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. Fear of the Dark was yesterday’s album, and it was a much needed reset for the band. Today we’ll be going deep into their first album without Bruce Dickinson, The X-Factor.
Background on The X-Factor
Bruce Dickinson left Iron Maiden in 1994 after a subpar farewell tour and accompanying PPV live performance called Raising Hell. This performance would be the last that fans of Iron Maiden would see of Bruce Dickinson. Iron Maiden was in disarray. They didn’t have their front-man that had guided them to superstardom in the heavy metal sphere. They would undergo a search involving hundreds of demo tapes to find someone to fill the gargantuan void left by Bruce Dickinson. The three front-runners were depending on speculation: Michael Kiske of Helloween, Andre Matos of Angra, and a man named Blaze Bayley of the band Wolfsbane.
Blaze Bayley and Wolfsbane had opened for Iron Maiden earlier in 1990. It’s safe to say that Steve Harris was intrigued. Blaze would have to be convinced to audition as he didn’t want to disrespect Bruce Dickinson. Bruce was someone that Blaze admired greatly. Blaze was Steve Harris’s preferred choice all along. He got his man that would lead them into a post-Bruce era. They didn’t have any material written for the upcoming album. Recording and writing would commence some time in 1994 and continue into 1995. Recorded in the same Barnyard Studios as the previous two Iron Maiden albums. After three years of waiting, Iron Maiden fans got to hear the new Blaze Bayley-led Iron Maiden on October 2nd, 1995. Let’s get to the review.
Track 1: Sign of the Cross
Boy, oh boy, Maiden fans were in a for a treat when they fired this one up in 1995. No one knew what to expect when they went out and bought this one. Starting off with chants and incantations of some sorts. Listeners were in for some sort of magic with this one. The second longest song in their catalog (at that point), “Sign of the Cross” was and is a hell of a way to open this album. Blaze Bayley’s vocals come in softly as the song begins. Hitting it’s first gear at the 2:45 mark, we got to hear what Blaze could do immediately.
No matter what people say about Blaze or the era that he played in. This song is an Iron Maiden classic. Detractors can’t take that away from this era. Iron Maiden have this one in their setlist for the current tour and it shows how great the song is to have Bruce sing it. It takes some twists and turns but one hundred percent shows itself to be an epic along the lines of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” or “To Tame a Land”. The guitar work here is superb with Gers and Murray stretching out their play to a new level. It builds and builds to a fervor with Dave Murray’s guitar solo at the end capping off a wild ride. Ending where it begins, we get more chants and a passage from Blaze Bayley.
Track 2: Lord of the Flies
Coming back to Iron Maiden’s roots in literary and historical subject matters. “Lord of the Flies” is about the same book by William Golding. Starting off with one of the coolest guitar riffs I can imagine this song breaks away from the lengthy “Sign of the Cross” right off the bat. It breaks into a solid rocker that was the second single off the album. This is Iron Maiden showing exactly what Blaze Bayley can do and what they’re going to be like in this new era. It’s a commentary on humanity itself that talks about how savage and brutal society and people can be when pushed. Saints and sinners can both be tempted into violence and destruction. It’s just human nature. A great song from this era.
Track 3: Man on the Edge
The first single from the album that shows off perfectly what Blaze is capable of. It’s a great speed rocker that shows the notes that Blaze can hit and what Iron Maiden is all about. Based on the superb Michael Douglas movie, Falling Down. This song is inspired by that movie. “Man on the Edge” is a perfect showcase for this era of Iron Maiden. It’s fast and it has aggression. If I was doing the tracklisting for this album, I would have put this first to set the tone immediately. “Sign of the Cross” is an interesting choice for the first song but this would have blown Maiden fans away listening for the first time. A great three song start to this album.
Track 4: Fortunes of War
Now we’re going to slow it way down. After the blitzing “Man on the Edge”, “Fortunes of War” tells about the perils of war and the horror that men go through. It’s a dark subject that personifies the struggle and horror that people coming back from war go through. Our subject goes through the various ailments including: hearing voices, depression, insomnia, and the like that go into PTSD. It’s a grim song that speeds up and slows down at a moments notice. It probably wasn’t intentional but I attribute it to when you’re depressed or anxious and your brain is speeding up and slowing down on a dime. One moment you’re happy and cheery and the next you’re down. “Fortunes of War” is an underrated gem on this album that tells a harrowing subject in a strong and not hamfisted way.
Track 5: Look for the Truth
Another slow song that ramps up as it goes along. “Look for the Truth” is a song about your inner demons and finding the ways to defeat them. It has a message of hope and empowerment but leaves you with a sense of loss and depression also. ” It’s my final stand. I make a fist out of each hand. To the shadows of the past. Take a breath and I scream attack”. This is a song that means so much more to me because of the message that it presents. You have to fight back the things inside you that give you feelings of doubt and despair. Blaze shows off the power behind his voice on this one. It’s definitely one of the better songs from this era.
