Monday, October 20, 2003

Review: Iron Maiden - Dance of Death (2003)

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Dance of Death

The force that is Iron Maiden has delivered unto us their 13th studio album - Dance Of Death. The follow-up to 2000's Brave New World (the first album since Bruce Dickinson's return home) is everything that comeback album should have been and more. While Brave New World is a good album, the passion and intensity displayed by Iron Maiden on their early releases seemed lacking here. Dance Of Death retains that unmistakable Maiden  sound that has influenced countless bands over the years, but evolves it a step further by fully realizing the potential of a triple-guitar attack while also incorporating some finely tuned progressive elements. One of the components that I felt was missing from Brave New World  was the innovative guitar harmonies heard on previous albums. The lads must've noticed as well, since nearly every track on this release introduces a unique, flowing harmony that makes each song memorable in its own right.

Immediately following drummer Nicko McBrain's uncharacteristic "one-two-three-four" opening, the single "Wildest Dreams" kicks things off in a big way. This is a great up-tempo rocker with a catchy chorus that is surely destined to be an arena favorite. "Rainmaker" follows with one of those notable guitar harmonies I'd mentioned earlier. Similar in feel to the previous track, Bruce's vocal performance is simply outstanding. Throughout the album it's apparent that his focus, and really that of every member of the band, is once again on creating heartfelt and memorable metal that defies what the "industry" considers commercially viable. Bassist and band leader Steve Harris is to be commended, if not revered, for evolving the sound of Iron Maiden while holding true to their signature sound. If only other metal greats (i.e. Metallica) could understand this concept...

However, I digress. The first song of epic proportions encountered on Dance Of Death is "No More Lies". Starting off with a slightly Middle Eastern influenced riff, anticipation builds (thanks in no small part to Steve's grumbling bass) as modest symphonic aspects are introduced until finally Nicko's hammering blasts the song open. The driving riff is simple, but the underlying keyboards and flawless solos from Adrian Smith, Dave Murray, and Janick Gers keep the song from going entirely stale over its 7-minute run. That being said, I feel that this song is the weakest on the album due mostly to the unimaginative and too-repeated chorus.

The riffing on "Monts├ęgur" is among the heaviest and darkest to be found on the album, but very appropriate given the subject matter of the lyrics. Recalling the 13th-century massacre of the Cathars by the French, Bruce's soaring vocals are matched well with the lilting guitar leads. The title track is a very interesting, and quite surprising, composition. With a mellow beginning, much like "Rime Of The Ancient Mariner", the strumming guitars build along with Bruce's passionate vocals as once again we're treated to expansive symphonic aspects. A short folksy riff gives way to a full-blown neo-classical crescendo. The riff is carried through with all three guitars and the strings, adding to the great progressive feel of this track. This is Iron Maiden at their progressive best. Again with the theme of memorable guitar harmonies, "Gates Of Tomorrow" kicks off with a very '80s hard rock riff that brings to mind AC/DC or Van Halen. The hard rock ambiance carries through the entire song, making this quite a nice little rocker and one of my favorites on the disc. Besides being another solid rocker, "New Frontier" is notable for the fact that it is drummer Nicko McBrain's first writing credit in his 20-year career with the band.

By far the best song on Dance Of Death is the epic "Paschendale", the story of the first use of chemical weapons in World War I - a tragic turning point in the history of modern warfare. The opening riff is haunting and a very appropriate compliment to Bruce's impassioned voice. Again the band displays their flair for bombastic, historical epics and "Paschendale" will undoubtedly be remembered as one of their best. Closing out the album is the enjoyable "Journeyman", with its lush symphonic atmosphere and acoustic melodies. Certainly a departure from the pure metal of the rest of the album, this song is nevertheless one of the best.

Dance Of Death is not Iron Maiden's best album, yet it is far from bad or even mediocre. This is a solid album that every Maiden fan has been craving since Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son and ranks among the year's best releases. As expected, the production is stellar and the arrangement perfectly done. My one and only complaint is about the cover art, as meaningless a factor as that may be. Compared to every previous Maiden album, the artwork for Dance Of Death is quite amateurish.

Track Listing
1 Wildest Dreams
2 Rainmaker
3 No More Lies
4 Monst├ęgur
5 Dance of Death
6 Gates of Tomorrow
7 New Frontier
8 Paschendale
9 Face In The Sand
10 Age of Innocence
11 Journeyman

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