Friday, August 20, 2010

Talkin' Eds - Fear of the Dark (1992)

1992 in Metal

New Albums:
Alice in Chains - Dirt
Body Count - Body Count (features controversial single Cop Killer)
Def Leppard - Adrenalize
Faith No More - Angel Dust
Fear Factory - Soul of a New Machine
Helmet - In the Meantime
Monster Magnet - Tab EP
Nine Inch Nails - Broken EP
Pantera - Vulgar Display of Power
Rage Against the Machine - (self titled)

In other news, Izzy leaves Guns 'N' Roses, Crue fire Vince Neil, and the world is slightly safer with no more activity coming from Europe, Ratt and Stryper. In the year leading up to this Metallica have released their 'black album', and Nirvana and grunge have arrived well and truly; in a year's time Anthrax will throw in their lot with the grunge-ready The Sound of White Noise, and Korn will form.

This is a pretty significant album in some ways. The Fear of the Dark Tour brought Iron Maiden to New Zealand for the first time, although only as far as Auckland. More significantly of course is its place as Bruce Dickinson's last album re-reforming in 1999. In the years leading up to Fear the band had individually explored other avenues and projects, and Renaissance man Bruce spent those years writing, fencing, releasing and touring his own albums, and of course learning to fly. Once again, everything changes for Iron Maiden after his departure, but more on that in another post.

The Album
There are three things going on in this album, really. The group's sound is changing - certainly as much as it was during No Prayer, and added to this is further experimentation with contemporaneous styles - Be Quick rather aptly nods towards the speed/thrash of the lies of Anthrax. The videos have had a ramp up too - Be Quick and Wasting Love both attempt new things, bringing the members in and miming to a soundtrack, and as in the previous album there seems a concerted effort on Steve Harris' part to steer the lyrics away from the fantastic and towards the mundane and the contemporary. It's a delicate balance, particularly as this follows a very late-80s penchant in pop and rock music of the 'public service' or 'social commentary' song. Many bands and artists try it at some stage in the careers and many of them fail, usually stumbling when the demands of addressing big issues within a three to four minute song just can't and won't fit. I do think the attempts on Fear are a fifty-fifty score - Be Quick is a great opener and while not explicitly about the scandal rides on the fall from grace and death of Sir Robert Maxwell (who also meets Eddie on the single's sleeve), while Weekend Warrior is more specific, targeting football hooligans. The latter works for me because of the delivery (Dickinson compliments a rather AC/DC-like composition by singing in a Brian Johnson style) and the simplicity of the thing; the added fact that Steve Harris is an enormous football fan himself adds to the intent hugely - you can imagine him getting worked up about something like this. Compare and contrast with Fear is the Key - a messy affair with awful lyrics and Bruce adopting a Robert Plant vocal style ("liesandliesandlies..") during the double-tempo wig out over a theme of… what, responsible loving? AIDS ("nobody cares 'til somebody famous dies" recalling the recent passing of Freddie Mercury). Childhood's End has a good sound and fierce opening drums but flounders again lyrically with its talk of tyrants, lack of food, love and 'seed's. Lyrically these songs just aren't strong enough to carry the themes through, nor, sadly, does Afraid to Shoot Strangers, Maiden's Gulf War meditation. It succeeds in as much as it adroitly captures the moral confusion in a soldier's mind, but can't bring itself to go beyond that point, even though there's an obvious urge to, unlike wartime songs before it (The Trooper is perhaps closest) and after (Paschendale et al) which work precisely because they're contained in that one moment. So Harris is out of his depth with contemporary social commentary, but that's okay - heavy metal and pop music in general struggles with this anyway, and to Maiden's credit this is really the last we'll hear of this sort of thing for a good while.

Where Fear does work is in looking back to the band's earlier roots and marrying them to new styles. Judas Be My Guide could have come off Piece of Mind, while Chains of Misery, like Hooks in You on Prayer, evokes a more US sound - as if Motley Crue turned up on the day to do the backing vocals for fun. Wasting Love is a second stab at a ballad after No Prayer's title track and it actually works, with a nice lead by Janick Gers added in. The album's closing title track is almost a standout for its subject matter - a return to the supernatural, although Gers' The Apparition tries this too - I think… the lyrics don't make much sense and Bruce's Steve Perry delivery doesn't help. It's telling that subsequent appearances of Fear of the Dark on The Best of the Beast and Somewhere Back in Time have favoured a live performance, and rightly so. The song is fine, if merely reliable, but in a live setting with a huge crowd behind it it takes on a new verve and is a good indicator of how Maiden could turn an okay composition into a crowd pleaser. The second-to-last and least mention of the album is The Fugitive, based on the movie/TV series of the same name. Ham-fisted choruses ("I am the fu-gitive... Being hunted down for game! I am the fu-gitive... But I've got to clear my name!") follow some nice verses, but it's not a keeper, and Maiden have done far better adaptations before and after this. In other news, song number two From Here to Eternity publicly kills off occasional band muse Charlotte the Harlot, the casualty of "a tumble at the Devil's Bend', which goes to show what hazards come from riding a motorcycle with The Beast.

Cover Art
Thankfully the cover art is a distinct improvement, and like its title track has been gathered into the bosom of 'classic' Maiden iconography. Illustrated by Mervyn Grant after a late commission from Derek Riggs proved not to the band's tastes (or perhaps it was the lateness of the commission - the reasons are apparently vague), the scene is of Eddie as a demon in a tree, merging with its trunk and branches, but as the artist states not part of the tree itself. Whatever, it's a nice, sinister and detailed piece with a good composition and rather fetching use of colour and light. It turned my head back in 1993, so it must have worked.

Album Tracks

Be Quick or Be Dead (official video)
From Here to Eternity(official Bad News-esque video)
Afraid to Shoot Strangers (Live in Mexico)
Fear is the Key (album track)
Childhood's End (album track)
Wasting Love
The Fugitive (album version)
Chains of Misery (album version)
The Apparition (album version)
Judas Be My Guide (album version)
Weekend Warrior(album version)
Fear of the Dark (live at Donnington)

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