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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"