Iron Maiden—"Brave New World" Album Review
A Return to Form for the Mighty Maiden
Iron Maiden—Brave New World
(Portrait/Columbia Records, 2000)
10 Tracks, 62:10
Iron Maiden's sizable fanbase is usually a very vocal lot, but prior to the release of 2000's Brave New World, they'd been suffering in silence for quite some time.
The 1990s had been a rough decade for the venerable British institution. Their arena-ready metal style fell out of popular favor in the face of the Grunge revolution, then their beloved lead bellower Bruce Dickinson shocked fans by abruptly leaving the band to pursue a solo career. Maiden drafted the powerful, but ultimately incompatible, wailer Blaze Bayley to replace Dickinson and went on to release two plodding, poorly received studio albums with him on the mic (1995's The X Factor and 1998's Virtual XI). Faster than you could say "Up the Irons!", Maiden found themselves toiling away in mid-size theatres and rock clubs instead of the huge stadiums they'd become accustomed to.
Meanwhile Dickinson toyed with pop metal and grunge on his first several solo outings, then reunited with another estranged Maiden-ite, guitarist Adrian Smith, to cut an excellent pair of no-frills metal records, 1997's Accident of Birth and 1998's The Chemical Wedding. Ecstatic reviewers claimed that Solo Bruce was sounding more like classic Maiden than Maiden themselves did at that time. With Dickinson's stock rising at the same time that his former band's was plummeting, Maiden suddenly announced that they had ousted Bayley and welcomed both Dickinson and Smith back into the fold. A highly successful "greatest hits" tour followed in 1999, and then the band released the highly anticipated Brave New World, their first studio collaboration with Dickinson in almost a decade, a year later.
Though Brave New World enjoys a fair share of of worship nowadays, it must be noted that fans were not much more than cautiously optimistic about it prior to its release. Maiden's last few studio records with Bruce at the helm (1990's No Prayer For The Dying and 1992's Fear Of The Dark) had sounded tired compared to their '80s classics. When Brave New World finally hit the streets, though, the fans were pleased to hear an album not only surpassed those less than stellar records, but completely erased the tepid-at-best (I'm being generous there!) Blaze Bayley era. On Brave New World, the band pick up where they'd left off on 1988's Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, which is considered by most to be the last truly essential album of Dickinson's original tenure.
Iron Maiden has never been a band that worried about three-minute radio singles, and as a result most of Brave New World consists of sprawling, epic works, with only three of the songs coming in under the five minute mark. Things kick off nicely with the opening track "The Wicker Man," which is wrapped around a galloping riff that brings to mind such classics as "Wrathchild" or "Invaders." "The Mercenary" and "Fallen Angel" also keep their feet firmly planted in straight-ahead metal territory.
Much ado has been made about the 1970s style progressive-rock influence that's permeated much of Maiden's later works. The "prog" feeling pops up occasionally during lengthier tracks like "Nomad," the excellent "Out of the Silent Planet" and "The Thin Line Between Love and Hate," but it's always tempered with plenty of up-front, pounding bass lines and classic Maiden guitar runs. The happiest news of all was that Dickinson's voice, which had been something of a hit or miss proposition on his last few Maiden albums, sounded as strong and vital as it did twenty years ago throughout the CD. It was official, the "Human Air Raid Siren" was back in full force!
"Out of the Silent Planet"
Summing It Up...
Brave New World may not have been the "ultimate" Maiden album that many fans had hoped for, but it was definitely a welcome return to form by a band who'd had much to prove. The production by Kevin Shirley (best known for his work with progressive metal titans Dream Theater) successfully captured the Iron Maiden that the fans had been waiting to hear again since the end of the 1980s.
As we all know by now, Brave New World resuscitated Maiden's waning fortunes and relaunched them back into the musical stratosphere. They've been regularly releasing albums and touring the Enormo-Domes of the world ever since. Released at a time when many so-called "classic" hard rock bands were reuniting with much hype, only to disappoint fans with sub-par albums (KISS' disappointing Psycho Circus, anyone?), Iron Maiden thankfully avoided the temptation to skate along on their reputation and successfully entered the 21st century in style.
Up the Irons!
© 2011 Keith Abt