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. Yesterday was Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Today we’ll be talking about the departure from that sound in 1990’s No Prayer for the Dying.
Background on No Prayer for the Dying
Iron Maiden would undergo it’s first lineup change since 1982 before the release of No Prayer for the Dying. The eighth album in Iron Maiden’s history followed up the classic Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Adrian Smith would leave the band during the prewriting stage of No Prayer. The band’s direction was drifting away from the keyboards and progressive sounds of Somewhere in Time and Seventh Son, to more of a hard-rock sound. Adrian Smith was a songwriting force for the band and that would leave a huge void.
During their break between Seventh Son and No Prayer, Bruce Dickinson released a solo album, Tattooed Millionaire. His guitarist for this album was Janick Gers, formerly of Gillan and White Spirit. His style and play was vastly different from the clean and orderly guitar play of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Gers was and is a showman on stage. He dances around, his guitar is an extension of his body. Some Maiden fans feel like he doesn’t fit in with the rest of the band. But he’s here to this day.
The band was going for more of a “street level” sound. Gone were Bruce Dickinson’s operatic vocals on most of the songs. Now he was singing more raspy and low. To go along with this, they recorded the album in a barn on Steve Harris’s property. Using a mobile studio of course, but the band complained of being covered in hay while recording. It led to an album that has a different sound that doesn’t quite match up with the rest of their catalog. No Prayer for the Dying released on October 1st 1990. Would it be a welcome departure? Let’s find out.
Track 1: Tailgunner
Track one and we’re off. Starting with a song that sounds like it could be on Powerslave, in a vein similar to “Aces High”. This song doesn’t reach the lyrical or musical quality of that song, but it starts the record off incredibly strong. Listening to this album for the first time must’ve been a treat starting here. Iron Maiden was going in a new direction and this was a seemingly great start. The song follows lyrics about a fictional tailgunner. It’s less historically based and more of a generic rocker with a cool identity. It doesn’t reach the heights of previous album openers but it doesn’t really need to. A solid start to the album.
Track 2: Holy Smoke
Iron Maiden gets political with this one. They’ve had songs that imply a lack of faith in Christianity but this song doesn’t imply that either. It’s more about the Televangelists and people who profit off other’s religious beliefs. The 80’s and 90’s were a time rife with scandals involving televangelists. Those that abuse others faith are the target. It’s also the only Iron Maiden song to use profanity. It’s a classic style song that’s short, sweet, and just simply rocks. The solos by Janick Gers and Dave Murray are a real highlight. With both players using techniques that Iron Maiden doesn’t normally use like tapping and wild bends.
The music video is a real treat showing the fun side of Iron Maiden. It was directed by Steve Harris and filmed on the same farm that the album was recorded on. It shows the band at their most fun and lively. If the departure of Adrian Smith was a downer, the band isn’t showing it here.
Track 3: No Prayer for the Dying
The title track “No Prayer for the Dying” sheds a bit of the hard rock stylings of the first two songs. It’s a ballad that’s similar to the slower songs off Iron Maiden and Killers. A song that echoes the themes of Seventh Son a bit with it’s focus on the question of good vs. evil and if being good is truly worth it. The song focuses on the mental pain and suffering of our writer. The song really picks up near the 2:07 mark. A lot of the songs on this album are forgotten about or dismissed because the quality of the album. This is not one to forget about. It’s an underrated gem on this album.
Track 4: Public Enema Number One
Another political song about refugees fleeing crumbling societies. It could also be about how the media feeds people the scapegoats of fame and fortune. Overall the song’s image is a little scatterbrained. It doesn’t seem to have a general direction. What makes up for this is the rocking guitar play of Gers and Murray. The song has amazing musical qualities. While the overall music quality has gone down with this record. The solos and guitar work are still top notch. It’s one that sneaks into my playlists from time to time. A good rocking song.
Track 5: Fates Warning
Something that sounds like it would be another slow song that quickly picks up into a rocking tune. “Fates Warning” is a song that I forgot about for a long time. Listening to it for the first time in a long while for this review brought back a bit of a nostalgic feel. It’s not a classic song by any means. It’s pretty generic musically but it isn’t atrocious,. You’re never going to hear a Maiden fan say it’s their favorite. But it isn’t a song you should dismiss outright. Give it a listen for yourself. The chorus is a real highlight that won’t get stuck in your head but it’s a rocking song.
