Virtual XI

Iron Maiden

CMC International Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Not that long ago, when I reviewed Iron Maiden's The X Factor, I mentioned that I had declared about two years previous that it was time for the pillar of British heavy metal to retire, but was glad they hadn't after hearing the first outing with Blaze Bayley.

Well, I'm going to reverse myself again, as Iron Maiden continue to take their fans on one of the worst rollercoaster rides I've ever been on musically. Their latest album, Virtual XI, all but kills the progress the band had made just one album ago, and makes me pine all the more for the classic days of Maiden.

First, the good: It's interesting to note that the most success Iron Maiden has this time around is in the shorter songs. The leadoff track "Futureal" is a decent start to the album, while "Lightning Strikes Twice" also shows a lot of promise.

It's also interesting to note that of the three songs I thought were the highlights of the album, two of them were co-written by Bayley (and one of them, "Como Estais Amigos," had no trace of Steve Harris anywhere in it). Bayley (who sounds a lot like Ian Gillen this time around) has yet to really come into his own with Iron Maiden, but his songwriting is a brighter light on an otherwise dim album.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Problem number one with Virtual XI: too much keyboard, not enough shredding guitar solos. For a band that once proudly displayed in their liner notes that they were using no keyboards, Iron Maiden have almost become far too dependent on them nowadays - so much so, in fact, that both Dave Murray and Janick Gers fail to impress me at all with their guitar work.

Problem number two: lyrical repetition. Problem number three: lyrical repetition. Problem number... well, you get the idea. Many of the songs feature choruses that on one, maybe two, passes, would be decent. But when they're continually repeated like a four-year-old who just learned his first swear word, it makes you want to rip the CD out of the player. How many times on "The Angel And The Gambler" were they going to force Bayley to sing: "Don't you think I'm a saviour / Don't you think I could save you / Don't you think I could save your life"? Gotta think this is the fault of original member Harris, who seems to definitely be the leader of the band nowadays.

Final problem with Virtual XI: this barely qualifies as metal per se. Hard rock, yes, but there's not a lot of edge to the music -- the guitars are terribly underplayed, the thundering bass has almost become an afterthought, and Nicko McBrain's drumming is starting to rely on the ride cymbal again. Songs like "Don't Look To The Eyes Of A Stranger" and "The Clansman" don't improve with repeated listens -- I know, 'cause I've tramped my way through this disc four times, and it's not getting any better.

I really wanted to like Virtual XI, but this is one of the weakest Maiden efforts since the atrocious Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son (uh, oh, I can feel the flame mail comin' in with that comment). I had been reading the metal newsgroups around the time this album came out, and a couple of people suggested that some new blood had to be injected into Iron Maiden. Bayley was supposed to help, but even he's starting to be weighed down in Maiden's modern-day mediocrity. The trouble is, if you replace everyone but Harris, I'm afraid you still have the same problem, just with different players. My solution for the next album: Don't allow Harris to control the songwriting or the production. Give Bayley, Gers and even Murray the room to be creative, and let Harris be a side man again. Methinks the results will be much better.

Iron Maiden has been fighting to create an album that would top efforts like Powerslave and Somewhere In Time. On Virtual XI, they take a huge step in the wrong direction.

Rating: D+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1998 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.