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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!