Part 15 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!
IRON MAIDEN – Fear of the Dark (1992, 1996 bonus disc)
I remember staying up late one night, listening to Q107, waiting to hear the new Maiden track. They promised it, and after airing “Burn” by Deep Purple, they debuted “Be Quick Or Be Dead”.
Nice riff, I said. The song took a while to grow on me, because Bruce was still growling a bit too much for my taste. If there was one thing I disliked about Maiden’s previous, No Prayer for the Dying, it was Bruce’s growl. I’d rather hear him sing. He was growling the verses, and singing the choruses. And Nicko was doing some serious steppin’! It was the Maiden writing debut of Janick Gers (with Bruce), and it was a rant on big business. Maiden were the 99% in 1992! I thought it was one of the best songs from the new album, Fear of the Dark.
The second track, “From Here To Eternity” featured the return of Charlotte! Harris wrote this one alone, and it too was a single. It has a shout-along chorus, but too much rinky-dink bass way up high in the mix. This song wouldn’t make my road tape, I never particularly cared for it.
Much, much better is “Afraid To Shoot Strangers”. Steve wrote this one for the men and women who served in the Gulf War, who as Bruce said, “never wanted to kill anybody.” I consider this song to be the birth of the “new” Iron Maiden. The gentle guitar, with the melodic bass in the background, the keys…is it a ballad or an epic? It’s both. Then it picks up with some of the catchiest guitar parts Steve’s ever written. There would be many many Maiden songs that followed this blueprint on albums to come, especially The X Factor. (My friend Andy and I beat this song by a year. In 1991 we wrote a Maiden-inspired tune called “Unleashed in the Middle East” about the Gulf War. Fortunately, it remains unrecorded to this day.)
Did you also noticed Maiden getting more topical? Big business…the Gulf War…it was the 90’s.
The Zeppish “Fear Is the Key” is next. Bruce and Janick wrote this one, but again, I’m not too fond of it. It has a great hook, and it’s technically accomplished, but Maiden and Zep don’t always mix. I don’t think they ever played it live. Do I hear a slide?
“Childhood’s End”, written by Steve, doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the Arthur C. Clarke novel. It is rhythmically complex and melodic and powerful with a soaring guitar melody. I don’t consider this one of Maiden’s greater songs in the canon, but it is one of the better songs on Fear of the Dark.
The triumphant ballad, “Wasting Love” closes side 1. This one may have thrown people for a loop, both by the title and the music. Maiden, singing about love? More Scorpions sounding than Maiden, this one came from Bruce and Janick.
Maybe one day, I’ll be an honest man
Up til now I’m doing the best I can
Long roads, long days
of sunrise to sunset, sunrise to sunset
The song seems to be a reflection on infidelity on the road, but was there more between the lines? “Maybe one day I’ll be an honest man…”
Yes, it’s a ballad, but it is not wimpy. The guitar harmonies evoke mellow Thin Lizzy. I think “Wasting Love” is among the three best songs on Fear of the Dark. “Afraid to Shoot Strangers is another one, and we’ll get to the third in due time.
Side 2 opened with Steve’s “The Fugitive”. It takes a long time to build. It’s OK, nothing special. Again, I doubt it was ever played live. I don’t know if The Fugitive really needed to be made into a song, but Steve beat the movie adaptation by a year!
Bruce and Davey’s “Chains of Misery” follows. I think it’s another OK song, again nothing special and again I doubt it was ever played live. Nice shout-along chorus.
Another Zeppish song is next: “The Apparition”. Steve wrote this one with Janick. See above comments: OK song, never played live. The lyrics start with promise, a ghost story perhaps, but then it turns into a series of pieces of advice from the apparition to the living. Stuff like “You can make your own luck,” etc. And Bruce is doing that annoying growl vocal!
Thankfully, “Judas Be My Guide” gets us out of this slump! Ironically I always found this one to sound kind of Priest-like! I like this tune. Bruce wrote it with Davey, and to me this is the kind of song that Adrian Smith used to bring to the table. Melodic, powerful, anthemic, sing-along metal. I don’t think it was ever played live, but to me this one would have been single material. I would have picked it over “From Here To Eternity”.
The mellow “Weekend Warrior” is one of the oddest on the album. Bruce does his growl vocal (again!) but the song goes from acoustic section to electric section to acoustic again, and it’s quite unlike most Maiden songs. The lyrics seem to be about football hooliganism. I’m not sure if this was a topic that Iron Maiden needed to delve into, but there it is.
