REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Dance Of Death (2003)

Part 32 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

IRON MAIDEN – Dance Of Death (2003)

Dance of Death (Iron Maiden’s 13th studio album and 2nd since the triumphant return of Bruce and Adrian) is yet another monster filled with dramatic metal. Yes, I do find it slightly inferior to the previous album, Brave New World, which was near-perfect for its time. However, Dance of Death should not be dismissed. There are Iron Maiden classics here to rival material from the glory days, plus deep album tracks worth listening to.

First I want to mention the album cover — for the second time, Iron Maiden have done what I consider to be a terrible cover! (I consider the original No Prayer cover to be almost as bad.) I’d never wear this on a T-shirt! This is awful, awful, awful! This is, by far, the worst album cover Maiden have ever used. If you look carefully there are mistakes all over the place, such as the baby’s foot going through the wolf! Fortunately, the inner booklet is much better. Like a ghostly version of the orgy scene in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, the indifferent band are surround by masked, topless, phantom women.

Onto the music!

I found Bruce Dickinson’s voice on this album to be weaker than Brave New World. My personal feeling at the time (and this is just my opinion) was that the band rushed into recording too soon after touring. As such, Bruce’s voice sounds more worn out, similar to the way it did on No Prayer. The rest of the band is as strong as ever, and all six members write. Even Nicko McBrain, who gets his first-ever writing credit…”Mission From ‘Arry” notwithstanding!

The album starts with the first single, and unfortunately one of the weakest songs. It is the brief Smith/Harris rocker, “Wildest Dreams”. This ain’t a “Wicker Man” nor a “Tailgunner”. It’s lacklustre, and I have no idea why it was chosen as the first single.

The second single “Rainmaker” follows, a much better song. Bruce’s voice seems stronger here. The vocal and guitar melodies are excellent and memorable. Great chorus, great guitar lines, good choice for a single.

“No More Lies” is next, and the only weak thing about the song is that it follows the same formula as the Brave New World tunes — too much repetition in the chorus. There’s only so many times you want to hear, “No more lies, no more lies, no more lies, no more lies!” Alright! I get it already! Bizarrely, this was the third single (technically an EP) even though it’s over 7 minutes long.

Next is the first historical epic of the album, “Montségur”. One of the fastest and heaviest songs on the album, it is lyrically better than it is musically. Musically, it stumbles a bit, with the vocal melodies not fitting quite right and the lyrics sung too fast.

Finally the album really picks up steam with the centerpiece, “Dance of Death”. Beginning slow with some nice clean picked guitar and ‘Arry’s bass, Bruce sings of a strange night when he’d “had one drink, but no more.” This is a classic, a fantastic song lyrically similar to “Number of the Beast” but musically a beast of its own.  Some critics likened it a bit too much to “Stonehenge” by Spinal Tap.  Well, fair enough.  It does share some similarities, especially when the dwarves start dancing!  But admit it to me:  You liked “Stonehenge”, didn’t you?  I did!

“Gates of Tomorrow” and “New Frontier” (co-written by McBrain) are up next. Both are strong rockers, typical Maiden album fare.  Perhaps nothing that needs to be performed live when your canon is as strong as Maiden’s, but nothing skip-worthy.

“Paschendale” is arguably the best song on the entire album. Another historical war epic, this one was written by Adrian Smth and Steve Harris. It is pure, classic Iron Maiden. Clocking in at 8:28, there is not one dull moment in the entire song. Often I find myself skipping back to hear it again. Lyrically it is very powerful, bringing to mind the muddy stinking conditions of the trenches in World War I. Musically this is among the very best songs Maiden have ever composed. This was also released in an orchestral version but I’ll discuss that later on.  (How did they do that eagle screaming sound?  Is that a guitar?)

It’s hard to follow a song like that, but “Face In The Sand” is another great album track, memorable and heavy.  Again, not really worthy of the live set, but certainly not a bad song by any stretch.

I have always been partial to the rare songs that Dave Murray writes, such as “Deja Vu” or “Still Life”. “Age of Innocence” has a powerful memorable chorus and is a personal favourite. If I had been in charge at EMI, this would have been a single instead of “No More Lies”. After hearing it once, you cannot get the chorus out of your head.

