Motion for ReconsiderationIf you ask the average person to rattle off the names of five classic metal bands, you can be reasonably certain Iron Maiden will be one of them. The band is almost universally beloved by metalheads. Their output from The Number of the Beast through Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is considered one of metal’s few sacred cows.
I grew up in a very small town without any friends who knew more about metal than I did. first learned of the band from a book. See, before Wikipedia, Allmusic, and Metal Archives, there were actually books that listed thousands of albums and had ratings accompanied by short descriptions of the bands. My mom had one of these, and I pored over it looking for metal bands. I never got around to getting any of their albums for a long time, and finally got into the band while in law school. Since I came to them relatively later in life (compared to most metalheads), it should mean something when I say their output from 1982 through 1988 absolutely deserves that sacred cow status.
But they are not without their faults. Tomorrow, May 12, marks the 20th anniversary of Fear of the Dark. The record follows No Prayer for the Dying, and between the two of them they constitute what is considered the low point of the Bruce Dickinson years. It’s easy to dismiss a bad record as the result of a bad lineup, but that excuse can’t be applied here as Adrian Smith was not a primary songwriter, nor is the rhythm guitar a serious problem.
But I came to the band around 2006. I got Fear and Powerslave at basically the same time. So perhaps that gives me some clarity of vision, an outsider’s take on the record that may put it in a different light.
Well, just because that’s possible doesn’t mean it’s true. The majority view of Fear is that it has a handful of great songs and a load of garbage. The majority view is correct, as I see it.
There are three absolutely killer tracks on this record. “Childhood’s End,” “The Fugitive,” and the incredible title track stand up alongside the very best the band has ever recorded. “Judas Be My Guide” and “Chains of Misery,” aren’t bad either. Either one could be the worst song from “Piece of Mind,” which is to say that they’re still pretty damn good. But that’s where the praise must end. “Fear is the Key” could have been a great song, except that for the last couple minutes Dickinson is just winging it. He truly sounds as if he has nothing prepared, but they went with the first take anyway. There are four tracks beside that are so dull they aren’t even worth mentioning, full of boring riffs and what sound like improvised vocal lines.
Then there are two incredibly bad songs. “Afraid to Shoot Strangers” is just fucking awful. Some of the leads could have been salvageable, but it’s too long, too boring, and too stupid. I have no idea what they were thinking, and even some of its production choices are curious. “Weekend Warrior,” on the other hand, has the band’s thinking clearly printed on its sleeve. It’s a piss-poor attempt at emulating the teenage rebellion anthems of the 80’s hair metal bands, but it fails for multiple reasons. Maiden was the alternative to hair metal garbage. They don’t grasp it all that well anyway, so it ends up sounding like a parody.
The Verdict: Even a (for all intents and purposes) classic lineup can fuck things up. There are numerous other examples of that. If you put Maiden’s 90’s albums up against Metallica’s, you’re presented with an interesting question: What is worse, to fail at doing what you’ve always done well, or to mostly succeed at trying something questionable? Fear of the Dark is, for the most part, a failure, although it gives us a few enduring sing-along anthems. I give it 2 out of 5 stars.
Buy Fear of the Dark