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Iron Maiden > Virtual XI > Reviews > InternalDecade
Iron Maiden - Virtual XI

Similar to Brave New World in certain aspects - 93%

InternalDecade, May 13th, 2022

When it comes to this release, the often argument is that there are some passages here and there that are truly acceptable, and only two songs are worth getting supposedly. The only thing I suggest is to download the digital copy of this album, replace the original song The Angel And The Gambler and get the 6-minute-single version instead. It's the only way to digest it better and I always thought that they should have put the single version instead of that endless 10-minute torture. I love this album, every time I listen to it I like it more than the last time. And the most satisfying thing is perceiving every metal nuance that Nigel Green polishes with his hands. At times, I dare to say that Nigel Green is more of a metal producer than Kevin Shirley. I really like Shirley's early work with this band, but his latest albums sound like dad rock. They're good, but they're too dad rock in terms of guitar tone.

Since not everything has to be perfect then there has to be a balance. Virtual XI has little flaws in the songwriting department, but Nigel Green's freshness makes you want to revisit this album more than some from the Shirley era. The only ones who’ll say this is bad are the classic fanboys who defend their husband Dickinson and aren't capable of giving Blaze Bayley the credit he deserves, a vocalist who in the short time he lasted in the band knew how to evolve and grow up as a musician. The song that tends to be overly mythologized is The Clansman, a Braveheart-based epic that wouldn't be out of place on any of their more brilliant albums, which is true because Virtual XI follows the same path as its adjoining albums.

This album doesn't commit the same sin that No Prayer For The Dying did with those flat, jovial, rocker songs. While the first two albums with Janick Gers were shitty rock albums, since The X Factor the band tries to recover complex compositions with greater continuity, perhaps kinda monotonous but entertaining all in all. Monotonous in the sense that some songs have predictable structures, and entertaining in the sense of having more hook and punch at a point where Janick Gers was already used to the band. In the songwriting department Mr. Harris is who fails here, at best. The first things that come to mind when you listen to Virtual XI are the nods to 1970s retro-rock in the style of Led Zeppelin/Deep Purple in songs like the mellow When Two Worlds Collide or the flawed The Angel And The Gambler. This last one improves significantly in the 6-minute-single version that can be considered the best option in a digital version of the whole release. The only thing we lost is the introspective choruses in the middle section (sadly) and some of the 70 repetitions on "Don't you think I'm a savior"... (for everyone's sake).

Along the same lines, Don't Look to the Eyes of a Stranger is much more tolerable, and this is where I have to answer why this album is similar to Brave New World. Unnecessary repetitions are present in both albums, not only the repetitions, but the general vibe in those albums are similar and the only thing that differentiates them is the closer and therefore the way it ends. You have the first single song and then you get into the complex compositions. Last but not least, both albums are written for the vocal ranges of their respective vocalists. BNW is epic and overly happy, befitting Bruce's voice, while Virtual XI walks the fine line between epicness and introspectiveness that characterizes Blaze's nebulous voice. When it comes to songs, Don't Look to the Eyes of a Stranger and Dream of Mirrors have an amazingly similar structure, with the usual slow intro and fast-paced rupture in the second half. These two songs are easily assimilated to that metaphor about the two worlds between reality and the glass of a mirror.

Even if I put myself in the shoes of others, I may not say it's a horrible album, but probably the least memorable of their entire career. Not so much because of Blaze's voice, which is not disliked at all since there are those who play The X Factor over some of Bruce's albums, but because of the languor, lack of motivation, and lack of life that the band seems to show. Objectively this is not St. Anger and it's far from it, it's rather a strange facet you don't see every day. The sound is not very flexible but is a bit languid too. It doesn't have nor seeks the darkness that defined the gloomy The X Factor, yet it doesn't convey the light, joy, and immediacy of Brave New World either.

Visually and aesthetically, they offer a mix between soccer (a concept they explored years ago in Weekend Warrior) and the Ed Hunter video game/virtual reality concept, although Eddie is really notable on the excellent cover, which is one of the least memorable for the simple fact of being very ignored, and frankly it's better than Dance of Death or NPFTD aesthetically. While it's true that Blaze had to face the band's lowest hours, it's understandable why they believe that The X Factor still sounds convincing, because the doubts he raised among fans after that album and the tour placed him in a somewhat disjointed situation. You will always hear the same opinions to the detriment of that or this release, but the balance tends to be placed more negatively on this one due to a certain lack of inspiration in the composition. For me, Virtual XI is not lost in a world of uncertainty with mediocre, apparently incomplete songwriting that was totally abandoned in the collective imagination. I think the above-described fits perfectly for No Prayer For The Dying.