So we only get one chance, can we take it?
And we only get one life, can’t exchange it
Can we hold on to what we have? Don’t replace it
The age of innocence is fading…Like an old dream

The album ends with one of most unique Iron Maiden songs ever written. “Journeyman”, which sounds to me like a Dickinson baby, is a quiet acoustic number with orchestral backing. Don’t call it a ballad! This is a quiet epic, a new kind of Maiden sound that they were able to expand upon in later albums.  The choruses are powerfully sung by Bruce.  It’s certainly one of the most adventurous tunes Maiden have done, simply because it is so different from anything in their past.

And that’s the album. It is easy to see why Dance of Death does not sit will with some fans. Some of the early songs suffer from repetition again. Bruce’s voice is not as strong as the previous album (to my ears). You have to listen to it multiple times to get into some of the tracks. I can see some fans, whose tastes are more narrow and specific, not wanting to give Dance of Death another chance. That’s a shame because this is a good Iron Maiden album. Not among their top three, or even the top five, but Iron Maiden do not have very many weak albums.

I mentioned the orchestral version of “Paschendale”. There are three singles to be collected from this album:

SAM_1478

1. “Wildest Dreams”: B-side was a very funny and rare jam session by Iron Maiden called (ha ha!) “Pass the Jam”.  There are also other tunes on the different editions.  The CD has an orchestral mix of “Blood Brothers” from Brave New World, while the DVD has a “rock mix” of both “The Nomad” and “Blood Brothers” from the same album.  I do not have the DVD single, and Christmas is coming if you feel generous!  The orchestral version has, unsurprisingly, more orchestration.  The rock mixes are very similar to the album versions, perhaps the rhythm guitars are louder in the mix.

SAM_1701

2. “Rainmaker” contained a dramatic orchestral version of “Dance of Death” and a second jam session called “More Tea Vicar”.  This is another jokey tune featuring Bruce rapping!  The Japanese single, which I recently acquired from eBay (so recently that it actually arrived TODAY) at an excellent price has two exclusive live tracks!  It even had the obi strip intact.

The live tracks are 2002 live recordings of “The Wicker Man” and “Children of the Damned” at Brixton, but the vocals on “Wicker Man” aren’t mixed high enough.  “Children of the Damned” is in the only live version available featuring the six-man lineup, and my God does it smoke!  It really benefits from the three guitars, and Bruce nails that scream at the end.  The domestic single lacks these two live tracks.  Who wants my old copy of the domestic?  Speak now or forever hold your peace.

SAM_0063

3. No More Lies: Technically an EP, I’ll do a full review of this one next.

4.25/5 stars

Advertisements

33 comments

  1. Cool review again. I don’t have much to say about this one, it kind of got lost between Brave New World and the next one. I didn’t even buy it when it came out. What I heard made it sound like Brave New World off-cuts or something. I bought it years later and it’s a grower. I don’t listen to it much but I always enjoy it more than I think i’m going to!

    And what is up with that cover? Why did that even get past quality control? I know they have budgets and deadlines and stuff but it’s so unlike the Maiden camp to put out something so shoddy. If they had given me £30 and 5 minutes on Paint I could’ve come up with something better than that! I always thought it looked like their attempt to do a cover like the Cathedral album artist Dave Patchett does but it falls hilariously short of those.

    Like

    1. It is a grower. After Brave New World, it had a vibe of just “the next Maiden album” because it kind of lacks its own distinct direction. But not every album can be a powerful statement. If they did three in a row like this, I would have been more worried but I think the next album was just a massive achievement…but we’re not there yet ;)

      Like

    1. In a way you’re right! When you’re a band of Maiden’s age how do you make sure every album is special? It has to be an impossible task. Thankfully this album was really not all that bad. Just…not special. When you think about it, that’s saying a lot.

      Like

      1. It really is and especially for bands like Maiden and Priest because they can only experiment so much without pissing off most of their fan base. But they can’t have every album just sound the same! It’s a difficult tightrope.

