What does it sound like?:
The next four releases in this series of remasters (no bonus tracks alas) covers the nineties, a tricky and traumatic time for Maiden. Again, these use the masters created for the 2015 vinyl reissues, this being the first time they’ve been available on cd.
First up is Bruce Dickinson’s intended last hurrah, 1992’s Fear of the Dark, best known for its epic title track, still a live favourite today. It’s good to hear again the swashbuckling Be Quick or Be Dead, but with the exception of Afraid To Shoot Strangers it sounds at times like the band was struggling for inspiration, and there are a few too many metal by numbers songs for comfort.
Then came news of Dickinson’s departure, his replacement being Wolfsbane vocalist Blaze Bayley. The X Factor is actually better than I remember it, not having heard it for years. Although the album sags in the middle, there are good songs such as Man on the Edge, Sign of the Cross and Lord of the Flies. It’s certainly worth digging out for another listen as Bayley is a decent enough singer and this is an underrated and often neglected set..
The follow up, which marked the end of Bayley’s brief tenure in the band, was Virtual XI, one of the band’s weakest albums. Although it contains the excellent Futureal and The Clansman, a poor production job coupled with the impact of grunge meant the band, for the first time, sounded out dated and out of ideas. This decline in commercial fortunes , not just in album sales but in the size of venues they were playing, was addressed quite simply by unceremoniously getting rid of Bayley and getting Dickinson, along with guitarist Adrian Smith, back in the ranks.
The resulting ‘reunion’ album, Brave New World, still stands up as one of the band’s best. The good times were back with a bang as this set delivered everything fans hoped for with thunderous epic Maiden classics such as The Wicker Man and Blood Brothers. It set the scene for a period when the band went from strength to strength, enjoying more and more success and embarking on bigger and better tours, a period that still continues to this day.
Overall, a mixed bag of releases which really says it all about what Maiden were about in that era, a confusing time spent searching for inspiration and trying to rejuvenate and reinvent themselves as the metal scene changed.
What does it all *mean*?
Remarkably, after over forty years, Maiden seem to be bigger than ever, their appeal undiminished by the passing years. The albums now may be few and far between, but their epic live shows demonstrate there’s plenty of life yet in this old war horse. Strange that, like AC/DC, they’ve never (yet) gone down the deluxe reissues/bonus tracks route.
Goes well with…
Might suit people who like…
Metal at its best.