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Being 12 years old at the time of its release and just recently getting into heavy metal, I had no preconceived notions about this album. I came across the album cover in a magazine and not knowing the illustrious legacy I was later to experience, purchased it as my first Iron Maiden slab. Another year would go by before a new friend instructed me to get Live After Death and discover the classic Maiden. After years of worship and review I'd rate this album as better than No Prayer and Fear, miles beyond the abortion of Virtual XI and far more realized than Matter of Life and Death.
There are some lulls in the flow, particularly Fortunes of War through The Aftermath. Fortunes drags on and is only worth hearing for the solo, which Blaze ruins with his urgent repition of the title. The next two are like companion pieces and are unmemorable save for Blaze's line about "Where mustard gas and barbed wire bloom". Edge and 2 AM back pedal a bit from the glorious Judgement of Heaven and the doomy Blood on the Worlds Hands. It's a shame Judgement Day didn't make it on to the album as it's one of the stronger rockers this line up played. The album only being 71 minutes long they easily could have added J-Day, Justice of the Peace or I Live My Way, maybe dropping one or two of the aforementioned tracks.
The remainder is Maiden at their most progressive since Seventh Son. The Unbeliever ends the album with odd-meter verses and a straight ahead epic chorus. The opening epic, Sign of the Cross boasts one of Maiden's finest solos and Steve's acoustic bass intro to Blood on the World's Hands reveals a new layer to the band I wish they explored more.
The guitars could stand some balls as this album has their thinnest guitar tone, articulate but lacking a power and energy that could've made this transition album go more smooth. The drums sound phenominal, the hihat and snare in paricular and as always, Steve Harris' bass tone is loud and clear. Blaze is a great singer. If you check out his first post-Maiden solo disc, Silicon Messiah or his previous outfit Wolfsbane, you'll see he was just not a great choice to follow Bruce, given the musical climate. There are songs on here he owns, and lauded as Bruce's live version of Sign from Rock in Rio and other notable remakes, the Blaze versions are superior.
With a different track list and better guitar tone, this album would have no doubt been better received. Unforunately, this was as good as it got for them and Blaze.