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Iron Maiden had already collapsed musically with the advent of the '90s, and the hiring of Blaze Bayley was the final nail in the coffin for the group. Any positives here are merely decayed remains of a better time. The band got lost in a haze here, and the end result is undoubtedly the worst album in their discography.
One issue is the tonal shift that has occured on this album, where the band has moved back to a lighter and more traditional sound from the darkened The X Factor, which is bad because that means that Blaze's already bad voice is even more out of place as he has to fill the shoes of the wailing, soaring Bruce Dickinson - and he fails miserably at that because that isn't what Blaze does. It isn't just that his voice isn't cut out for NWOBHM though, he sounds completely awful regardless. He has very little in the way of a vocal range; you can hear his pipes betray him every time he goes for a higher note that Bruce could easily have pulled off, even around this time. Even worse though is that he can barely carry a tune and that all of the vocal lines on the album sound awkward and... bad, for a lack of a better word. The vocal 'melodies' are memorable purely in their terribleness, not because they sound like the work of someone who can sing.
Even so, the principle problem here is that the material, as well as being unfitting of the vocals, is so lacking in inspiration and quality that you'd think this was a local Iron Maiden cover band at work. As mentioned earlier the best part of this album are merely mediocre, also-ran retreads of past greatness - see the opener and sole highlight 'Futureal' for proof of that. Otherwise mediocre songs are saved a bit by the presence of solid leadwork, but on the whole the shorter songs on the album don't have much to offer, and any sort of redeeming value is ruined by the vocal performance.
However, it gets worse with the shitty, overlong and dragging 'epic' 'The Angel and the Gambler'. With its tepid rock riffing and its bloated 9 minute run time it is the nadir of the album. Every long song on here, even the somewhat complex, atmospheric and interesting 'The Clansman', go on for twice as long as they need to and feel 4 times as long as they actually are. And the Blaze tries to expand a bit by going all expressive on us with 'Como Estais Amigos'... seriously, this whole album is an unmitigated failure.
Even the production is poor, lacking any sort of vibrancy or life and rendering the stale material and crappy vocals dead on arrival. How did something like this get released? Especially for a band like Iron Maiden on a big label like EMI, this is a poor quality, badly presented and extremely slapdash product. The only one that was focusing at all during its making was the cover's artist; because it is badass.
So, Virtual XI. A mix of unoriginality, bad ideas, poor execution and downright laziness. Their worst album? Oh hell yes, by many country miles.
Here we have the last true Iron Maiden album ever released. Iron Maiden ceased to be Iron Maiden after Bruce Dickinson returned. What they've become since Blaze's sad dismissal isn't Maiden. It's shit.
There are two reasons this album is dismissed: the first is this was the first digital recording Maiden ever did. They finally made the transition from tapes and some people couldn't seem to handle that. The other is that Blaze was still in the band. The actual problems with this album are the lyrics are painfully dumb and the songs aren't 100% there.
This should've been Maiden's rebirth. Gone are the hard rock riffs that plagued them from 'No Prayer for the Dying' through 'The X-Factor' (ironically injected after Gers joined the fray). There is only pure heavy metal in these songs. The energy levels were the highest they'd been since 'Powerslave'. There was passion and dare it be said, FUN, once more. This album actually sounded like a fucking Iron Maiden album. Not one of the bands post-Blaze releases sound like Maiden. At best they sound like bad B-sides from Bruce's solo career.
The production is great. The music is tight. The distortion in the guitars is wet and heavy. The leads are adventurous and lively. Passion abounds and purpose is once again felt. There is still the rawness of yore with a renewed ambition which is why the stupid lyrics and semi-repetitive song writing are such downers.
Blaze's voice is lazer focused on this release. It's tighter than Bruce's ever was. This is no different from Ripper outclassing Halford on every front. The newer version is far better at the job. His voice still doesn't fit the music, not completely anyway, but it's far more confident than it was on 'The X-Factor'. The songs ultimately suffer from the same thing that plagues them now and that's they have a few good ideas that keep repeating themselves instead of either ending in a logical place or being worked harder to flesh out their wannabe "progressive" attitude.
Iron Maiden has never been a progressive metal band. They will never be a progressive metal band. The closest they came to being almost prog was between 'Somewhere in Time' and 'Seventh Son of a Seventh Son'. This hasn't stopped them from calling themselves prog (kinda like how Paradise Lost calls themselves "Gothic" when there's absolutely nothing "Gothic" about their sound) and they do try. First with the 70's Who inspired 'The Angel and the Gambler'. This is a good but too long song. It's about ten minutes long. It should've been four minutes at best. 'The Clansman' (the third song to have the minor scale introduced to us in: Losfer Words (Big 'Orra) and then later as the intro to 'Wasted Years') is the bands second foray into wannabe progdom. It too is a good song but should've been about four minutes instead of the nine they gave us. The lyrics are what ultimately make these songs boring.
Speaking of lyrics those two songs are probably the most noticeable offenders with the last song 'Como Estais Amigos' being the worst. Words cannot describe how dumb the concept is.
This is far from a perfect album. In all truth it's a good album but considering they stopped making Iron Maiden music with this album you'd think they'd have left us with a better taste in our mouths.
RIP Iron Maiden.
No, I do not deny that "The Angel and the Gambler" is repetitive as hell. No, I am no friend of synthesizers in heavy metal in general. And no, I do not believe that "Virtual XI" must be placed among the monuments of the highest artistic value. Nonetheless, dare I say it, I really like this rather unusual Maiden album. I would even go further and say that this unjustified banished full-length represents the second best result ever achieved by the British institution. Of course, regarded from an objective point of view, most of their other albums were of greater importance for the heavy metal scene. But in my humble opinion, only "Piece of Mind" is better. Now I am encouraged to write the rest of the review, following the maxim "Once your worldly reputation is in tatters, the opinion of others hardly matters".
The first half of "Virtual XI" was absolutely flawless. I admit that the songs had a slight pop appeal. Due to the light production and the massive presence of the synthesizer, the general atmosphere of the tracks was not comparable with that of its sinister predecessor. But the songwriting itself compensated this situation, because it was catchy and vibrant to the highest extent. Furthermore, it did not lack of variety. I recommend to compare the epic tunes such as the outstanding "The Clansman" with the lively and spirited opener. Due to its straightforwardness, it appeared as a modern edition of their early tracks like "Sanctuary" or "Running Free" that also came directly to the point. The emphasis of the melodic elements did not lead to a loss of quality, because all melodies fulfilled the highest requirements. Finally, I must confess that I was a fan of Blaze Bayley´s voice since I had heard it for the first time. His interpretation of "The Sign of the Cro-o-oss" was simply fantastic. In view of this, I was not surprised that his vocals on "Virtual XI" were once again powerful, expressive and well accentuated.
