As I sit typing this, Iron Maiden is currently embarking on their Legacy of the Beast tour. Legacy of the Beast is Iron Maiden’s mobile game. If you didn’t know, Iron Maiden rule the world. So because their Los Angeles show is coming up; what better time to write a review of all sixteen of their albums leading up to it. Their show is Saturday, September 14th at the Banc of California Stadium. So every work day (including one day with two), there will be a song-by-song Iron Maiden album review. No Prayer for the Dying received a scathing review yesterday. After that disappointment it was time for Maiden to regroup. Fear of the Dark would be the next effort from the band in the 90’s.
Background on Fear of the Dark
Iron Maiden would be reeling from the loss of Adrian Smith and the negative reviews that No Prayer for the Dying received. The band heard the criticisms levied at them for that album’s sound. Steve Harris would change up his portable studio into an actual studio. Labeled Barnyard Studios, this would hopefully shore up the problems with sound and recording. The result would be 1992’s Fear of the Dark. Released on May 11th, the album would carry over the hard-rock sound of the previous album. Bruce Dickinson would also continue with less operatic vocals and more raspy vocals. The story around this time was that his voice was damaged due to the World Slavery Tour and he wasn’t given ample time to recover.
The album was the first double-length in the band’s history and the longest up to that time at 57 minutes. The rest of the lineup was carried over from No Prayer for the Dying. There’s not much else to this album so let’s get to the review.
Track 1: Be Quick Or Be Dead
This isn’t something that you’ve heard from Iron Maiden before. Sounding like a speed metal or thrash band almost, “Be Quick Or Be Dead” is a departure for the band. Released as the first single on the album, this one had to confuse people when it was released. A song about the rich staying rich or getting pushed out of the way. Stock brokers, businessmen, and the like are under assault here. The song itself is an amazing start to this album. Iron Maiden doesn’t usually experiment musically like this, so it’s an interesting take on their normal sound. Bruce wails like a banshee on this one, Janick Gers’ guitar play is thunderous, and Nicko McBrain’s drumming makes you feel the force of the song.
Track 2: From Here to Eternity
Charlotte the Harlot’s final part to her quadrilogy of songs. “From Here to Eternity” gives Charlotte a sendoff with, depending on your interpretation, a motorcycle, Satan, or Eddie. Either way, Iron Maiden sure knew how to open these past two albums. This song sets the tone that Iron Maiden are back in business but also have changed a bit to fit the times. Who knows if operatic, epic, keyboard infused songs would have worked in this era. Iron Maiden was working with what they had.
Charlotte sadly dies in “From Here to Eternity” reaching a mythic status in the band. Her and the Beast take a turn too wide and end up “taking a tumble at the Devil’s bend”. The song is another great one that ended up being the second single from this album. It’s a good start so far. The solos by Janick and Murray are also a highlight.
Track 3: Afraid to Shoot Strangers
Iron Maiden goes political again with this one. Set from the perspective of a soldier in the Gulf War. It’s always introduced as an anti-war piece by Bruce. A song that doesn’t just echo anti-war sentiments, it offers a balance between the two. Young men are sent off to war to fight people they don’t even know, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for bad. A song that belongs in the territory of “Phantom of the Opera” and “Hallowed Be Thy Name”. It’s that good.
The guitar introduced at 2:47 is haunting and beautiful. It builds up tension This song was a staple during this era and the next but was forgotten for a long time until they decided to bring it back out. It’s a song that builds and builds and builds until it explodes with fury and power. Bruce Dickinson will make you want to belt out “AFRAID, AFRAID TO SHOOT STRANGERS!” What would you feel like if you were sent off to war? This song echoes that sentiment.
Track 4: Fear is the Key
Coming up after “Afraid to Shoot Strangers”, Iron Maiden had to knock this one out of the park. “Fear is the Key” doesn’t really measure up. It has the problem that a lot of songs from this era have. They would probably be good or great songs from another band. But when you measure them up to other Iron Maiden songs, they don’t hold a candle. It’s hard to review these past two albums and forget that the band has such a legendary catalog of songs.
Outside of those circumstances, the song is about how no one gave a crap about AIDS when it was killing gay and drug-addicts but when it started affecting the rich and famous, that it was seen as an issue. It’s a stand against the populace that only shows care and issue when something is a problem to them. I’ll fire this one up every once in awhile on a playlist but it’s not their best.
Track 5: Childhood’s End
I have to be honest. I haven’t listened to this song nearly as much as any other Iron Maiden song. So listening to it for this review was almost like hearing it for the first time. It starts off slowly with a grand guitar line and transitions into Nicko’s drums and Bruce’s singing. A desperate, depressing song about the quality of life for some people in the world. Their childhood’s are over before they began. It feels like a filler song and nothing more.
