this change, adopting a darker overall feel for this album, but still staying undeniably Maiden. “Sign of the Cross” might not only be the best song Maiden recorded with Blaze, but is among the top 3 songs they've written in all of the 90s, and might be in their top 10 of all time. It's just as good when Bruce sings it on Rock in Rio, but this song is amazing, Bruce or Blaze.
Other songs of excellence here are Man on the Edge, with some high speeds, sounding not entirely like some of their earlier works. Blood on the World's hands kicks off with a somewhat interesting bass intro, going into a somewhat aggressive but very Maiden sounding song about corruption and the state of the world and whatnot. Obviously, the lyrics here have also taken a darker tone, not that Maiden have always written the happiest of lyrics.
“Lord of the Flies” has a strange kind of intro that kicks off slowly with an odd bass riff and distorted guitar thing going on, and I think those first 45 seconds or so was what always threw me off, but once you get passed the into, the rest of the song is actually quite good. “Look for the Truth” starts off with another quiet intro, going into a song with an almost dance rhythm. It actually almost has traces of Iron Maiden's later song Dance of Death (keeping in mind that's a pretty loose comparison).
“Fortunes of War” starts off with a quiet guitar/bass riff, Blaze singing quietly, then becomes a powerful bass/drum part, becomes a somewhat grinding riff, then starts and stops back and forth, with a sort of solo-like riff between. There's a part where he ends up singing the chorus (“Fortunes of war, fortunes of war, fortunes of war, no pain anymore”) slow, then faster, then slower. As a whole, while not entirely bad the song just seems to not really go anywhere; however the individual parts are somewhat interesting. In case you might not have noticed quiet intros going into heavier songs is something of a theme here. It happens on almost every song. And when listening through it becomes somewhat tiresome. I know Maiden would continue to do this when Bruce returned, but not to this extent and not the point where you can say “And the song gets heavier… NOW!” It gets a little tiresome. By the time “The Edge of Darkness” comes around, the whole slow and quiet intro into a heavier song thing has been done enough for this song to be unnecessary. If it were to play at random on or something I’m sure it would be interesting, but by this point most of the album has followed this formula, and often better. “2 A.M.” features that same formula with some ridiculous lyrics about coming home from work late and being bored with TV or something. With beer. “The Aftermath” is a similar piece of filler that the album could probably do without; however a very cool speedy ending saves it from being completely useless. Decent, cool ending, but not incredibly interesting otherwise.
“The Unbeliever” is a strange one. The verse riff is somewhat start and stop-ish and awkward, and the pre-chorus is bland and not worth noting, but the chorus is very good. Some of the instrumentals work for me and others don’t. It’s a matter of personal taste I guess.
All in all, if you’re the kind of person who can’t get past Iron Maiden without Bruce, you’ll never get it. If you can appreciate a darker Iron Maiden without Bruce, give it a shot. A lot of the songs follow a mellow to heavier formula that can get tiresome, but there’s some good stuff for those who give the album a fair chance. I still feel this album is on the lower spectrum of Maiden’s work, but the fact that I enjoy half of it is a lot more than I could say about it a year ago. Maybe I’ll never be able to fully enjoy this album, but hell, the parts I do enjoy are enough for me to insist every Maiden fan who turned this album off too soon to go back and give it a fair shot.
I know that this is not a very common or popular opinion, but for me, the X-Factor is my favourite Iron Maiden record. I have known the band with Bruce Dickinson as a singer and I really liked their classical records like "Powerslave" or "Somewhere in time" and even their early stuff with Paul Di'Anno. I discovered the Blaze Bayley era of the band quite late and had heard a lot of negative comments about him and the band's style and direction at the time when he was in it. When I first listened to the x-Factor, I really liked the dark and profound atmosphere but I found many songs on the album too long and too similar. Today, four years later, I have completely changed my point of view. This album has grown on me like no other album of the band. It is way more intense and atmospheric than any other stuff the band has ever tried. It is probably the best metal record of the whole nineties to me.
The album starts with one of my favourite Iron Maiden songs, "The sign of the cross". Many people say that this song is too long, too dark and too complicated to take it as an opener, but I don't think so. The album introduces perfectly to the dark atmosphere of this whole piece of art. It is courageous to put this song as an opener but this courage was worth the try. The song starts with monk choirs and some really dark vibes before Blaze Bayley introduces himself as the new singer of Iron Maiden. I think that it was an excellent choice of Steve Harris to not choose a similar singer to Bruce Dickinson and take the easy way out with high pitched voice singer. When Paul Di'Anno with his wild voice and punk attitude had left the band, Steve Harris had also chosen to not take a similar singer but to try something different with Bruce Dickinson's very particular voice and it has been the best choice at that time, too. It's the same thing here. Bruce Dickinson would have never been able to sing as dark, as melancholic, as angry and desperate as Blaze Bayley on the X-Factor. Bruce Dickinson does some great performances of some of the album's songs on later live releases, but he sings the songs way too emotional, way too positive. "Sign of the cross" is a diversified, dark, melancholic masterpiece of eleven minutes with a great, long and surprising introdution with a very high tension and uneasy atmosphere, before Blaze Bayley literarily explodes and does a more than solid performance. Everything fits on this album. The guitar solos are emotional even if Adrian Smith isn't present here. Steve Harris is probably doing the job of his career on this album, you can very often hear his diversified and brilliant bass play and this dark tuned instruments fits perfectly to the atmosphere of the album and it sounds really fresh and surprising that this metal record is more based on the bass guitar than on the ordinary guitars. You've got all of this already in the first song and that's what makes him so innovative.
"Lord of the flies" has a very catchy and dark introductional riff and Blaze does a particular emotional and brilliant job here. The melody of the bridge and the chorus is really catchy and doesn't go out of your mind any more once you have listened to it.
"The man on the edge" is a surprisingly fast rocker and gives you a little break after more than fifteen minutes of melancholic atmosphere. It is a very fresh banger and welcome change in style in the very tension filled album.
"The fortunes of war" is probably my favourite song on this record. A very dark, sad Blaze Bayley gets you in a very dark and emotional mood, the bass introduction by Steve Harris is the best one he has ever done. The guitars that interrupt the brilliant plugged and unplugged bass play sound very melodic and remind me of Mike Oldfield. The bridge to the second part of the songs fits perfectly and the songs is very diversified with very slow and very fast parts, sing-along parts and storyteller parts, melodic guitar solos and brilliant bass guitar passages. The outro closes the circle perfectly to the beginning of this masterpiece.
"Look for the truth" has a very dark and eerie mood and the introduction gives me goose bumps every time I listen to it. Blaze Bayley sings in a stunning way after the intense introduction, you can really feel his desperate anger. He is not only a singer, he "lives" the lyrics and you get completely absorbed by his style. This song has great and atmospheric but very simple sing-along parts that fits perfectly with the rest of the song.
"The aftermath" is a song I didn't like really much when I heard it first but this one really grew on me. I really like the somehow dreamy and melancholic guitars in the introduction and the intelligent lyrics of this song. The chorus is really not what you are used to listen to when you listen to this band and this is what makes this song very special and interesting. Give this song the time it needs to convince you, but once it makes "click" in your head you will really be into its very particular style and atmosphere.
"Judgement of heaven" begins once again with a brilliant acoustic bass line before Blaze Bayley sings the introduction in his very particular style. The lyrics are so personal, so intense and so heavy that it really touches you. After the dark and desperate introduction and first verse, the chorus is so optimistic and the band makes you travel from hell to heaven and back. The melodic twin guitar parts are brilliant in the bridge are just amazing and the gallopping bumble bee bass guitar and Blaze's angry voice create a create contrast and an antithesis that fits with the lyrics. The screams in the outro are somehow a little bit inappropriate and strange but I take this as another surprise that underlines the emotions of the song.
"Blood on the world's hands" begins with a hypnotic and mysterious bass intro and sounds just amazing. Some people say that it just sounds as if Steve Harris was tuning his instrument and playing some simple chords, but I wouldn't say that. The bass guitar has almost some mysterious folk sounds and the transition to the body of the song is perfectly done. Blaze Bayley sings then in a stunning and very emotional way. The uneasy and unusual chorus fits with the atmosphere of the song and the melodic bridge of the song gives you a little break and even some chills. Some dark orchestrations or keyboards underline the atmosphere of the song like in the opening track and this is very well done.