The album´s second half was less breathtaking. "The Educated Fool" met the standard of the first four songs. It offered the whole range of Iron Maiden in a pleasant way. Balladic sections, concise and effective guitar lines and relatively heavy parts were seamlessly connected with each other. The remaining tunes had their moments while being neither outstanding nor bad. "Como Estais Amigos", the ballad that closed the album, belonged to the better metal ballads, among other things due to its dramatic development and the historical reference to the (rather nonsensical) Falklands War. Nevertheless, it was still a ballad... However, it goes without saying that this record did not deliver their harshest compositions. But they were thoroughly thought through and this was - as always - the most important aspect.
The playtime of "only" 53 minutes constituted another advantage of the album. In contrast to the oversized "The X-Factor" which had been at least ten minutes too long, the eleventh full-length appeared as a compact powerhouse. Nonetheless, it seems like "Virtual XI" is treated like a pariah by the majority of metal fans. But I mostly like unadapted underdogs. They have their own special charm - and that goes for the here reviewed album too.
Let me start off by saying, although Iron Maiden isn’t exactly the AC/DC of heavy metal (I give that title to Motorhead), despite all their experiments with synth, longer songs, darker atmospheres, and orchestras, the basis of Iron Maiden’s sound hasn’t truly changed much. If you think you’d be happy with anything with that general sound, you’ll probably be satisfied with this. That being said let me tell you why I wasn’t.
The second of the two Blaze Bayley albums, Virtual XI goes a different route than its predecessor. While The X Factor was a darker album to suit Blaze’s voice, this album seems to go a more tradition approach, and tries to ask Blaze to do his best Bruce Dickinson impression. This is part of the problem because that’s just not possible for him. The other issue is that many of the songs are longer than they need to be. “Don’t Look To The Eyes Of The Strange Educated Fool When Two Worlds Collide” just goes on longer than it needs to, and won’t be remembered within 5 minutes of the album ending. “Como Estais Amigos” (I thought it was Como Estas, but hell, I always got C’s in Spanish) is a ballad-like song that I just never found interesting.
The chorus for many of the songs here are repetitive, and most aren’t more than a line or two. Speaking of repetitive choruses, “The Angel and the Rambler,” as I call it, is a song that makes you almost capable of blowing your fucking head off in that department. Seriously, the first time I heard this song it gave me explosive diarrhea. Maybe you think that’s a joke but I was on the toilet before the fucking thing ended. It starts off with this annoying “boop boop boop boop” thing with the synth after the initial guitar intro that sounds like maybe it wanted to be “Wasted Years” if Wasted Years sucked. The synth throughout the song is cheesy, but far from unbearable. In fact the song is almost good until the chorus. First he sings it fast. Then slower. Then faster. This is very similar to my complaint about “Fortunes of War” on the previous Blaze album. However, this song is far more painful than “Fortunes of War,” because not only does the chorus suck, but after a verse or two, he sings it again. 22 times total he sings the fucking chorus. This is a terrible 10 minute song that could have been an all right 4 minute song.
But it’s not complete shit. It’s close, but this album does have “Futureal,” a good somewhat fast paced song that kicks the album off in a way similar to the classic Maiden songs “Aces High”, and you could easily see Bruce running around the stage like a maniac to this song. They’ve done songs similar to this, and usually better, so it’s not a buying point, but hell, it might be worth downloading for a buck. The other song worth hearing is “The Clansman,” and epic song about being Scottish or something. It’s by far the best song on the album. “When Lightning Strikes” is pretty forgettable, but its decent when it’s playing at least it’s not almost 7 minutes long. It’s the closest this album has to a third good song. I wouldn’t really go out and buy this album, but if maybe you feel the need to own this to complete your Maiden collection, it’s maybe worth a listen. That’s really the only reason to own this album anyways. If you feel the need to buy this to complete a Maiden collection, try to find it used. It’s not worth any more than $5.
It's not that this is a boring album, it's that a few songs drag on WAY too long. The Angel & The Gambler from the video version (available on the Futureal single or Visions of the Beast) is actually a fun little rock song, but to DOUBLE the length of the song with the same chorus being repeated about 506834205 times just kills it on the album. The same goes with Don't Look To The Eyes Of A Stranger...the intro and fast parts are killer, but again, there's just way too much chorus.
Futureal is a total classic, as is The Clansman (one of Maiden's finest epics). Futureal is the pure speed metal classic here (every Maiden album has one...other than No Prayer), and much better than its X Factor counterpart, Man On The Edge. Upbeat, simple, killer solo.
The Clansman, along with its X Factor counterpart Sign Of The Cross (and the live versions of Afraid To Shoot Strangers), is the highlight of the Blaze era. Slow brooding, epic chorus, and Blaze at his vocal peak. The live versions with Bruce are nice, but there's something about Blaze's gruffer voice that really sets the studio original apart.
The rest of the album can be lumped in as "good" Maiden, but it's all pretty generic Maiden, as well. Lightning Strikes Twice has a great vocal/guitar melody in the chorus. When Two Worlds Collide is the typical ballad-into-crusher Maiden song (see: Afraid To Shoot Strangers, No Prayer For The Dying, Infinite Dreams), but fails to really grab you by the balls. The Educated Fool is basically When Two Worlds Collide, but falls short of even falling short. Como Estais Amigos closes the album in a way that no other Maiden album has done since Killers (Drifter): with a thud. Generic song and doesn't really get going or even attempt to do so.
All in all, you won't miss not having this, but Futureal and The Clansman should find their way into your collection somehow (The Essential Iron Maiden has both songs). It's not that Blaze is bad (actually, he's in top form here, even compared to the epic Silicon Messiah solo abum), it's that Steve Harris just happened to have the great idea of making a 40 minute album 50 minutes long.
"Virtual XI" is a truly unique album in the discography of Iron Maiden. It's an album with a very special mood and atmosphere that you can entirely adore for some special occasions. I would describe this mood as slow, progressive and really hypnotizing with many melancholic melodies, repetitive vocal lines and long instrumental parts. The production is as simplistic as the music and the lyrics and I think that the band or at least the leading parts of it were exactly looking for this kind of mood even if some people might call it a poor lack of creativity which I honestly can't entirely deny. The band wanted to sound different and unique on this album and from that point of view the album could be described as a success. The record fits most as background music on a grey autumn or winter morning and during those occasions this album opens before me like the pages of a book and I truly enjoy it. The album is not a heavy metal record but rather an experimental and sometimes spontaneous progressive jam surrounding the topic of melancholy. This all sounds very positive but I can't deny that there are many flaws on this record that rate the final judgement down.
