Dance of Death, Iron Maiden's 13th studio album and 2nd since the triumphant return of Bruce and Adrian, is yet another monster filled with dramatic metal. Yes, it is inferior to the previous album, Brave New World, which was near-perfect for its time. However, Dance of Death should not be dismissed. There are Iron Maiden classics here to rival material from the glory days, deep album tracks worth listening to.
First I want to mention the album cover -- for the second time, Iron Maiden have done what I consider to be a terrible cover. (I consider the original No Prayer cover to be almost as bad.) I'd never wear this on a T-shirt. This is awful, awful, awful. This is by far the worst album cover Maiden have ever used. If you look carefully there are mistakes all over the place, such as the baby's foot going through the wolf! Fortunately, the inner booklet is much better. Like a ghostly version of the orgy scene in Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, the band are surround by masked, topless, ghostly women. I'm not doing it justice with that description but it's very cool.
Onto the music.
I found Bruce Dickinson's voice on this album to be weaker than Brave New World. My personal feeling at the time (and this is just my opinion) was that the band rushed into recording too soon after touring. As such, Bruce's voice sounds more worn out, similar to the way it did on No Prayer. The rest of the band is as strong as ever, and all six members write. Even Nicko McBrain, who gets his first-ever writing credit..."Mission From 'Arry" notwithstanding.
The album starts with the first single, and unfortunately one of the weakest songs. It is the brief Smith/Harris rocker, "Wildest Dreams". This ain't a "Wicker Man" nor a "Different World". It's lacklustre and I have no idea why it was chosen as the first single.
The second single "Rainmaker" follows, a much better song. Bruce's voice is stronger here. The vocal and guitar melodies are excellent and memorable. Great chorus, great guitar lines, good choice for a single.
"No More Lies" is next, and the only weak thing about the song is that it follows the same formula as the Brave New World tunes -- too much repetition in the chorus. There's only so many times you want to hear, "No more lies, no more lies, no more lies, no more lies!" Alright! I get it already! Bizarrely, this was the third single even though it's over 7 minutes long.
Next is the first historical epic of the album, "Montségur". One of the fastest and heaviest songs on the album, it is lyrically better than it is musically. Musically, it stumbles a bit, with the vocal melodies not fitting quite right and the lyrics sung too fast.
Finally the album really picks up steam with the centerpiece, "Dance of Death". Beginning slow with some nice clean picked guitar and 'Arry's bass, Bruce sings of a strange night when he'd "had one drink, but no more." This is a classic, a fantastic song lyrically similar to "Number of the Beast" but musically a beast of its own.
"Gates of Tomorrow" and "New Frontier" (co-written by McBrain) are up next. Both are strong rockers, typical Maiden album fare.
"Paschendale" is arguably the best song on the entire album. Another historical war epic, this one was written by Adrian Smth and Steve Harris. It is pure, classic Iron Maiden. Clocking in at 8:28, there is not one dull moment in the entire song. Often I find myself skipping back to hear it again. Lyrically it is very powerful, bringing to mind the muddy stinking conditions of the trenches in World War I. Musically this is among the very best songs Maiden have ever composed. This was also released in an orchestral version but I'll discuss that later on.
It's hard to follow a song like that, but "Face In The Sand" is another great album track, memorable and heavy.
I have always been partial to the rare songs that Dave Murray writes, such as "Deja Vu" or "Still Life". "Age of Innocence" has a powerful memorable chorus and is a personal favourite. If I had been in charge at EMI, this would have been a single instead of "No More Lies". After hearing it once, you cannot get the chorus out of your head.
The album ends with one of most unique Iron Maiden songs ever written. "Journeyman", which sounds to me like a Dickinson baby, is a quiet acoustic number with orchestral backing. Don't call it a ballad. This is a quiet epic, and the choruses are powerfully sung by Bruce. Certainly one of the most adventurous tunes Maiden have done, simply because it is so different from anything in their past.
And that ends the album. It is easy to see why Dance of Death does not sit will with some fans. Some of the early songs are definitely weaker. Bruce's voice is not as strong as the previous album. You have to listen to it multiple times to get into some of the tracks. I can see some fans, whose tastes are more narrow and specific, not wanting to give Dance of Death another chance. That's a shame because this is a good Iron Maiden album. Not among their top three, or even the top five, but Iron Maiden do not have very many weak albums.
I mentioned the orchestral version of "Paschendale". There are three singles to be collected from this album, as well as a live album that followed:
1. "Wildest Dreams": B-side was a very rare jam session by Iron Maiden called "Pass the Jam".
2. "Rainmaker": contained a dramatic orchestral version of "Dance of Death" and a second jam session called "More Tea Vicar".
3. "No More Lies": Technically classified as an EP, this came boxed with an Iron Maiden wristband, the orchestral version of "Paschendale" and an electric version of "Journeyman".
4. Death on the Road, the double live album that followed.
Enjoy. 4 stars.