REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – The Chemical Wedding (1998 Japanese Import, single)

Part 27 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

BRUCE DICKINSON – The Chemical Wedding (1998)

Disclaimer:  I know nothing of the writings of William Blake.  Curious because of this album, I decided to take a crack at them.  I did not get far!

Suffice to say The Chemical Wedding is a swirling Blake-inspired non-concept album, a distinct up-ratchet from the excellent Accident of Birth.  Upon hearing The Chemical Wedding, I said, “Well that’s it — Bruce has buried Iron Maiden, and his own back catalogue too!”

Seriously heavy, much heavier than anything Bruce has done before or since, The Chemical Wedding is an absolute triumph.  The lineup remains the same:  Bruce and Roy Z with Adrian Smith, Eddie Casillas, and David Ingraham.  With a little bit ‘o narration from Bruce’s hero Arthur Brown (The Crazy World of Arthur Brown).  The lyrics range from alchemy to the legend that Christ once went to England during his missing years, it’s a spellbinding listen, as long as you don’t hurt your neck from all the headbanging you’re going to do.

I had one customer who was a Christian.  He asked me what was good in new metal, so I put The Chemical Wedding on for him.  He ripped the headphones from his ears — couldn’t stand the lyrics!  He told me they were “too demonic”, particularly the lead single “The Killing Floor”:

Satan has left his killing floor

Satan – hellfires burn no more

Although there is also a line about “Panzer divisions burning in the mud” so to me this is another commentary on the evil present in the world.

Going through the album track by track would get monotonous.  So choose from the adjectives below:  “fast”, “powerful”, “scorching”, “heavy”, “grinding”, “wailing”, “throbbing”, “headache-inducing” for the various songs.

There are numerous highlights, but my two favourites are:

“The Tower” – this one has a unstoppable pulse thanks to Eddie Casillas, and is one of the more melodic songs on the album while retaining its heaviness.

“Book of Thel” – with velocity comes the album epic, this one picks up where “Darkside of Aquarius” left off from the last album.  I don’t know what a book of Thel is, but judging by the heavy evilness coming from my speakers, maybe I don’t wanna know!

Not to be outdone are the scorching opening “King in Crimson” (does not seem to be about a Stephen King character!) and the melodic Maiden-esque Japanese bonus track “Return of the King”.

The single for “The Killing Floor” had two unique B-sides, “Real World” and “Confeos”, neither of which are as strong as anything on the album.  These songs plus “Return of the King” have been collected on the Bruce Dickinson deluxe editions.

When Accident of Birth came out in 1997, I said, “This is incredible, Bruce is back and better than Maiden are.  How the hell is he doing to top this one?”  Unlike previous solo albums, Bruce didn’t do a complete 180 and change direction.  Instead he simply added more fuel to the fire and created one of the best albums of his entire career, one he should be very proud of.

But again, I had to ask the same question, “How the hell does he top The Chemical Wedding“?  I couldn’t see him turning up the gas any hotter without foraging into thrash metal territory, or losing what melody he still had.  Luckily, fate intervened.

It turns out that Iron Maiden themselves were looking for another new singer.  And Bruce was looking to finish his career off doing arenas, not clubs.  A phone call was made….

5/5 stars

…And it is here that we shall pause again. Stay tuned for more Maiden in the days to come.

14 comments

      1. Hohoho Santa LeBrain! He’s a lucky Santa, since he definitely comes more than once a year.

        [See what I did there? ‘Cos Santa LeBrain has already given me music this year. So then I made it into a sexual joke and… sigh if I have to explain it, it’s just not so funny anymore].

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  1. This is a stupendous album. Can’t say much more than that! I always thought the Killing Floor was more of “triumph over Satan” kind of thing. Actually, while promoting the album, Bruce did appear on a program in the UK talking about his religious beliefs! It showed some clips of the Killing Floor video during it. It wasn’t a particularly startling interview though. I remember he was a bit wishy-washy, possibly playing down his opinions for fear of alienating any of his fan-base. I thought it was odd that he appeared on it at all!

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  2. I couldn’t remember what that program was called but I did a bit of digging. It was called “Faith and Music” and it seems to be on the youtubes if you want to watch. I really can’t remember that much about it now so I might have another look myself.

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    1. Sure I’ll check it out. Thanks man! The album (and many Maiden songs too) has religious themes so I’m curious what he had to say. I’m sure something like For the Greater Good of God stirred some teacups too.

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  3. Another great review, Mike. I completely agree that this is the pinnacle of Bruce’s solo career. I still can’t remember if I got this before or after Accident Of Birth, but Chemical Wedding is the album I would use to convince my Maiden-fan friends to delve into Bruce’s solo work. I think I had one convert. The rest never even gave it a listen.

    I’m curious to read your take on the Maiden albums released after Bruce returned. I’m not an expert on any of them, but I’ve heard them all at least 2-3 times so I know what I like and dislike about them.

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    1. Well Rich I haven’t got there yet, but I think this one is tied for me, with Tyranny of Souls. I can’t wait to talk about that album. I love it. Much like Accident of Birth it’s loaded with sci-fi lyrics that would have made Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clark proud, I think. Great album. Can’t wait to get there.

      As for post reunion Maiden, that is a big challenge. I like all the albums quite a bit but to put them into perspective with the past is difficult.

      I will say this: I consider A Matter of Life and Death to be among Maiden’s greatest works of all time. Since it came out in 2006 it’s been the one I play most often.

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      1. I haven’t listened to “Tyranny Of Souls” enough to give an adequate appraisal, so I look forward to your review. Hopefully it’ll inspire me to take it off the shelf and give it a spin.

        My impression of the post-reunion Maiden albums is that there’s a lot of great music…and I’m glad they’ve embraced their prog rock tendencies for conceptual ideas and long songs…but I found that a lot of the songs, especially the long ones, become repetitive…unlike “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner.” In some ways it’s almost better to listen to those albums separately, and not immediately after the classic albums, but I’m eager to read your impressions on them.

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  4. This is Bruce making everyone forget about Iron Maiden and than a few yrs later making everyone remember Iron Maiden!
    Thru and thru a classic…..cracking band as well…great album….

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