"The edge of darkness" is a song that I didn't like in the beginning. It's introduction, with a helicopter sound and once again a very dominant bass guitar play and some simple guitar harmonies over it, seemed very long and unnecessary to me. Today, I realise that this part is necessary to create a very slow paced and depressive atmosphere that underlines the lyrics of the song. But it's worth waiting the time before the song gets heavier and has some very fast and stunning parts with a few melodic guitar solos. The song really grows more and more on me and has passed from the bottom to the top 3 songs of the album for me.
"2 AM" works a little bit like "Man on the edge". It gives you a little break from the dark and complicated songs but it contains a very melancholic atmosphere. The melodic guitars dominate the bass guitar for the first time on the album and Dave Murray and Janick Gers do a brilliant job here. The chorus is simple and melancholic and this song would also have been a good choice for a single. Many people say that this song is the weakest one of the album, but I think it is a melodic and melancholic masterpiece and a welcome little change in style.
"The unbeliever" is the most difficult song on the album. It is very long, very complicated, has many changes and breaks. Blaze is really on the loose and sings in a very particular style, once almost rapping, than angrily screaming or roaring. Almost folkloric bass interruptions, simple riffs, chill-out acoustic guitars and melodic guitar parts are all mixed together in this song and it is not easy to get an approach to that. Even after four years, I recognize the brilliant and innovating style of the songs but have some difficulties to really appreciate it. It is a very interesting experiment and I believe that this song still needs some time and that I will appreciate it even more in a couple of years. It is like a good wine that becomes better with its age and this song has already passed from the state of "too weird" to the state of "innovative" so that I'm sure that this song is even able to grow more and more within the next years.
All in all, you have eleven dark and melancholic masterpieces on this album. This album is intense and difficult, but it is worth waiting and trying to get an approach to it. I am sure that this album will be considered as a classic and heavily underrated album in one or two decades just like "Somewhere in time" that was criticized when it came out and is considered as a masterpiece nowadays by many fans. This album is the most intense and the most personal album of Iron Maiden. All the tragedy around the separation of Bruce Dickinson, the pressure and anger of the fans, Steve Harris' difficult divorce - all these things got combined and created an image of the band's surroundings and inner life that you can see and also listen to on this album.
The only negative point I see about this album is its average production (especially "The sign of the cross" should kick out a little bit more as an opener). I would also understand if some people would say that some songs of the album are too similar and that one or two songs less would have done a better job but on the other hand, I am very happy to have them all on an album and I would have even add the brilliant "Virus" to the album (which has been added on the "Best of the beast" greatest hits compilation one year later). Even the b-sides "Judgement day" and "Justice of the peace" are brilliant and one could have easily created two great albums with this material! That's what i think is a sad thing as many fans do not even now those three masterpieces.
Give this album a chance and let the band pull and drown you towards the edge of darkness!
With Bruce Dickinson flying the coop, Iron Maiden were faced with a dire situation...who could fill this man's shoes? Who would even try? I would have to think that the financial benefits of fronting one of the world's most recognizable heavy metal bands would certainly bring the roaches out of the woodwork, and in fact Maiden did audition a great many prospective replacements for their infamous second singer. The band had survived the transition from Paul Di'anno to Bruce Dickinson, to be sure, but keep in mind those were the years the band was only beginning to generate buzz, they hadn't grown massive until the 80s, at which point Dickinson was the vocalist many identified with.
Obviously the band would be after someone with a professional pedigree, and that person wound up being Blaze Bayley, frontman for the band Wolfsbane who had released a few albums at that point; the first of which, Live Fast Die Fast, was quite a rollicking romp of fist fighting pub speed metal that generated some buzz at the end of the previous decade. The man had a good voice, at least one which fit his band's down to earth, brawling excess, but it was really nothing like Bruce Dickinson, so the decision felt quite controversial. Still, an admirer of his previous band, I took the bus from University after classes the week this was released, and enthusiastically picked up my copy of The X Factor...yes, a not so clever title for the band's 10th full-length album...curious about the use of the model on the cover in place of another Derek Rigg illustration.
What I was greeted with when I first played the album, was, well...shock. Not shock that the new singer sucked, or that the band had somehow changed their direction. Shock that even after No Prayer for the Dying and Fear of the Dark, both good but not great albums, the band could not rally up an acceptable set of songs to debut their new singer. Slowly, the latter half of the album started to grow on me, but the first half is almost inaccessibly boring. I'm all for another Maiden epic, but the 11+ minute "Sign of the Cross" is simply not a sufficient track to break in this full-length, and from there you've still got numerous tracks to pore through before you arrive at anything bordering on catchy.
That is correct. I am not blaming this one on Blaze Bayley, who seems to give it all he can, but simply cannot succeed when the music he is fronting is so crushingly mediocre. He's stretching himself out here, taking a more mellow approach than the Wolfsbane material I enjoyed, and his voice does seem to hold together, but it simply incapable of all the peaks and valleys of a Bruce Dickinson. Yet, he's the man with the job.
"Sign of the Cross" is not the epic I was looking for, having expected a possibly harder hitting Iron Maiden that would make the proper use of their new hire. It's plodding and dull, all of its best moments arriving when the band either makes the slight, sluggish lean towards warp drive, or provides Dominican-like chanting or some other nuance to distract the listener from how sterile the central riffing is. Why this song has been included in the band's set list for years is far beyond my ability to comprehend, when so many others never made it there. Even this very album has better songs which have gone long ignored. Unfortunately, "Lord of the Flies" did not smack the taste out of my mouth, another of the band's Dire Straits-like intro rhythms descending into bland verse riffs that even the pumping of Harris' bass cannot salve. "Man On the Edge" doesn't really work either, though it feels a lot more flighty and Maiden, and has that one ascending line in the verse that has you praying for more. Just how do you fuck up a song about a great book/movie like Falling Down and then look yourself in the mirror the following morning?
Sadly, the center of the Tootsie Roll is still a few good licks away. "Fortunes of War" is another insipid bore, especially the first few minutes while you wait for the stagnant morass to develop into something more...only to be greeted with a slug-a-long that must have taken this band under 30 seconds to compose. After that, "Look for the Truth" wastes another few minutes in morose, wasteful balladry before it starts to bare its fangs, and the riffs barely carry it to the level of average. "The Aftermath" is a little better, but honestly, even these riffs feel stretched out and completely lacking in any inspirational melody, just a simple hard rock rhythm which sounds nearly as neutered as anything prior, with a slightly better written vocal hook. It wasn't until "Judgement of Heaven" that I got a song which didn't outright leaden my eyelids and pass me into a dull dreaming. It's not perfect, mind you, but at least the vocals, riffs and leads perk up the attention span, like the sad little melody after 3:30.
From here on, the album slowly tries to redeem itself like a slowly evolving beast that exchanges its fins for webbed feet to travel quick along the banks of mud at the edge of the primordial swamp. "Blood On the World's Hands" has some decent jamming moments, and a passable atmosphere resounding beneath some of Blaze's more powerful intonations. "The Edge of Darkness" feels largely like a classic Maiden track, though you've once again gotta get past a boring and predictable escalation to get to the meat. "2 A.M." again assumes we want the dull intro with the clean guitars, like almost every song on this album, but builds into Bayley's catchiest vocal hook on the album, the 'Here I am again' sequence, and another cute little lead at around 3:00. "The Unbeliever" is the other 'epic' track here, just over 8 minutes, but it's vastly more memorable than "Sign of the Cross", not as long or torturous.
