Guys, I've got a confession to make.
I don't like Iron Maiden.
I know this statement is akin to dousing a puppy in kerosene and overhand lobbing it into a raging bonfire, but it's true. I've tried my very hardest for almost four years now to enjoy them, to see the awe-inspiring craftsmanship everyone proclaims is prevalent on so many of their classic records...but I just can't. Not only do I think both drummers on Iron Maiden, Clive Burr and Nicko McBrain, plod out some of the most boring and repetitive rhythms of all time, but the songwriting of so much of their work may have worked wonders back in 1980, but like a joke it got extremely old extremely fast with each successive release following their self-titled debut. I think the revolutionary label slapped to Iron Maiden is quite reputable, but at the same time the asserted quality to match that is repudiable.
But, and I do mean a HUGE but -- Iron Maiden's 1986 work Somewhere In Time is one of my all-time favorite metal albums. Period. Strange, right? A band I dislike making one of my favorite albums? It's true though -- I think that Somewhere In Time is a precision-made, calculated masterpiece that distances itself so far from the band's discography that it might well be from a separate artist.
Somewhere In Time is a dystopian-based, Blade Runner-inspired record that came two years after 1984's Powerslave, an album that showed a lot of promise and had a few great tracks, but didn't nearly harness the same effect as it's successor. The Powerslave supporting tour ate up a whopping 187 concerts and excreted a whole lot of exhaustion onto the band following it, specifically Dickinson, who thus was not able to produce quality songwriting contributions. Dickinson had written some acoustic songs, in fear that if they didn't step up their game to a different level, that the band would "stagnate and drift away" (see even the band recognizes their sameness to a certain degree). Although these acoustic songs were not featured, this attitude continued into the eventual recording process, causing Somewhere In Time to be the first Iron Maiden album to harness synthesizers. While this might seem like a big no-no, considering that often it's the case that once a band starts leaning on the synths it's akin to them just committing creative suicide, but it's quite the contrary; Somewhere In Time's utilization of synthesizers gives a wondrous air of mysticism to the album, as it acts as a supreme background element to the its futuristic setting. It's also a key component in the massive epics that permeate the album. The title track opener, for instance, is a blazing fireball of a gallop that is one of the most prime examples of a perfect setting of the mood on any album, unheeded by the furious scream of synthesizer bursts. 'Wasted Years' is one of three contributions by guitarist Adrian Smith, and is the most lasting relic of this album's legacy. It does have a slightly poppier vibe, which may owe to this fact, but Dickinson's beautiful chorus and the magnificent guitar hook is nothing short of a knockout punch. One more highly recommended track is 'Stranger in a Strange Land', a bass-heavy, groovy romp which acts, in a way, as a better track representative of the theme of being "caught somewhere in time" than, well 'Caught Somewhere In Time'. Perhaps this is because of the lyricism of being in a mysterious world in which the rules are unknown, which I believe the album was trying to tackle. 'Caught' is still the best track, though. Not taking that back.
The band took their biggest step forward with this album, talentwise. McBrain, who I criticized previously for being extremely repetitive and leaning too hard on a a few stagnant drum patterns, is absolutely mindblowing on this release. His constant shifts between the groovy steel heel-click of the slower songs and the fast-paced explosiveness of the faster ones makes for one of his all-time best work. Steve Harris as always is extremely present and upfront, especially for a bassist. The neat thing about him is that, as a part of the percussion section, actually works off of McBrain to create this almost machine-like twang that follows his groove. Twin guitarists Smith and Murray are of course better than ever, offering extremely intricately-woven shredding that did well to pique my interest. Dickinson, although I'll always prefer Di'Anno, is at his zenith on Somewhere In Time, belting out a sort of sophisticated type of melodic yell that few of his peers have been able to accomplish. Absolutely stunning, all of them.
Many critics readily dismiss Somewhere in Time as being "half-baked", or "a hurried coverup of an atrophying creative muscle". These same critics will turn around and praise Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, an album I believe to be leagues below this one, and compliment it for factors they would say that Somewhere in Time wrongfully utilized. I say, pay no attention to them and embrace this one just like you would say Number of the Beast or Powerslave, because it's definitely up there with the best.