IRON MAIDEN — The X Factor (review)

IRON MAIDEN — The X Factor album cover Album · 1995 · Heavy Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
The 90s were a brutal time for established metal acts with almost all of them suffering a significant decline in popularity. It was both pathetic and amusing to see the most regal kings of the 1980s stumbling around like blind men as the alternative 90s swept away everything that the 80s had excelled at. While a few bands like Metallica adapted with some commercial success, most of the giants of the past were floundering about like fish out of water and so too was the case for one of the greatest of them all, IRON MAIDEN.

When asked which era is one’s favorite in the mighty MAIDEN history books, absolutely nobody will point to the Blaze Bayley years as their highlight. After an incredibly successful decade with one amazing album after another and incessant touring that no mere mortal could sustain, by the time IRON MAIDEN reached the eight album “No Prayer For The Dying,” it was beginning to be obvious that the band was burning out a bit and although that album had some excellent tracks on board, the album itself was much weaker than anything that came before. While “Fear of the Dark” was a bit of a step up, it too failed to reach the sheer perfection of the 80s output.

Frustrated and exhausted, guitarist Adrian Smith left all the way back before the “No Prayer For The Dying” album. He saw the writing on the wall and the next to depart was lead singer Bruce Dickinson who left after the “Fear of the Dark” tour in order to embark on a solo career. With such impossible boots to fill, Steve Harris was forced between breaking up the band or finding a replacement. After an incredible amount of searching the new singer was former Wolfbane vocalist Blaze Bayley who appeared on what many have deemed (including myself), the nadir of IRON MAIDEN’s otherwise stellar career. Yep, the 90s were not kind.

THE X-FACTOR was the first of two albums to feature Bayley behind the mic and appeared in 1995, three years after “Fear of the Dark.” The album was a departure in many ways. Longtime producer Martin Birch retired and left another void in the band’s status quo as well as the album cover art being the first not created by Derek Riggs. The band’s darkest days were reflected by the darker cover art and subject matter that was partially inspired by Steve Harris going through a divorce as well as an established 80s band suddenly losing its way in the alternative 90s wilderness.

THE X-FACTOR was released to lukewarm response and for great reason. The band simply was unable to adapt to the 90s and clung on to many of the aspects that made MAIDEN such an excellent 80s arena metal band. Only a few problems with that approach. First of all Bayley’s vocal style doesn’t quite have the range required to bring out the best of IRON MAIDEN’s musical approach and secondly the music which is excellent, heavily borrows from the “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” playbook and THAT was just not cool in the year 1995 when Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots were dominating the heavy metal world. It also didn’t help the band that more extreme forms of metal like death metal, black metal and doom metal were making MAIDEN sound a bit outdated.

This 10th album by IRON MAIDEN is somewhat of a mixed blessing. The band said that one of the singers they auditioned sounded shockingly identical to Bruce Dickinson but they wanted to find a different styled singer. Bad choice. MAIDEN sort of paralleled Judas Priest not only as the metal gods of the 1980s but also in the fact that both bands lost their lead singers about the same time and decided to replace them. While MAIDEN was a superior band in consistency, Priest actually made a better decision once they added The Ripper as their top screamer. Priest got the memo and learned how to adapt the music to the singer whereas MAIDEN simply added a singer and went back to the coffers to pad the music with ideas already presented.

Musically THE X-FACTOR is actually really, really good with the best tracks presented on the first half of the album and some weaker ones providing filler on the second half. Another problem with this album is that it is WAY too long and at almost 71 minutes could have been trimmed down by about 20 minutes. The opening “Sign of the Cross” is a powerhouse and by far the best track on the album with creepy keyboards and Gregorian chants ushering in a very progressive track that features dark lyrics and some of the most interesting instrumental workouts since “Seventh Son.”

The single “Lord Of The Flies” provided the catchy single but once again Bayley lacked the vocal dexterity and larger than life charisma that Dickinson exuded in abundance. Despite the weak vocal performances, musically this is an excellent album but due to the lack of a top dog like Dickinson at the helm feels woefully unbalanced due to MAIDEN’s failure to adapt the music to the singer’s ability. The fact that Harris dropped Paul Di’Anno due to his inability to keep up with the band makes it all the more surprising that this didn’t turn out so well. The rest of the album musically speaking is like the sequel to “Seventh Son” with keyboards provided by guest musician Michael Kenney adding eerie atmospheric backdrops to Harris’ idiosyncratic bass playing and the twin guitar harmonies of Dave Murray and Janick Gers.

For the seasoned MAIDEN fan, you will hear snippets of past ideas ranging from the intro of “Children of the Damned” providing a recycled riff on “Look For The Truth” and many other examples of MAIDEN mining their past however the band also offers some interesting new ideas to their roster such as the bizarre guitar riffs on “Judgement of Heaven” which sounds somewhat familiar but slightly different. The album is certainly not a waste of time on the music side of the equation and if this one happened to be rerecorded with Dickinson i would dare to say that this would be an excellent album and a major return to form. However as it is the incongruent nature of Bayley’s vocals not strong enough for MAIDEN material brings this down a lot.

Basically this album has 4 star music and 2 star vocals but it wasn’t really Bayley’s fault. His style just wasn’t compatible with this demanding music that needed an operatic singer to bring it to full life. What i would like to see happen is this album to be rerecorded with maybe a bunch of guest singers who could hit the higher notes. I rarely listen to this one due to the frustration of wanting Bayley to step up to the plate but alas it never happens! Any true MAIDEN will want this in their collection despite its flaws. It’s not unlistenable and is by far a better album than the absolutely awful “Virtual XI” that followed. All i can think of when i listen to this one is “Where was Ronnie James Dio when we needed him?” HA, if only :D
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siLLy puPPy wrote:
61 days ago
I just listened to the Bayley albums and then Brave New World. I think the 90s was a testament that Bruce and Steve evolved the band together and couldn't exist without the other. Glad they made amends. I can always dream about Dio though! haha
UMUR wrote:
61 days ago
Dio was probably too much of a boss himself to work with boss man Steve Harris. Iron Maiden has always been Harris band, and that´s one of the reasons Dickinson left. To have more control and in retrospect also because he had the delusion that he was bigger than the band. While his solo career was decent, it´s nowhere near the heights of his time with Maiden.
siLLy puPPy wrote:
61 days ago
Nope. He was on Dehumanizer in 1992 but the rest of the 90s he was just cranking out Dio albums. He easily should've been the vocalist!
Vim Fuego wrote:
61 days ago
Wasn't Dio busy reviving Black Sabbath's also flagging career at around the same time?

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