Iron Maiden – Fear of the Dark

I was first exposed to Iron Maiden in Mr Miller’s middle school art class where he let students paint 7′ x 7′ album covers on the wall. If they were great, they would remain. Eddie was painted in his padded cell for 1983’s Piece of Mind for all three years I was there. In my head he still remains. I graduated high school in May of 1992. Iron Maiden had already released 8 albums, and established Bruce Dickinson as their lead singer for 10 years by the time Fear of the Dark was released that same month.

At that time, those I knew who usually listened to Iron Maiden enjoyed the guitar riffs and piece-mailed bad-ass quotes, without regard to what each song is about in its entirety. If you see Iron Maiden perform live, they still relay a disclaimer for The Clansman that it is not about the KKK, but the Scottish clans and their attempt to be free from England. It is easy to understand this if you listen to the entire song. The Clansman hadn’t been released until 1998, and to this day is still my favorite.

I was completely wrong and I blame Bruce Dickinson.

I should note, prior to listening to this album, I have only heard compilations, and singles from their most popular work — both in studio and live. The version Fear of the Dark I listened to was remastered in 2015, so the production value was altered since the initial release. With all this in mind, this album still hit hard. 

Reading off the song list in order, it could easily be mistaken that these songs tell a story. Afraid to Kill Strangers is followed up with Fear is the Key and immediately proceeded with Childhood’s End. Before even hearing the album, I had envisioned a story in my mind of someone taking their first life and later becoming a fugitive. I was completely wrong and I blame Bruce Dickinson. His operatic singing style sets the stage for an epic story of foreboding woe and tragedy. After a brief reset, I started again.

Be Quick or Be Dead starts exactly as you would hope a Maiden album starts. Sounds and beats you’ve come accustomed to, with Bruce’s falsetto wailing within the first 20 seconds. With vocals like, “Snake eyes in Heaven, The thief is in your head” and, “The serpent is crawling inside of your ear”, it is begging for me to get the liner notes and read along.

From Here to Eternity switches directions and sounds like a KISS B-side with an anthem rock feeling. It tells of an unfortunate end to the 4-song Charlotte the Harlot saga – a story spanning from 1980 – 1992.

It’s interesting to me that the album’s slowest song Afraid to Shoot Strangers is one that is often performed live. It depicts a soldier’s doubt in his call to duty. the tempo only picks up almost 3 minutes in. For anyone convinced that Iron Maiden is a satanic group, this song is an anti-war narrative about the Gulf War. You can find references to the Beast and the Bible throughout every one of their 17 studio albums.

Childhood’s end is a terrific song that has quickly become my favorite from this album. This song allows drummer Nicko McBrain, and guitarists Dave Murray, and Janick Gers an opportunity to really shine. It is a small departure from their other music, but I have since heard similar sounds in more recent music (Try Senjutsu‘s Stratego) Childhood’s end seems a song ahead of its time and more consistent with what they release now, albeit a constant tempo. Although I would like more songs like this from Iron Maiden, I appreciate it for its uniqueness. It is an underrated song for certain.

Nicko and Harris respectfully start The Fugitive with terrific drums and bass. it seems like another song that could have been released as a single, but wasn’t. I wonder what they felt was lacking.

Fear of the Dark has the depth and is clearly the best song on the album. It is performed live at almost all of their performances these days. Overall, this album felt short, but did not fall short. As I listened to it for the first time, and the second, it breezed by. It isn’t hailed as one of their best studio albums. It even has mixed reviews on what I find to be terrific album art. It has clean, purposeful, and bold lines that are haunting. It is however, the first cover not created by Derek Riggs. Derek’s art is full of Easter eggs and nods to other fan-favorite references to previous albums and covers. I find Derek’s work to be akin to fan art. It has so much to enjoy going on for someone who truly knows and loves their music, but lacks a polished, professional look. It could be argued that only true fans appreciate the nuances Derek created for the album art.

I realize now, many people my age are listening to the lyrics. They even have a keen understanding of the album art work. They analyze everything Iron Maiden releases and spend hours debating the best lyrics, songs, and album art online. In that vein, let’s analyze for a moment, Fear of the Dark and the latest release from 2021, Senjutsu. To first compare both albums, my strategy was to take all songs from both albums and play them at Random. I wanted to see if I could tell the difference between albums. I could. Bruce’s voice is a little strained, but only because I was looking for a difference. It does not affect the music at all.

The latest release has less experimenting and a cleaner sound. If you’re a fan of Iron Maiden, Senjutsu has some instant classics. It plays out link a mythical outdoor drama, with a change of setting for each song. There can be no doubt, part of what has made Iron Maiden a global success is Bruce Dickinson’s vocal delivery. It was made evident with his hiatus from the band in 1993, and in this new album. His voice rounds out the music of an impending warning of the sins of our past lives coming back to haunt us all. 

Their Legacy of the Beast tour returns to North America on Sept 11th and ends in Tampa, FL on Oct 27th.

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