The T 666
After the commercial and critical failure of "Virtual XI", IRON MAIDENand vocalist Blaze Bayley mutually decided to part ways. The band didn't take long to announce what many fans viewed as the resurrection for The Beast: Bruce Dickinson, former front man, would be re-taking his spot as lead singer. To add to the miracle, Adrian Smith, last seen on "Seventh Son" (Dickinson's-Maiden last truly great album) was back again, but without any current member leaving, thus making the Irons a three-guitar outfit. The dreaded years of Bayley were over; a new, refreshed, re-vitalized Maiden was going to emerge from the ashes. That's what the fans thought.
And, to a degree, that's what actually happened. Sure, the old Beast was back. With Dickinson at the helm, everything was in place together; the band could once again focus on writing their traditional metal anthems, as now they had a singer whose voice could actually match the power of the instrumental machinery. Gone were the days when Harris had to think twice about how to build each song in a way that would suit their low-ranged singer the best, not to overpower it or create parts that would make it show its deficiencies. Yes, Iron Maiden could once again conquer the skies.
But, as I implied, the thing wasn't exactly a resurrection in qualitative terms but more of a re-birth for the old Maiden. Now with Dickinson holding the microphone, the band actually went back to their old sound. The music that made Maiden famous and loved around the world was here again, but at the expense of the progressive, more melodic arrangements that Bayley's weak voice forced Harris to write for the songs in the two preceding albums. Many of the instrumental and structural discoveries that the group had made in the past were thrown aside in favor of a return to old formulas, not completely, of course, but at least partially.
And that's the reason why I don't see the "resurrection" as such. I think IRON MAIDEN WAS alive in the Bayley-era, as much alive as it was now, in 2000, when they released their first album since Dickinson had returned. As my previous reviews showed, I happen to love both Bayley-fronted albums, so "Brave New World" felt somewhat awkward for me the first time I heard it: it was like if the band I was getting to love suddenly disappeared and the other band I used to adore had came back from the dead. All of a sudden, it was like if from "Fear of the Dark" IRON MAIDEN would had jumped forward straight to this album, bypassing that 1995-1999 era.
Of course, make no mistake: this album is great, leaps ahead of their last decent record with Dickinson and miles ahead of the one before that ("No Prayer"). The music here is in traditional Maiden style but with more complex arrangements, more instrumental parts, but nowhere as many as in "X-Factor" or even "Virtual XI". Individually, there are a few things to notice. First, Harris truly is back at the top of his game, playing as good as ever; Nicko McBrain continues to get better, now even adding double bass drum (?!?) to his arsenal. The guitars, well, now we have three guitarists, each one better than the other, so the album is a solo-fest and a delight for guitar lovers. And Dickinson. I have to say it: I think he has been getting better with the years; age hasn't taken a toll on him. His voice is a powerhouse that's a pleasure to enjoy.
The Wicker Man (10/10) Even if I said that some elements that were typical of the Bayley-era were lost in this album, nothing can ever top the "Dickinson-Maiden" for fast, lightning-fast tracks, and this is probably their best one of all time (not counting "Wasted Years" which is in a slower tempo). A guitar announces the main riff by itself, then the whole machine attacks. Dickinson enters the scene as the powerful star who knows the stage was set for him. After a great pre-chorus, the chorus is superb, with a guitar singing a little innocent melody while McBrain (for the first time ever) uses double bass drum to accentuate the glory of the music. Listening to this track I can understand why many fans saw this as the ultimate in resurrections, as it's magnificent. The solos by the THREE guitarists are fantastic, as is their playing throughout the whole track. As always, an excellent opener, maybe their best ever only after "Sign of the Cross" in "The X_Factor".
Ghost of the Navigator (10/10) The album starts really wonderfully. A great lamentation by a guitar opens this track, much in the vein of the first album of the Bayley-era. Then a crescendo, the intensity grows, and then the main verse, a riff not typical of Maiden. Powerful, imposing, the second section is more melodic, sounding a little like Queensryche but with Maiden written all over it; then a third section in the same tempo but different drumming; then a fourth section, in high speed, Dickinson singing over a playful ride cymbal and a crying guitar. After a repetition, the solo goes through all the speeds, the last one even enhanced by an accurate double-bass drumming by Nicko. A fantastic song, another check-mark for the resurrection list.