Track 6: Wasting Love
Iron Maiden has written songs that sound like ballads or feel like ballads but then in the end have that classic Iron Maiden sound or power. This might be their first power-ballad. A song about casual sexual encounters without love or any sort of commitment and the depression that goes along with that. It was the third single released for the album but only in Europe. Like many of the songs on this album, they’re not ones that you would normally hear from Iron Maiden. So it’s a nice change of pace. There have been worse power-ballads written than this song. It’s a pretty good attempt from the band that’s worth more than one listen.
Track 7: The Fugitive
A straightforward rocker about a fugitive that needs to clear his name or else he’ll be killed. It’s not an exciting track. Bruce’s vocals are okay here, they’re up to snuff with the rest of the album. It doesn’t change the formula and the chorus is sort of cookie cutter compared to the rest of their material. Like some of the songs on this album, it could have been cut to make the album shorter. But it’s not a horrid song like some off No Prayer for the Dying. It’s listenable.
Track 8: Chains of Misery
Now we get to a song that I absolutely love. “Chains of Misery” isn’t the best song on the album but it’s one that I continually come back to for whatever reason. It’s a simple sounding rocker about someone or something that’s being held back or tied up. The chorus has a backup vocal to it that just makes it that much better. It’s just simple rocking awesomeness from the band. I found this one after I went through a deep dive on Iron Maiden and haven’t forgotten it since. Give it a listen.
Track 9: The Apparition
A silly song about someone who has died and come back as a ghost to help out their friends. It’s a very un-Maiden subject matter. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad song though. It’s just jarring for them to have recorded a song with that kind of chorus and subject. The song itself isn’t super memorable other than that, it’s just filling out the tracklist. They’ve never played this one live for good reason, it’s just meh. Not much to say about it, not bad, but not good either.
Track 10: Judas Be My Guide
Now we’re cooking. “Judas Be My Guide” is one of the more rocking songs of this era. With electric playing by Dave Murray on this one, the song is buried at the end of the album but definitely deserves to be more than it is. About someone who’s led on the wrong path or maybe something about Judas leading people to the word of God. I have no real answers to that one. What I do know is that the chorus here is masterfully sung by Bruce Dickinson and the melodies are top notch. It’s a quick listen that you’ll want to belt along with the band. I recommend this one for anyone looking for an underrated Maiden gem.
Track 11: Weekend Warrior
Another silly song that’s straightforward. It’s about hooligans watching soccer during the weekends and causing trouble. Iron Maiden are known for their love of football and this is a tribute to those superfans of clubs. Another song that doesn’t sound much like Iron Maiden. It’s not written by Bruce Dickinson but I feel like this could have fit on his solo record from around this time. (If you haven’t heard the album Tattooed Millionaire, you should check it out, it’s awesome). As with the second section of this album, this song is cool but doesn’t reinvent the wheel. “Weekend Warrior” suffers from boring solos and the song is just meh overall.
Track 12: Fear of the Dark
Now you’ve arrived for the main event. This is the best Iron Maiden song to come out of this era and it’s not close. “Fear of the Dark” is not just a song when they play it live, it’s an event. I’ll link a live video of it lower in the review for those of you to see (If you haven’t seen them perform this song live, you need to, it’s magical). This song goes into the category of “Hallowed Be Thy Name” or “The Trooper. It’s an instant classic that has no equal on this album or from this era. It’s one of Steve Harris’s finest efforts lyrically and musically.
With descriptive phrases that make your skin crawl without being overtly specific. It’s about the fear that we all share with the protagonist of the song, what’s going to lurk in the dark or that corner of the room that the light doesn’t reach. It was a classic as soon as they played it live for the first time. It remains in their live setlists to this day always bridging the gap between the main set and the encore.
Fear of the Dark is by no means a bad album. It’s a better album than it’s predecessor by a long shot. The album does have some filler tracks but it also contains some real gems like “Judas Be My Guide”, “Chains of Misery”, and “Fear of the Dark”. For those reasons, I find myself coming back to this album constantly. It’s an album that reflects the time it was made in. Iron Maiden was experimenting with their sound and it shows in some of the songs on this album. For that reason, I’m giving this one a 7.75/10. The filler tracks are whatever and they drag the album a bit, but there’s some real gold on this one as well.
Fear of the Dark would make up some for the misfires of No Prayer for the Dying. The songs were overall better and it created one of the most classic Iron Maiden songs in “Fear of the Dark”. The album went all the way to number 1 in the UK, their third time doing so. But, there would be winds of change flying in the band. Bruce Dickinson grew tired of what the band was doing. He decided in 1993 that he would leave the band. He agreed to do a farewell tour in 1994, but his performances were shoddy at best according to Steve Harris and the fans in attendance.
The news that Bruce Dickinson had left Iron Maiden shocked the heavy metal community. Where would Iron Maiden go without their frontman? A massive search for a new vocalist went underway in 1994. Who would that be? You’ll have to find out tomorrow for the review of Iron Maiden’s tenth album and one that is very close to my heart, The X-Factor.
All images and audio are courtesy of Iron Maiden.
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