Is it too little, too late? Yes it is. Thanks to the CD technology, it's not so hard...and in this case, always tempting to just click >>| >>| >>| up until about track 7, in order to save nearly 40 minutes of my life from the sucking drain that grants one entrance to this 70+ minute monstrosity of stagnant sewage. And for all I might sing in favor of some of the album's later tracks, there are still none I would find worthy of any 'greatest hits' list when shuffling tracks about an .mp3 player or making a mix for an aspiring Maiden-head. It's almost as if the fan's negative, precognitive reaction to hearing a new album without their lord and master Bruce Dickinson not only psychically willed this album the chart lower than many of its predecessors, but also sapped the life energy directly from the band.
Oddly enough, then, that this is NOT the worst Iron Maiden album...
Highlights: turn over enough rocks and you might found two or three, later in the search.
The 90s sure were a hard time for metal bands. With the rise of grunge and nu-metal the old bands were cast aside. The old metal was somehow fading away and most 80s bands tried different styles, and so did Iron Maiden. Besides their vocalist replacement, which probably needs no further explanation, they obtained a very dark sound for this album. I hear complaining about the production, though I think it was done on purpose since it really fits the dark atmosphere the album contains, and so does new vocalist Blaze Bayley’s voice.
We are here at the beginning of this Iron Maiden album, listening to the very silent intro of “Sign of the Cross”. After some Gregorian chanting we have the bass guitar playing a gentle intro, as we are used to on the more recent Iron Maiden releases, accompanied by Blaze’s almost whispering vocals. When finally after a minute or so the band kicks in it becomes clear that the band have tried something different from the past. It’s still true trademark Maiden, but then with a different and darker touch. The rest of the opening song continues to be very epic, and the long interlude might seem confusing at first, but evolves into something very enjoyable at second. I first wondered why the hell this mid-paced long song would be the album opener, but then I realized this song was the definition of The X Factor. Lots of songs on this album feature a silent bass guitar intro, Blaze’s whispers during the intro and the epic vocal melodies when the band kicks in. Most songs are very dragging and mid-paced as well, such as “The Aftermath” or the first part of “Fortunes of War”. Apart from that, “Sign of the Cross” is just a great way to open the album, also to tell the listener that he should stop expecting “The Trooper”-kind of songs on here, because they’ve done something new. The lyrics are mostly about war and related themes, but instead of concentrating on the battlefield, they tell the tale about what war does to the soldier. Their lyrics are really striking and show them it’s not very much fun to be in a war. Not that we didn’t already know that, but we don’t realize what our boys are sacrificing for us on that battlefield, and that is very unique.
Let’s get into the album highlights a bit more. Songs like “Fortunes of War” and “The Edge of Darkness” start off with the trademark bass intro, then kick into a mid-paced epic full band part, and then go off fast into the trademark Maiden galloping rhythms with the guitar solos and their trademark legato guitar themes. These two songs, especially the latter, are truly two of the best songs off the album, leaving me struck not only by the epic music, but also by the great lyrics. The latter was based on one of the best movies I ever saw, Apocalypse Now. Another highlight of the album would be the up-tempo “Man on the Edge”, which really stands alone on here, since it’s the only continuously fast song on this release. It deals with suicide, and besides from that it’s got a true killer riff, killer drums, killer vocals and killer chorus. It’s a real killer song, so to say. It’s full of energy, and that’s what this album could use at some moments. Also worth mentioning would be “Lord of the Flies”. Though starting off with a weird sort of riff complemented with very stylish bass guitar and drums, it evolves soon enough into a relatively fast mid-paced song, with Blaze singing as great as he’s always done and the epic chorus. I this song is truly magnificent and certainly one of the best. I do not wish to describe each song on here separately, but they’re truly all great. Some tend to bore sometimes (“Judgement of Heaven”), but all the others are very beautiful and well-composed. There is, however, one oddity I’d like to discuss. “The Unbeliever” is closing the album with a very weird progressive 8-minute piece. This song is to this day still a one-of-a-kind Maiden song. It starts off with a nice riff, and then changes to a guitar melody consisting of natural harmonics. Before you know it Blaze is rapping, and then after a sudden speed change we get an atmospheric chorus, which gets repeated a little faster later. The intermezzo is really epic, and at the end we have the previous mentioned parts repeated a few times.
I think the album opens a new chapter to the Iron Maiden era, and then I’m not just speaking of the Blaze Bayley chapter, but also of the progressive chapter. Not that Iron Maiden are progressive, but they certainly try to be in their most recent albums. The songs are longer, have more content and tend to be more complex. The X Factor marks the beginning of that era by having two 8-minute plus songs and a majority of 5-minute plus songs.
Having said all these things, I think The X Factor is a very good effort by metal legends Iron Maiden. Though often looked at as a failure, I think it is their finest release to date. I would definitely recommend this album to anyone, whether they are familiar with Iron Maiden or not.
Strongest tracks: “Lord of the Flies”, “Man on the Edge” and “The Edge of Darkness”.
1995 has proven to be a dismal year in the history of Iron Maiden. The band was declining in mainstream popularity due to the departure of Bruce Dickinson three years prior, the recruitment of former Wolfsbane vocalist Blaze Bayley, and the general musical climate of the times. The band members were also going through hard times in their personal lives with bassist Steve Harris dealing with a divorce and the death of his father and Blaze himself coming out of a motorcycle accident that put him out of commission for a year. The resulting album is easily the darkest and most depressing in the Iron Maiden discography and continues to influence the band's sound to this very day.
As expected with the change of vocalist, the album's sound is a lot different than the classic Maiden style that most listeners are used to. Blaze's baritone can't quite reach the high notes so effortlessly hit by the Air Raid Siren but that is really only a problem when he actually tries to do so (The somewhat cringeworthy climax of "Judgement of Heaven" immediately comes to mind). In contrast, he sounds more comfortable in his lower range and his morose tone fits the brooding atmosphere quite well, making it pretty hard to imagine what these songs would've sounded like if Dickinson had performed on them. Judging by the clips I've seen of the reunited line-up performing songs from this album live, I'm pretty sure Blaze was the man for the job...
While the melancholic atmosphere never lets down during the album's 70 minute running time, the songs themselves are packed with variety. "Sign Of the Cross" starts the album off on an incredibly epic note and may very well be the strongest track on the album. From there, you've got a few borderline upbeat numbers ("Lord Of The Flies," "Man On The Edge," and "Judgement of Heaven"), several tempo changers ("Fortunes Of War," "The Aftermath," and "The Edge Of Darkness"), a mournful ballad in the form of "2 AM," and a number of plodding mid-tempo tracks in between.
The lyrics are also interesting and best show the changes that have taken place since Dickinson's departure. Like most Maiden albums, war is the dominant theme and several references are made to trench warfare and the Vietnam War in particular; but while previous Maiden songs had a tendency to romanticize conflict and often depicted valiant chargings into the fields of battle, this album treats it with a more realistic outlook and looks at the outcomes and after effects of the ordeal (Perhaps a metaphor for the band's career at this point?). "Fortunes of War" looks at soldiers that suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, "The Aftermath" examines a war zone after the battle has taken place, "Blood of the World's Hands" questions the practical purpose of killing one another and public ignorance at large, and "The Edge of Darkness" is based on the story of the film "Apocalypse Now." Other interesting topics that are discussed in the lyrics include religious questioning ("Sign ! of the Cross," "Judgement of Heaven," and "The Unbeliever"), finding one's purpose in modern society ("Man on the Edge" and "2 AM), and dealing with negative emotions ("Lord of the Flies" and "Look for the Truth").
All in all, this may be one of my favorite Iron Maiden albums with it being just below "Powerslave" and "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son." Maybe it's open mindedness, maybe it's the depression, maybe it's just me being a die-hard Maiden fan. Whatever it is, it makes for a pretty solid album. Of course, I wouldn't check this album out as an introduction to Blaze Bayley. Listen to "Silicon Messiah" to hear his full potential...
1) Maiden has modified its sound with some interesting results
2) Blaze's lower range fits the dark atmosphere quite well
3) Great lyrical themes
1) Blaze's voice does strain on the higher notes
2) The new elements may put off most listeners
3) The album's long running time does make it an effort to listen to at times
"Sign of the Cross," "Man on the Edge," "Fortunes of War," "Edge of Darkness," and "2 AM"
Being 12 years old at the time of its release and just recently getting into heavy metal, I had no preconceived notions about this album. I came across the album cover in a magazine and not knowing the illustrious legacy I was later to experience, purchased it as my first Iron Maiden slab. Another year would go by before a new friend instructed me to get Live After Death and discover the classic Maiden. After years of worship and review I'd rate this album as better than No Prayer and Fear, miles beyond the abortion of Virtual XI and far more realized than Matter of Life and Death.
