REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – Accident of Birth (1997) Man of Sorrows EP (1997)

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:

4.5/5 stars

For Man of Sorrows:

1.5/5 stars

19 comments

  1. A great, great album. I know some people suspected his sudden conversion back to Metal but, you know, a change is as good as a rest and I think Bruce is a creative, smart guy that just needed to do a bit of experimenting and find his mojo again. If he’s writing like he means it and he sounds like he means it. He means it! And there are still elements here that would have seemed daring on a Maiden album so it’s not like he was just being a pastiche and, like you pointed out before, he manages to make his Metal somehow more personal sounding.

    Roy Z is great too (the Omega solo here is just smoking) although a bit of a shy performer. I saw this line-up supporting Lynyrd Skynyrd(?) and was treated to great versions of Powerslave and 2 Minutes to Midnight! Awesome times.

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    1. Supporting Lynyrd Skynyrd? Really? What a weird bill! Good to know he was playing Maiden numbers, I didn’t know that, since all I had to go by was the Scream For Me Brazil live album!

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      1. Yes, it was a pretty bizarre billing. Bruce made jokes about it in between songs and the vast majority of the audience couldn’t have cared less about their set. I felt like the only guy that was into it! I only remember those two tracks from the Maiden era being played and I think they played those two on the Chemical Wedding tour as well. On the previous Skunkworks tour they only played The Prisoner.

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        1. Maybe Bruce should have covered some Catherine Wheel! Has he ever done gigs with them? Not that it’s a good fit, but I always wondered why the two Dickinsons haven’t worked together. They even shared management at one point…

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        2. Really? They’re from your side of the pond. I liked them quite a bit actually. Rob Dickinson is Bruce’s cousin and both bands had Merck Mercuriadis in the management. Here’s a good song below. I think Ezrin even produced them.

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  2. Mike, first I want to ask: how do you keep up the pace of these posts? I can barely find the time to read them, so I can’t imagine how much time you’re spending putting them together. Excellent summaries of each release, with so much artwork and song samples. Well done.

    As for Bruce’s solo career, I didn’t start listening to him until around ’98, which is when I finally got into Maiden and caught up with their catalog in a short amount of time. Naturally the next step was to see what Bruce sounded like outside the band, and I think my first purchase was “Chemical Wedding” followed by “Accident Of Birth”…and I was hooked. His voice was still a mighty force of nature, and the songwriting & playing were killer without sounding too much like Maiden. I eventually went back and got the first two albums but never latched onto them like I did with the others. Ironically, after I made up for lost time and became a huge Maiden fan, I couldn’t convince friends who were long-time Maiden fans to give Bruce’s solo releases a shot. They’re definitely missing out. Hopefully a lot of people who are following your blog will be opened up to the joys of these records. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on “Chemical Wedding,” which is probably my favorite.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Rich. How do I keep up the pace? I don’t! LOL! I was on vacation last week and my wife let me do whatever I wanted to, so that worked out to listening to a lot of music and writing about it!

      I can’t wait to get to Chemical Wedding. What an album. My friends also would not give Bruce’s solo albums a shot. It’s too bad. I can understand people who were upset with Maiden at the time, but if they’d only known that Bruce was doing great music without them!

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  3. Boom,crack,smash wow here comes the Air Raid Siren full throttle an all.
    Man when I read that Smith was back in camp I was pumped cuz I figured this would be a album closer to Maiden than what Maiden was doing themselves.
    Easily puts the X Factor into its place which is last place…I dunno I thought that the three Bruce records that I owned ,this one,Picasso and Tatooed Millionaire were all pretty damn good and were all a little,different from each other in terms of style but remained somewhat hard rock/metal….to keep ol rocker dudes myself happy….Bruce succeeded!

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  4. Oh yeah I got Chemical Wedding as well but I didn’t want to get ahead of your reviewing.
    By the way ,your a review Machine Mike…..now I gotta go over and comment about Rockhead!!!!

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    1. LOL thanks Deke…I confess though that I have a secret reservoir of reviews that I pull old ones out of the hat from. Aaron and HMO were discussing Canadian Bands over at http://whatownsme.wordpress.com/ and I said, “Rockhead! Dude I have to post a review for you!”

      And so I did :)

      Also I was on vacation last week so I was able to double-up on my daily postings.

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  5. Just a magnificent release and this really has aged better than most albums from its time.

    Epic, heavy, that voice, Adrian and those songs! To be honest I put this up with Chemical Wedding as don’t think it far behind that at all and now with the years passed Tyranny Of Souls both it and this one bookend Chemical Wedding nicely…

    So regardless the love for the underrated Skunkworks and great Balls To Picasso, Accident started the trilogy and one would be crazy not to have the last 3 Bruce records in their collections.

    Another review summing things up perfectly (although as awkward it may have been, The Magician is a cool arse tune not only to sing along to (poorly) but to blast at full volume. It’s slightly naff lyric works well enough too – The Magician Is My Name! Go ahead and be heard \m/)

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    1. Thanks again for the awesome comment. The “trilogy” as you call it would make for an excellent box set reissue wouldn’t it? Throw in the Anthology DVD and the live album for good measure.

      As you can tell I’m very fond of Bruce’s solo catalogue. Lyrically and musically he hits the spot for me.

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  6. Oh and forgot to mention – absolutely agree Darkside Of Aquarius is THE one to beat!

    Farking magnificent tune. With its epic buildup and length this was a song that could’ve kicked the album off at track 1 (so long as it was then still followed by the existing running order Freak being just that and all ;)

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    1. A lonely Silver Surfer, comes to push the wheel for me…gotta push the wheel of Dharma round, push the wheel right round round round!

      Now I’ve always wondered, what’s up with the Silver Surfer cameo? I won’t pretend to be as well read as Bruce in the mythological archetypes and characters, but isn’t that one right out of the Marvel comics?

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