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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.