There are some lulls in the flow, particularly Fortunes of War through The Aftermath. Fortunes drags on and is only worth hearing for the solo, which Blaze ruins with his urgent repition of the title. The next two are like companion pieces and are unmemorable save for Blaze's line about "Where mustard gas and barbed wire bloom". Edge and 2 AM back pedal a bit from the glorious Judgement of Heaven and the doomy Blood on the Worlds Hands. It's a shame Judgement Day didn't make it on to the album as it's one of the stronger rockers this line up played. The album only being 71 minutes long they easily could have added J-Day, Justice of the Peace or I Live My Way, maybe dropping one or two of the aforementioned tracks.
The remainder is Maiden at their most progressive since Seventh Son. The Unbeliever ends the album with odd-meter verses and a straight ahead epic chorus. The opening epic, Sign of the Cross boasts one of Maiden's finest solos and Steve's acoustic bass intro to Blood on the World's Hands reveals a new layer to the band I wish they explored more.
The guitars could stand some balls as this album has their thinnest guitar tone, articulate but lacking a power and energy that could've made this transition album go more smooth. The drums sound phenominal, the hihat and snare in paricular and as always, Steve Harris' bass tone is loud and clear. Blaze is a great singer. If you check out his first post-Maiden solo disc, Silicon Messiah or his previous outfit Wolfsbane, you'll see he was just not a great choice to follow Bruce, given the musical climate. There are songs on here he owns, and lauded as Bruce's live version of Sign from Rock in Rio and other notable remakes, the Blaze versions are superior.
With a different track list and better guitar tone, this album would have no doubt been better received. Unforunately, this was as good as it got for them and Blaze.
Hard time for anybody, having to replace Bruce Dickinson. But Mr Blaze did pretty okay here. But nothing more. The lack of variation in his vocals does damage the dynamics of the album. His darker lower voice resulted in the songs sounding less alive and more alike. The result is an album that has a lot of moments that feel interchangeable. The style is referring more to the eighties days than their last previous two efforts with Bruce but as said the over all feel is much darker.
The album starts off with an epic. And a pretty good one as well I must add. “Sign of the Cross” follows the dark epic path of an earlier classic such as “Seventh Son” and Blaze’s dark vocals give the song a slight medieval touch. (the later live version with Dickinson proved it would have easily sounded just as good with him though)
Now “Man On The Edge” sounds like remake from the earlier Be Quick or Be Dead since it has the same kind of main riff and song structure. Enjoyable song though. The real highlights however (apart from Sign of The Cross) are “Judgement of Heaven” and “The Edge of Darkness”. Now these are typical Maiden songs referring to the eighties with lots of changes in pace and dynamics. The songs are so good, the rather monotone vocals cannot harm them but it becomes obvious Dickinson is really missing here since with him these songs would’ve easily become Maiden classics. Also worth mentioning is “Blood on the World's Hands” which is powerful and ends on fifth place of best songs here.
On this album however the band began their nasty attitude of repeating titles and lyrics too many times within songs. “Fortunes of War” is a perfect example. They would overdo this even more on future albums. One wonders why they didn’t write some more lyrics. Hastiness? Anyway, this tendency has annoyed me ever since.
Unfortunately a lot of songs (pretty much the rest of them) are plain dull. Especially “Lord of the Flies” is a generic piece of rock and Blaze’s vocals on the verses are pathetic and harmless. Well, don’t get me wrong, my review is not about bashing Blaze. I like some songs he has done with Maiden and the next album would prove to be the real downfall of Maiden, but here on “The X-factor” he can be very good as well as horribly lacking.
What I really dislike about the album is the artwork. It looks like crap. Where are the brilliant paintings? This looks like second rate horror movie props and could be okay for a generic death metal band, but not the mighty Maiden.
The album was stylewise much more consistent than “Fear Of The Dark” yet fails to be as to-the-point as “No Prayer” was. In terms of quality the album falls between those albums. A lot of songs here just aren’t up to Maiden standards and fillers at best. So even though nobody really hates this album, it has become the Maiden album everybody thinks is okay but is collecting dust in the end.
“Sign Of The Cross”, “Judgement Of Heaven”, “The Edge Of Darkness”, “Blood On The World’s Hands” and “Man on the Edge”
Result: Now this is an album I’d give 70 points but the artwork, monotone vocals and the rather flat production take it down to 60 points.
After "Fear Of The Dark" (1992) Bruce Dickinson left the band to pursuit his solo career. He was replaced by a guy called Blaze Bayley who had been earlier in a band called Wolfsbane. And Maiden came up with an album that is hated by many fans, but I like this albums. At least this is better than any other 90's Maiden album.
Music on "The X Factor" is a lot more darker than anything Maiden had done before or after. Which is in a way a good thing, because in my opinion Blaze Bayley's voice fits well into more darker music. Also music on this album is a lot more harder to approach than anything they have done before. As there is a lot less hooks and many of the songs are more progressive, good example would be the song "Sign of the Cross".
The main problem with "The X Factor" for me is that the songs are uneven in quality. There is some amazing songs and one ok song ("Lord of the Flies"), and rest of the songs are either mediocre or bad. Many people has a problem with Blaze Bayley's singing style as it is so much different from Bruce Dickinson's singing style. He's not really a bad singer, but it was a small shock when I first heard his voice as I was waiting that they would have gotten someone who's voice would have been similar to Bruce's voice. But after few listens I started to get used to he's voice.
Although "The X Factor" is far away from a perfect album I will still recommend this to most of the Iron Maiden fans, as this is still an solid album. Just don't wait that "The X Factor" would be another "Piece of Mind" or "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son".
Highlights: "Sign of the Cross", "Man on the Edge", "Fortunes of War", "Judgement Of Heaven", "Blood On The World's Hand" and "The Edge Of Darkness".
Though usually the favorite whipping boy of most Maiden faithful, this album does have a few champions, and I am one of them. It might just be that the music that I was exposed to in 1995 left so much to be desired that this was a sort of metal music sanctuary for me, but even in retrospect I still find a lot of positive points on here. I can admit that Blaze Bailey was obviously the worst choice that Maiden could have gone with if their goal was to maintain the same sound most expected, especially considering that they could have gone with James LaBrie, whom I often picture singing “Sign of the Cross” when listening to it. But aside from that and a guitar sound that sounds more 70s rock-like that the metal crunch of the mid-80s, the album offers up an intriguing and enjoyable collection of songs.
The lyrics have clearly gotten darker, especially considering the 4 books/movies that Steve Harris chose to write songs about on this one: "The Name of the Rose" probably being the least dark and "Heart of Darkness" is thus the most morose, while "Lord of the Flies" and "Falling Down" meet in the center. Meanwhile songs such as “Blood on the World’s Hands”, “The Aftermath” and “Fortunes of War” paint a rather cynical picture of the world. “Look for the Truth”, “Judgment of Heaven” and “2 AM” deal with more individualized forms of turmoil from within. “The Unbeliever” rounds out the equation of darkness with a completely self-condemning group of verses. Ultimately the problem lyrically rests not with any misplaced words, but with the sheer lack of variety in themes.
Musically the bag is quite mixed, as this album can be diagnosed with a strong case of Borderline Personality Syndrome with a dash of Bi-polar Disorder, though quite fitting considering the lyrical content. “Sign of the Cross” and “Fortunes of War” are quite impressive epics that underscore Steve Harris’ strength as a composer. “Lord of the Flies” and “Man on the Edge” are great straight-forward rockers. “Blood on the World’s Hands” sees Steve blasting out a very impressive bass solo by an almost progressive barrage of hard edged riffs. “The Edge of Darkness” and “The Unbeliever” are gloomy epics that carry some unique formal devices. The remaining 4 tracks are musically mediocre; if I had to pick a favorite out of them it would probably be “2AM”.