First of all, some songs simply go too far in their monotonous attempts and the most quoted example is surely the chorus of "The angel and the gambler" which would be a great effort if the band would have chosen to put the much shorter and still atmospheric single version on the record. "The educated fool" has the same dumb problem and even the emotional and conceptual masterpiece "The clansman" is spared from this. I prefer the shorter and still unique and melancholic tracks such as the underrated "When two worlds collide" or the hypnotizing ballad "Como estais amigos" which presents maybe the best vocal effort done by Blaze Bayley when he was in Iron Maiden. The second thing that really harms the album is the rather poor lyrics. A part of the inspired and more traditional epic track "The clansman" and Bayley's emotional farewell track which is the brilliant and underrated ballad "Como estais amigos", the topics are rather one dimensional and remain superficial which is the exact opposite of what the band has done with Bayley on the previous record which was very intense and profound. This fact underlines my idea that the band simply wanted to try out something new. The third negative point is the lack of inspired and emotional instrumental passages. The guitar work is somewhere between mediocre and good but the bass guitar sounds lame as never before and the drumming is lacking of power. One feels that Nicko McBrain wasn't that much into the new musical direction of the album and the continuous problems with Blaze Bayley and the lack of commercial success and popularity attached to this.
This album can only please to very patient and open minded fans that have no problems with slow, monotone and hypnotizing progressive music. Even if the band tried out something new in a surprisingly radical way, the previous two records had already a couple of signs that showed us the way in the direction that the band would take and anybody that liked the slow and dreamy passages of "Fear of the dark" or "The X-Factor" might appreciate this album and know what I mean. For the majority and those who liked the legendary works of the eighties, this release is a deception as it goes far away from the band's roots and no one would have ever thought that this band would sound like that one day. A part of the opener "Futureal" which is a good and straight song in the key of “Be quick or be dead” but which really doesn't fit at all on this record where the other songs are very coherent and homogeneous, the other seven songs of this record are dreamy, hypnotizing and cumbersome.
Even though I happen to be musically very open minded and even though I like the experimental flow of this record, I prefer the heavier and darker side of the band and must admit that I don't listen quite often to this disturbing and yet beautiful record. But when I'm listening to it, I do it with much more intensity than I listen to most of the other records of the band and I want to underline this unique status of the album. It really takes some time and a lot of patience before the record grows on you and maybe several years or decades. But if you happen to have listened to this record when it was initially released and if you have put it in some dusty corner of your collection after a few disappointing tries, I really suggest you to pull this album out of the shadows and appreciate it with a new distance and from a more objective point of view and you might finally discover at least an interesting gem. But I wouldn't be surprised if this procedure would still not work and you need another five or ten years to understand and appreciate this simplistic and yet complicated flawed masterpiece.
Oh, they are back (the review originally written in 1998 after the album was released, only slight changes made)! The 11th (count them!) studio album from one of the biggest heavy metal bands around the universe... Iron Maiden. At least they used to be one of the biggest, but Bruce Dickinson's departure was quite a shock, to both the band and the fans. Blaze Bayley was chosen to fill the place of the Airraid Siren, probably THE best heavy metal singer, ever.
'Virtual XI' is a second album with Blaze handling the vocal duties. I think he has gotten into the band now. Still, he can't get nowhere near Bruce's heights and skill. Blaze's voice is quite low and also kind of dry. The voice works best, when the man puts enough power to it, but sadly it doesn't happen too frequently here. Some lines sound just powerless and even a bit soulless, some sound like he just can't quite hit the right notes. Well, Blaze still has an individual style which is always a good thing, innit? I think so, and that's where Blaze's true strength lies. This is the fact, and can be heard on man's own albums.
'Virtual XI' includes eight songs. 'Futureal' kicks the album on its way in a good way. One of the fastest songs from the band and only three minutes long. 'The Angel and the Gambler' is 10 minutes of waiting. Nothing much happens as this rock song drifts on and on, but it still manages to catch a listener anyways. It's not droning, but still the band went on simplistic gear. The song is just too long for its own good, and they should've cut at least five minutes off. There is also a 6-minute single edit of the song, as well as a 4 minutes long video edit, which is the best version in my opinion.
After 'The Angel...' song, the music gets more rolling again. 'Lightning Strikes Twice' is a good Maiden tune with awesome chorus. Blaze hits his highest here. 'The Clansman', an epic tale in the vein of 'Braveheart' (Mel Gibson's Scottish hero -flick hated by Scots). An absolute classic, best song on this record!!! 'When Two Worlds Collide' is another good song with galloping trademark Maiden-rhythm, but it builds up quite slowly. 'The Educated Fool' also starts quite calmly, but gets faster (and better) and it has a great chorus. Maybe a tad too long song... 'Don't Look to the Eyes of the Stranger' definitely is too long and quite a boring song with some dull song writing as the song goes to double speed towards the end. 'Como Estais Amigos' is a story about Falkland war. It is balladish at the beginning, but gets rockier. A good song, definitely, and Blaze's softer vocals work very well indeed.
There are too many calm and slow parts on this album, and they are lacking power. The playing is a bit tame, especially from Nicko McBrain. He's a great drummer and could do it thousand times better. The band doesn't get it rocking too many times. Maybe it's the production: Too thin and not heavy at all. 'The Clansman' is the only song that the band really hits it big time. The music is getting into direction that began on 'Fear of the Dark' (1992). Sometimes it feels too lazy... Iron Maiden can do it a lot better, so maybe next time.
Every album's (or singles, or whatever a release is in the question) artwork have always played a big part of the band's image. This time it's quite bad, I'm afraid. The cover art theme isn't very good, but otherwise it's a nice piece of work. 3D-cover is cool (if you found that limited CD version)! The booklet includes possible pictures from forthcoming 'Ed Hunter' computer game. Quite lame futuristic CGI graphics. 'Virtual XI' seems to be a football team with Maiden guys and real footballers like Overmars, Vierra and Gascoigne.
Iron Maiden seem to have many things going on. It feels like some of the music wasn't composed with full consideration. Exactly the same problem that plagued the previous album 'X-Factor' (1995). Gladly these two albums get better with time, at least I appreciate both a lot. But really, if you love Maiden, you still gotta love this. That's the truth. But this is just my least favourite Maiden album. If you want to check Iron Maiden out, start with 1980s albums. If you ask me, I say they've never made it wrong... So, please, take that into consideration.
Though I tried not to plea for The X Factor in my review of that album, I can’t stop myself this time, because this is truly looked at as Maiden’s worst album, and I strongly disagree there. I just don’t understand why people can’t really get into this album and dismiss it as utter crap. There are a few changes in Maiden’s sound here and there, like every 80s metalband used to have in the 90s, but nothing so terrible so everyone would hate it. The introduction of truly long songs and more dominant keyboards are a few, but they’re quite nice actually. Another reason this album is often turned down is our beloved Blaze Bayley, but the man actually performs very good on this album and I can’t find any weaknesses in his voice on here. Instead of trying to defend this album from its haters any further, I will now explain why I love it so much.