        Like

        1. I’ve often said this: Only AC/DC can get away with making the same album over and over. I don’t know why it’s OK for them and nobody else, but (as we say in Canada) that’s the way she fuckin’ goes.

          Priest avoided that pitfall by putting out Nostradamus. It’s an album that I think is genius but I play very infrequently because it’s such a long involved listen. You have to devote time to it. But more power to them for doing it.

          Like

        2. I really respect bands for pushing their envelope. It’s what I loved so much about Bruce’s solo career. You never knew what was round the corner. Even when he started doing more traditional material you couldn’t have predicted he would do an album like Chemical Wedding.

          I don’t think AC/DC do get away with it personally but I appreciate I’m probably in the minority there… I just haven’t given Nostradamus enough listens to venture an opinion on it. It’s now on my “revisit” pile.

          Like

        3. Nostradamus is one that may never grow on you. It’s really dense. A lot of people thought it was too wimpy. I disagree. This is the band that did “Before the Dawn”. Priest have never been pigeonholed.

          But it’s a really thick album, hard to get into, and hard to listen to in a single sitting too.

          Like

        4. I bought the album with trepidation because I hadn’t heard many good things about it but it’s one of my most listened to Priest albums. And Desert Plains might be one of their best tunes. Always liked “Don’t Go” as well.

          Like

        5. Oh “Desert Plains” is badass! It’s rhythmically interesting, somehow on my old Sony Walkman, that rhythm just thrummed through the headphones. It always makes any Priest mix I compile.

          Like

  2. I always thought if u took the best bits of Brave New World and the Best bits of Dance of Death and combined the two,man one pretty strong Maiden album…
    Wildest Dreams,Rainmaker,Paschendale,Blood Brothers,are great rock tracks……
    At that point I was glad Bruce was sticking around…..

    Like

  3. This was my first Iron Maiden album. Despite having been aware of them almost as long as they have been around, I don’t think I had ever heard even one song until a few months ago. I don’t know how I got there, but it was “Journeyman” on YouTube, IIRC filmed in Hamburg (where I used to live). I bought Dance of Death and found it to be even better than I had expected. A great album. OK, as an atheist McBrain’s Christian lyrics are not my cup of tea, nor is the whole Eddie thing (despite—or because of—the really, really bad cover, Eddie isn’t very visible here), which is probably the main thing that kept me away from Iron Maiden for 30 years.

    After having listened to Dance of Death about 30 times, I bought En Vivo. A bit later, I bought Somewhere Back in Time, From Fear to Eternity, PowerSlave, Piece of Mind and Live After Death (Number of the Beast was sold out; I bought it a couple of days ago, along with a 60s live album from Simon and Garfunkel and Deep Purple’s second album, but haven’t listened to any of them yet, though I have now heard many of the Maiden songs elsewhere, as with S&G, and heard the Purple album years (decades!) ago at a friend’s house). I have tickets for next June in Frankfurt am Main (one week earlier is Rush in Cologne; 10 days later is Bon Jovi in Stuttgart (OK, a present for my wife, though Age of Innocence could almost be a Bon Jovi song (I mean that as a compliment)—a bit poppier, like “I’m Leaving You” from the Scorpions).

    I suspect the pre-Bruce stuff is not refined enough for me. I’ve read different things about the 4 albums before Blaze came along. Should I get those or at least one of those first or rather something from after Bruce’s return?

    By the way, what do you think of The Iron Maidens?

    Like

    1. Hey Philip, interest comment about the Christian lyrics. I never considered that perspective before. One of my customers was a Christian and extremely offended by the lyrics on Brave New World and Bruce’s Chemical Wedding CD! Interesting eh?

      I think the Iron Maidens is a cool concept. I’ve never bought their albums, but I’m all for it.

      As for the other albums, before Blaze came along, I would definitely recommend them. Of course you’re welcome to check out my reviews for them and see what you think. It’s just my opinion, but I like those albums. Still I acknowledge that the Maiden of today is a different “beast”, I think the more modern sound they have today, and the three guitars, truly makes them a better band.

