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Iron Maiden - The X Factor CD (album) cover

THE X FACTOR

Iron Maiden

 

Prog Related

3.23 | 335 ratings

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Modrigue
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Maiden's best 90's album is also its darkest

After two average albums and Bruce Dickinson's departure in 1993, the survival of IRON MAIDEN was questionable. Despite the loss of their charismatic frontman, the band decided to pursue the adventure, by recruiting Blaze Bayley from WOLFSBANE. However, the new singer hasn't really the same vocal range as its predecessor as his high-pitched predecessor, his tone is a lot lower. How to solve the problem? Well, unfortunately for Steve Harris, but fortunately for us, the bassist was then facing personal issues in his life, so he will restranscribe his state of mind in the songwriting. Therefore the musical ambiance is somber, sinister, which is a novelty in the group's history, and perfectly fits Bayley's low tonality by allowing him to affirm his identity.

"The X Factor" simply features the darkest compositions ever written by IRON MAIDEN. At last, after several years, the band's music finally evolve and find their marks in the 90's. The tempo slows down, the songs are sometimes heavy, sometimes doomy, sometimes progy, but always with their own touch of epicness. Furthermore, despite a duration of more than 70 minutes, the longest studio opus ever recorded by the musicians back then, the quality is quite homogeneous. There are no genuine bad song. No title track either, the only other record making exception being "Piece of Mind". To sum up, even if you already know your 80's MAIDEN, you'll hear something different here... Don't worry though, this is still IRON MAIDEN, but with new clothes, for an unique result...

... Also unique in terms of cover art. For the first time, Derek Riggs was not collaborating, the well-known mascot is not hand-drawn but represented by a kind of model which looks like it's straight out from an horror movie. No cartoonesque Eddie here, the poor creature seems really tortured and suffering. This is getting serious! Some countries will even censor it and the artist will have to propose an alternative cover, with a wider angle of view. By the way, who is responsible for this disturbing gory picture? Hugh Syme, who usually takes care of... RUSH's. Not really in the same register...

The beginning of the disc is flawless. The more than 10 minutes duration of "Sign Of The Cross" haven't been seen since "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" from 1984's "Powerslave"! Best song of the disc, this progressive suite is simply a little gem! The slow overture with Gregorian chants distillates a somber ambiance, to then turn more aggressive, dark, and even haunting at times. Don't worry, the powerful bridge shows this is still Harris and co. at commands. Wow! THE 90's MAIDEN epic! The very good mid-tempo "Lord Of The Flies" possesses a cool bass, a catchy tune as well as a gloomy atmosphere. Last of the opening trio, and first single of the album to be released, "Man On The Edge" is a fast efficient punchy rocker. The delicate acoustic intro of "Fortunes Of War" can remind "Fear of the Dark", but the overall is quite different. In fact, without the galloping maidenien solo, it could nearly pass as doom metal! "Look For The Truth" is in a similar style than its predecessor, a bit more heroic.

"The Aftermath" displays a tragic atmosphere, while "Judgement Of Heaven" is a little less sinister. The only genuine average title of the record. On the contrary, "Blood On The World's Hands" one of the best moments of the second half. An unusual composition for MAIDEN with its surprising bass and doom tonality. Very nice! The cool and glorious "The Edge Of Darkness" and "2 A.M." are more typical. As the disc opened with a progressive track, it also concludes with another one. In addition to its different ambiances and numerous changes, "The Unbeliever" is quite in the style of 90's modern modern prog bands, with real pieces of maiden in it. A pretty good surprise at the end of the record!

This tenth studio release is an interesting mixture of dark, doom and progressive elements, done the IRON MAIDEN way. Don't expect fast-paced direct tunes here, nor fantasy prog, the leitmotiv here is "atmosphere". Sometimes the loss of an important member can result in unexpected welcomed consequences as the unknown offers also chances to renew. Although a bit lengthy, these 71 minutes of music proves that Harris and co. can evolve without losing their own identity. If only they could have done that again...

There are many ways to describe "The X-Factor": MAIDEN's darkest effort, one of their post-80's bests, their 90's best, in fact their only truly good studio opus from this decade and better than their 2000's albums. To be honest, the Englishs' last creative works since and for a long time...

So, is a new MAIDEN born? The band will unfortunately wear this dark outfit for this very unique representation. After 1996, the music will go "back to basic" (without 's')...

Modrigue | 4/5 |

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