• Iron Maiden - Dance of Death (2003) - Criminally underrated 21st century metal milestone - 95% (20/09/14)

    Iron Maiden - Dance of Death (2003)

    In my humble opinion, "Dance of Death" is my very favourite and in general the most underrated Iron Maiden record since Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith rejoined the band in 1999. To my negative surprise, not only fans seem to consider this a flawed release but even Bruce Dickinson talked about it in a very negative and egoistic way by claiming that he had to hit very high and artificially sounding notes. Apart of the slightly strained vocal efforts, the flawed production is criticized as well as a supposedly uncoherent song writing that consists of eleven mostly overlong tracks that have no clear guiding line.

    Obviously, I tend to disagree. The epic tracks have a warmer and softer production which builds up an interesting contrast to the more melancholic tone of several pieces while the shorter and straighter tracks sound raw and dirty like they should be. I really like the overall production of this record. The vocals might go to the limits but not only in a technical way the singer complains about but also in an emotional way. The vocals definitely grab your attention from the beginning to the end and I happen to find them very moving and emotion has always been more important to me in arts than technical perfection. In my opinion, this record also has a clear guiding line because it has a constant melancholic, longing and epic touch. The only exception is the opener "Wildest Dreams" where the vocals are longing but the instrumental work rather feels like a straight rock 'n roll track. On the other side, this track is the first single and opener of the record and it doesn't surprise that the band prefers to kick off the album on a more gripping and catchier note. The band has done this before, in particular on the two previous records and nobody should be surprised about this kind of idea anymore.

    The rest of the album is though perfectly consistent. "Rainmaker" may be the shortest tune on here but it has a melancholic vocal effort, longing and soaring melodies and a great epic instrumental section with emotional guitar solos and catchy melodies. Since this effort, the band's song writing decreased as Iron Maiden didn't manage to write a similarly profound short song on any of the next records. The real highlights on here are the epic songs in my opinion. The emotionally diversified "Dance of Death" is a mixture of classic heavy metal song writing, a vivid folk tune and majestic classical elements. In addition to this, lyrics and music go hand in hand and develop a gripping piece of occult yarn. This song goes straight back to the band's greatest epics from the eighties. "Paschendale" is just as great but for different reasons. It's a dark epic with hypnotizing melodies and vocals that interchange with truly dramatic and passionate parts. Iron Maiden has written so many songs about war but this here is the band's most authentic and atmospheric rendition in my opinion. This track manages to transport you mentally to the blood-red battlefields of World War One. In addition to this, the lines "Cruelty has a human heart - Every man does play his part - Terror of the men we kill - The human heart is hungry still" are one of the most emotional and poetic lyrics by the band as they are at least partially inspired by the great poet William Blake. Last but not least, we get the band's most creative ballad ever with the outstanding and melancholic "Journeyman" that mixes elegant classical elements with a hopeful campfire atmosphere combined with one of Bruce Dickinson's very best vocal performances. It's a surprising piece of music coming from a heavy metal band and proves that Iron Maiden can still innovate the genre it partially pioneered in the twenty-first century.

    Despite its clear guiding line, this album remains always open for experiments that should please to any dedicated Iron Maiden fan. One on side, this record includes the straight "Montségur" which is probably the most aggressive song the band has ever written. Still, the song doesn't sound stupidly brutal but comes around with amazing twin guitar solos and a desperate chorus that crowns a diversified and emotional vocal effort. On the other side, this release offers some of the band's calmest and most mature tracks that could easily come from a progressive rock album. "Age Of Innocence" is a great example as its lyrics and vocals keep sending shivers down my spine. It's not the kind of song that will convince at first contact but steadily grow with each spin and this is what makes a really clever song writing. Finally, even the few who are still living in the past and expecting a return to the band's records of the mid-eighties, may find a song that feels like a perfect blueprint of a classic heavy metal epic. This song is called "No More Lies" and despite it's retro touch, it can fully convince because it actually beats many of the originals which inspired this anthem. From the first seconds on, the band comes around with amazing melodies as well as a profound and melancholic atmosphere. The chorus is simple yet the most powerful refrain the band has written in years. The real highlight of this spectacular heavy metal epic blueprint is the instrumental middle section where we get to hear one amazing guitar solo after another. Hands down, this song includes some of the most emotional and vivid heavy metal guitar solos ever written. Even after several dozen spins, I can't stand still to this track and feel the need to get in motion, to play air guitar and to sing along to this masterpiece. This may not be the most original song writing but definitely one of the most emotional ones. Again, emotions are more important for me than technical abilities.

    Even the few weaker tracks like the melodic retro rock track "Gates Of Tomorrow" or the calm progressive rock song "Face In The Sand" have grown on me as time went by. Today, I can't find any single weak track on this record. There are only good to excellent songs on this release that represents very well Iron Maiden's career as it goes back to almost any sound and style the band had already tried out in its career without forgetting about some original innovations and a very own and coherent melancholic atmosphere. This nearly perfect mixtures put this record above several other milestones of the eighties that had a huge impact on the genre but that still had some sympathetic flaws and a couple of fillers. If this record had been released between "Powerslave" and "Somewhere in Time", it would definitely be considered as one of the band's legendary early masterpieces and get the well-deserved praise it didn't get in the beginning of the new millennium. Those who listened to the album once or twice and forgot it somewhere as a dust collector on a shelf, should grab this contemporary masterpiece of heavy metal music, give it a few more spins and re-evaluate this criminally underrated album that may be the greatest heavy metal record of the new millennium.

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