The ambience is a lot lighter than on The X Factor, which was masterful, but at times you just need to kick some ass, and that’s where Virtual XI comes in. “Futureal” is the first of a bunch of adrenaline pumping fast-paced tracks. It’s got everything a classic Maiden opener got, except for Bruce Dickinson, and I don’t think that’s a big loss on here. Second song on the album is a bit of a dragger and could be weary at times. “The Angel and the Gambler” is an 8-minute long song with heavy pop influences and an overlong interplay. The synths are added very cheesily on here and it gives a bit of an 80s pop feel. Apart from that, the sentence “don’t you think I’m a saviour” and the rest of it gets repeated more than 20 times. That’s quite a lot, isn’t it? It’s far from a highlight, but I think in the end I can swallow it; it can pass by on the album without notice. Adrenaline pumper #2 is “Lightning Strikes Twice”. It starts with a gentle guitar intro, and then Blaze’s splendid vocals enter and BOOM the song speeds up all of sudden. The guitar solo’s are really inspiring here and kick major ass. To stay in the pattern of fast-long, we now should have another long one, and yes. It’s even an epic! “The Clansman” qualifies for the best song of the album, and it’s quite hard to determine such a thing, for there are so much more great songs on here, as we will soon notice. This one starts off with the by now classic Maiden bass intro and then goes into the unbeatable “freedom!” chorus, already in an upbeat part. It then goes on for another 8 minutes with a cool diversity of verses and choruses, with a silent bridge in between with cool solo’s thereafter. The heroic legato melodies on here are also superb.
And then we have “When Two Worlds Collide”; another song in the style of “Lightning Strikes Twice”. It also starts of slow, this time with some arpeggiated chords, and then explodes. We are already out of lyrics when the interplay starts, just like on the aforementioned song, and we again have a killer solo to fill it up. Though it’s similar in style it’s by no means boring and still kicks some butts. Then comes the severely underrated “The Educated Fool”. It also begins with a gentle intro. The chorus however is immensely catchy and energetic. The “time will flow”-part needs a bit getting used to, but in the end it’s just part of the great song. The lyrics are also brilliant. There is some heavy ass kicking in the interplay of this song, shifting from the legato-themes to a staccato-theme to a great solo and all the way back! One of the best songs of Iron Maiden ever, and I can’t believe that people discard this one. When we go on we have “Don’t Look to the Eyes of a Stranger”. Another 8-minute song and this time not an epic, not a pop song with overlong parts, but a stretched out rocker. Though you will be fooled by the intro, this song is fast and heavy and... long. Perhaps a bit too long, or perhaps not. They could’ve cut down the “don’t look to, don’t look to” part just before the interplay, but actually the whole instrumental part is a true feast for your ears. Nicko is having the time of his life on the drums, Dave and Janick switch leads most successfully and Steve probably had a good time composing it. The band is very coherent here.
This album has been on a very high note and Iron Maiden want to close it at the same quality. “Como Estais Amigos” is a beautiful ballad dedicated to the victims of the Falklands War. Iron Maiden never succeeded to bring tears to my eyes with Di’Anno or Dickinson on vocals, but with Blaze it just happens. He managed to do that a few times on The X Factor, but also on this album closer he succeeds again. It's so very touching a song and so much emotion inside his voice. This is what makes Blaze Bayley one of my favorite singers; it’s a feeling only he can give me. Apart from his performance, the band is at their best as well: incredibly well-composed interlude it has with maintaining the touching ambience of the verses and chorus within the legato-theme and the solo’s. The best part of this song is the construction. It starts off very gentle, subtly adding an element after each verse until finally the full band kicks in and Blaze sings at full volume “No More Tears”. And how dare people say the synthesizers were added improperly? Without them this song could not have been as great as it was.
Need I say more? I love this album! I can’t understand how other people hate this. There are well-crafted songs, amazing guitar leads and stunning vocals. I wish Iron Maiden would have kept Blaze and made some more Virtual XI-esque albums. Unfortunately nobody agrees with what I just stated and the band was forced to take Bruce back. Alas, we will never know what their future could’ve been with Blaze... Anyway, I highly recommend this album, as long as you can forget about Bruce. This exceeds Bruce and a lot of Maiden’s earlier material by far.
Strongest tracks: “The Clansman”, “The Educated Fool” and “Como Estais Amigos”.
Weakest track: “The Angel and the Gambler”.
Because destroying your new vocalist's chances with the fans and the world through the release of an entirely mediocre 10th album was just not enough...the swiftly sinking Iron Maiden had to go and follow that up with a pinnacle of career embarassment that rivals Metallica's St. Anger or Megadeth's Risk. In fact, Virtual XI is so bad that it makes Tim 'Ripper' Owens two albums with Judas Priest seem shining by comparison...not that I encourage you to waste your time there, I'm simply sliding the mercury down the thermometer so you have a clear idea of just how fucking wretched this temperature is.
Perhaps the best way to describe this album's sound is to create a hypothetical situation. Let's imagine for a moment that a group of fresh young Iron Maiden fans who had only just learned to play their instruments because they were inspired by The X Factor. Let's assume that all of these kids had a jamspace within driving distance of a venue where the band was touring, in which you could find their cheap instruments, a couple carpets for muffling, a basic PA, and two Iron Maiden CDs: The X Factor, and some greatest hits compilation which the band rarely listens to since they are so obsessed with the former. Now let's say one of these blokes has a van, and that somehow, after a Maiden gig, they've gotten Blaze very drunk and 'kidnapped' the poor man to their jamspace. Once they arrive, they keep getting Blaze even more hammered, sit him on a stool, hand him the microphone, and have him ad lib over some shitty songs they wrote...inspired by The X Factor. Then they record the session an 8 track or 16 track or whatever they've got lying around.
Virtual XI is actually WORSE than the result of what such an outlandish meeting might produce...
The flaws are myriad with this album. From its dulled down, absolutely uninspiring production values which mirror those of the previous album, to the dreadful songwriting which cannot have taken more than a beer or two to produce. Yes, this album sounds like it was released rather haphazardly, and I'm curious how EMI Records even let it slip past them. At the very best, and I'm talking the rare moments of this album that do not immediately induce vomit or other symptoms of malaise, the songs sound like a shallow redundancy of things we've already heard through the band's career, recycled just to get a passing score and the disc to the pressing factory. Although I like the guy, and hate to admit it, Blaze Bayley sounds terrible, like a drunk at a karaoke bar. He hits his usual, sombering range here, but let's be honest...even if the guy was suddenly channeling Andrea Bocelli here, the music is so bland and dreary that the effort would have been wasted.
There are guitar melodies, there are plodding basslines, and there are all the signature staples of Iron Maiden's past written across Virtual XI, except one: good, or even passable songs. The material on this album ranges from the truly embarassing ("Como Estais Amigos", in which Blaze Bayley tries to wax emotional over a crappy, repetitious sequence of notes that even the atmospheric keyboard cannot save) to the just bad ("The Clansman", which has one or two decent lines in which the repeated vocal melody creates a nice theme to which any Scot might want to tip his mug, but not for 9 fucking minutes...oh no). "The Angel and the Gambler" is stupefyingly mundane...like if you took a handful of old Maiden riffs, dulled them down to drunken laxness, tossed on an organ and strings, and took a giant squat all over the resulting mess. I mean, just listen to it...
