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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…