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Iron Maiden - Virtual XI CD (album) cover

VIRTUAL XI

Iron Maiden

 

Prog Related

2.36 | 214 ratings

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The T
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars If there's one album that unites the Iron Maiden congregation, but in a negative way, it's this one, VIRTUAL XI. Almost universally heralded as their weakest effort (right alongside NO PRAYER FOR THE DYING), there are only a few people that actually defend the record and like it. I have to say, without doubt, that I may be one of the most fervent of those exceptions, as I think it's a pretty good album.

This was the second and last album featuring Blaze Bayley on vocals. After the commercial and critical failure of this disc, both the band and the singer decided to part ways. Within a few months, legendary frontman Bruce Dickinson was back at the helm of the Beast's ship, and the world was perfect again for most Iron Maiden's fans.

For me, VIRTUAL XI is a very good album, a flawed album but one of good music nevertheless. The songs are slightly faster, in general, than those found in THE X-FACTOR; the sound of the recording is pretty much the same; there are many solos and instrumental sections and a lot of great melodies. The progressive elements of the preceding album are still here, though slightly less evident. The two possible reasons that come to my mind when I try to find why this album generates so much despise are:

1) Bayley's vocals. As with the previous record, they're not brilliant, his low range is poor, he mostly follows the guitars, and, specially, he's not Dickinson.

2) There ARE solos, there ARE multi-sections, but the bass, the almighty Steve Harris' bass, for the first (and only) time it's a little bit off in the mix, in the background, and doesn't really shine as usual. These two factors must have played a big role in making this album a must for target-practicing for Maiden fans.

Futureal (8.5/10) A typical fast, strong opener. It has a lot of energy and drive, Bayley sings very well, and the chorus is good, if not great. The guitar solos give this song a boost. A very good opener.

Angel and the Gambler (9.5/10) This song has received a lot of bashing but also some praise; I'll go for the second option. It starts with a decent riff punctuated by (I have to agree) slightly "cheesy" sounding keyboard-chords. The main verse and the bridge have decent melody. Nothing is too fantastic but what I like is that the song creates a scene, it sets you in a horizontal mood, in a certain world of doubt and ambiguity but nothing too extreme; then the much maligned chorus comes and it works perfectly to make all the preceding parts have a meaning. It's repeated a few times and then the middle section starts, always marked by the repetition of the chorus' words and melody in different ways. The guitar solos also have to go over the chorus' main idea and rhythm. Everything blends wonderfully and dissolves into a reappearance of the first verse, the bridge, and then the chorus again, this time repeated till exhaustion. For me, despite what others may say, in that repetition lies the magic, lies the key to this song. It may not be the most varied tracks ever by The Beast, but it lasts almost 10 minutes that go like a breeze. I think, for one, that this is an excellent song, different to anything Maiden has done.

Lightning Strikes Twice (8/10) A (now) typical pensive melody in the guitar opens this faster track. Very melodic beginning, Bayley sings well here (I think that he actually sings BETTER instead of worse in VIRTUAL XI). The main verse is desperate, powerful. After a repetition, we get to the faster section. Full force now, Bayley's voice suffers. The melodies are not that great, but the song is good enough. In between the two fair choruses we have a short instrumental section.

Clansman (9.5/10) Another long song, another epic, another success. Very good lyrics mark this song that has been saved from the bashing the rest of the album has received, and I can see why. It's a fantastic Iron Maiden epic, with fantastic melodies and a sense of power, of liberation, lyrics and music come together to announce the cry for freedom. Bayley's vocals are a rollercoaster: at times he sounds awful, at times he actually sounds like a very good singer. The instrumental section is great, the guitars trying to outclass each other and show that they're the true liberating weapons. Near the end the song just gets heroic, though I would have changed the tempo for a faster one to give the song the final touch of perfection. As it is, an excellent song, the best in the album, but not the best from Bayley's Maiden.

When Two Worlds Collide (8/10) Lyrics that remind us of disaster-extinction movies set the mood for this good song. In typical Maiden "throttling" tempo, the vocal sections are decent, the guitar-solo sections are great. The ending is semi-anthemic, reminding us of the Maiden of old.

Educated Fool (9/10) A quiet start that seems to come straight from THE X FACTOR opens this great song. The descending melody from the pre-chorus is quite unique for Maiden, Bayley follows it exactly. The chorus is absolutely unique, though, sounding more like a march from a thousand warriors than anything else. Then the tempo gets faster and another melodic solo that makes us fall in love with this track.

Don't Look to the Eyes of a Stranger (8.5/10) Another short-epic, the opening riff marked by guitars and synth. The initial eerie passage is not that great, but the faster section that ensues is much better, enhanced by a intelligent choosing of cymbals and drumming from McBrain. After two repetitions, we get to a very sad lament by Bayley and the guitars, a great moment followed by a dance-like figure (?!?) with a marching rhythm. I don't get why this album is so criticized when it contains quite the most unique moments in all of The Beast. Great song.

Como Estais Amigos (6.5/10) Well, a long tradition of good closers has been interrupted by this boring piece. Maybe this is the reason for all the bashing; after all, THIS is the last song one hears when listening to VIRTUAL XI, so maybe that causes people to leave the album with a bad impression. Not only is the music boring but the "Spanish" sung by Bayley is just atrocious. But even this track has its redeeming features, namely the slightly faster, more interesting instrumental section at the end. Not a disaster, but a weak closer, specially for the first very bad minutes.

As my analysis has showed me, I actually love this album just as much as any in the Maiden catalogue with the exceptions of the best ones (SEVENTH, SOMEWHERE and XFACTOR) and the worst ones (PRAYER, PIECE). I think it's full of good music and great melodies, and I give it a 4, which will probably be the highest score this album has ever received (in this site, that's true.)

Recommended for: Iron Maiden fans with open minds (not Bayley-haters), good metal fans.

. anyway, this was it for Bayley-Maiden. The next album would bring back the legend, and with it, fans would rejoice for the Resurrection of the Beast.

The T | 4/5 |

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