After tracks two, three and four all start virtually the same way (the same tragic Blaze way), I was dementedly thinking this was a cackling flaunted taunt directed directly at me, or at least into the temples of those who don't realize that most of the band actually likes The X Factor and Virtual XI. But then The Mercenary positively explodes and all is forgiven, Nicko proving himself the next vista-proud weapon in this bunch of arsenals. Check out his re-found groove, lightly flicked at the high-hat work in this track's verse, carved deep all over the place, Shirley getting a classic Nicko performance and then recording it percolated and warm like 8:00 AM coffee before a day that pre-tingles with productivity.
Obstinate? Well yeah, because there's tracks like Dream Of Mirrors, where Steve gets to infinitely indulge in his beery, friendly prog world, complicated arrangements pub-rocked raw into a place that again, only Maiden owns. Nicko, Shirley, did I miss anybody? Oh yeah, Steve's bass sounds great, like a bass, and the three guitar yokels Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers, who can tell who's who? (no doubt about 225 Trekkie pocket protector Maiden collectors in Latvia unfortunately). Don't matter though, the guitars sound great, blended like porridge into the Steve's bass, curiously but pleasingly sapped of a couple of frequencies. Genius. Again, live sound without any of the characteristics of live music. And that's it. No, wait! Bruce is back in the band, that's right! I still maintain that the last couple o' tin tops weren't all Blaze's fault, but of course, Bruce fits Maiden like an old sneaker. He sounds like he means it, even when "it" gets a little profile-ish and topical as it might with The Nomad (these are the Bedouins in your neighbourhood). As the album rumbles to a bittersweet finish, I recall one of the few redeeming things Steve remarked about the Blaze years, namely that those records were going for a quality that might evoke The Who. Well, he's right, they fell apart. But one still feels the positive flip of that remark, that kick-ass near explosion of Keith, Pete and even cough-a-lung Roger, right here, ideas hurriedly blooming and then dashing off in a frantic proggy Maiden mania, mysterious, allegorical life and death lyrics shot out of Bruce's craw like it's two minutes to midnight and we just better get this barely pinned down 'cos it's time to burn.
Hard Reviews Page 3