Brave New World (9.5/10) A pensive dialogue between guitars opens this song. Very melancholic, Dickinson's great singing helps to set the mood. The music gets more powerful and metallic, with a rhythm that speaks of battle, of struggle, of hope of victory. The chorus is very good, specially as contrast to the previous desperate rhythm. The second time that the verse appears, it would do so in faster speed, but with the same guitars singing in the background. The solo is a great axe-battle for supremacy, with all three contestants coming out as victorious. An excellent Maiden-riff serves as bridge for the last arrival of the chorus. It seems that, after all, this album is really the phoenix bird that Eddie climbed upon to raise above the ashes.
Blood Brothers (9/10) A good beginning, a conversation between all the electric-string instruments. Against a triple rhythm, Dickinson sings a very tuneful melody. After such an unusual prairie-ready moment, the chorus strikes as stormy, as a wake-up call. The tempo doesn't change even in the instrumental section, which features some great melodies and it's the best part of the song, with extensive use of the synth. Another success. Only the not-changing rhythm makes me give it "just" a 9.
The Mercenary (8.5/10) An energetic attack in the form of a riff, a fast track. The second section is very much like the chorus, which sounds like old Maiden, with great guitars beneath the surface. A very good speed-solo by the guitars open the way for the third appearance of the chorus, and the end of this great, if not brilliant, fast song.
Dream of Mirrors (9/10) A weird operatic opening with Dickinson singing over alike guitars. Then a guitar-solo section that seems to come from an Italian western; the mood changes when Dickinson comes back to one of suspense, of tension being built, of anger being saved for later, of water ready to break the levees. Then a short melodic chorus and it starts all over again. Until now McBrain has limited himself to use the hi-hat, now he finally jumps into the scene in full power to provide rhythm for a very QUEENSRYCHE-like chorus (which is logical as Queensryche was, after all, a band prominently influenced by Iron Maiden). The very heroic but slow atmosphere changes when all of a sudden the tempo changes and we're in the middle of a throttling cavalry. Great solos fly like bayonets, the drums pound like horse's legs, and the vocals soar like the battle chants of the warriors. The chorus appears again, and then the song ends. Great song.
The Fallen Angel (8/10) The beginning of this song sounds like old, ancient Maiden, straight from the time of "Powerslave". The chorus sounds just the same, bringing memories of by-gone eras. This enjoyable little track is an exercise in time-traveling, The Beast walking over known-but-forgotten territories again. Good. Nothing else.
The Nomad (9/10) Another track in the vein of "The Clansman" in "Virtual XI" in that it talks about a warrior from a different time. The guitars play great tunes, while the rhythm is like a zigzagging serpent. The chorus has an oriental flavor, but its third appearance is slower, more typical-Maiden. The solos are great, all in that same nomadic-desert-like style. Halfway down we suddenly go back to the brilliant times of THE X FACTOR, with some beautiful guitar melodies over synths and bass. A good song turned into a fantastic one. Excellent.
Out of the Silent Planet (7.5/10) Guitars open this song. When the vocals appear, the music sounds a little like a weird GUNS N'ROSES (?!?). That illusion lasts very short and we enter Maiden realm again. The chorus is good, a powerful chant, even though the verse itself is not that remarkable. When the song gets faster it also gets better. This one sounds like a GOOD track out of "No Prayer for the Dying"(that's almost an oxymoron). It's actually a good song and even though it's the weakest of the album, it's not bad, just not AS good as all the other ones.
The Thin Line Between Love & Hate (8/10) The album was on its way to a perfect rating, so it's up to this track to decide, as the last one was not really a brilliant one. This one starts powerfully, with energy, then a battle-cry of a chorus strikes like a flaming sword. What unfolds is a rather typical Maiden song, with good solos and decent melodies. When we reach the instrumental section, we're a little tired of the music but suddenly the air gets smoother, everything gets calmer, more melodic, the guitars sing like big ladies and the drums mark the rhythm as implacable commanders. Then the music gets quieter again, the great melodies in the guitars are joined by Dickinson who sings a just a few lines but so well that it's as if he said "let me say the last word, I'M BACK". And the album ends.
This has seldom (if ever) happened to me before: I started to write a review with one rating in mind, only to end giving the album a different one (?!?). As I always hear the music while I'm writing, now I've had the chance to realize that, even though the music is not like in the Bayley-era albums and that the sound harkens back to the earlier days of the Beast, the album IS a masterpiece in the Maiden catalogue. I won't change my introductory paragraphs as what I said still applies, specially to the two following albums ("Dance of Death" and "A Matter of Life and Death"), but I have to acknowledge that, in this course of this 70 minutes, I found out I was wrong. The album doesn't deserve a 4. It doesn't deserve a 5, either, as there are a couple of weak tracks; thus, the correct rating is a 4.5. This is my fourth favorite album by Iron Maiden, just below "Somewhere in Time", "X-Factor" and "Seventh Son".