Finally, we have the Steve epic you have been waiting for: “Fear of the Dark”. It’s a little simple and repetitive compared to past epics, but it’s solid and has remained in the live set tour after tour after tour. It is a fan favourite worldwide, and I think it’s great. Although it’s simpler musically, I think in a lot of ways it’s one of Steve’s best epics. It’s absolutely perfect live, it begs to be sung along with, and it goes from peak to valley so well! I like big gothic opening riff. The mellow sections, again, would serve as a blueprint for the next era of Iron Maiden. Steve’s melodic bass, backed by quiet keys…
And that’s the album, a fat 12 songs, and although many are in the 3 minute range, there are several over 5 minutes this time. It was a generous slice of studio music from Maiden, never before had they crammed so many songs onto a record. It was also released on DAT, cassette, and CD. The vinyl was a double, and very hard to find. Vinyl was an import here in Canada: Capitol stopped pressing vinyl here in early 1990.
As I mentioned, there are moments here that musically look into Maiden’s future. But changes were already afoot, and in a real way, Fear of the Dark is the first album of the new Maiden. For the first time ever, Derek Riggs’ artwork was absent. Maiden instead chose a painting by Melvyn Grant. Gone were the Riggs trademarks, and a lot of fans reacted negatively to the new art. Eddie looked more Nosferatu than Eddie, and the idea of Eddie being reborn from a tree was…weird?
This was also to be Martin Birch’s final production effort. He retired after Fear of the Dark. Happy retirement, Martin! What can you possibly say bad about the man who produced Machine Head? Nothing. I will say though that this album, recorded digitally for the first time, sounds very thin. I think it was immediately noticeable and this was rectified on future albums.
My 1996 reissue has a bonus disc chock full of B-sides.
“Be Quick Or Be Dead” came with the piano-infused joke boogie tune, “Nodding Donkey Blues”, an ode to plus-sized ladies. It’s actually really great fun. “Ahh, there should be some kind of guitar solo here!” says Bruce before the piano kicks in.
Also from the same single is Montrose’s “Space Station #5” – Sammy Hagar’s first and only writing credit on an Iron Maiden disc! Maiden of course kick this song in the nuts. What an awesome riff. But wait — don’t turn it off. The hidden track “Bayswater Ain’t A Bad Place To Be” is yet another hilarious roast of manager Rod Smallwood!
Second single, “From Here To Eternity” was an oddity of sorts, one of the few Maiden singles to not feature Eddie on the cover. It’s B-sides included a Chuck Berry cover/ode to roadie Vic Vella called “Roll Over Vic Vella”. There were also two live tracks from the previous tour: “Public Enema Number One”, and “No Prayer For the Dying”. Nice to have live versions of these songs, as I doubt they were played again after that tour.
“From Here To Eternity” also supposedly featured a remixed A-side — a “Triumph Mix”. (The name “Triumph Mix” is only printed on the disc itself and not the back cover.) I can’t tell the difference, so don’t get excited. I also haven’t attempted to do a detailed comparison, so if you know more than I do, please comment.
The third and final single was “Wasting Love” which unfortunately had a terribly boring music video. It’s just too 90’s! It had three more live tracks, all from the previous tour: “Tailgunner”, “Holy Smoke”, and “The Assassin”. Same comment as above: Nice to have live versions. But note, none of these songs are on the 1996 reissue with bonus disc! Not one! And this is one of the rarest of Maiden singles. Took me a while to find a copy at a decent price.
There was one bonus included on the 2 CD edition of Fear of the Dark, in lieu of the above: “Hooks In You”, also live from the previous tour. Probably my most hated of all Maiden tunes. It’s actually from a later single, and I’ll get to that when I get to that album.
This was the last of the ten Iron Maiden 2 CD reissues from 1996.
So there you have it: Fear of the Dark. It’s superior to No Prayer, I believe. Both the good songs and the filler are superior. It pointed the way to some interesting new directions, mixing light and shade, and it proved that Janick Gers was an able songwriter in Iron Maiden. He had also begun to gel with Dave Murray as guitar player. Yet the album also had much filler, it would have been stronger at a traditional 9 or 10 tracks. I still have a fond place in my heart for Fear of the Dark, for it was one of many albums that helped me get through the 90’s.
But if you thought the last couple Maiden albums were controversial among fans, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.