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... 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.