Sunday, May 24, 2015

Controversial Opinion: Bruce Dickinson > Iron Maiden

Iron Maiden is on the Mount Rushmore of heavy metal. Their influence as one of the most important bands to ever eixst in unquestionable. In addition to their greatness, they are responsible for almost everything that exists in melodic metal. Their career is one you have to stand back and look at in wonder. They came out of the gates firing, putting out a string of classic records that defined what heavy metal was all about. They hit a rough patch, and then bounced back with a second act that is every bit as good as their glory days. That kind of sustained success is incredibly rare, and certainly ears them the honor of the most graceful aging of any elder statesman metal band.

That being said, I will not say something that is unpopular: Iron Maiden is not only not the greatest metal band in history, they are not even better than one of their own members' side project.

When Bruce Dickinson left Iron Maiden, it took both sides a considerable amount of time to find their footing. The band went through their dark patch with Blaze Bayley, who through no fault of his own was completely incapable of filling the role of Iron Maiden's singer. Those two albums were bitter disappointments (although "The X Factor" is far better than it gets credit for), and it was only when Dickinson returned that Iron Maiden regained their stature as metal elites.

On his own, Dickinson was also struggling. His first solo album was a hair metal inspired record that was a confusing mess, given his reputation as metal's biggest voice. He followed that with more albums that tried a little bit of everything, and rarely hit the mark. Apart, Iron Maiden and Bruce Dickinson were proving they were nothing without the other.

But then Dickinson established a relationship with producer Roy Z, who brought Adrian Smith into the fold, and together they began the process of making a trilogy of the greatest metal albums of all time.

"Accident Of Birth" was not just a return to form for Dickinson, it was the beginning of something new. It was as melodically inventive as the best Iron Maiden tracks, but had a dose of modern heaviness that Maiden had never encountered, anchoring the huge melodies with churning bursts of down-tuned riffing. The sound was fresh, original, and has never really been duplicated by anyone else.

What followed was not just another great record, but perhaps the defining metal album of the decade. "The Chemical Wedding" is, simply put, the best record anyone even remotely associated with Iron Maiden has ever been a part of. In it's sweeping songs is something that only Bruce Dickinson could have delivered. The songs are unflinchingly heavy when they need to be, beautiful at other times; filled with massive choruses, Dickinson's passionate vocals, and and lyrics that pull from the poetry of William Blake. The album is more epic than any twenty minute progressive workout I've ever heard, and the songs bring an intellectual edge that is the perfect answer for when people claim metal is cro-magnon music.

"The Chemical Wedding" is, depending on the day you ask me, either the second or third greatest metal record I've ever heard. It is a truly stunning masterpiece, and far eclipses even "The Number Of The Beast". Following that kind of monument would be impossible, which is why it took years for "Tyranny Of Souls" to arrive. That record had the same sound, and the same elements, but played things differently. Rather than expand out into grandeur, it moved inward, turning up the melody. It is heavy and epic in the same style, but is a more energetic, dare I say more fun record. It is also a genius bit of work.

And here is where I get back to my thesis, that Dickinson's trilogy is better than anything Iron Maiden did.

If you ask me, those three albums are practically flawless. In fact, the only complaint I have about the sum total is that "Return Of The King" was somehow left off "The Chemical Wedding". It's mind-boggling to imagine that the album was so strong that a killer track like that could have been left as a bonus track.

I cannot say the same thing about any Iron Maiden records. They never, even in their classic period, made records that were without fault. Every album back then, possibly due to the speed at which they were coming out, featured a few tracks that everyone knew weren't up to par. Songs like "Flash Of The Blade" and "A Quest For Fire" were obviously weak, and dragged down what were actually uneven records.  Even "The Number Of The Beast" has weak moments, with "Gangland" and "Invaders" not even coming close to approaching the greatness of the hits. They are still great records, but they are not the front-to-back classics that time and nostalgia has made them out to be.

I love Iron Maiden as much as the next person, but if I'm looking at things with open eyes, I have to say that Dickinson's godly trilogy is a step above even the very best Iron Maiden albums. For three albums, for thirty songs, Bruce Dickinson achieved heavy metal perfection. Very few people have been able to say that for an entire album, and no others for three, let alone three in a row.

The trilogy may just be one of the greatest feats in all of metal history, and controversial though it may be to say, Iron Maiden would kill to have made those records.

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