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"Virtual XI" is virtually ok - 70%

dimebag_dio, June 18th, 2017
Written based on this version: 1998, CD, EMI

To someone who has been listening to Iron Maiden from the start, it's understandable as to why they might not be so fond of this album. Maybe it's because my first impressions of the band came from their late 90's work, but I think this album is pretty great. The only problem is that it doesn't sound like Iron Maiden.

The first thing that any Maiden fan will point are the vocals. As much as I will defend this album, to say that Bayley's voice is able to match that of Dickinson and even Di'Anno just isn't right. Bayley's voice seems to have an unchanging, almost monotone quality to it. I really don't think he does the songs justice. Based on live performances of "The Clansman," and the fan reaction to it, if Dickinson had sung on this album it would be much more popular with fans and it would fit into the Maiden lineup much better.

It also seems that this album has an abundance of slower and drawn out songs. "The Clansman" and "The Educated Fool" prove my point. While these songs aren't necessarily bad, I happen to like "The Clansman" very much, Iron Maiden hadn't done anything like this up until this point. Not bad, but these songs just didn't sound like Maiden... and really, they still don't.

I also would like to point out the odd decision to replace much of the rhythm guitar with keyboards. This is especially prominent during most of the solos. It's not like Maiden hadn't used keyboards before, but they had never completely replaced an entire section of an album. Once again, this isn't necessarily bad. However, paired with an unfamiliar vocalist, it reinforces my previous point that this album just doesn't sound like something typical of Iron Maiden.

Now pretend that this album was a debut of a completely new band and wasn't associated with the fantastic legacy that Iron Maiden created in the 80's. If this was the case, I think this album would have been viewed in a much better light. I think even considering Maiden's past when this album was released, "Virtual XI" holds up as a fairly strong album. Even with all the criticisms listed above, this album has its moments. "Futureal" is a real head banger, and "The Clansman," even with its lack of tempo, has a creepy and mysterious feel to it that obviously stands the test of time next to other Maiden classics. This is a good album, but as most Iron Maiden fans have already pointed out, it just doesn't feel right to put it in the same category as "The Number of the Beast" and "Piece of Mind." To conclude, "Virtual XI" is virtually okay.