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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.