Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Iron Maiden's "Dark Years" Part Two- Fear of the Dark 3.2/5.

So I figured that I would do my second installment of this blog series.

After No Prayer for the Dying, Iron Maiden had decided to go back into the studio and make a more "ambitious" record more in line with some of their mid eighties classics.

They spent more time writing and recording the subsequent album than the previous one, and also used a higher "grade" of production methods. It was also the first Iron Maiden album recorded using some digital recording techniques (more on this in a second).

The result was the album, Fear of the Dark.

Now Fear in the Dark in my eyes (and ears) has a lot in common with No Prayer for the Dying in many ways. Iron Maiden still had that "hard rock" influence pop up in songs like Weekend Warrior or From Here to Eternity. However, its not as "annoying" as in songs like Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter on the last album.

The album starts out with the first Janick Gers contribution (he wrote many of the riffs) Be Quick or Be Dead.

Like the last album, the "social commentary" element of Maiden was even more in the forefront. Be Quick or Be Dead is a song that deals with the excesses of capitalism, and its lyrics actually were not as clunky as previous Maiden's lyrics involving similar subjects. It is a fast song, not quite to power metal levels, but a very catchy song in the vein of classics like Aces High (and probably a better opener than Tailgunner from the previous album).

Then we get to "From Here to Eternity", a continuing of a lot of musical elements from the last album, but in a better fashion. It is a continuation of the saga of "Charlotte the Harlot" a semi-conceptual lyrical tradition started in the namesake song and continued in the songs "22 Acacia Avenue" and "Hooks In You".

We then go to the first "epic" song on the album, the highly underrated "Afraid to Shoot Strangers" an anti war epic penned by Steve Harris. Its twists and turns almost recall classic 70's Pink Floyd or Genesis at times, complete with a Deep Purple influenced mid section. Probably one of the best songs Maiden had done in a long time, and definitely an essential part of the album.

Next up we have the slightly plodding, but also somewhat entertaining "Fear is the Key". Lyrically it seems to be about the AIDS epidemic (among other things). It has the middle eastern sounding feel of 80's Deep Purple songs such as "Perfect Strangers". Next up is "Childhoods End", which is a more succinct version of parts of "Afraid to Shoot Strangers". "Wasting Love" is a ballad, almost hearkening back to the days of "Prodigal Son" off Killers.

"The Fugitive" (based on the TV show of the same name) then follows, and I think this song is somewhat unappreciated (and catchy).

Next we have more (of what could be considered by some) "filler", "The Apparition" and "Chains of Misery". Both songs feature progressive style riffs and cool chord changes, but ultimately kind of plod along at a ponderous pace.

Dave Murray's "Judas Be My Guide" saves the boredom at this point, before denigrating with the worst song Maiden had written since "Bring Your Daughter..", "Weekend Warrior".

"Weekend Warrior", is about British Soccer hooligans, and while its slightly more tolerable than "Bring Your Daughter" it features some of the same hard rock/ AC/DC cliches as that song (but with an added acoustic guitar part for good measure.

Now we finally come to a real "Classic" Maiden song again, "Fear of the Dark". The song's gothic type structure, psychological lyrics and epic pace make this a classic Iron Maiden song, to this day.

So that about wraps up Iron Maiden's second album with Janick Gers.
So what went wrong?

To me, even though I still enjoy the "filler" tracks to some extent, the "wrong" came in with digital recording and the "CD" age. CDs were not as common place until the early nineties, and up until then (or the late eighties even), albums were required to fit on two sides of a vinyl record (unless it was a double album, which were more expensive). With the increased availability of CDs, many bands and artists chose to make longer albums, Maiden being no exception. And its not as already Maiden weren't making long albums, but this only increased their desire to do so. But to me that is not the downfall of the album, it really has to do with the "flat" production that I always thought the album has.

While I like atmosphere, and I appreciate bands ranging from Genesis to Pink Floyd to Porcupine Tree for this, I think when Iron Maiden tried to add too much atmosphere to the proceedings, a lot of the "guts" or "balls" that make up Heavy Metal music went out the window. Or, its just a weak production, pick one of the two. I think that the album Fear of the Dark is too drenched in reverb. The digital (a first for Maiden) recording sounds flat, especially by today's standards. If it had more guts to the guitars, and more depth to the drums (rather than "added" depth of reverb) I believe it would have been a far better album. Keyboards on a metal album are fine, as is reverb, but this was too much of a good thing for Maiden. A lot of the songs (and today's Maiden is no exception) meander aimlessly, and while I appreciate that Steve Harris, Dickinson and Smith all appreciate their 70's prog rock influence, they need to learn from some of these same musicians and make prog that goes somewhere. Maiden tried to have it both ways by adding the prog into their sound while also pursuing the traditional (some would say stagnant) sum of their previous work, and it can be both a blessing and a curse (as it is today). So I do not like this as much as the previous album, but it definitely has songs (and parts) that would please any more experienced Maiden fan. And the cover art kicks ass! Though it is not Derek Riggs, it still is one of my favorite covers!