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Iron Maiden - 1995 The X Factor




ARTIST: Iron Maiden
ALBUM: The X Factor
LABEL: EMI
SERIAL: 7243 8 35819 2 4
YEAR: 1995
CD REISSUE: 1998, Columbia (USA), CK 86223

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:

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

TRACK LISTING: 01 Sign Of The Cross * 02 Lord Of The Flies * 03 Man On The Edge * 04 Fortunes Of War * 05 Look For The Truth * 06 The Aftermath * 07 Judgement Of Heaven * 08 Blood On The Worlds Hands * 09 The Edge Of Darkness * 10 2 AM * 11 The Unbeliever

WEBLINKS: www.ironmaiden.com


Background
The state of traditional heavy metal in 1995 was perhaps the worst it had ever been, with the mainstream shunning and ridiculing it to the point it seemed it might become extinct. If you were around then and suffering through these barren years, you'll know what I'm talking about. Established metal media had given up on it, as if embarrassed to acknowledge its existence in the fear of not looking cool, turning the pages of their rags over to every grunge act populating the earth. It truly was a disgraceful era. Few bands were immune from the backlash, including Iron Maiden, who had been in a state of confusion since Bruce Dickinson quit in 1993. When it was announced that Wolfsbane vocalist Blaze Bayley had been selected as his replacement it seemed like a natural choice. Let's face it, there weren't too many up and coming British vocalists in those years and Bayley seemed to have the charisma to pull it off. In 1994 Bayley was injured in a motorcycle accident however which put the album well behind schedule. For a while it seemed like they had fallen off the face of the earth. The musical landscape of 1995 was horrific and metal was so ignored that when they finally returned with the 'Man On The Edge' single it seemed like a genuine miracle. It was heavy, fast and the sort of metal the world needed. At least I thought so. Back in those days before the internet was established hearing things like this was like winning a lottery, especially in a metal starved country like New Zealand.

I've pointed it out before, but the Blaze Bayley of Iron Maiden was not the Bayley who fronted the wild antics of Wolfsbane. The animated Bayley had been replaced by a serious, brooding and contemplative man who was force-fed the lyrics of Harris, whose fascination with war, mortality, religion and theories of life and abandonment were all consuming. Not to mention the endless musical adaptions of famous movies that Harris was enamored with. This album is where Harris lost any traces of humor he once held so dear. Forced on Bayley it removed his identity. The songs mostly meander in the fashion of modern day Maiden, but not quite as horrifically. 'Sign Of The Cross' is more accessible at eleven minutes than any epic since 2000, with more believability in the music and heaviness. But the problem with this album is the majority of faceless songs, which I feel need to be evaluated track by track.


The Songs
'Sign Of The Cross' - As mentioned this is eleven minutes and perhaps an unwise way to begin an album by a band absent for a few years. The Gregorian chants and intro take three minutes to get going, but once it does it's a reasonably satisfying slice of traditional Maiden. But in 1995 this was determined as obscene by all and sundry. (Who the fuck starts off an album with an 11 minute track? Strewth!!.. Ed)

'Lord Of The Flies' - Harris takes only five minutes to tell his tale of the classic novel and movie, in a straight ahead manner that somehow doesn't sound like Maiden. It's melodic, but dour and bleak. That said it's better than anything from 'The Final Frontier'.

'Man On The Edge' - This time Harris takes his cues from the movie 'Falling Down', as Blaze tells the tale of 'D-FENS' and his spree through Los Angeles. Such imaginative lyrics as 'once he built missiles in nations defense, now he can't even give birthday presents' captures Harris at his most provocative and thought provoking. Musically it's as fast as Maiden had ever played, a clever choice for single as it hinted at a dawn that eventually proved to be false. The whole album should have been the same, but in 1995 nothing could have sufficed.

'Fortunes Of War' - This incisive commentary documents the tortured mind of a Soldier returning home from war, a theme Harris seemingly cannot overcome. It's the usual fare, painfully slow intro, moderate build up and then a brief fast section from the galloping Maiden textbook. Not a classic by any means.

'Look For The Truth' - This is almost an exact replica in terms of structure as the above. This time Blaze sings about the nightmares that he battles every night. It's hard to figure out how Maiden got so serious, but apparently the vibe around the band was negative at the time. There are some riffs worth a listen, but the heavily orchestrated melodies wear thin here.

'The Aftermath' - Another mid paced war epic, Harris details the futility of World War II and the luckless pawns being sacrificed by faceless tyrants. 'I'm just a Soldier' sings Blaze mournfully before a token fast section, as Maiden's stylistic predictability presents itself yet again.

