Iron Maiden have reformed, and it’s an interesting thing. Most band reunions take place over a short space of time and are generated around a particular event – a tour, a Best Of album or perhaps an appearance borne from other media – say, a movie appearance. Maiden’s is different, as much as the band itself are different to many about at the time or since. Bruce Dickinson has had a pretty good solo career, and Adrian Smith too has enjoyed collaboration with other musicians and the chance to flex his considerable talent; but over the time of their respective absence from the main band things have changed. The band has got older, the brand itself has aged and music – heavy metal in particular, has evolved. Blaze has come and gone. All of this is evident and has been covered in previous posts, but what bears repeating from those for me is that the writing of Steve Harris, to date still the core and main writer for Iron Maiden, has also changed. His compositions – never simple in the first place, have by and large lengthened, involving fewer tricky time changes and more slow-build; his lyrics have moved on from the Hammer Horror stock of the past and embraced the subjects of a maturing man. There’s much more of this to come over Maiden’s most recent (last?) three full studio albums, but for the moment the band’s ‘comeback’ album has the unenviable challenge of acknowledging the past, and marking time as it looks to a future with the biggest line-up it’s ever had.
I love the fact that despite Smith’s return Maiden have retained Janick Gers. It seems only fair – in 2000 he’d already served more time than Smith had in years and only two albums shy to equalise him. Like Smith he’s had a hand in writing and composing too, significantly changing the sound of the band. Brave New World is as much a product of Gers’ time in Maiden as any of his previous records, although it seems the dynamics of three guitarists on stage at once are themselves a developing thing for live Maiden. Early shows for the reunited band carried reviews that reduced Gers to backing guitar, or class-clown with his now trademark antics of throwing his instrument and dancing with it to fill in the gaps as it were. On the album however the roles change.
Brave New World does open on a tease, mind. The Wicker Man is one of a small number of traditional Maiden songs, and you’d be forgiven for thinking its position in the track listing is as Trojan Horse – all the old Maiden hallmarks are there: fast pace, sing-along chorus, horror movie trappings. It’s a cheat though – Harris’ “Your time has come!” catch cry isn’t directed at the song/movie’s unwilling sacrifice, but the band’s new audience of young listeners accrued in the previous decade and seemingly entering this new millennium at the height of their potential – “hand of fate is moving and the finger points to you/ He knocks you to your feet and so what are you gonna do?” After ten years of railing against a changing world around him Harris is passing the baton to the next generation.
From there on Brave New World settles in, an exploration of the musical developments of the past three albums, with the essential reinjection of two of its greatest assets. This is a good album, and one from a band who know what they are, confident in a very strong fanbase (particularly in Europe and South America, who would be repaid the debt in the monumental CD and DVD Rock in Rio the following year). The songs have greater space and less gallop than Classic Maiden, but are the stronger for this, I think. Oddly, it’s the fillers – The Mercenary, The Fallen Angel and possibly The Wicker Man, which evoke the band of old and stand out as being a little less than the maturer efforts of, say, Blood Brothers and the album’s title track. At risk of repeating myself, the album does slow somewhat towards the end – Iron maiden seem to have an issue with album length and often err on the side of too long. Perhaps it’s the newer slow-build approach that affects the last three tracks, but each of them The Nomad (clunky beginning and dodgy lyrics but a beautiful instrumental section), Out of the Silent Planet and The Thin Line Between Love and Hate show that there’s still time for the band to look again at track arrangement. For the most part the albums are better paced from here, though this is by no means a poor effort. It’s a great return to form, and in that, not an entire return at all, which is all the better.
I bought the previous compilation CD Best of the Beast after chancing across the band performing The Wicker Man on Top of the Pops , of all places. It’s a mimed playback, alas – a far cry from the ragged and punchy live band debut of years ago, but it did the job. The band were older, Bruce had cut his hair and divested himself of the studded gauntlets of his heyday, but my partner and I were suitably impressed.
If you look carefully there’s the ghost of Derek Riggs in here somewhere – or rather, the ghost of his Eddie, the remaining (and apparently unauthorised) use of an earlier mock-up cover he’d done for the Wicker Man single. I’m not enthralled by this album cover, mainly because it’s just not an Iron Maiden cover – it’s static, scenic, and Eddie’s once again pushed to the background. The days of the band mascot being the star feature are now gone. On the back the boys stand in a field of weather balloons (used in the official video for The Wicker Man here). Ooh, haven’t they aged well?
The Wicker Man (Rock in Rio version - non-album intro!)
Ghost of the Navigator (Rock in Rio version)
Brave New World (Rock in Rio version)
Blood Brothers (Rock in Rio version)
The Mercenary (Rock in Rio version)
The Dream of Mirrors (Rock in Rio version)
The Fallen Angel (live in Argentina)
The Nomad (fan video using Hildago footage)
Out of the Silent Planet (album version, official video cuts off the intro)
The Thin Line Between Love and Hate