Actually, belay that order. Do not listen to this. You'll only hate me more than you already do. "The Educated Fool", "When Worlds Collide", and "Futureal" sound like poor outtakes from The X Factor. None are any good, but perhaps if the latter and "The Clansman" had only been thrown onto that album instead of "Sign of the Cross", that one could have been somewhat easier to stomach. One of the riffs in "Futureal" sounds as if the band later salvaged it for "The Wicker Man", and the melodic guitars aren't the worst thing on the album, but that is saying very little. "Don't Look to the Eyes of a Stranger" is abysmal, with horrid lyrics that eschew the same string of cliches you'll find everywhere on this disc. "Lightning Strikes Twice" has a fair, moodiness to its initial minute, but as the power chords hammer in, it sounds incredibly goofy due to Blaze's vocals, and the way the track cuts to and fro sounds pitiful, like the band actually needed to randomly string it together from sequences that might have belonged in other tracks. The chorus vocal pattern at the end is too little and too late.
Kill it with fire! Melt it into slag, whatever it takes to rid yourself of the stagnation and foul memory of exposure to this monument to mediocrity...for Virtual XI worships at the foot of such an altar, stretches its arms, begging to be accepted as even a plain old, forgettable album. But what has manifested upon this release is something much worse...awful music that feels contrived and conceived simply to fill a void, to meet a quota, to pay the bills. When reading that several of Brave New World's tracks might have been written for this album, one has to wonder why they are not present here, for even with Bayley's uninspired barroom browbeating they might have been the stick hanging out over the quicksand's edge...the one saving grace through which the album could have pulled its tired carcass out of its inevitable fate. But no....
Glurg. Glurg. Grasping hand, with no one to take hold of it. Bubble. Bubble. Dying Gasp. The End.
Highlights: Yeah. That'll be the day!
If there is one band I would die for, that would be Iron Maiden. If I had to choose the ultimate line-up for a band, that would be Iron Maiden. My love for them is endless. I find great pleasure and delight in listening to all their albums. Well, anyway, almost all of them. Dickinson’s departure did a big damage to the band. Blaze Bailey’s debut, The X-Factor was partly good, partly horrible. I looked forward to their next step, hoping that this time they wouldn’t let me down. A decade later, I’m still confused.
Despite any similarities to The X-Factor, Maiden move one step further, by making numerous flashbacks to earlier albums, particularly Seventh Son… The album, titled Virtual XI, generally moves in mid-tempo rhythms with plenty breaks. There are some epic traces but also a touch of 70’s progressive rock, surprisingly. The production is very good and the cover is quite strange, though a lot better than the previous one.
The first thing I have to comment on would be Bailey’s vocals. He has established his own style of singing and he does not try to imitate the one and only Bruce Dickinson. Not that he would have been able of, anyway. Still, I must admit that he does much better this time. Those who liked him before will like him in this one too. Those who didn’t might change their mind. He sings with passion and strength and he is probably the album’s big surprise. On The X-Factor it seemed as if Maiden were trying to adjust the songs to his vocals to get the best result. Now they work all together and most of the times it pays off.
Another thing that lifts the quality of the album is the guitar work of Murray and Gers. The riffs are improved and the solos do exist, in contrast to their absence on the X-Factor. Of course there isn’t much to say about the bass. Steve Harris is as always on the front line, giving his best.
The opener, Futureal, which is also the first single, is aimed to be the album’s “hit”. It’s got everything it needs. It is short, less than three minutes and fast with sharp guitars. It’s quite catchy but it is not the best song. Well, not even the second best. This place rightfully goes to Lightning Strikes Twice. An excellent song that begins with a slow intro ‘till the moment Murray and Gers start causing electric shock waves that hit you like lightning. At last, we get the Maiden double solos that we love so much.
With the first notes of The Clansman, you understand that Maiden are making a journey back in time, to the Seventh Son… album. The Clansman is a nine-minute epic that follows the spirit of The Sign of the Cross and in my opinion is much better. The lyrics refer to Scotland’s will for independence from the United Kingdom. Pretty inspired I can say. After A typical slow passage half-way, it speeds up again before its slow ending. Blaze Bailey performance is fantastic.
When Two Worlds Collide is another fine track based upon the same structure. The once again slow intro gives its place to fast guitar themes. Though, at a point it repeats some lines, maybe more than it should, it is considered as a good moment in the album. The Angel and the Gambler is a song very unusual for Iron Maiden. It is also very long, approximately ten minutes and here the band experiments with many keyboards that, to me, don’t fit in. It is not as awful as many believe but it could have been shorter, thus less mediocre.
A song that is quite different from the rest is Como Estais Amigos which is basically a kind of ballad, heavy at times but no match for the divine Wasting Love. The remaining song, The Educated Fool and Don’t Look to the Eyes of a Stranger can only be appreciated if you think of them as a joke! They are totally shity and horrible and the great flaws of Virtual XI. Completely unworthy of Maiden, I pretend they don’t exist every time I listen to the album.
It would be very easy and convenient for me to praise Iron Maiden and claim that Virtual XI is fantastic, glorious etc. but I will not. If four great songs in a total of eight in a Maiden’s release are enough for you, then fine. Otherwise…
What the flip? There used to be a review of me here. Has it been deleted after a year? With what reason? Must have been a mistake. I’ll immediately write a new one then.
I laughed my ass off when somebody wrote “Fanboys will make you think it's bad”. This album being bad has nothing to do with previous Maiden efforts nor even Blaze. Even if this would have been a debut by a new band, it would have been ignored or even bashed by the media and listeners. Man, even if this would have been a new Wolfsbane album people would have been disappointed!
Why do some people persist in calling this album underrated? Why do you persist in claiming this to be good when even the band themselves ignore this release these days. This is the lowest point in Maiden’s career and certainly not without reason. I’m getting the impression some people claim to like this album just so they could voice a different opinion. Pubescent behaviour?
Now let’s not talk about Blaze. We’ve done that on the previous records. So this time it’s about the quality of the songs. Now there are two songs on this album that actually sound like Iron Maiden. Opener “Futureal” is very short and up tempo. These days (first three reunion albums with Dickinson) I complain about Maiden songs being far too long, in this case we’re talking about a song that is too short! It’s a pretty good tune!
Secondly this album has “The Clansman”. This song is worthy of the Sign Of The Cross, Fear Of The Dark and To Tame a Land legacy. It is an extremely well written epic. Of course the chanting of “Freedom” is too blatantly stolen from Braveheart but when not keeping that movie in mind, it is a very strong song no matter who it sings!
