I can’t imagine being a music reviewer. It is really impossible to properly judge a CD after one listen. I guess if you are reviewing canned pop music like you would find on the Top 40 chart, it is not too difficult, but for music that is created by musicians and not media conglomerates like Ashlee Simpson you cannot properly review a CD in the week of its release.
So that brings me to the purpose of this blog. I am going to write my review for Dance of Death by Iron Maiden. The CD came out in September of 2003, and now, finally a year later, I feel I am able to craft a proper review of the CD.
The opening track is one we first heard on their summer tour in 2003. Wildest Dreams. This song proves that in the case of Dance of Death, the total is greater than the sum of its parts. On its’ own, this track is a medium grade Maiden song. However, as the opener to Dance of Death, Wildest Dreams along with track 2 Rainmaker stir up the listener’s senses and prepare them for the greatness ahead.
Wildest Dreams and Rainmaker are a pair of songs that were meant for one another. I can’t believe that the band did not play them back-to-back on the tour. Wildest Dreams features Adrian Smith and Rainmaker features Dave Murray. It is a symbolic return to the glory days of the band (though Gers makes a positive contribution or two on Dance of Death, it is my opinion that he is outclassed by Smith and Murray on almost every level) where Murray and Smith would harmonize and solo like a single two-headed beast, always aware of the other.
The third track is No More Lies and is somewhat of a let down, but again, it fits in with the rest of the CD, it changes the mood a bit, and the introspective nature of the song and lyrics are great. No More Lies features a blazing solo by Smith, and here is where he sets himself apart from Gers and to a lesser extent even Dave Murray.
Montsegur is another fantastic history lesson by Maiden, and it is crunching and heavy, and really moves along quite nicely.
Now things really cook. The track Dance of Death is clearly Jannick Gers’ greatest contribution to Iron Maiden. The man has come so far in the last 13 years as both a player, but particularly as a songwriter. The complex and dynamic song moves along at a great pace and when it is over, the listener finds himself truly amazed at how great Iron Maiden have become.
With Gates of Tomorrow, I think Maiden mad the only true mistake on this CD. The song is weak, and I hate to say I might call it filler, but I don’t think Maiden purposely put in filler. I just think they misjudged the track and put it on, when it really should have been scrapped. In any case, even Maiden’s worst tends to be at least listenable, and there are some cool moments here, but overall, you could skip this track.
New Frontier gets things going in the right direction again. It has a great riff in the beginning, and moves along quite nicely. The soloing by Smith and Dickinson make this track a true classic, as the instrumental section on this song is among the best on the CD.
Now we come to the highpoint, the climax, the finest moments in Maiden history almost. Paschendale. Really there are no words that can accurately describe this track. This is the point where you realize how truly gifted and brilliant Adrian Smith is. I am not sure how much of this track was written by Steve Harris and how much by Smith, but I can assure you, Steve Harris while brilliant, has never written anything this epic, this grandiose, this mind blowing in his career. Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Alexander the Great are both staggering achievements, but it they pale in comparison to Paschendale. About 5 minutes into the song the guitar solos start and as usual Smith and Murray are astounding, then a 20 second vocal “bridge” that is the highlight of the song. Even Jannick’s choppy, garbled solo cannot ruin this brilliant track.
Face in the Sand follows and it somehow manages to keep the level of Paschendale up. This song is the most underrated in the band’s history and it is a shame they could not play it live. The entire album, Bruce sings with a passion and vigor that I have not heard since Powerslave, and nowhere on this CD is it more evident than in his performance in Face in the Sand. Again, we see an Adrian Smith composition that shines far and above those of his band mates.
Age of Innocence is another valley, but considering its location, after Paschendale and Face in the Sand and before the best closer since Mariano Rivera, it is really unfair and impossible to give any king of objective opinion on this song, so I will not.
Journeyman closes the album. What a closer it is. I am so glad Maiden had the ball to close this album with this acoustic masterpiece. As with other parts on this album, it leaves me speechless. Dickinson’s performance here is again one of the best in his career, and the music and tempo (again due to Adrian Smith) is indescribable.
So, looking back on this review, the reader may think I’m Jannick bashing, but that is not my intent. The whole album is great, and in this 23-year Maiden fan’s opinion, it may be their best ever, and without Jannick’s contributions, particularly on the title track, it would not be the same. I suppose one of the things I do take from Dance of Death is confirmation of the suspicion I have held since I first heard Back in the Village in 1984, that Adrian Smith is by far the most superior musician and songwriter the band had ever had.