Though I liked this album, I would not recommend it to most other fans of Iron Maiden. This album suffers from a very obvious flaw, despite its musical intrigue; the wrong kind of vocalist is singing these songs. All you need do is hear the way Blaze’s voice breaks when he goes above the high A and you know that he is not right for this style of metal. If James LaBrie had done the singing, I could easily recommend this album to as a fine innovation by a classic band. But if you do not have any reservations about listening to a Maiden album without Bruce Dickinson, I welcome you to give this diamond in the rough a try. It might be controversial to say this, but of their 90s studio material this is musically the most consistent album they put out.
This is probably Maiden's most controversial album to date, save for perhaps "Virtual XI". And this is for many reasons. First of all, Bruce Dickinson had left the band, and how were they gonna be able to find a vocalist to match him? They probably knew that it was futile to search for someone of Bruce's caliber, so they went in the complete opposite direction instead, and hired ex-Wolfsbane singer Blaze Bayley. Now, Bayley's voice is very different from Bruce's voice. His voice is darker and deeper than Bruce's is, and he sometimes has trouble with a shaky pitch. But apart from that, Blaze was probably the best replacement the band could ever find. And second of all, Steve Harris had been subjected to a wide variety of chaotic events in his private life that was undoubtedly going to have some effect on the band, and the effects are widely visible in the lyrics on this album. But perhaps this album's biggest detractions are the production, which I will get to later, and the fact that the album isn't very riff-laden judging by Maiden standards. But apart from those small detractions, it's an excellent album IMO.
I said I would get on to the production later. And it's like a double edged sword. The drums pack quite some punch, especially in the toms, even though the snare is a little flat. The bass is pretty much as upfront as it can be in Maiden. And then the guitars. Oh boy, what the hell went wrong here? The rhythm guitars sound like they could belong on a hard rock album rather than a heavy metal one, but thankfully the lead guitar tracks pack more crunch.
And so the album begins with "Sign of the Cross", an epic track almost just as long as "Rime of the Ancient Mariner". The band surely must have known that starting up the album with an 11 minute long track would be a huge risk, but they still had the balls to do it. The start of the song is composed of some nice Gregorian chants that seem to say "Aeternus halleluiah" or something like that. And after the chants a long but conscious build up begins before the song erupts into midtempo br00tality with Blaze singing his lungs out. The solos may also be one of Maiden's fastest solos ever.
"Lord of the Flies" is an instant winner with an instantly recognisable riff, a catchy chorus and insightful lyrics. I also think that Blaze sings this song way better than what Bruce did on the "Death On the Road" live album from 2005.
"Man On the Edge" is probably the album's fastest song. There's nothing really special about it, but it's very catchy.
And after two recognisable Maiden anthems we get to slower tracks. "Fortunes of War" is the first one. It's another song with a long build up consisting acoustic guitars and so on. But then it turns into quite a Black Sabbath-esque song with guitar solos that inject feelings of despair and sadness.
"The Aftermath" is another recognisable song with a very distinctive intro. This song also contains a nice speed/thrash metal part that's bound to get you pounding your fists in the air.
"Judgement of Heaven" is a pretty sad but at the same time kind of uplifting song with a strong message. It contains some of Blaze's finest moments, but also one of his worst in the form of the out-of-tune "Yeah, yeah!" screams.
"Blood On the World's Hands" begins with a nice extended acoustic bass solo which sets up the atmosphere of the track excellently. It has a rhythm that somewhat reminds me of a walz, which is another distinctive trait. The guitar solos also work very well.
And so the speed picks up on us in "The Edge of Darkness", a song based on the Joseph Conrad novel called "The Heart of Darkness" which I am currently reading. It begins slowly just like the majority of songs on this album, but don't worry, cause this is indeed a fast track. It contains some of the finest guitar solos and drumming on this album and a really fucking nice main riff.
"The Unbeliever" is a slow but at the same time pounding song. It might be a bit repetitive in structure, but the strong and harsh lyrics make up for it, believe me. And the chorus is another catchy one.
And finally we are left with only two tracks that IMO can be classified as filler; "Look for the Truth" and "2 AM". They are not bad by any means IMO, I just don't think they're as strong as the rest. "Look for the Truth" has a similar intro to "The Aftermath", or perhaps it's the other way around since "Look for the Truth" precedes "The Aftermath". The problem with the song is that it doesn't go anymore, and "2 AM" suffers from the same problem. But both songs feature some really nice melodies.
Buy this album if you want a different taste of what Maiden can be.
This is the first album by Iron Maiden without Bruce Dickinson on vocals. The job instead went to Blaze Bayley. This album also featured a significantly different structural departure from previous albums. All that being said, this album is about as average as it can get.
There is absolutely nothing spectacular about this addition to the Iron Maiden catalog, however it is not horrible. The riffs are generally well constructed and the songwriting is still competent. The only real issue is the fact that this was, as stated earlier, a significant departure from the great Iron Maiden. Obviously the vocals are different. Bayley does not have the soaring opera-trained vocal style that Bruce Dickinson has, but he is still a very good singer. I just do not think that he fits in with the well-renowned style of Iron Maiden. The other difference was in the structure of the songs themselves. Iron Maiden has frequently written some longer songs on their albums, but on this album all but one song clock in over five minutes, and that one exception is still more than four minutes long. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it makes the album a little tedious at times. This is not an album that can be listened to over and over again. Unfortunately Iron Maiden would continue along with this for their next several albums even after the triumphant return of Bruce Dickinson.
The best thing about this album, as usual for Maiden, is the bass lines. Steve Harris is one of the greatest bass players in heavy metal and the fact that he can frequently be heard playing rhythms against the riffs of the guitars means that he can actually be heard well enough to be enjoyed. Harris is also one of the better songwriters in metal which has lead to Maiden's hallowed place in the genre.
All in all, this is an okay album, but I honestly think I would have enjoyed it more if it had not been released under the Iron Maiden name. It's just too difficult to accept the band without Bruce Dickinson after all these years. Thankfully the band only released one more full length with Bayley before Dickinson returned.
Before its release, “The X Factor” was one of the most anticipated albums in the history of heavy metal. After little more than a decade of faithful service, Bruce Dickinson had left Iron Maiden to pursue a solo career. Could the band find a replacement, that would be as skilful and accomplished as Bruce? Uncertainty. Following a rather long period of speculation, Blaze Bayley, member of Wolsbane until then, was eventually announced as the new vocalist of Iron Maiden. The uncertainty increased. Blaze might have been a good singer, yet his voice and style were fairly different than what the fans of Maiden had grown used to the last ten years. Everyone was anxious to find out whether Bayley’s presence could revive Iron Maiden and whether the upcoming album could restore the group’s former glory.
After its release, “The X Factor” became one of the most controversial albums in the history of heavy metal. On the one hand, many metalheads were quick to condemn the record, claiming that it did not sound like Maiden at all, that Blaze Bayley as a vocalist was far inferior to Bruce Dickinson, that the production was weak and lacking in depth. On the other hand, many fans welcomed the new direction the band was following, and considered “The X Factor” to be an excellent step towards musical progress. According to them, the album contained excellent compositions, as well as solid performances in all aspects, including Bayley’s vocals.
Nowadays, about 12 years after its release, one can judge “The X Factor” objectively and in cold blood, without having to jump into conclusions. The first impression created is that Maiden’s tenth studio album is breeds a dark, broody atmosphere. Everything about it (cover artwork, layout, band photos) is dominated by a heavy, merciless shade of black, while its lyrics are, for the most part, melancholic and introverted. Even the band’s performance seems more depressive than usual. In some of his later interviews, Steve Harris would attribute this dark mood into the problems his personal life was facing during the recordings (the divorce with his wife, etc). This overall pessimistic atmosphere provides the album with an anti - commercial touch, and that is the main reason why a lot of fans found it difficult to comprehend.
