Sunday, July 21, 2013

Iron Maiden - Virtual XI (1998)

"Virtual XI" is the second (and last) album with Blaze Bayley and also the only album where Blaze was a part of the song writing process. And after hearing this album, I can definitely hear that Blaze has contributed a lot on the material. Some of the songs, especially "The Angel And The Gambler", has influences from Blaze's current band Wolfsbane. So instead of the dark and absorbing sound that was present in "The X Factor", "Virtual XI" is more of a upbeat album with some classic rock elements. You may ask, is these influences good or bad? Well, they help to make the album more memorable then its predecessor, but I still feel that it is not one hundred percent Maiden, even though I can accept it.

It is instantly clear that the band has left behind the experimental failure known as "The X Factor" behind them. The opening track "Futureal" is more like the good old Maiden with the speed and the chorus that has that classic mix of epicness and catchiness that Maiden is known for. A good way to start off "Virtual XI", but compared to similar tracks like "Running Free" and "Heaven Can Wait", "Futureal" is still behind. Afterwards comes "The Angel And The Gambler", a track I have already stated that it is a Wolfsbane song in disguise. It is still one of the trump cards in this album, but was it necessary to put in the line "Don't you think I'm a saviour/Don't you think I could save you/Don't you think I could save your life" so many times in this song? It gets very repetitive very quickly.

"The Angel And the Gambler" is the longest song in the bunch, but there are two other epics in "Virtual XI". First we have the 9 minute long "The Clansman" that has the biggest epic factor in the album, but its weakness is that it is not a memorable epic. The other epic, 8 minute long "Don't Look To The Eyes of A Stranger", is some what of a opposite. It is a pretty repetitive track, but it has the speed, riffs and feeling that makes me think back to the other classic Maiden epics like "Seventh Son of A Seventh Son" and "Rime of The Ancient Mariner". This is definitely my favourite track in the Blaze era, especially since Blaze finally managed to perform some great singing in this track.

The rest of the songs on "Virtual XI" keeps the momentum going. But there is two songs that stands out a little extra. One is of course the well recognized ballad "Como Estais Amigos" (Spanish for how are you, friends) that closes the album in a beautiful and impressive way. The other song is the determined and groovy "The Educated Fool". It is an under appreciated song that impresses with its epic chorus and fine riff work. Sure, Blaze does not do his strongest effort here, but I feel that Gers's and Murray's guitar playing makes up for it.

It stands very clear that this is the best Maiden album with Blaze Bayley on vocals, but it is still far behind most of the albums in the Maiden catalog. The epicness is there, the catchy tunes are there, the musicality is there, but it is clear that the true soul and inspiration is gone. But just like with "The X Factor", how many did actually expect "Virtual XI" to become a new Maiden classic? I know that I did not, and for that, I could actually enjoy the album, even though it did not reach that extra level.

Songs worthy of recognition: Don't Look To The Eyes of A Stranger, Futureal, The Educated Fool

Rating: 6,5/10 Clansmen

No comments:

Post a Comment