But apart from these two songs every thing falls apart on this album. “The Angel & the Gambler” is the worst song in Maiden history. Yes, this monstrosity is even worse than Wasting Love or Bring Your Daughter. Horrible keyboards, lack of real riffs and an even worse vocal line which is repeating itself a billion times. Old men’s hair metal lasting almost 10 minutes. Somebody should be shot because of this song. And to think it was none other than Steve Harris who wrote this atrocity! When hearing it I thought this must’ve come from Gers and Blaze. Those two did indeed write something hideous here. “Como Estais Amigo” is dull rock. Nothing metal about it. Still could’ve been good, but it is so bloody boring! Not to mention the stupid title.
Well Steve Harris really had an off day here since “Don't Look to the Eyes of a Stranger” is also one of the worst songs here. Just like Angel and The Gambler I can’t recall any other song on which the title is sung so many times. This time it takes 8 minutes to sit through overstretched nonsense.
“When Two Worlds Collide” has a few moments bringing Maiden to mind but as a whole it is a rather generic tune. “Lightning Strikes Twice” and “The Educated Fool” are two meandering songs which would have been too dull even for the X-Factor or Fear Of The Dark.
The album is filled with long and very dull songs that have more of a hardrock feeling to them that the energetic metal Maiden were once famous for. Two good songs cannot save the worst album is Maiden history. Those two songs take this album up to 20 points. However the awful harmless production (where are the guitars? And secondly Gers is sloppier here than ever, just like he’d be on Dance Of Death) and equally dull artwork (although better than The X-Factor) take it down to 10 points. Ouch!
Get "Futureal" and "The Clansman" and forget about the rest, quickly.
... and that's why you should ignore the fanboys, because usually they're just a bunch of retards.
Iron Maiden is a very awkward band, because it would seem, that the majority of the fanbase doesn't see that the band has released several albums in years 1990 - 2000, and even if they do realise that, they usually yell nothing but rants about how "awful" that time is, and it seems that their hate is mostly focused upon Virtual XI, that I'm about to review.
Anyway, let's start with the most obvious reason: the vocals. Bruce Dickinson, hero of the masses is not featured on this CD, he is replaced by Blaze Bayley, and here is why most of the fans whine: "How can this be? Maiden without Bruce?". Yes, Bruce is not here, get over it, but what is important, Bayley is doing a really fine performance really. His voice-range is balanced very well, and even though he isn't too keen on hitting some very spectacular notes, he also doesn't fall into repetition (at least too much, but I'll return to this later), the best example to that would be "The Educated Fool", some may call it a ballad, where Blaze introduces nice emotional vocal work, ranging from being calm (the first part) then going into aggression ("or is it DEATH? is there ever anyway out?"). Yet, in this track it comes out that he isn't good with the aforementioned high notes - in the chorus, he tries to sound melodic, but in reality he's just out of tune. In another song, the opening Futureal, Bayley is singing in a neat, fast style, also going through a well-made emotional structure.
Vocals aside, let's go to the rest:
The guitarwork is OK, nothing more, nothing less. There are some very nice riffs (in Futureal and The Clansman notably), unfortunately, there is a tiny lack of really outstanding soloes present in the album and the song structures themselves are rather simple, so maniacs of guitar mastery will probably be unsatisfied, yet after all, the performance is enjoyable.
Let's start with the bad sides:
Lyrics are nothing particularly stunning, mostly they, are one might say, "about nothing" and they don't quite add too much to the overall feel.
I previously mentioned repetition, there is one track here that should be 3 friggin minutes shorter and that track is "The Angel and the Gambler". After the 7th minute, it's basically nothing but Blaze repeating "DON'T YOU THINK I CAN SAVE YOU" over and over and over again, it also happens between the fourth and fifth minute, the only good thing about these moments is that we are served with some cool guitar soloes. Also "Don't look to the eyes of a stranger", even though the song itself is great, suffers from the "let's repeat the chorus" formula at the ending part.
And for the last "bad" part of the album, I'd have to pinpoint the last song which sounds a bit fillerish.
Of course, if it had only bad sides, I wouldn't give the score that big, so let's get the good sides.
The CD has a good atmosphere throughout. It stays a little dark (but, mind you, it's not grim or something), doesn't fall into being "jolly as hell", it's just keeping things cool (it's kind of good for evenings).
The songs are nearly all very catchy and pleasant to listen. Futureal is doing the job of a first track well, it's a nicely speedy song to start things up. The Educated Fool seems like a ballad at first, but raises the tempo later, and is a very varied piece of music, it features epic, aggressive, calm moments and you can feel that Blaze is very personally engaged in it (it's also pretty much the best song of the album I think). The Clansman and Two Worlds Collide are catchy as hell, and the first has a cool riff going through it (and I'm also quite positive that most people know this song only from Rock in Rio and would be like "wtf" if you told them it's from this album). Also, if not for the annoying "LET'S REPEAT STUFF" parts, Angel and the Gambler and Don't look to the Eyes of a Stranger would be top notch.
Overall, this album even though has its downsides, it's nothing short of awesome. Also, it's made for Bayley and performed by Bayley, Dickinson just wouldn't fit into this album, and if someone tells you otherwise and states that "liek this cd would be so much bettar with Bruce", he's just dumb and you might as well throw that person over the window, because personally, I just can't quite imagine Dickinson doing the vocals for Futureal or Lightning Strikes Twice. Maybe, if this album was not introduced under the name of Iron Maiden, it wouldn't get so much hate it gets, but totally doesn't deserve.
Highlights: Futureal, Two Worlds Collide, Educated Fool.
The Blaze Bayley years of Iron Maiden have always been a point of contention for most of the band’s older fan base. Blaze’s voice is simply not suited for NWOBHM music, because he doesn’t have the necessary range and the kind of power in the upper range that he does possess to match the arrangements. As best I can tell he would be most suited for a traditional doom outfit similar to Trouble or early 70s Black Sabbath. On the X Factor, some great songwriting helped to hide Blaze's limitations as a singer, but here we don't have nearly as much great music to smooth out this rather rough edge.
Although not nearly as long-winded as its predecessor, we have some rather long tracks in "The Angel and the Gambler" and "The Clansman", both of which break the 9 minute barrier. On previous Maiden albums the epic tracks would tend to battle each other for prominence, which as the reason why the better Maiden releases of the 80s usually had one dominant epic, while other longer numbers would be considerably shorter and less complex. Here, the former is an overly repetitive quasi-rock tune that has more in common musically with "From Here to Eternity" than the more anthem-based and complex epics that usually run this long. If 3 1/2 minutes of needless repeats of one part were taken out, I could actually listen to and enjoy this song. By complex contrast, "The Clansman" is the strongest track on here, containing the atmospheric elements that helped define classic epics such as "Afraid to Shoot Strangers" and "The Sign of the Cross".
