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A return to form - 85%

Fatal_Metal, September 29th, 2006

I don’t know why lots of people have been getting up recently proclaiming this to be ‘nothing like Maiden’ and a ‘really really bad album’. I don’t understand this ‘I hate the legends so I’m cool’ stance lots of people have taken up. This album sounds very much like a bridge between the X factor era and 7th Son Maiden. Bruce too has returned and thus the vocal performance here is much better than the previous effort. Although he isn’t quite his prime, Bruce still manages to get the job done – and excellently at that. The production is just about perfect with everything retaining its place perfectly. Nicko’s drumming too has shown great signs of improvement, I tell you - this guy gets better as he ages. Steve’s chunking bass can be heard clearly and still maintains solidity. The riffing here isn’t the dark X Factor-style riffing (although check out ‘The Fallen Angel’ and ‘Out Of the Silent Planet’ for moments of this) but a more traditional Maiden style gallop. The song’s aren’t at al built on weak riffs like every detractor mentions. They have three guitarists now, although the material here still remains only for two. It is still murky why they keep Gers hanging around – he obviously isn’t half as good as either of his co-guitarists.

‘The Wicker Man’ starts off the album with an improvised ‘Running Wild’ (Judas Priest) riff. The song is upbeat speeder with a great chorus and ‘oh-oh- singalong section. ‘Ghost Of The Navigator’ starts off with beautiful, dream-like strumming before beginning with the ‘I Don’t Know’ (Ozzy Osbourne) riff. The song isn’t as good as everyone proclaims it to be, but is still excellent with that bridge at 5:03 being especially distinctive in that it manages to sound just as if a boat were sinking in a raging sea – it shows Maiden’s ability to conjure images of said lyrics in the listeners mental spectrum using only music. ‘Brave New World’ is a half ballad and once again starts with beautiful strumming. The song is another highlight as it is tinged with atmosphere and emotion and also has a sing-along chorus and pre-chorus and a great solo section. ‘Blood Brothers’ is surely one of the albums best tracks. The thing just oozes atmosphere and inspiration. The keyboards and guitar both are used excellently to develop the song as Bruce’s excellent vocals and the melodies add to the tensing of the atmosphere before the mesmerizing chorus. The effect truly is stunning and especially works live. The keyboard segments on the song are absolutely fantastic and contribute excellently to it. ‘The Mercenary’ though is a low-point. Bruce sounds vicious here delivering the verses and the chorus with power and inspiration. But unfortunately the chorus and pre-chorus are absolutely grating and especially so when repeated again and again and again. Slap all this on a standard Maiden track and what we have here is a track totally not up to Maiden’s standards. ‘Dream Of Mirrors’ is a nice, epic song with great, fluid tempo changes. Bruce sounds really great here perfectly bringing forth the underlying desperation in the song, although not quite as well as say ‘The Clairvoyant’. There’s a heck-lot to sing-along to here which especially makes it work live – ‘the dream is true…’, ‘I only dream in black and white’ and that excellent ‘oh-oh’ section in the near end. The song moves from slow in the beginning to absolutely frantic in the end with excellent, pump-like drumming from Nicko. ‘The Fallen Angel’ is a nice, small slab of The X Factor. The riffing here sounds very X and so do the chorus and the pre-chorus.

Now is when the album starts getting really good. Up till now, the album has been just ‘good’ and would have earned a 70+ score but the last three epics cranked up the score quite a lot. These three songs are the best on the album. ‘The Nomad’ is a brilliant pseudo-Egyptian epic with an awesome mid-section. ‘Out Of the Silent Planet’ is incredibly haunting with mesmerizing melodies and gets really damn fast as it ends in contrast to the milder start. This and the closer both are neck-to-neck for the best song on the album. ‘The Thin Line between Love and Hate’ is an awesome way to end the album. It has a strange vocal approach and a queer chorus (at least it seems so to me) all of which work in unexpectedly excellent ways. Also, there’s some absolutely gorgeous soloing here. The song in contrast to its predecessor starts off mid-paced and gets slower as it goes. The melody in the slow section is taken from Heathen’s ‘Prisoner of Fate’; here it is highlighted whereas there it passed off in a mere 3 seconds. The song though, ends rather abruptly – one can immediately notice this. But heh, if one hears rather closely – he can hear the Nicko lamenting and the band laughing over him missing a cymbal, perhaps that’s why.

All in all, this album is above 70 minutes in length – and still manages to be entertaining. This is quite a feat, and to think Maiden have done it a total of 4 times (The X Factor, A Matter Of Life And Death, Brave New World, Dance Of Death) already! This is truly what puts Maiden at the top of all bands including legends like Priest and Sabbath. Their music is more well-thought out which can clearly be seen in the lyrics – the lyrics are based mainly on history or literature unlike the other great bands out there who write on anarchism, sex, drugs or rock ‘n’ roll. Their style has remained similar throughout their career with significant and miniscule variations made without losing the path they originally took unlike the thousands of other bands out there. Looking at Maiden’s career and winning formula establishes perfectly the difference between the legendary bands (Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple) and the king of them all – Maiden who have kept their material fresh and have soldiered on to be a relevant band even in this decade.