      Like

  4. Ah, the classic “1,2, 1-2-3-4!” intro! I wondered how long it would take for Maiden to get around to doing that on a record. Wildest Dream’s lyrics are (I think) meant to inspirational. They just sound cliche. Maybe I’m jaded. Anyway, it’s a good rocker, out of the gates, even if it’s a bit weak. Ha, listen to me, the armchair reviewer! Rainmaker keeps the pace high, but with the opener, it’s a one-two punch of mediocre lyrics over power-chording. No More Lies finally busts out their patented, pretty intro-building (this time fortified with strongs!) to heavy riff thing they seem to like to do. In fact, for your edification and through all this exposure to it that I’ve had, I’ve worked out the template:

    pretty instrumental intro
    Bruce sings over top of it, things build
    tempo increases to mid-speed and guitars get heavier
    verses and chorus
    mid-tempo instrumental section, usually guitar solos
    (pace may increase here again – optional)
    Bruce comes back and sings to outro
    outro is pretty reprise of intro

    Feel free to cut and paste that, and go start your own band.

    Ahem.

    Anyway, Bruce also yelled “no more lies!” enough times that, to me, it started to sound like “normalize!” Even this didn’t really change the song.

    Montségur is much heavier right out of the gate, musically a cool song. But, as I’m sure you’re aware, there’s a pitch Bruce can’t quite reach, and unfortunately for the bridges and choruses here he keeps on trying… I really like the music a lot (especially that middle instrumental section, so evocative of “classic” Maiden), but I could do without the vocals as they are.

    The title track is back to the template (see above). It isn’t until the 3:00 mark that this song starts to take off… that’s a chunk of time to wait. The growl vocals are a welcome respite from that keening nasal thing Bruce does sometimes (here). Gates Of Tomorrow is back to the AC/DC intro homage! Man, the last one of these was several albums ago! Of course, before a minute is up it becomes undeniably Maiden, but still. The harmony vocals have got to go. Ye g-ds, that’s horrible. The chorus bits don’t help, that nasal thing again. Yeah, I could do without this track. New Frontier works hard from the get-go to dispell the pall of the previous track. It’s a decent track, but it’s at 2:47 where things get great, with that chunky change-up riff leading into more blistering solos. Woo! You’ve got to admit, these guys are killer musicians. Thankfully, this one rocks right up to it’s end, a great stand-alone track.

    Paschendale. I understand that this is about the WWI campaign. But really guys, did you have to misspell it? Anyway. This feels more like they used to do, the inventive, long epic track about some historical topic. Cool! I enjoyed that. Face In The Sand builds slowly (an almost-template song, without Bruce’s intro vocals). It’s a riff that feels like it never resolves. It’s hypnotic, but it never comes down from that ledge it’s walking on, and while the pummelling is fun, I kept waiting for it to finally finish the idea, you know? Hm. The instrumental section after the 4:00 mark helped a bit with that. It swings! Age Of Innocence is perfectly servicable despite those sappy inspirational lyrics again, and if it was played live I’m sure it was a lot of fun. That one heavy riff is great! For other bands it’d be a big song, but for Maiden it’s just mediocre. And finally, Journeyman messes with the template a bit, never taking off on the gallop we expect. It’s very pretty, and atmospheric. Not a bad album closer, actually.

    In sum? A decent record. Not an instant classic, but also not disappointing. It’s worthy of the discography, I’d say. I mean, every Maiden album has moments where I, personally, wonder why they chose to do what they did, but those moments are always redeemed by many other facets of the songs and the massive moments of rawk we know are coming along eventually.

    Now, I haven’t read Mike’s review yet (before posting this), I’m sure he has more insightful things to say than my “I liked this!” and “I didn’t like that!” binary real-time commentary. But have you considered that the last record, which was awesome in many ways (and better than this one) could be considered their re-debut? Making this one the dreaded “second album” that can make or break a band? Sure, they had a long history up to when Bruce left, but his return could be considered a re-start. So in that way, it’s understandable that this one is a bit more bumpy. Just a thought.

    Like

      1. I have yet to listen to AMOLAD and The Final Frontier, though of songs I have heard, I have a feeling, that I won’t be a big fan of those two.

        Like

Rock a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s