Among the shorter tracks on here, the results range from adequate to pretty damned lousy. "Futureal" is a fast track with a catchy set of guitar riffs that almost sound like they were left over from the "Seventh Son" sessions, it’s fun but it doesn’t really stick with you. "Lightning Strikes Twice" is a shorter epic that contains some nice lead work by Dave Murray, but a rather poor vocal performance by Bayley, for some reason he can't hit that high B without his voice falling apart.
Of the remaining tracks, "Educated Fool" and "When Two Worlds Collide" have some decent moments, but way overlong and under-developed. "Como Estais Amigos" is a stupid ballad that I can't tolerate for more than a minute, as unfortunately Janick Gers' compositions are hit or miss, as is even the case with their post-90s releases. "Don't look to the Eyes of a Stranger" meanders like crazy, and the tempo drags so much that it makes 8 minutes seem like 30.
This is the weakest album Maiden has ever put out, and it is not merely Blaze’s fault, but a collective failure on all sides. Steve Harris managed to write one classic song and Dave Murray’s lead playing salvages some of the otherwise mediocre filler, aside from that there is basically nothing but unmemorable melodies and meandering interludes. If you really want to hear this for 1 great song and maybe 2 passable songs, I'd suggest looking for this release second hand at $5 or less.
I remember buying Killers, Saxon's wheels of steels and Scorpions Lovedrive when they came out in the early 80's. I was hooked. The band that lured me into this life of metal was Iron Maiden. I have seen them on every tour from Number of the Beast to Fear of the Dark. Even when fear of the dark came out I tried to dig it, but it just wasn't happening.
Then along comes this. What the fuck were they thinking? Blaze was great in Wolfsbame, but this crap? Futureal kicks it of with some pretty good mid paced riffing and the the vocals start. We will deal with that later. The Harris signature clicking, plodding, riding on a horsey is audible and as always nice to hear. The song itself has some interesting time changes and a catchy chorus. All in all not to bad. Then it goes south. The Angel And The Gambler is simplistic two chord rock like Ratt or some shit like that. There are even keyboard enhancements that sound like a kids casio that start it off.
The Clansman is the thing that pushes me over the edge with this record. "I am the Clansman" over and over and over. Steve should have cut that one by five minutes, but I guess they had to have the obligitory epic for the live set.
Song construction is simplistic, no killer time changes, and the dueling harmonized lead parts sound like they were engineered at the last minute. Plus they are real snoozers. This record was so bad that when Bruce rejoined it took a lot for me to plop down 15 bucks for "the new maiden"
I never thought I would write a negative review of my favorite band and maybe I am a touch sentimental, but seeing that mummified eddie shoot fire from it's eyes on the Powerslave tour was a creem dreem for sure.
The album imagery is laughable. What the fuck? Our hero has gone from a lobotomy, to an egyption, god, to a Cyborg of the future, to an mystic prophet, to a virtual reality nerd? Imagine being 18 and picking this up as your first Maiden record, and hearing the Chorus "Time will go and I will Follow? over and over and over. This is the worst Maden album and possibly the worst traditional heavy metal album ever. I guess it is had to happen though. Thte Black Album, Cryptic Writings, etc. No one or band is perfect, but it is really fucking weird when your heros that are larger than life drop doo doo like this.
There is a reason Maiden is flying around thier new jet playing stuff from Powerslave Piece of mind, and Seventh Son. I leave you with these words, "Dont look to the eyes of a stranger" "dont look to the eyes of a stranger" "dont look to" repeat 30 times. I sold this on Ebay and italian customs sent it back, Now that is eeeeevilll.
And that's where the awesomeness of this album peaks and fades away. The long unawaited followup to the hopelessly banal X Factor album, I used to be inclined to give this album greater respect than its precursor, but one long and painful relisten later, it's clear that this is the absolute worst that Iron Maiden has to offer.
A lot of the reviews seem to hint that there's some truly deep musical ingenuity to be found on this album. Unfortunately I couldn't detect any of it. It's not a terrible metal album, but for a band of Iron Maiden's status, it's inexcusably bad. This is not totally on the part of Blaze Bailey. I don't consider him a good singer necessarily, and he's certainly no Bruce Dickinson (or even a Paul Di'anno), but he's far from the worst singer I've ever heard and his presence on the album would not be enough to ruin it unless the music was also critically flawed. Which it most certainly is. The Iron Maiden magic has pretty much died. Virtual XI is long-winded and inconsistent, but worst of all, it's just plain boring. Outside of a few nice moments in "Lightning Strikes Twice," there wasn't really a point over the course of listening to this album where I thought "Hey, that was a really cool melody line." or "Wow, that guitar solo kicked ass." Basically, it's unmemorable from beginning to end. It makes for decent background music while you're doing work or driving in your car I suppose, but this will never be one of those inspirational albums you just sit and listen to just for the sake of just sitting and listening to it. On another note, Janick Gers isn't half the player that Adrian Smith is. He doesn't have the skill as far as playing is concerned and he isn't even close to Adrian as far as songwriting.
This album is somewhat widely rated, with some loving it and some hating it, so it's hard to guarantee what any individual will think of it. If it helps at all, I've found something to like in every pre-Blaze and post-Blaze Iron Maiden album, but I can't stand this or its slightly less shitty big brother X Factor. Bruce Dickinson fans need not apply as well, as Janick did a much better job on his solo albums than on this gross misrepresentation of the Iron Maiden name. Suffice it to say, Virtual XI is a musical failure and should be duly avoided.
Think of The X Factor. Now think of it harmonized with the dark feeling kept only to a few songs. Add a ton of repetitive choruses to the mix. That’s Virtual XI. The weak production continues, this time the rhythm guitar is even thinner and bass even higher. Blaze sounds even more out of place on this one. The whole band itself sounds tired and worn out – songwriting has totally suffered as a result with poor vocal melodies and awful choruses and a general lack of ideas all making their appearance here. The whole record retains a more melodic, rock feel to itself.
Blaze as has been said is all the more out of place here. The vocal melodies are at many times poorly written. The choruses are legendary for their repetitiveness. Steve does a good job on bass although it’s just high enough to make it even overshadow the guitar at times. The soloing is killer as usual but the riffs are what are lacking in the guitar department – all the riffs here sound bland and uninspired. The keyboard use in the album is very tasteful and succeeds in creating atmosphere where the song can’t.
