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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."
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