Part 25 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!
BRUCE DICKINSON – Accident of Birth (1997)
As mentioned in the last chapter, Bruce Dickinson was eager to get back to metal, and he brought Roy Z with him. Together they forged a great modern steel beast of an album. But there was an additional surprise in store:
Bruce had also teamed up with his old Maiden alumnus Adrian Smith! The classic writing partnership was back, and Adrian was playing those trademark melodies again.
And then, just to stick it in Steve Harris’ nose, Bruce hired on Derek Riggs to do the cover art. He came up with a mascot: Edison! Get it?
The opening track, “Freak”, slams the listener right in the face with a modern metallic riff before the classic Bruce wail forces you to admit this is the kind of music he’s best at. And while it’s not the same as Maiden, you will be delighted to learn there are guitar harmony parts once again.
You have to give Roy Z credit where it’s due, the guy is great at writing metal riffs. He’s also a great soloist and a nice contrast to Adrian. Also not slouches are the badass rhythm section: Eddie Casillas (bass) and David Ingraham (drums), both back from the Balls To Picasso album.
“Starchildren” is an absolute stunner, a fucking brilliant song that combines programmed samples with traditional metal riffery. I also love that Bruce has continued on with the sci-fi lyrics, something he’s quite good at.
Although “Taking the Queen” is another great song, it is overshadowed by the epic track “Darkside of Aquarius”. At almost 7 minutes long, “Darkside” combines multiple parts together with guitar harmonies into one cohesive, stomping whole. This to me is the jewel on a fine album. I think this would have made one fine Maiden number (finer than what Maiden were releasing at the time).
Then, “Road To Hell”, a co-write between Bruce and Adrian. You can tell by the catchy guitar parts and singalong chorus. It is followed by the anthemic ballad “Man of Sorrows”. This one was chosen for release as its own EP later.
The single “Accident of Birth” is next, yet another great tune, but also a standout among great tunes. Once again the samples are back, blasting this piece of sheet metal into a pulp. The guitar melodies ground it in familiar territory as Bruce’s wail assaults the listener.
Why is Ingraham wearing that pilot hat?
“The Magician” comes somewhat awkwardly afterwards, as it is more upbeat than the previous material. But “Welcome to the Pit” (also co-written by Smith) sinks deep into a sludgey morass. “Welcome to the Pit” is filler, the first obvious such track on Accident of Birth.
The US edition of the album was elevated by another Smith co-write, the Maiden-esque “The Ghost of Cain” which restores the melody and guitar harmonies to the forefront. The UK edition skipped this track but made it available on a single (which we’ll get to). But it is a song like “The Ghost of Cain” that reminds the listener of the kind of magic that Iron Maiden lost when it lost Adrian Smith.
“Omega” and “Arc of Space” form a sci-fi duo. The sun is about to go all red-giant on Earth’s ass, and most people have left. But many remain behind.
Now it’s Omega-Zero day
The red star shines its last rays
The sun that gave us life yesterday
Is now the sun that takes our lives away
It’s this kind of lyric that gets my nerd-blood pumping. Arthur C. Clarke would have been proud. I’m sure Bruce has read The Songs of Distant Earth. But even musically it’s a winner. At first it sounds like a ballad before the band hits the gas and it turns into a blazing rocker with twin guitar harmonies.
And finally “Arc of Space”, an acoustic number (with cello!), and a perfect ending to a fine album. The choruses soar. Roy Z’s acoustic solo is perfect. The album ends as a triumph.
There were also singles to be had: “Accident of Birth” parts 1 and 2. Part one added “The Ghost of Cain” to the lineup for those who didn’t get it on the UK album. Both parts contained demo versions, basic stripped down recordings of “Accident of Birth”, “Taking the Queen”, and “Starchildren”. It sounds like these were most likely recorded using drum machines. In the case of “Accident of Birth” itself, in a lot of ways I prefer the more mechanical demo!
The Japanese even got their own exclusive EP from the albums called Man of Sorrows.
BRUCE DICKINSON – Man of Sorrows EP (1997)
Man of Sorrows is an awkward 5 song collection, essential only to the obsessed or the lucky ones able to find it at a good price. It has three versions of the title track: A radio edit, an orchestral mix, and a Spanish version (on a CD released only in Japan.) The orchestral version just mixes those instruments in higher. The Spanish version, “Hombre Triste”, is especially poor since the backing vocals in the chorus are still in English. You can also hear edits, as if the vocal recording was probably spliced together piecemeal line by line.
The saving grace to the EP (but not worth the $30 price tag to the average collector) are two more demos: “Darkside of Aquarius” and “Arc of Space”. Much like the other demos, these are fully fleshed out arrangements. “Darkside” features that drum machine again, but “Arc of Space” sounds like Bruce and Roy just doing the song live in a room. The liner notes reveal that Roy Z plays all the instruments on the demo versions.
Incidentally, all these songs plus the “Accident of Birth” single B-sides are now available on the deluxe edition of the album.
Bruce made a hell of a comeback on Accident of Birth, showing up Iron Maiden, and proving that he was built to sing heavy metal music. The cynical said that Bruce was just cashing in, but the next album would prove to be an even more powerful statement. Stay tuned.
For Accident of Birth:
For Man of Sorrows: