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Bruce Dickinson's Opus. - 92%

tomm2003uk, May 13th, 2004

What more is there to be said about Bruce Dickinson? The Chemical wedding is quite possibly the best work from the Air Raid Siren. Good enough as his epitaph? Could well be. While not the best album he’s been involved with, it’s his best work with the vocals and writing superb throughout. The instruments, while not the driving force behind the songs ( like in Maiden) complement Bruce’s voice perfectly and the crunch riffs are only matched by the awesome solos that are conjured up by the guitar ‘dream- team’ of Adrian Smith and Roy- Z.
The album takes all that Bruce offered on Accident of Birth and adds some more progressive elements to it. The title the Chemical Wedding is another word for Alchemy ( I could go into more detail- but if you want to find out more, click on the Bruce Dickinson Commentary in the links section). The other aspects that this album bases itself on is the work of 18th Century poet William Blake a fascinating man who I’d recommend discovering more about. It’s his gothic interests that Bruce looks at here.

1. The King in Crimson. Fairly solid AOB-esque song here with crushing riffs and powerful yet slightly raspy vocals ( almost reminiscent of his work on early- 90s Maiden). This is a song that make me want to sing along while saluting the dark lord. Two great solos punctuate it, with Adrian’s being the slightly superior of the two. Can’t fault it as an album opener, yet this catchy little number pales in comparison to the metal juggernauts which follow it. 9/10
2. The Chemical Wedding. I like this track of it a lot. Many have criticised this for being too repetitive, but I’m just blown away by the semi- mystic feel that this song has and the powerful chemical symbolism contained within. One of the coolest lines ever is included in this song- ‘ and all the lighthouses, their beams converge to guide me home’. The power that Bruce includes in this is simply spellbinding. Some people claim this to be a song regarding a king and queen risen again to live happily after, or something else of that effect. Another Roy- Z solo completes this as a strong title track. 9.5/10.
3. The Tower. Lots of symbolism regarding Tarot can be found here. A bass- heavy intro reminding me of Wrathchild kicks us off and with powerful soloing from Adrian combined with a catchy little chorus this continues with what we have had already. On a side note, The Tower is never a song that really grips me when listening to it, but I end up singing it on the bus or somewhere equally inconvenient. 9/10.
4. The Killing Floor is well……….different. You can see what Bruce is trying to do here- write a number of the beast part two, but it doesn’t come off too well and quite frankly seems contrived. Not a bad intro riff though and some smooth vocal work. Bar the absolutely terrible chorus. 8/10.
5. The Book of Thel. Bruce’s creative opus? I think it might just be the case. Though it shares it’s name with a poem by William Blake, it bares very little resemblance to the poem. There’s a haunting intro with a building riff which stops and then rebuilds later in the song. This is combined with some decent Heaven can Wait style chanting. An instrumental section to rival Maiden’s greats contains some VERY cool solos and the song is rounded out by a spoken word part with some poetry being read by Arthur Brown. The poem is taken from The First Book Of Urizen written by William Blake in 1794. This is the centrepiece of the album and I believe Bruce’s solo career. Ace. 10/10.
6. This poetry at the end of The Book of Thel leads nicely into the The Gates of Urizen, a very mellow and almost trancelike song. A heavier middle section kicks a bit of life into the song, but it’s still fairly standard stuff. 8/10.
7. Jerusalem is next up, and while firstly a poem by William Blake, it was finished by John Milton. It was later turned into a hymn and Bruce here attempts to turn into a metal anthem. This was written by the unsubstantiated myth that Jesus once visited Britain and also a piece about the destruction of William Blake’s much loved countryside during the late 18th century Industrial Revolution. Though Bruce has changed it a lot, it still bears much resemblance to the original. The vocals near the end ( Jerusaleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeem for example) are simply stunning. Something quite typical of this album. Some excellent solos and an outro containing not only more Arthur Brown read poetry ( from the second book of Milton) but some mandolin playing from the adaptable Roy- Z. 9.5/10.
8. Trumpets of Jericho.The title is a direct reference to Joshua Chapter 6 in the Bible, in which the Lord tells Joshua how to defeat Jericho due to the large wall surrounding and protecting the city. The Lord tells Joshua to march around the city with the army once for six days. On the seventh day, the Lord told Joshua to get seven priests carrying trumpets of rams’ horns and march around the city seven times with the priests blowing the trumpets. On the seventh time around the city, when a long blast comes from the trumpets, make all the people give a loud shout and the wall of the city will collapse. So Joshua followed the Lord’s order and the wall of Jericho fell so the Israelites went into the city and killed all of the people of Jericho except Rahab the prostitute, who hid the spies that the Israelites sent in. This is a song about earth turning to a place of damnation and the almost inevitable inescapability of it. Awesome vocals on the chorus- no- one, not even Halford could pull this off with the same panache as Bruce does. Very metal indeed and a laugh bringing back shades of Powerslave? What more could you want? Second best song on the album. 10/10.
9. Machine Men. Not Smith’s best contribution to music, but not a bad heavy pounder to end the epics with. A song about resurrection and machinery it seems. The mumbling in the background is Bruce reading the yellow pages aloud apparently. Odd. Not one of the best songs on the album, but not a bad song nonetheless. 8.5/10
10. The Alchemist. Good place to finish. About a creator who’s disillusioned with what he’s created so leaves it to do as it wills. An allegory for the earth perhaps? Anyway, this continues the mystic sounds on the album and helps to round things off with a more solid effort than the slightly disappointing Machine Men. Solos are again good, and Roy- Z and H are again instrumental, yet it’s Bruce’s vocals which rule the song. Masquerades as an epic, but silence and another spoken word section pad this out. Not the best of the bunch, but not the worst either. 9.5/10.

11. The Japanese version contained the bonus track The Return of the King. Though having little in common with the third volume of Tolkein’s epic trilogy ( instead focusing on stone circles) it’s a great song. 9.5/10- You won’t find this on many versions unfortunately.

So, all in all one of the greatest albums of the 90s. Being my first Bruce Dickinson album, it brings back fond memories of summers past ( 2000) to be precise. In retrospect, probably Bruce’s most solid solo outings. Vocally, and creatively ( from Bruce) this is his greatest album ever. This deserves the 92% I’ve given it. I don’t give an album a score of 90+ unless it’s something VERY special. This, quite frankly is. Well worth picking up if you’re a fan of Maiden. Even if left unconvinced by Bruce’s other solo work, I can assure you this is the one.