Track 6: The Assassin
Now we get to the indefensible part of the album. Whatever songwriting juice the band had for this one went into the first 5 tracks. The back half of this album is really hard to listen to. “The Assassin” isn’t anywhere near the quality of the first songs on this album. It’s a generic tale of an Assassin. It’s a lazy song that just goes to the bottom of the Iron Maiden well. Steve Harris has written timeless classic songs before. This is not one.
Track 7: Run Silent Run Deep
A silly song that I enjoy just because it’s subject matter and lyrics are so funny. It’s not a good Iron Maiden song though. For other bands this might be a decent song, but when compared to even the songs on the same album, this is not up to quality. About a submarine fight during WW2, it’s just really hamfisted and over the top. The real highlight is the last note that Bruce Dickinson hits at the end of the song. It’s worth the whole 4:34 runtime of the song. It’s not a scream like “Number of the Beast” but it’s a beautiful string of vocals that’s stuck on a silly song about submarines. Listen for the silly factor and the high note, but nothing else.
Track 8: Hooks in You
The only songwriting contribution from Adrian Smith on the album happens to be the third song in the “Charlotte the Harlot” saga. The brothel on 22 Acacia Avenue is being turned into a BDSM joint. Charlotte has to either choose to leave or stay behind and get into this new business. The song itself doesn’t mention much about Charlotte. It’s not a particularly good song either, which is sort of a waste of the Charlotte imagery. It’s worth a listen for the “Charlotte” saga, but nothing more.
Track 9: Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter
A song originally written for the Nightmare on Elm Street 5: the Dream Child soundtrack by Bruce Dickinson. The original version is much slower and plodding than this straightforward rocker. A song that sounds nothing like a lot of Iron Maiden tracks, it’s a weird one. It was the first number one UK single for the band, which is somewhat embarrassing based on the quality of their other songs.
The song isn’t about the actual slaughter of daughters, but more about puberty and what goes along with that. Bruce Dickinson said that he wrote the song “in about three minutes”. That shows, it’s a fun little song, but it’s not anything breathtaking.
Track 10: Mother Russia
Continuing in the tradition of putting the prog-rock inspired tracks at the end of the album, “Mother Russia” isn’t nearly as long as it’s predecessors or as good. If “Run Silent Run Deep” was silly and lyrically fun, this song is plodding, boring, and as unfun as Iron Maiden comes. Nothing about this song screams “I want to yell out these lyrics and jam along with the band”. It’s Steve Harris at his worst and most bloated writing. The song has no nuance and is just on the nose in the worst ways. As a closing track, it brings the whole album down. “Bring Your Daughter To the Slaughter” while being silly, and hastily written, at least has merit. It would be a fine closer to this album. Listen once to say you did, and never touch it again.
The 1990’s would bring on a time of turmoil for Iron Maiden and the genre of heavy metal as a whole. It would assaulted by grunge and the rest of the musical world. The excess of the 80’s was stripped away. No Prayer for the Dying is a stripped down sound for Iron Maiden that doesn’t match up with the earlier sound of the band. Back then they were full of life and hunger. No Prayer has some good tracks but overall it’s a poor album in the catalog of Iron Maiden. The last half of the album really exacerbates this issue. Iron Maiden would have to go back in the tank for their next album.
No Prayer for the Dying was a misfire from a band that usually can do no wrong. The first five tracks are fine to good songs that would fit on a lot of Maiden records while the last five songs are horrid abominations. Their next album, Fear of the Dark, would have to rekindle that fire from the band.
No Prayer for the Dying is Iron Maiden’s worst album and it’s not close. Listening to the last 5 songs on the record was not a fun process now and I can’t imagine what a fan would think going from Seventh Son to this album in 1990. The first half of the album would be a solid start and likely a 7.75 or an 8/10. The last half drags that down tremendously. I’m giving it a 5/10 because while it has some solid songs that you’ll want to listen to, it has truly putrid songs as well. It pains me to give an Iron Maiden album that bad of a score, but this one is truly their worst effort.
All images and audio are courtesy of Iron Maiden.
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