‘Futureal’ starts off the album speedily. A rather tame song compared to ‘Man on the Edge’ or ‘Be Quick Or Be Dead’ but it still is very catchy with a heck of a solo and it gets over fast enough for you not to bother about the chorus. ‘The Angel and the Gambler’ is a test of patience. All the verses sound similar to each other and the chorus is repeated often enough for Bruce to contemplate committing suicide. The solo in there really is good, but the song is torrid enough for you not to notice. ‘Lightning Strikes Twice’ is a dark song, one of the two songs on here where the dark feel is retained. It is an excellent song with great use of melody and excellent soloing. ‘The Clansman’ is considered a classic and rightfully so, the chorus is effective despite being composed of a single word. Blaze sings in a beastly, proud voice which really carries the aggressive patriotism portrayed in the song. ‘When Two Worlds Collide’ is another excellent song which also features great use of bass and melody. The chorus here is totally addictive as are the verses. ‘The Educated Fool’ has good use of double-layered vocals and great melodies, but when the damn thing is repeated a million times – it totally loses its effect. The song sucks due to the infinite repetition here. ‘Don’t Look To The Eyes Of The Stranger’ is rather decent, the chorus and the soft segments suck, but when the band picks up they really do rip up. ‘Como Estais Amigos’ is a lost classic, the entire song is very dark and atmospheric with an amazingly emotion tinged performance by Blaze especially in the chorus. This one has great soloing, tasteful use of keyboard, a brooding atmosphere and excellent guitar/vocal melodies – all the ingredients of an awesome song and the perfect way to close the album.
All in all, the album is a step backward. If you can get by the repetition, then you’d find a pretty good album here. This album was the last with Blaze and Bruce’s return in Brave New World heralded a return to form for Maiden. Unlike Priest, Maiden have still held on to their bad past and have played songs from both the Blaze albums and the Di’Annio albums live, This is obviously an excellent choice as the songs sound excellent with Bruce as well.
This is regarded as trash by most people, but I can't find it in myself to agree. When I first heard the album, I was appalled, I really hated it. But as years went by, I started to like it, and dammit, it really isn't that bad.
The production is a bit thin and weak (Steve, you can't produce!), though better than on X-Factor, so it's tolerable. It opens up with 'Futureal', a great adrenaline-pumping song. Not, of course, in league with openers such as 'Aces High' and 'Moonchild', but still a very solid effort. Catchy and to the point, actually. Which is not the case with the next song, which I dub "The Epitome of Repetitiveness". Wow, even the word itself is repetitive! 'The Angel and the Gambler' (see, even the title reveals some of the repetitiveness, contaning two the's) isn't such a bad song, but when the same line is repeated 662 times (sorry guys, a few more would make the song outstanding, now it's just lame), it gets truly boring. It's a mid-paced 70's style hard rock song, and catchy too, but man do you fall asleep! Then we have 'Lighting Strikes Twice', which is in fact a great song. It begins calmly, like every bleedin' track on the X, but this one is very nice to listen to. It quickly pacens up (pacens up, is that English? I'm not sure. You get the idea anyway, ha!)The chorus is fun and repetitive and fun, and that's good enough for me. The masterpiece on this album is 'The Clansman'. Do you like Braveheart? Do you like freedom? Then you'll love this song. It's this album's epic (every Maiden album needs one, and BNW even had 7 of them!), and everything from vocal lines to riffs and leads and drums, makes it stand out. I love shouting "FREEDOM!!!" the hundred times it's repeated during the song, and at last year's Maiden concert, this song along with The Clairvoyant was the greatest moments! Yes, I love it. 'When Two Worlds Collide' reminds me of 'Lighting Strikes Twice', in that it starts out just as calmly, and....wait, doesn't half of Maiden's 90's output do that? Well, I connect the two all the time for some reason. Another great song (that's three in a row, you filthy unbelievers!). I really like the dreamy mood in this one.
Of course, after a very nice hat-trick, things tend to calm down. And not only does it calm down, the quality drops down 200%. 'The Educated Fool' has a nice enough intro, but who in the midst of Lametown, UK came up with the chorus? Pure garbage that chorus is. And overall quite a boring song. And it's not as if 'Don't Look to the Eyes of a Stranger' remedies this in any way. Another calm intro, before there's actually a nice mid-paced part. 5 minutes into the song, however, Maiden decides to take influences from BLUEGRASS and make maybe the worst moment in all of Maiden history! Ok, so I'm not sure if bluegrass is the correct term, but when I hear that section I think of rednecks and town idiots dancing and prancing and spitting and drinking. Truly awful, then. The last song is 'Como Estais Amigos'. It's a ballad, and a great one too! I like playing this on my guitar (because I suck, and this one is easy enough for me to play, that's why!), and I love the chorus, not to mention the rest of the song.
Overall, it is worth buying this album. 5 out if 8 great songs does not make an album suck, in my opinion. Of course, there are few Maiden albums worse than this, but if you have the other ones, don't exclude this one. If you live through the gruelling pain when you're listening to it the first five times, you'll learn to appreciate it, I'm sure of it. Tata.
Ok, I think I should start this review by putting up some defense for Blaze. First of all, he isn't Bruce. Get over it. With that in mind, his vocal work on this album is 100% better than it was on the previous album. I'll admit, I didn't like his vocals on X-Factor as much because he tended to sound like he was mumbling at times. Also, Blaze's vocals fit many of the songs very well on this album. Now, also keep in mind that Iron Maiden isn't Blaze's band. The comment I hear most of is "Blaze sucks because he repeats the choruses too much." I will explain (at least my interpretation) this when I get to Angel and the Gambler. However, even still, I'm wondering how this is Blaze's fault? If the other members of the band really didn't like the way the songs were coming out because of the choruses, they probably would have done it over. In fact, the only songs that Blaze contributed to writing were Futureal, When Two Worlds Collide, and Como Estais Amigos. None of these sound overly repetetive to me.
Now with that in mind, I like this album, with a few exceptions. Futureal is an excellent opening track. I've heard people complain that its too short, but hey, that works for me. The problem begins with Angel and the Gambler, which is first of all misunderstood. One time, just for trivial purposes, I decided to count the number of times Blaze says "Don't you think I'm a savior..." This line is repeated 21 times, which I think was done intentionally as part of the "gambler" theme (21 Blackjack for the morons who don't see where I'm going with this). However, this cleverness is not nearly enough to save this song. This is by far one of the most boring Maiden songs I've ever heard.
After "Angel and the Gambler" which for many is the downfall of this album, the remaining tracks aren't too bad. Lightning Strikes Twice is one of my favorite songs from the Blaze era. The Clansman is a very good epic track which never really fails to impress me. When Two Worlds collide has a very impressive melody. For some reason, this song is constantly overlooked, but I think it is one of the better songs on this album. The Educated Fool isn't a bad song, but it is less memorable than the others. I like the lyrics to this song, but the melody just isn't as memorable. Don't Look To the Eyes of a Stranger is a good song, but it definitely could have been shortened. There is a repetetive chorus near the middle/end of this song, but it only began to bother me after constant listens. The album closes with Como Estais Amigos, which is a very solid and memorable ballad.
If you can't get over the fact that Bruce was gone for this album and The X Factor, I don't know what to tell you. It seems like Blaze is constantly being looked at as the downfall of these two albums. However, in the end, this album holds together pretty well.