Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Iron Maiden - Dance of Death (2003)

It's not an easy task to review an Iron Maiden album, especially when I find myself heavily biased toward their work made in the "Golden Years," rather than their recent releases like A Matter of Life and Death and The Final Frontier. From the albums offered post 2000, the first two, Brave New World and Dance of Death, are modern Maiden at their best and showcase compositions filled to the brim with creativity. My pick for best album after 2000 is, without question, Dance of Death because it models itself after what made Brave New World so great, yet adds more to the musical melting pot. The record has it all; short, fun rockers like "Wildest Dreams," melancholic pieces like "Paschendale," the abrasive "Montségur," and the somehow calming "Journeyman" with its smooth and serene acoustic lines.

One of the reasons I adore Dance of Death are the lyrics. While it's no secret I favor "Montségur," the lyrics on the track are nothing short of perfection, aural bliss to my ears because they flow so well with the music.

The book of Old Testament crippled and black
Satan - his weapon is lust
Leaving this evil damnation of flesh
Back to the torture of lies

The perfect ones willingly died at the stake

And all of their followers slain
As for the knowledge of God they had claimed
Religion's still burning inside

Not wanting "Montségur" to hog all the spotlight, "Paschendale" is accomplished lyrically, too.

In a foreign field he lay
Lonely soldier, unknown grave
On his dying words he prays
Tell the world of Paschendale

Relive all that he's been through

Last communion of his soul
Rust your bullets with his tears
Let me tell you 'bout his years

Every time I hear Bruce snarl "the book of Old Testament crippled and black, Satan his weapon is lust" chills run down my spine because it's integrated into the music so seamlessly. To be honest, I'm surprised a chunk of the lyrics on Dance of Death are as good as they are because Maiden have slipped lyrically in recent years, most notably on their last two releases. But this isn't either of those albums, so let's rejoice. 

Dance of Death ushered in a few new concepts for Iron Maiden, particularly Nicko's use of double bass on "Face in the Sand," a soaring, synth-laden track that has a hook as big as, well, a desert. Synths and keyboards, especially those of the orchestral variety, come out of the woodwork on the album's compositions, too. It's not that Maiden never used keyboards before, but with Dance of Death they became much more prevalent, providing a myriad of backing chords and various melodies. The orchestrated parts are either a "love it" or "hate it" type-of-thing according to many Iron Maiden and heavy metal fans.

For this album, listening is far more efficient than putting words to a slice of the internet. Stylistically, it bridges the gap between what Iron Maiden would become with A Matter of Life and Death, and the previous release, Brave New World. It's a natural progression from the album that predated it--think of it as fine wine aged to perfection.


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