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Underrated Blaze-era dark horse
on February 9, 2010
Note: Amazon have this listed as a special edition with lenticular cover. It's not. That was a very limited edition import and it has been out of print for over a decade. This is the regular CD edition.
As much as I enjoy Blaz Bayley as a solo artist and singer in Iron Maiden, I will be the first to admit that he was the wrong singer for this band. His voice is just too deep to sing the back catalogue stuff. Anybody who has heard him live with Maiden knows that the songs did not sound right with him singing. With Bruce back in the band, we can look back fondly on these albums as a side road that Maiden did not pursue.
I personally enjoy the dreadfully-titled Virtual XI. I bet Steve Harris wishes he could take that title back. It is not as strong as the powerfully dark X Factor album. This is Iron Maiden trying to relax a little more, be more comfortable in their new sound, and trying to lighten up a bit after an entire album of dark thoughts and suicidal tendencies. Witness "The Angel And The Gambler" which is as close to a good-time rocker as Iron Maiden get. Sure it's almost 10 minutes long, but it sure is catchy and it had a great video to boot.
This album kicks off with "Futureal", a short fast rocker akin to "Man On The Edge" but better. Check out Dickinson's version of this song from the "Wicker Man" CD single if you want to hear it truly come to life! It is a great song and that's why Bruce sang it.
Next up with the single "Angle And the Gambler" and my only complaint is that it is overly long with too many repeated choruses of, "Don't you think I'm a saviour, don't you think I can save you, don't you think I can save your life." Just a little too repetitive, but Steve Harris' keyboard riff anchors this song in the 70's alongside bands like UFO.
Then, back to the darkness. "Lightning Strikes Twice" is an awesome tune with quiet verses and a powerful chorus. A total winner.
Side One of the original LP ended with The Clansman, a song about the Scottish clans and based on Braveheart. This was the "epic" of the album, and another one that Bruce really sunk his teeth into live. You'll be chanting, "Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!" by the end. This one sounds very traditional Iron Maiden, especially the fast parts.
Side Two of the LP kicked off with a personal favourite, "When Two Worlds Collide". Here's Maiden's take on the whole Deep Impact/Armageddon thing. "For the hundredth time I check the declination" sings Blaze, but even his computer shows that two worlds will collide. I love this song.
Another dark and moody one is up next, "The Educated Fool", which is followed by "Don't Look To The Eyes Of A Stranger". These songs are good tunes, but by this time we've already had several dark and moody ones with repeated choruses. Maiden were lacking variety in their songwriting at this time. Still, great songs, just not nesesarily better or worse than what has come before.
Last up is the closer "Como Estais Amigos", translated as "How are you my friends". This one has an epic vibe to it as well, with its wonderful chorus of "No more tears, no more tears. If we live for a hundred years, amigo no more tears." It is as if Maiden are saying, "We have been through some rough patches but better times are up ahead." And yes, Maiden really did go through rough times, Steve Harris in particular. I'm sure by now he was seeing the light in the tunnel.
And that is it, a mere 8 songs, but they are 8 winners. There were no extras recorded, all B-sides from this album were live cuts. A year later, and Blaze Bayley would be out as lead singer of Iron Maiden. Having heard Blaze sing on this tour, I can tell you that he was definitely having voice problems that night. He lacked any sort of pitch control, but not only on Bruce's songs, his own as well. Having heard him on the X Factor tour as well, he was once very powerful live, with good pitch. The night I heard him, his voice was all over the place and at times reduced to a whisper. Very difficult to listen to for an entire show. They did play almost all of this album live. Whether it was bad monitors or Blaze truly was having voice problems, Steve Harris revealed that they were going to change singers once again even if Bruce didn't come back. That's how bad it got.
So Blaze's legacy is two all but forgotten Maiden albums. I think they are pretty good. Pick up Virtual XI if you want to hear a darker, moodier side of Maiden. They only got better when Bruce came back, but I think this is still pretty good.