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. We had a two-for-one Maiden day because of the time constraints of writing sixteen album reviews in fifteen days, so Brave New World and Dance of Death get lumped together. On with the show.
Background on Dance of Death
Usually after a band as big as Iron Maiden has a reunion tour and album the following record is of lesser quality. The fire from the band leaves as the smoke of nostalgia fades away. In Iron Maiden’s case, that fire grew stronger as they went on. From January to February of 2003 the band recorded their follow up to Brave New World. The result was an album that featured lot of firsts: songwriting credits from every member for the first time, the use of a double bass pedal for the first time, and an all acoustic song for the first time as well.
The boys of Maiden recorded the album in London this time. They mixed it and laid the track down at SARM West Studios. Resulting from this time in the studio, Dance of Death was born. An album equally as long as its predecessor, would Dance of Death be a critical and commercial hit like Brave New World? Let’s get it over with and find out.
Track 1: Wildest Dreams
The first single from the album, “Wildest Dreams” is a classic Iron Maiden rocker in the styles of “Flight of Icarus” or “The Wicker Man”. Iron Maiden, as you’ve seen over the past albums, generally like to start their albums with a speedy track to get the listener ready for whats to come. “Wildest Dreams” is about going out on your own and breaking your own path. You don’t need anyone to tell you what to do. It’s your life, live it your way. I know this was the first song that I blasted in my car when I got my license for the first time. It’s one of those that’s probably caused a few speeding tickets. Great opener.
Track 2: Rainmaker
Another solid rocker to keep the energy of the album going. “Rainmaker” is about healing wounds and believing in your relationships with people. If you’re hurting, there’s almost assuredly someone out there thinking about you too. The rain here is a literal sense and a metaphorical one. Rain always clears out crap in the sky and in the streets and the rain in your head or life will always clear out all the horrid things you’re dealing with. This one is underrated and quite frankly, just rocks out. So far a great start to this album.
Track 3: No More Lies
Now for one of the most powerful songs that Iron Maiden has ever recorded. This album is filled with songs like that, but “No More Lies” sends an even more powerful message. About someone either on the door of death or they know their death is incoming. They realize that death is only one stop on their journey and they can keep going. They accept their mistakes and life and continue on into the next realm.
At 7:21 seconds, it’s an epic song with fury and power that only Iron Maiden can dish out. “No More Lies” is one of the best songs from the third era of Iron Maiden in the 2000’s.
Track 4: Montsegur
Based on the fall of the Cathar stronghold of the same name in 1244. A historical piece about the Catholic Church laying siege to an offshoot sect of the religion. They attacked the castle and killed all 250 men, women, and children inside the stronghold. They built a giant pyre and burned all their bodies. It’s a hugely heavy historical subject that only Iron Maiden can pull off. “Montsegur” is an underrated classic from this album that deserves more recognition. It’s a throwback to Maiden of old.
Track 5: Dance of Death
Time for the main event. The title track of the album. “Dance of Death” was a song that made me question my own musical tastes when I heard it. I was browsing Youtube and heard the guitar solo from this song and immediately had to know what song it was. It was, and is, that good. About someone who sees a cult frolicking through the forest, it echoes “Number of the Beast” with it’s storytelling and pace. One of the best examples of storytelling in any form of music, “Dance of Death” is a true masterpiece for the band. You need to listen to this song if you haven’t.
Track 6: Gates of Tomorrow
A song that sounds similar to “Lord of the Flies” with it’s opening riff and progression in the beginning. “Gates of Tomorrow” quickly transitions into a vintage sounding Maiden rocker. One that speaks about taking responsibility for your own life and actions. No one in this life is out to help you besides you. People don’t take responsibility for their own actions in life and they need to. I like this song a lot, it’s probably the weakest on the album but on this album, that’s not a bad thing.
Track 7: New Frontier
The first song to be co-written by Nicko McBrain. “New Frontier” is about the act of cloning humans and the dangers of modern science. Sometimes the human race can go too far with science. The chorus for this one will get stuck in your head for days after. It might have slight religious undertones but that doesn’t really matter to me. This one is a straight up rocker that’s fits well with the rest of this album.
Track 8: Paschendale
“Paschendale” is what happens when Adrian Smith decides to write an 8 minute epic about one of the bloodiest battles in World War I. Finishing up the cycle of 8 minute epics on Dance of Death, “Paschendale” does it with a bang. The song has an orchestral quality to it. It goes through the violence, conditions, and atrocities that men and boys had to face during the battle. Blood and mud pouring everywhere, it must’ve been truly horrible.
The solos and guitar work by Gers, Smith, and Murray is virtuosic. Bruce Dickinson makes you feel like you’re a soldier in the battle with his wailing and deep notes throughout the whole song. “Paschendale” isn’t one you’re going to forget after you listen to it.
Track 9: Face in the Sand
With a guitar riff at the beginning that echoes “Blood Brothers” it quickly transitions to a heavy song filled with reverb and thick bass from Steve Harris. The double-bass drum from Nicko McBrain is put to good use on this one for the first time in Maiden history. “Face in the Sand” is about people waiting for things to happen in the world but no one actually does anything. The cycle of life continues, no one does anything, they just keep going along with the crowd instead of standing out. Because of these things, an Apocalypse is inevitable. At the end of the day, every empire leaves sand in the desert. You just want to be a face in that sand. A great song from this amazing album.
Track 10: Age of Innocence
The penultimate song on Dance of Death. “Age of Innocence” is about how people can’t trust each other these days. People in need aren’t helped out because we don’t care as much as we used to. The beginning almost sounds like it could fit in on Fear of the Dark. The song is just as heavy as the rest of the album. People don’t have the same innocence as they used to. It’s a fairly straightforward song that just rocks out and doesn’t care what you think.
Track 11: Journeyman
After barraging you for an hour with hard hitting, epic, dark, and heavy music, Iron Maiden goes to an acoustic ballad. Does this mean that they’re going soft? Absolutely not. “Journeyman” is a ballad for the musician. If you’re not a musician, you can take meaning from the song as an anthem to face your future with courage and live each day like you don’t know tomorrow is coming. No one can boss you around and take away your freedoms.
“Journeyman” is a fantastic way to end this classic of an album. It finishes it in a poignant way that doesn’t sound too preachy. Just a fantastic song that adds meaning by being the first and only acoustic Iron Maiden song.
Final Thoughts and Score
Dance of Death is an album that belongs in the pantheon of Iron Maiden. It measures up to any of the classic albums that they’ve had. It gives you everything that Iron Maiden is about and more. From the speedy 4 minute opener to the trio of 8 minute epics. This album has everything that an Iron Maiden fan could want.
The only thing that I can say is bad about it is the album art. It’s the worst art I’ve seen on a major studio release for a band this great. The Grim Reaper Eddie is cool, but the 3D models of random people around him are atrocious. The band has come out distancing themselves from the horrible art. It doesn’t take away from this album that’s an instant classic. I give Dance of Death a 9.5/10. It doesn’t quite get to where the other classic albums have, but it’s not far off.
Iron Maiden would go out and tour Dance of Death around the world. A live album titled Death on the Road was released from this tour that shows how great these songs translate to a live performance. It would be another three years until Iron Maiden would put out their longest album to date in, A Matter of Life and Death. The band would also do something controversial for this upcoming album. To read about that, you’ll have to check back tomorrow though.
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All images and audio are courtesy of Iron Maiden.