'Judgment of Heaven' - This one is more immediate, but I don't care for the melody which doesn't fit Bayley's type of vocals. It's almost AOR in the chorus, but the guitar solos are far better, saving it to some degree. It sounds incomplete though, there's not enough clarity in the bass. It isn't tough enough.

'Blood On The Worlds Hands' - A Harris bass intro leads into a real downer of a song, this time Harris pitying the state of the world and the madness which consumes us daily. Harris must sit at home shaking his head watching the world developing into chaos (he supports West Ham, no wonder.. Ed), 'it's out of control!' Blaze screams, forcing himself to give life to Steve's attempts at social relevance. Musically this is dire, too many keyboards, a lack of urgency and just overall dullness. One of the worst you'll ever hear.

'The Edge Of Darkness' - Now Harris gets to indulge himself with his retelling of 'Apocalypse Now', lifting quotes from the film directly into this dud. It gallops along, but the lyrics are diabolical. 'And now I understand why the genius must die!' Blaze wails as he kills Col. Kurtz. Best forgotten, like most of the album unfortunately.

'2 A.M.' - This could be the most pathetic Maiden track of them all. Blaze sings pitifully about returning home from work at 2 a.m., all alone watching television, asking himself how it came to this. 'I wish I could leave it all behind . do you just let go or just carry on and try to take the hurt?' he asks the listeners at home. They probably felt the same about life, but were listening to this for some escapism about Charlotte the Harlot, not depressing dirges about some aimless guy with no purpose in life. The music is as dreary as the subject matter, a staggeringly inept track on all counts. It's good comedy of course. It's hard to believe this is the same Blaze who a few years earlier was singing about liking it hot and painting the town red.

'The Unbeliever' - Just what everyone wanted, an eight minute album closer which could rank as one of Maiden' most forgotten tracks. There's some acoustic work which gives it a type of progressive feel like some of 'Killers', but it's too long, without any real inspiration. The lyrics again concern Harris trying to find the real Steve, looking deep into his psyche to release and unveil the torture and shame. 'Am I strong enough to release the guilt?'


In Summary
'The Aftermath' of this albums release was effectively the same result as the war scarred Soldiers Harris wrote about, which was extremely negative. The performance of the album reflected everything that was prevalent with metal in general in 1995. The scathing reviews, the disdain for Maiden's style of metal, even the terrible chart showing were indicative of how times had changed. In Kerrang!, once Maiden's biggest fans and former weekly metal bible, a reviewer named Paul Elliot took the album to task, spending thirty paragraphs explaining how Maiden were irrelevant in modern metal and how they were essentially a joke. Finally in the second to last paragraph he said the album was average. It wasn't a review, just a blatant humiliation for a band that he felt the need to disown, to look like a conformist to the rest of the hacks of the era. At the time it enraged me, being only 19 years old and impressionable about my belief in metal. But looking back he was right after all. This album should have been a raw and shorter album like early Maiden which could compete with newer bands. Maiden didn't help themselves by releasing three B sides which were better than almost all the album tracks. Instead of appearing vital they just looked like aging geezers pumping out a 70 minute album which had no appeal to anyone in 1995. What's even worse is that Maiden continues to release albums of this ilk but nowadays they are universally lauded as undisputed classics. It's ironic then that the press I reviled in 1995 were right all along.


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Comments

#1 | MUSCLE on March 25 2013 17:12:21
A truly pitiful album to release in 1995. The heavy metal landscape evolved beyond all recognition during the years 92-95. Elements of thrash had filtered into mainstream metal. Bands such as pantera, fear factory and sepultura had captured the imagination with their hybrid thrash, industrial sound. Groove and grind was the order of the day. Maiden made no attempt to embrace any aspect of this new aesthetic and were left looking redundant. Hence the scorn heaped upon them by many a disgusted metal fan and journalist.
#2 | reyno-roxx on March 25 2013 18:22:05
Having known Paul Elliott since he worked for 'Sounds' and then, subsequently, as a colleague at Kerrang!' he is not the kind of guy to suddenly disown any band. He has always told it like it is from his perspective. A great writer.
#3 | dangerzone on March 25 2013 20:28:39
I've been Maiden's biggest critic over the last decade and the mindset Elliot was in back in 1995 is the same one I share of Maiden now. The observations I made above were from my undeveloped 19 year old mind where I felt metal was under attack from everyone. Being the same age now as he probably was then I can see where he was coming from. I can only imagine how disgusted he was at this album when compared to other bands.

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