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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.