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The Great, The Average & The Ugly - 74%

drewnm156, September 20th, 2009

I never understood the musical course that Maiden took after Seventh Son. Although Seventh Son was a huge success in Europe and elsewhere, they lost fans or fan’s interest in the U.S. The raw and simplistic attack of No Prayer for the Dying appeared to be a reaction to the highly progressive and produced heavy metal created on Seventh Son. No Prayer in my opinion is the worst release in the Dickenson era. Fear of the Dark was stuck somewhere in the middle of those albums with moments of greatness, average-ness and awfulness.

The production is a ten fold improvement over the sparseness of No Prayer. It is a successful merging of the gloss of Seventh Son with the more live feeling of No Prayer. Rather than the sloppy feel to No Prayer, the production here is crisper, without seeming fake or polished. The performances themselves are not questioned even over some of the more banal material. The solos from Mr. Murray and even Mr. Gers are always a highlight.

The Great. The opener Be Quick or Be Dead is fast, catchy and short, a perfect opener. Although you can tell Bruce’s vocals are straining a bit on most of this album, it works perfectly on this aggressive song. Afraid to Shoot Strangers is a great epic that builds from a slow ballad to a great melody to an aggressive middle section then back to a more mid paced ending. Childhood’s End, a totally underrated song that builds on a cool staccato type chorus and memorable melody line. It is a very dark song both musically and lyrically. Finally the classic Fear of The Dark. What more can be said of this song that is still played frequently on live tours. The second chorus that introduces the galloping vibe is undeniable. These four songs are better than anything on No Prayer and hold up very well against most Maiden classics.

The Average. Fear is the Key, an ok song with social lyrics that fit the time Maiden was trying to live in. The song is too long and the sped up part towards the end seems awkward. It was an attempt at something different which I appreciate. The Fugitive has a great heavy beginning and catchy first verse. The chorus is a bit bland which brings things down a notch. The Apparition is half successful and kind of presages the type of riffing that was used to great success on the X Factor album. It’s not great, but not overly long and different to the entire album. Finally Judas Be My Guide is a simple and catchy song that I enjoy quite a bit, although not typical Maiden fare.

The Ugly. From Here to Eternity is probably the worst Maiden song ever released on a full length. It’s a bland dumb and unconvincing rock and roll song that has no place in their catalog, let alone as a single. Wasting Love actually vacillates between this group and the average group depending on my mood. Since the main melody line and chorus is a little weak and the song is way too long and repetitive, it’s inclusion here. Chains of Misery and Weekend Warrior are just bland, watered down rock songs. Unlike …Here to Eternity, Maiden didn’t try to convince fans these were any good, by playing them live. I do have to admit the pre chorus guitar line in Chains of Misery is pretty cool though, that however is about 12 seconds in the entire song.

One will never know what impact the impending (and probably well known) departure of Mr. Dickenson had on the song writing during this period. The ability to write great songs was still there but most of the song writing was way too average or boring. The band seemed split on whether it should embrace the progression displayed on Seventh Son, or the simplistic form of No Prayer. It took a change in singers and subsequent reunion to fully rekindle those progressive tendencies. However, the change in singers and the dark and epic follow up in The X Factor signaled a direction I was more favorable towards.