Nevertheless, the fact that “The X Factor” wasn’t as commercial or as catchy as previous Maiden efforts, doesn’t necessarily make it a worthless album. On the contrary, the record does indeed include a number of interesting compositions. The epic and atmospheric “Sign Of The Cross” or “The Edge Of Darkness”, the catchy “Man On The Edge” or “Look For The Truth”, even “Lord Of The Flies”, with its clever lyrics, are all tracks that Maiden could be proud of. Bayley’s performance is at least decent, if not anything else, and his presence seems to have had a positive effect on the rest of the band. Especially Janick Gers and Nicko McBrain display an encouraging willingness to adopt new styles and develop fresh techniques.
In addition, “The X Factor” possesses another positive aspect, which constitutes its main strength as an album. More specifically, there is a honest, straightforward quality running through its entire length. Some say that it didn’t sound like typical Maiden: well, it was not supposed to sound like typical Maiden. The band had hired a new member, who was bound to bring along his own influences and ideas. In order for these influences and ideas to be harmonically combined with the traditional Maiden approach into a coherent result, the group had to slightly modify their sound. The production had also to be modified accordingly. Iron Maiden are aware of the fact that Blaze Bayley is a different vocalist than Bruce Dickinson, regardless of who is superior or inferior. From this point of view, they do not try to replicate the sound they had in the past, which was accomplished with the precious contributions of their former singer. If they did, they would be attempting to become something they were not, thus deceiving themselves and, more importantly, their fans. Instead, what they try to do is enrich their sound with the healthy elements that Bayley has to offer, even if this means that the band will be led to alternate music fields. Tracks like the groovy “The Aftermath” or the progressive, weird “The Unbeliever” are a clear manifestation of the group’s eagerness to experiment and seek new musical directions.
On the other hand, “The X Factor” is not a perfect album. One of its drawbacks is that its second part isn’t as strong as the first one. More specifically, with the exceptions of “The Edge Of Darkness” and “The Unbeliever”, the tracks from “The Aftermath” until the end of the album don’t seem to be as inspired as the first five compositions. This doesn’t mean that the former are utterly pointless; they just possess some small flaws that don’t allow them to be characterised as “excellent”. What is more, form time to time, the rest of the band tend to make way for some bass solos of Steve Harris. These solos end up sounding quite annoying, as they represent an attitude of “bow before me, I’m the leader of the group”.
In conclusion, most approaches tend to either underestimate or overestimate the artistic value of “The X Factor”. It is certain that the specific album cannot actually be compared with the masterpieces of the past, like “Powerslave” or “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son”. Nevertheless, it is also certain that it is not a totally worthless record. The fact is that it successfully introduced new elements to the music of Iron Maiden and, despite its flaws, it seemed to be a step towards the right direction. Unfortunately, this didn’t hold true for its successor, “Virtual XI”, where the band just attempted to replicate the sound of former, glorious recordings.
Throughout history, there have existed men so vile that they have harbored the hatred of thousands. The infamous tyrant Vlad Dracule did it by brutally slaughtering his own countrymen simply to prove his own viciousness. Adolf Hitler did it by committing mass genocide against the Hebrew faith. Blaze Bayley did it by replacing Bruce Dickinson as the lead singer of Iron Maiden. Sound disproportionate to you? I’d like to think so, though something around 90% of Maiden fans would likely support the aforementioned allegation. Bayley is probably the least popular replacement vocalist in history, even more so than Tim Owens, John Bush, Coburn Pharr (in Omen, he was alright in Annihilator), or Gary Cherone, simply because his was the unfortunate task of living up to Dickinson’s legacy.
Now personally, I think it’s unfair to have a presumed bias against anyone in that situation. Their job is tough enough without an additional onslaught of prejudice to overcome. Sure, they might actually suck (see: Gary Cherone), but at least give them the benefit of the doubt. As one who formerly held such a bias against Bayley, I decided to check out his former band, Wolfsbane, to see if he had anything going for him before he ruined Iron Maiden in the 90’s. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. And you know what? The guy can actually sing. As anyone who has heard Wolfsbane’s Live Fast Die Fast album is aware, Bayley actually has quite an ear for a catchy vocal melody and even a few nice falsetto moments. And though he didn’t utilize as much range for his work with Iron Maiden, I have to admit, he doesn’t sound bad. So why does everyone hate him if he can actually sing?
This leads to another thing that Wolfsbane listeners are explicitly aware of: that Wolfsbane and Iron Maiden are nothing alike. Wolfsbane, though entertaining in their own right, weren’t far removed from a David Lee Roth tribute band. How Bayley got roped into the Maiden gig is beyond me, because his voice is NOT suited for their style at all. He lacks the range, the presence, and the bravado to properly fill Dickinson’s shoes and the fan outrage was not only expected, but unavoidable. The first album recorded with him, The X Factor, stands as one of the poorest Maiden releases to date, surpassed only by No Prayer for the Dying. But even though Bayley’s performance is lacking, the blame for the album’s failure does not rest solely on his shoulders.
Though the ‘new’ Maiden sound was officially declared on the Brave New World reunion album, the seeds of it are rooted with this album. Steve Harris, likely working to create a noticeable departure from the tired, formulaic songs featured on the last two Dickinson albums, wrote some pretty experimental stuff for this. I shy away from the term “progressive,” as the songs are merely longer, more atmospheric, and a bit more open-ended, rather than being particularly complex or unique. To say that the songs are long is a bit facetious; “drawn-out” is a better term. Take opener “Sign of the Cross.” The song begins with nearly three minutes of atmospheric introduction. And even when it picks up, it over-extends itself. What could have been a fantastic six minute song becomes a tedious eleven minute one. Granted, the Gregorian chants are put to good use, but the song takes its time in getting anywhere. This slow development is a recurring problem on the album, as well as a general lack of heavy metal. Most of the songs are slower and feature numerous mellow interludes. Think Barlow-era Iced Earth, as many parallels can be drawn. But even when these songs pick up, they’re still way too soft to be Maiden proper. This phenomenon occurs because of the production, which highlights Steve’s bass over the guitars. And with both Dave Murray’s and Janick Gers’ guitar tones subdued, one can’t help but feel that the album lacks energy. There’s plenty of trademark Maiden riffs and harmonies present, but with their power and passion absent. They kind of make up for it with their solos, but even those aren’t up to their usual standard. All the instrumentation on here feels completely different than what the band is known for and it isn’t for the better. Oh, and as for Nicko, he’s still here, but barely. There’s only one quick song that requires his full effort (“Man on the Edge,” with occasional fast parts in one or two of the other songs). The rest he merely coasts through, providing the rhythm to an album more focused on impressionism than substance, frequently calling to mind the band’s classic songwriting without actually providing it.
I understand that this was a ‘dark’ period in the band’s history; therefore, the darker tone of the album’s lyrics and sound are appropriate. But it would really help if the lyrics weren’t so contrived. Maybe they really aren’t, but it sure seems that way as delivered by Bayley. No catchy Dickinson melodies here. Hell, there aren’t even any catchy Wolfbane-era Blaze ones, hindered further by Bayley’s weakened voice and his occasionally grating cadence (listen to “The Unbeliever” if you don’t believe me, no pun intended). Even if you can appreciate the mood set up by the album’s arrangement, don’t expect to come out of this with a memorable line on your tongue; they are virtually extinct in the confines of this album.
To actually enjoy The X Factor, the potential listener is required to be a bit more than open-minded. You have to really be into the newer Maiden albums (BNW through A Matter of Life and Death) and not hung up on the fact that this sounds very far removed from the band’s classic period. Alternatively, fans of atmospheric rock/metal might find some cool tunes to dig. Otherwise, it’s a Maiden album of which Maiden fans are not the target audience. But blame Steve, not Blaze. Had Bruce been singing on this album, revitalized or not, it would have fared about the same, even without the preconceived antipathy towards the ‘new guy’ weighing it down. It’s just not a good album, though it serves for a decent listen now and again. Give it a try, you might agree. But if you must hate it, keep in mind that it takes more than an uninspired singer to condemn an album to this plane of mediocrity.
