The X Factor

Iron Maiden

CMC International Records, 1995

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/28/1997

When Bruce Dickinson left the British heavy metal band Iron Maiden in 1993, many wondered if there would be life after the vocalist who made the band superstars.

So when Blaze Bayley took over the lead vocalist position on the band's "comeback" album The X Factor, he was already fighting a tough battle. He needed to bring some life back into a band that was very stagnant - they hadn't released a solid album since Somewhere In Time - and heavy metal had fallen very much out of fashion.

Did Iron Maiden succeed in rejuvenating themselves? The answer is "yes," though the band has taken some turns that are not welcome.

Bayley's vocals are a little more subdued than Dickinson's - there is not the balls-in-a-vice style of screaming that Dickinson brought to the band. And while there are some higher vocals, Bayley holds his own very well - better, in fact, than with his previous band Wolfsbane. Just listen to cuts like "Man On The Edge," "Lord Of The Flies" and "Sign Of The Cross," and you'll hear the new direction Bayley is leading Iron Maiden.nbtc__dv_250

And this new direction causes one of the greatest difficulties for me as an old-time fan of the band. All but nonexistent is the presence of rhythm guitar on many tracks, instead being drowned out by noodling on synthesizers. Iron Maiden had always been known for a powerful two-guitar attack (most recently by founding member Dave Murray and Janick Gers). But while the solos rip as usual (and haven't lost their bite after 20 years of performing), the rhythm guitar is sorely missed on this one. I'll pin the blame on production work by bassist Steve Harris and longtime assistant Nigel Green.

But once you get past this one major style change, both the songwriting and the performances will surprise you - even if you're not a big heavy metal fan. The songs, as they have for the past decade plus, are mostly story-tellers, sone with a moral ("Fortunes Of War," "Judgment Of Heaven"), some with a not-so-happy message ("2 A.M."). But the stories are all there, unfolding as the band eschews the traditional heavy metal they have become known for and go for something a little more musical here.

Worth special attention is the drumming of Nicko McBrain, who puts in the best performance I ever remember him doing. Normally banging out a rhythm on a ride cymbal, he seems to have discovered the joys of the hi-hat, and his drumming is all the more powerful because of this.

I won't deny that the shock of not hearing Dickinson screaming on The X Factor is a change that takes some time for adjustment - long-time fans may not consider this the real Iron Maiden. Two words: Paul Di'Anno - remember him, kids? He used to front the band in the early '80s before Dickinson stepped in? In fact, only two original members of the band remain: Murray and Harris.

The X Factor dares to push heavy metal forward in a world where it is no longer a dominant force in the music market, but the new version of Iron Maiden successfully are able to reinvent themselves and create their best album in some time. Five years ago, I pronounced it was time for Iron Maiden to hang it up and call it a career. Now, I'm glad I was wrong.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of CMC International Records, and is used for informational purposes only.