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Iron Maiden - 1998 Virtual XI



ARTIST: Iron Maiden
ALBUM: Virtual XI
LABEL: EMI (Europe), CMC (USA)
SERIAL: 7243 4 93992 2 8, BG2 86240
YEAR: 1998
CD REISSUE: 2008, EMI (Japan), TOCP-53772

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:

LINEUP: Blaze Bayley - vocals * Dave Murray - guitar * Janick Gers - guitar * Steve Harris - bass * Nicko McBrain - drums

TRACK LISTING: 01 Futureal * 02 The Angel And The Gambler * 03 Lightning Strikes Twice * 04 The Clansman * 05 When Two Worlds Collide * 06 The Educated Fool * 07 Don't Look To The Eyes Of A Stranger * 08 Como Estais Amigos

WEBLINKS: www.ironmaiden.com


Background
It's pretty fair to say in 1998 Iron Maiden were persona non-grata among the metal press and even their fans to some extent. With metal taking such a beating in the 90's Maiden found themselves caught up in the derision, especially when they enlisted Blaze Bayley to replace Bruce Dickinson, who did a runner in 1993, ostensibly burned out of the Maiden machine. Bayley had the pedigree, being Wolfbane's former frontman, the 'howling mad shithead persona' summing up his stage antics. Upon joining Maiden however Bayley suffered a motorcycle injury, which delayed the bands comeback until late 1995. When they finally reappeared with 'The X Factor' the knives were out and the band was savaged by critics who once lauded their every move. I still remember a two page Kerrang! review where Paul Elliot spent two pages criticizing Maiden as being irrelevant and out of touch with the times while failing to even review the bloody album. Maiden persevered despite the negativity and managed to crank out 'Virtual XI', while suffering the indignity of being relegated to indie label CMC in the U.S.


The Songs
One of the problems of Bayley era Maiden was how neutered Bayley's personality became. Forced into a brooding, serious vocalist by Harris' constant tales of life, failure, war and B movie lyrical adaptions, it simply didn't suit Blaze. However there is definitely more urgency to 'Virtual XI' than 'X Factor' and Bayley sounds more like his old self on three minute 'Futureal', a fast paced excursion which to me is more immediate than anything they've recorded since. Following quickly is nine minute plus 'The Angel And The Gambler', which is you ask me is a rock masterpiece. For years now we've endured countless tracks exceeding this length by Maiden, most of them dull and plodding, with little repeat value. Here though Maiden show how it should be done, with no four minute intro and buildup, instead going straight into the track with no fussing around, inserting a hook with true immediacy. The hook itself has been criticized because it is repeated over and over, but I don't think it hurts the track. The Who-like keyboard work is engaging and there's a multitude of excellent guitar solos. Because it's associated with Bayley however this track is always dismissed. By comparison 'Lightning Strikes Twice' is short at under five minutes and a great slab of traditional Maiden metal, building into a neat crescendo. 'The Clansman' clocks in at nine minutes as well, another well executed epic that Dickinson sang live. This is a trademark galloping metal epic that again I much prefer to any of the 2000 to present day tracks. The trademark slow intro permeates 'The Educated Fool' but isn't overlong, the song picking up speed as it progresses, the chorus very melodically inspired. 'When Two Worlds Collide' is fairly short and Maiden play some straightforward metal, something they seem to have forgotten since Dickinson rejoined the band. Another epic ensues, 'Don't Look To The Eyes Of A Stranger' running at eight minutes, but again not taking long to kick in, with the symphonic keyboards more noticeable here than usual. The band really goes for broke in the final few minutes, almost reaching thrash levels with their speed. The way they gather the momentum is genuinely exciting and it's disappointing this album is held in such low regard by so many. A rare ballad of sorts finishes the album, 'Como Estais Amigos' a tribute to veterans of the Falklands War and handled with a high degree of emotion. Bayley excels on this track in particular, a sad end to his tenure with the band.


In Summary
Away from the music there was a football theme to the albums artwork, supposedly to tie in with that year's World Cup and Harris' love of West Ham. Therefore the world was treated to a team photo with legends like Paul Gascoigne, Stuart Pearce, Patrick Viera and Paul Walsh. To this day I'm convinced Bayley's head was photoshopped on his bizarrely shaped body. On the resulting tour Maiden played scaled down venues across the U.S. and much like the 'X Factour' the tour ended early due to problems with Bayley's health. It would be his last involvement with the band as in early 1999 Dickinson and Adrian Smith rejoined Maiden, although they felt the need to keep Janick Gers. It was a quite undignified exit for Blaze who did the best he could considering the circumstances he faced in Maiden. I still enjoy this album and play it and 'X Factor' far more than I ever would 'Dance Of Death', which is approximately never. Ultimately Maiden and Blaze didn't quite combine the way they should have, which is a shame because they could have done much more if people had been more accepting during those dark days for Maiden.


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Comments
#1 | gdazegod on December 17 2011 15:26:35
I can't even remember anything about the 1998 World Cup. Was it France in France? helpless
#2 | george_the_jack on December 17 2011 15:35:55
lol George...Actually, this is not that bad, agree... I remember me queing outside 'Rock City'(one of the major rock record shops of Thessaloniki) on the day it was released, to get the version of the album featuring a collector's moving image cover! I love X-factor too.
#3 | RobLynott on December 19 2011 17:27:58
Yes, gdazegod. It was France in France. As for my home country Germany it was a rubbish tournament - only surpassed by the horrendous euro 2000, which saw the worst display in german football history. Fortunately things have changed a lot since then Cool
 
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