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Revisiting Bruce Dickinson's "Accident of Birth"

I've been an obsessed hard rock & heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.

"Accident of Birth" album artwork by Derek Riggs

"Accident of Birth" album artwork by Derek Riggs

A Massive Return to Form

  • Album: Accident of Birth
  • Artist: Bruce Dickinson
  • Label: CMC International Records (1997)

The 1990s were a long, strange decade for British metal legend Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden. By his own admission, the man with the air-raid siren voice had grown tired of the automatic adoration that came with being a member of the biggest metal band in the world and felt a burning desire to prove his worth as a solo artist outside of the Maiden bubble.

His first solo effort—1990's Tattooed Millionaire, which was released while he was still a member of Maiden—was a hard-rocking affair that appealed to Bruce's built-in fan base, but stood apart from the sound of his main gig. Millionaire got decent reviews and sold respectably, but apparently, it was not enough to scratch Bruce's creative itch. In 1993 he shocked the metal community by announcing that he was leaving Iron Maiden for good, in order to fully spread his wings as an artist.

Maiden marked Bruce's departure with two largely pointless live recordings (A Real Live One and A Real Dead One) which were taped during his last tour with them, and then things started to get seriously weird on both sides. After a round of auditions, Maiden drafted the talented, yet ultimately incompatible, Blaze Bayley to replace Bruce and released The X Factor in 1995, which received a lukewarm (at best) response from critics and fans.

Meanwhile, things weren't going so great in Camp Dickinson, either. The recording of Bruce's second solo album, 1994's Balls to Picasso, was marred by near-constant interference from record company weasels who expected him to provide radio hits… and then promptly dropped him from their label roster when he didn't.

Bruce's subsequent attempt to reinvent himself as a spacey prog-rocker on 1996's Skunkworks (produced by Seattle grunge guru Jack Endino) was a critical and sales disaster. When Skunkworks crashed and burned, Bruce was seriously considering giving up music entirely, feeling that the current musical climate was hostile to musicians associated with the '80s metal scene.

Fortunately, the stars began to re-align for Bruce in 1997. In a last-ditch effort to turn his solo career ship around, he wrote an album's worth of old-school metal tunes with guitarist/producer Roy Z of Latin-influenced hard rockers Tribe of Gypsies (who'd been Bruce's backing band on the Balls to Picasso record).

The songs maintained the classy, epic feel of Maiden's best material, with an added element of gritty, crunchy heaviness that showed the man was looking towards metal's future. Bruce scored a further coup when he re-connected with former Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith, who jumped on board for the resulting album, Accident of Birth. In an additional bit of good timing, the album's release hit just as '80s style metal began experiencing a resurgence in the underground.


Blown Away!

Prior to Accident, I had lost track of what Sir Bruce had been doing for a number of years, and since I'd also been disappointed by Maiden's attempt at moving on with Bayley, my interest in both parties was at an all-time low. However, my curiosity was piqued when I suddenly started reading universally glowing reviews of Accident of Birth in metal magazines, with some critics breathlessly claiming that the disc was "The best Iron Maiden album that Iron Maiden never made" or "Bruce's best work since Powerslave."

I picked up the CD and was utterly blown away from my very first listen. The album struck the right note from the hard-driving opener "Freak" and then proceeded to steamroll along for another dozen tracks of epic, dark, and moody, altogether awesome heavy effing metal!! Bruce hadn't sounded this energized in years!

A quarter century after its release, Accident of Birth is still a very strong record, with such crushing cuts as "Road to Hell," "The Ghost of Cain," "Darkside of Aquarius" and the awesome ballads "Man of Sorrows" and "Arc of Space." This was the first album I'd heard in a long time where I bothered to learn each and every lyric of every song so I could sing along (badly) in the car.

The Reaction

Accident of Birth and its follow up, 1998's The Chemical Wedding, completely pissed all over the comparatively weak efforts that Iron Maiden was releasing during the same time period with their new frontman (the aforementioned X Factor and 1998's Virtual XI)…so no one was particularly surprised when Maiden eventually announced that Bruce and Adrian Smith were both being welcomed back into the fold in 1999.

The rest, of course, is well-documented metal history; the reunion with Bruce and Adrian revived Maiden's flagging popularity and returned them to their rightful status as global Enormo-Dome filling heavy metal icons. No one was happier to see Bruce return "home" than this long-time Maiden-ite, but in my book, none of the albums Maiden has done since Bruce re-joined the band have come anywhere close to the complete and total awesomeness of Accident of Birth.

Bruce has been so busy with his Maiden duties and his side gigs as an author, motivational speaker, and airplane pilot that he hasn't released any solo material since 2005's Tyranny of Souls, though in late 2017 he told Classic Rock magazine that he had at least "half an album of solo stuff sitting on a shelf," so here's hoping that he finds some time to finish it soon!

Bruce Dickinson Solo Discography

  • Tattooed Millionaire—Sony, 1990
  • Balls to Picasso—Polygram, 1994
  • Alive in Studio A (Live)—CMC, 1995
  • Skunkworks—Castle, 1996
  • Accident of Birth—CMC International, 1997
  • The Chemical Wedding—CMC International, 1998
  • Scream for Me Brazil (Live)—Castle, 1999
  • The Best of Bruce Dickinson—Metal-Is, 2001
  • Tyranny of Souls—Sanctuary, 2005

© 2019 Keith Abt