After 1992's Fear of the Dark, an album that, for the last time for another eleven years, hit #2 in the UK, Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson left the band he fronted for 11 years. Iron Maiden than began auditioning for new vocalists, both known and unknown. After listening to dozens of tryouts, the band finally selected Wolfsbane singer, Blaze Bailey. I find the changing of vocalists very welcoming, as I am not a fan of the raspy style of singing Bruce used on the previous to albums.
With Blaze, a new era began for the band. It was on the band's first Blaze Bailey album that they began writing what ended up being the precursor to their current day songs. The X Factor, the band's tenth release, featured songs unlike ever heard before on a Maiden record. These songs featured slow, quieter intros courtesy of Steve Harris bass lines, often with Blaze softly singing the first verse over them. The song then becomes heavier and faster resembling the traditional Iron Maiden sound, before the song fades out just as it began. Of course, The X Factor also features short, speedy songs such as Man on the Edge.
The brooding and melancholic music found on this album fits both Blaze's voice and the dark atmospheric lyrics that were written. Song subjects range from the inquisition in Sign of the Cross; to war in songs such as Fortunes of War, The Aftermath, and Blood on the Worlds Hands; to insanity in Man on the Edge, and The Edge of Darkness; as well as many other introspective subjects. Primary songwriter Steve Harris (who wrote or co-wrote 10 out of 11 songs) must have been going through a rough time during the writing of The X-Factor as the lyrics are darker and more negative than they have been on any release prior to The X Factor and since it was released.
An important part of the album is the often criticized Blaze Bailey himself. With his lower vocal range, he may not have been able too sing the old Iron Maiden classics as well as Bruce, his voice was perfect for the new release. His singing fits the melancholic feelings of The X Factor, and he sings with the needed emotion throughout the album. Blaze enhances the album's mood and atmosphere with his lower vocal register, bringing the depressing feelings of the songs to life. The band made an excellent choice picking their new frontman, given the direction the wanted to take. Blaze doesn't disappoint [me] and was very fun to listen to, especially on Sign of the Cross, where he sings "They'll be saying their prayers when the moment comes/There'll be penance to pay when it's Judgment Day" or his performance on The Edge of Darkness, one of the band's best songs from the Blaze era.
Despite the more metallic feel slightly disappearing, guitarists Dave Murray and Janick Gers are still excellent in The X Factor. While I don't like the production on their guitars at all, they work with what they have and churn out some impressive riffs. Catchy, melodic riffs (especially when combined with Blaze's singing) make up for the lack of heaviness. Murray and Gers solo at the right times, adding speed and power to songs. Dave and Janick are best on the opening, 11 minute epic Sign of the Cross, where they spearhead the long instrumental that makes up almost half of the song.
The X Factor was a change for Iron Maiden, and a very important one at that. At over 70 minutes, this album paved the way for future albums of similar length, like Brave New World, Dance of Death, and A Matter of Life and Death. To this very day, the album remains one of the more unpopular Iron Maiden albums, along with Virtual XI. The X Factor is the kind album you either really love or really hate, as it doesn't feature the band's traditional sound. If I could recommend one album to get samples from before purchasing, it would be The X Factor, as it seems to have a mixed bag of supporters and haters. Personally, I really enjoyed The X Factor, its introspective lyrics, and Blaze's singing. That said, I would prefer the band refraining from recording an album similar to this one.
(Originally written for Sputnikmusic)
This is undoubtedly the most underrated album ever. People ramble on and on about non-existent flaws present in the disc, about Maiden being an artistically finished band, about Blaze being a shitty vocalist – your bound to hear thousands of reasons why it sucks. Truth is, it doesn’t suck – most of these ‘reasons’ seem to be hastily made inferences on first listen. Some still do stand though – the production is rather thin and Blaze doesn’t fit in at times and also, some songs tend to drag – but all around, this is a brilliant, dark effort from Maiden.
On this release, Maiden drops everything ‘happy’ about them and heads straight for the dark lands. This release is amazingly morbid, creating a tense, dark atmosphere around it. It IS Maiden, but its Maiden with a schizophrenic twist to make it seem like it isn’t. Chip off everything that’s been added, that is, the dark atmosphere around it and the somewhat priggish song structures and lengths and you get a Maiden album more similar to say 7th Son or Somewhere In Time than a Powerslave or Number Of The Beast. The production sounds thin; it lacks the punch (esp. in the rhythm guitar department) that drives albums like 7th Son and Somewhere In Time. Blaze is overall, a good vocalist. Although he wouldn’t at all suite a classic Maiden number like ‘Aces High’ or ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’, this album is tailored to his voice. He still does sound out-of-place in certain areas but not nearly as often as people point out. Nicko and Steve (check out the bass intro to ‘Blood Of The World’s Hands’ are solid, as usual. Dave and Gers too do an excellent job carrying out the more intricate structure of this album. You cannot find any fault with the guitar department here, except of course – that it still lacks the spark of Adrian Smith as Gers despite being a fairly good guitarist looks all but underwhelming in his predecessors shoes. The soloing is very good all through the album.
Every song on this release has its moments and some of the songs are absolutely spectacular. ‘Sign Of The Cross’ falls into the latter category, it ranks among Maiden’s best. 11 minutes and not once does it seem to drag. A rather atypical opener for Maiden as it doesn’t even approach the speed of previous openers. The dark, brooding passages here are especially awesome, adding greatly to the character of the album. Check out the awesomeness and courage in the passages from 4:42 to 10:10. Who could ask for a better start to an album than this? ‘Lord Of The Flies’ is heavier and also an excellent, intricate song with very catchy and yet dark verses and a mind-blowing chorus. ‘Man On The Edge’ then sounds more like ‘Be Quick Or Be Dead’– which instantly implies its another awesome song. The riffing is excellent and Blaze does well on vocals. ‘Fortunes Of War’ starts off with a brilliant atmospheric intro before launching into a well-done midpaced number. Blaze does seem tired on vocals here, which brings down the song. ‘Look For The Truth’ is a very memorable track with a great sing-along ‘oh-oh’ chorus except done in a very dark fashion unlike a ‘oh-oh-oh’ on 7th Son (song) or ‘Heaven Can Wait’.’ The Aftermath’ is another excellent dark number about the aftermaths of war. ‘Judgement Of Heaven’ then is the catchiest song on here with a very memorable chorus tacked onto it. It has especially good soloing in it. ‘Blood On The World’s Hands’ has a bass-solo intro that lasts for over a minute before it kicks into a decent number with a strange chorus. ‘The Edge Of Darkness’ has a needless intro that contributes absolutely nothing to the song as a whole. The song though is an excellent one with a variety of tempos and riffs strewn out perfectly. Some excellent soloing and frantic drumming by Nicko is the obvious highlight of the song. ‘2 AM’ is a half-ballad with acoustic pieces interspersed with heavy bits. It is a very memorable song even if it doesn’t achieve anything different. ‘The Unbeliever’ is the most proggy piece on here and a great way to end the album. Its very bluesy with really great melodies and Blaze performs very well in the song.
This album is much better than its follow-up Virtual XI where all the dark melodies were removed (in all but a few songs) and a more rock-ish, harmonized direction was taken which wasn’t at all suited to Blaze’s vocals and sounded completely tired out. It takes a while to digest the entire thing as it’s far away from trad. Maiden. This album played a key role in shaping Maiden’s new sound starting from ‘Brave New World’ where Blaze left and the original band reunited with Gers as an extra-guitarist. This album therefore maintains an important place in the Maiden discography and is still one of the few albums where a change of singers actually worked in favour for the band. In this case, Maiden were dismal with ‘No Prayer’ and ‘Fear Of The Dark’ and took a huge step forward with this release.
Many folks thought Iron Maiden fell into the gutter after the departure of Bruce Dickinson. After all, Bruce Dickinson was THE voice of Iron Maiden. Almost every classic Maiden song at this point in time had Bruce behind the mic, and when he left the band, there was almost no hope in Iron Maiden's future. Three had passed since "Fear Of The Dark," and Maiden was back with a new singer and a new album. Not only was "The X Factor" Iron Maiden's tenth studio album, it was the beginning of the long and painful road of rejuvenation.
