Ginger Nuts of Horror
I was terrified of listening to this album. I had listened to X Factor long before Virtual XI and I hated it and this one was supposedly worse. However after giving it 3 or 4 tries, it kind of grows on you. The only issue I had throughout the whole thing was the sound of Blaze’s voice, which to me doesn’t really fit at all with Iron Maiden musically, but that’s just me.
Before I begin, allow me to explain….
I came at this project as someone who has never listened to an Iron Maiden album, but of course, I’m familiar with the band. Who isn’t? I’d describe myself as a fan of all types of metal and would like to think I have eclectic musical tastes. Before sitting down to listen to ‘The X Factor’, I had never heard the album, or any of the songs from it, and didn’t really have any feelings about Iron Maiden either way. I could name a few of their songs and would nod my head along sometimes, but I sort of ‘nothing’d’ them.
After sitting down for around 120 minutes with this album, I’ve changed my opinion, and my Maiden fan pals have already laid into me about it. According to them, my opinion counts for nothing because I don’t know Maiden well enough, haven’t given them enough of a chance (on account of only listening to one full album), and I just don’t ‘get’ the band or what they do. I’d disagree that my opinion is worthless, but can’t argue with their reasoning. I slagged off one of their favourite bands and they felt personally offended by that.
It’s the 28th August 1993. Iron Maiden has taken to the stage in what will be their last performance with vocalist Bruce Dickinson at the helm. Rumours are rife of band disruption and there are allegations of Bruce not performing to the best of his ability coming straight from bassist Steve Harris. Something has to give! The previous two studio albums, Fear of the Dark and No Prayer for the Dying, feel a little like Maiden were just going through the motions. Fear had some great songs; notably Afraid to Shoot Strangers, Be Quick or be Dead and of course the live favourite and title track Fear of the Dark….but the rest? The less said about No Prayer for the Dying, the better. To these ears it sounded like a band tired and lacking any real inspiration. Maiden revisited themes such as war (Tailgunner) and history (Mother Russia) and they were beginning to sound very dated. Maiden was in trouble and all you need do is take a look at the lousy Raising Hell video to see that Dickinson had somewhere else he wanted to be.
Continuing our series of companion articles where Iron Maiden virgins are exposed to their first taste of Maiden madness, George Illet Anderson pops his cherry with Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. You can read Steve Chapman's review of the album here
As I sit here and try and write my first impressions of hearing an Iron Maiden album the one thing I’ll probably say over and over again is how much I have reverted to being an adolescent. My head has been bobbing up and down, my feet pumping and my arms gesticulating wildly whilst I mouth vaguely formed words and sentences. I’m acutely aware of this phenomenon occurring the more and more I try and listen to the lyrics. There’s something just so gloriously freeing about letting caution fly and prancing around as if I’m Bruce Dickinson wailing about portents, signs and seals whilst alternately doing screeching air guitar solos legs akimbo and flailing my arms at the same time as my feet tap out a persistent beat. I haven’t done this sort of thing in an age. There’s an old saying, “dance like no one’s watching” and I think based on my experience with this album you can also add sing like no one’s listening.
By the time Iron Maiden’s ninth studio album Fear of the Dark rolled around in 1992, the band who ruled the 80’s as kings of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) were in something of a slump, at least with regards to the reception of fans and media to the album’s predecessor 1990’s No Prayer for the Dying. The heady days of the 80’s, where seminal albums like Powerslave, The Number of the Beast and Piece of Mind epitomised the sound of Iron Maiden, were gone, and the 90’s might have brought chart success and record numbers of sales, but they also brought turmoil and fan dissatisfaction.
Most fans of Iron Maiden will tell you this album is where the band first began slipping from the majesty of their classic material, and though that may be partly true, I find it strange that even diehard fans give this album unrelenting amounts of shit. It may be Maiden’s first album to not be a complete metal masterpiece, but it is still Maiden. I personally believe many just don’t give this one the time of day because it is such a departure from the trajectory the band was on at the time. Many people wanted more bombast, more Seventh Son styled epics, more boundary-pushing of what melodic metal could be (and they wanted these things for good reason). Instead we got a barebones, hard rocking platter of varying quality. There is greatness held within this collection of songs, but arguably for the first time in Maiden’s career, there was also plain mediocrity.
You know Iron Maiden. I know Iron Maiden. Let’s not waste any time waxing lyrical about how amazing they were and still are. Or gush over the fact they remain one of the most influential heavy metal bands of all time. They came, they saw, they conquered – with a unique sound instantly recognisable by even the most fickle of fans. That was until of course, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
The seventh album from Iron Maiden (hey, how’s that for a coincidence with the title! Wait, I’m just been handed a note…oh…ohhh!) was a huge change of direction, veering away from the epitome of British Metal and into the cobweb-filled laboratory, Eddie laughing maniacally with his hand on the knife switch ready to send one billion volts directly into a concept album’s hopeless corpse...
This is a fun game to play. Believe me. I've tried it.
Go anywhere a large crowd would gather. The mall. A sporting event. High Mass. Take a deep breath and yell,
If anyone responds with a glorious war cry, you will know you have found your people.
It's a secret code. A mating call. The Masons don't have anything on Iron Maiden fans. Fuck your secret handshake. We've got screams.
"Scream for me, Long Beach." It's a sigil you can say. Made famous by Bruce Dickinson on Live After Death, arguably the best live album ever recorded, that phrase ranks right up there with "Is there no help for the widow's son?" for obscure, crazy pass-phrases.
Exciting, enthusiastic, this is a band revitalised. I can’t wait to see what they did next.
SUMMER OF MAIDEN, MAIDEN VOYAGE 2 : POWERSLAVE
I’m going to confess a few things right now: Iron Maiden are not my favourite band of all time.
That’s not to say I’m not a fan. There are a lot – a LOT – of genuinely great metal bands out there, but to further outrage and dismay you all, I’m more of a hair metal fan myself. I love the singles put out by bands like Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Metallica, Megadeth etc, but my bands were more your Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Guns’n’Roses, Extreme, Poison types – lustrous locks, power ballads, mainstream anthems, and lots of references to an American childhood I never had, though the kid who got me into Bon Jovi in 1987 actually came from New Jersey, so I’d say that’s legit. These are the bands whose albums I bought; these are the bands I can sing along to, knowing all the words.