Track 6: The Aftermath
They said that there wasn’t any songs that were written before the recording of The X-Factor, but this one sounds like a song that could have been on Fear of the Dark. A song that espouses a message that’s clearly anti-war. Echoing a similar sentiment to “Fortunes of War”, it asks the question of whether we should be fighting at all. Why are soldiers fighting and what were they fighting for? It’s not the best song on the album but it doesn’t take the album down at all. It’s a showcase, as is the rest of the album, for Steve Harris’s bass play. You can hear the real chug and movement of every note. The highlight of the whole song is at 4:24, where Blaze screams “I’m just a soldier!” and Dave Murray kicks into a solo that will melt your face.
Track 7: Judgment of Heaven
A cheery sounding song that tells about a man who’s searching for purpose in life. He’s believed in religion for his whole life and yet, he’s incredibly depressed and frustrated. Finally, he’s looking to get on with his life and find meaning and purpose. Tarot cards and mumbo jumbo like that haven’t worked. It’s high time he takes over his own life. The song is powerful and the musicianship is top notch. Blaze’s voice on this track is loud and proud. Truly underrated song on an underrated album.
Track 8: Blood on the World’s Hands
A bass solo of sorts starts this one off. It transitions into a powerful song with a message about corruption, and how messed up the world is. A song that has a powerful message to this day. Our society is filled with violence and death to a point that it’s hard to comprehend. It’s the type of song that fits the vocal style of Blaze Bayley perfectly. It’s one of the heavier songs in Iron Maiden’s catalog also. If you’re looking for something to bang your head to, this is it.
Track 9: The Edge of Darkness
This is the most underrated track on the whole album. It’s one that has such a deep meaning to myself that I found it hard to listen to again for this review. Inspired by the novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and the film Apocalypse Now, the lyrics follow the same story as those two epic pieces of film and literature. I’ll get into why this song and the whole album has a deeper meaning later in the review. This is one that you’ll want to listen to over and over again. Blaze Bayley’s vocals are spot on and as powerful as ever on this track.
Track 10: 2 AM
The most depressing song on the album. It doesn’t offer a hope for a happy ending or an out for there to provide power like “Look for the Truth” or many other metal songs. This one doesn’t bring the listener up at the end after barraging them with the truth about life. Life is boring, meaningless, and pathetic for our subject. It doesn’t get better for him. Blaze Bayley sings the crap out of this one. It doesn’t claim to offer you answers or give you false hope. If you’re ever in one of those depressed moods, you’ll find yourself belting this one along with Blaze.
Track 11: The Unbeliever
The last song on the album and it’s a doozy. Not following in the footsteps of classic Iron Maiden albums this one is 8 minutes of rock and aggression. A song about someone who’s let their faith slip away as their life went on. Like the rest of the album it tells the story of grief, loss, depression, and hoping to find yourself in this crazy world we live in. It’s a prog rock inspired marathon that’s well worth your time. Blaze Bayley and the rest of the band knock this one out of the park.
A Personal Aside
I have been an Iron Maiden fan ever since I saw them in 2008 on the Somewhere Back in Time tour. Since then I went out and bought every Iron Maiden album I could, besides two. The X-Factor and Virtual XI. The Blaze Bayley albums have constantly been put down and criticized by so-called Iron Maiden fans. I didn’t listen to them for years, until one day I decided to. It was like Christmas. New Iron Maiden music that I’ve never heard.
So hearing all these songs for the first time was a real treat. The X-Factor is a heavily dark and depressing album from Iron Maiden. It was recorded during a dark time in Steve Harris’s life and an unknown time in the band. They had lost their friend and had to forge on a new journey with Blaze Bayley. All the while not disappointing fans of the band. It was a huge undertaking.
The X-Factor means more to me than most Iron Maiden albums due to the fact that I have suffered from severe depression in my life. The album was hard to listen to as it dredged up memories that I didn’t want to remember. This album helped me get through multiple tough times in my life where I didn’t know if I was going to make it to the next morning. So it is one of my personal favorites from the band and one that shares a special place with me.
Final Thoughts and Review Score
Blaze Bayley was the perfect singer to come after Bruce Dickinson. I said it. If Iron Maiden were to get some Bruce Dickinson knock-off the band would not have been able to grow into what they are today. Blaze Bayley navigated a tough time with the band and for metal music in general. I have an appreciation for the man that helped save Iron Maiden from ruin.
The X-Factor as a title for the album was brought up early in development. It means a multitude of things. It’s the tenth Iron Maiden album. Blaze Bayley was an X-Factor in keeping the band afloat. The album has a magical quality that shows a look into Iron Maiden’s future with the length of the songs and the album. It’s 70 minutes of hard and heavy subject matter and music. I’m giving this one a 9/10. It’s up there with Maiden’s best.
Blaze Bayley wasn’t brought into the band to replace Bruce Dickinson. If you think he was you’re a moron. No one can replace Bruce Dickinson. But what Blaze did was keep the band together, he guided them through this dark time, and got them out the other side. So it’s unfair to the man to compare him to Bruce. Just enjoy the damn music for what it is, Iron Maiden.
All images and audio courtesy of Iron Maiden and Wolfsbane.
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