Musically speaking, "The X Factor" is a strong step toward the progressive sound that occupies the present day Maiden albums. Many songs on this album, such as "Fortunes Of War," contain a large amount of progressive breaks and have longer song lengths then previous Maiden songs. The most progressive track is "Sign Of The Cross," which is an eleven minute epic filled with soft guitars and progressive breaks. Even though the progressive elements seem good, they also bring down some songs on the album. "Fortunes Of War" and "The Edge Of Darkness" suffer from long and boring intros. These progressive parts have more positives then negatives, but there are the occasional moments of boredom. Beside the progressive influences, Maiden still has some songs that resemble the classic heavy metal driven tone. "Lord Of The Flies" and "Man On The Edge" are fast paced anthems that remind me of early 80's material. The riffs and drumming on these tunes, especially "Man Of The Edge," are way faster then anything else on "The X Factor."
"The X Factor" also has Maiden experimenting a bit with instruments. "Blood On The World's Hands" has a full blown bass solo intro, which is really different. Keyboards have been brought in here as well. "Sign Of The Cross" and "Blood On The World's Hands" are the best examples of the keyboard overtones on this album. I'm not sure, but I think there is a keyboard solo on "Fortunes Of War." Whatever it is, it sounds pretty cool.
No matter who was singing vocals, it just wasn't the same without Bruce Dickinson. Former Wolfsbane singer Blaze Bayley was selected to perform the vocals on "The X Factor," but his performance just doesn't add up to Maiden standards. Blaze's has a deep singing voice, which does fit songs like "Lord Of The Flies" and "The Aftermath," yet most of the songs have a mediocre vocal performance. The best specimens of this are "The Unbeliever" and "Man On The Edge," which don't sound right with Blaze's vocals; if Bruce would of sang on these tracks, they'd be knockouts.
Iron Maiden took a different path when they wrote the lyrics to "The X Factor." Lyrical material on older Maiden albums usually based around history, war and fantasy, but the lyrics on this album are based around darkness, depression, psychological effects of war, and questioning the existence of God. This was clearly a hard time for Maiden, and they show that by expressing dark feelings and emotions on this grim album.
"The X Factor" is an important release in the Iron Maiden discography, not because of the material, but because it was Maiden's resurrection. This was the album where Maiden said "Hey! Iron Maiden is NOT dead!" "The X Factor" doesn't capture the perfection of the 80's material, but it is a huge step from "No Prayer For The Dying" and "Fear Of The Dark."
This review was orginally written for: http://www.Thrashpit.com
I recall that when I put on this record for the first time after purchasing it shortly after it had been released, I was extremely disappointed. In the subsequent weeks I gave it countless spins and desperately tried to get into it, but failed. I have since given up trying to find the true qualities of this album. Neither have I ever listened to it in its entire length (and boy, do I mean LENGTH…) again.
I greatly admire everything Maiden have done before and after Blaze was with the band, but “Virtual XI” and especially this miscarriage of an album are, apart from the occasional decent song, pretty much worthless junk. And the main reason for this is not even Blaze’s singing. Granted, the man is light years away from being the singer Bruce Dickinson is, and in numerous instances his vocals are downright annoying, particularly when he goes “Wohohohooo…” – totally hideous! But let’s be fair here: Blaze’s vocals aren’t the primary reason why the two albums on which he appeared are by far the worst in Maiden’s entire catalogue. More than anything else, they were plagued by wholly unsound songwriting. I don’t really know what Mr. Harris and the boys were thinking when they put together the songs for this album. If this is Maiden’s version of Progressive Metal, I pray to the Unholy Lord that we shall never have to endure anything like it again… Maybe the guys wanted to make a record that sounds dark and haunting, but it all comes across as utterly dull and whiny.
Seriously, at times this sounds like a crossbreed between Metal and the Art Rock of the seventies (Genesis, Saga and the likes). Almost all of the songs are mercilessly drawn out and lengthy, beginning with completely unoriginal acoustic guitar intros that seem to last for ages and ending in the same fashion. And if you should manage to make it through those epitomes of pure unadulterated boredom without falling asleep, you will unfortunately realize that the actual songs are not exactly masterpieces either: not only is this Maiden’s slowest album – the opener “Man on the Edge” is the only exception –, it is also their least heavy, which is in equal parts due to the tiresome onslaught of acoustic guitars, the lack of good riffs, and the poor production, which accentuates the drums and Blaze’s vocals (why anyone would want to accentuate those vocals is utterly beyond me…) while burying the guitars somewhere deep in the mix.
I could go on for ages ranting about how boring this album is and what exactly is wrong with the individual songs, but instead I would like to point out the few aspects that are NOT negative (saves a lot of time, too). “Man on the Edge” is actually a pretty nice song: up-tempo, nice riffs, and fairly short, i.e. it comes without the completely unnecessary ballast ruining most of the other tracks. “Fortunes of War,” “The Aftermath,” and “The Edge of Darkness” all could be good songs if it weren’t for all the excess acoustic guitar wankery, the poor production, and Blaze’s even poorer vocals. “The Sign of the Cross” is another instance where a decent song is so drawn out that it gets painfully tedious – easily five minutes too long! As for most of the rest – let’s spare ourselves the pain of going into further detail. “Look for the Truth,” “Judgement of Heaven,” “Blood on the World’s Hands,” and “2 A.M.” are all throwaway tracks that should have never, and I mean NEVER, have made it on a Maiden album.
That should be enough to convince anyone that it is best to steer clear of this baby, which is (yes, I know I have said it before) easily Maiden’s worst effort. I guess the lesson to be learned from this is that even the best bands in the entire genre can sometimes fail miserably. If it weren’t for the fact that we’re still talking about Iron Maiden here, the same band that brought us milestones such as “Piece of Mind,” “Powerslave,” and several others, I would not even have given “The X Factor” a 50!
Choicest cuts: Maybe “Man on the Edge” and “The Aftermath,” but none of it is really up to Maiden standard…
Of all the albums in Iron Maiden's catalogue, this is probably the one that frequently gets the most flak. You would be safe saying that No Prayer For The Dying and Fear Of The Dark weren't up to usual standards, and there's a small crowd coming out now claiming Brave New World is poor as well (funny it took them so long, but never mind). But of all the albums, it has to be this one, closely followed by Virtual XI, that actually inspires pure vitriol from 'fans'. The slagging it gets is well known, but if you ask me the things it gets put down for are what, in my opinion, make it one of Maiden's strongest releases.
The most striking thing about this is the overall atmospherics, being what sets it apart from all the other albums. Sign Of The Cross starts off with a sinister Gregorian chant, and this pretty much sets the mood for the next hour and 10 minutes. It's not limited to the first song - various others start off with mellow semi-acoustic intros, including Blood On The World's Hands with it's stunning semi-acoustic bass intro. The album's artwork - black throughout with the most graphic Eddie ever - supports this, along with the serious themes of each and every songs.
The songs themselves still retain the classic Maiden touch. Sign Of The Cross, again, chugs along for 11 minutes repeating riff and riff to saturation point, yet still manages to cram in a classic Maiden-style solo right at the end, that wouldn't sound out of place on most other epics. Not long after that is Man On The Edge, just about the only upbeat song on the album, and it's a meaty fast-paced headbanger of a song.
All the others, despite some non-con introductions, still contain some classic riffing, great lyrics and great solos. Fortunes Of War stands out, and Look For The Truth has always been a favourite of mine lyric-wise. If you've had some hard times in your life, you'll probably find something to connect to in here.
Blaze Bayley, of course, takes a lot of undue punishment and is thought of as some as the man who ruined Maiden. Bullshit, of course. You have to ask yourself, could Bruce Dickinson sing these songs and still capture the feeling? I doubt it, really. Blaze's low-pitched voice suits these songs brilliantly, and he's got a great sounding voice as it is. Maybe he didn't fit in so well on Virtual XI, but here he's just the man for the job.
The trick to appreciating this album is to keep an open mind. If you're expecting The Number Of The Beast again you are certain to be disappointed. And frankly, anyone still expecting another album like that after all this time deserves to be disappointed. Maiden's sound has changed, and this is probably where it truly began.