Megadeth – Youthanasia

‘And they’ll set me free…’

Given the more commercially-inclined, tamer and safer nature of Countdown to Extinction compared to its predecessors, along with its somewhat scattershot and transitional nature, it would only make sense that Youthanasia would be a more concrete change in direction, which is very much the case. Youthanasia is a more consistently accessible and streamlined effort than its predecessor, but this move did in fact pay off both quality-wise and on a commercial level. Youthanasia is not only a stronger effort than its predecessor, but it outshines nearly all of the stylistic diversions other ’80s metal mainstays underwent in the ’90s. It’s a remarkably successful experiment and shows that the band was capable of making good and even great music that didn’t rely solely on aggression and complexity. I’d even say that to this day it remains Megadeth’s last truly high-quality album; Cryptic Writings has enough good material to be worthwhile, but nothing they’ve done since comes close to even that.

Youthanasia takes the most melodic, mid-tempo heavy metal strains of Countdown to Extinction and runs with them for the entire album; there are no leftover thrashers like ‘Ashes in Your Mouth’ or ‘Skin O’ My Teeth’, this is a heavy metal/hard rock album the entire way through. The songs here are some of the simplest, traditional and most stripped down they’ve been up to this point; but not stripped down in a fashionable ’90s alternative rock sense – more by having very orthodox ’80s hard rock tendencies. Verse-chorus structures, groovy metal/hard rock riffs, straight beats and simpler drumming all around, classical and melodic soloing and a very traditional sense of melody underpin the meat of this album. It would be easy to see this as a regressive, tepid and dated attempt at commercial hard rock based on that description but there’s a lot more to it than that.

Underpinning this album’s success is that *every last riff* here manages to be excellent. Despite, or perhaps due to, sticking to such a tried and true, traditional sound, every last riff is simple yet effective – evocative and ear-catching melodies are all over these songs, as are the memorable grooves these riffs have. For all their simplicity, the riffs here are remarkably intelligent in their construction, to the extent that they have the same sense of being crafted to perfection like the guitarwork on Rust in Peace does. Possibly the best example of this is the principle verse riff and chorus riff of ‘Addicted to Chaos’ – it’s as if they were crafted with keen attention paid to the classic metal and rock riffing styles from years gone by. The leads throughout the album are rather old school; with a keen ear for melody and being flashy without overdoing the technicality or going on for too long, they consistently form excellent contrasting sections within songs or act as interesting details when scattered throughout tracks. The drumming is a similar story too; it seems simple on the surface but it complements the grooving of the riffs and is laden with interesting patterns here and there – this is evident from the very first seconds of the opener ‘Reckoning Day’. The drums sound heavy and powerful and the guitars have a thick and meaty tone that serves this style of less nimble, heavier and more percussive riffing well.

Another consistently remarkable quality of the album is that every last song manages to be very catchy – in their adherence to verse-chorus structures and by writing the best hooks possible these manage to be easily some of the catchiest songs in the band’s discography. Critical to this quality is that Dave Mustaine’s singing here is genuinely good, possibly the best it has been and would ever be. Up until now his voice has never been good but it managed to work on the early Megadeth albums as thrash really just needs attitude, power and energy from a vocalist, while on the more vocally orientated and melodic tracks Countdown to Extinction he definitely sounded quite odd, though anyone at this point is used to his strange voice so it still wasn’t an issue. Here however, no such excuses have to be made; while his distinctive snarling and kooky nasality is still present he can really hold a tune and pulls off plenty of great vocal melodies here. The album also shows off a new found emotive range and versatility to Dave’s voice, with him pulling off gritty anger as well as he has before but also more sorrowful and passionate moments too, all while not relying on attitude alone to get by. The verses and especially the choruses here make great use of this, and while some hooks stick more than others every single song has memorable lyric after memorable lyric and excellent vocals all around.

While most of this album does sit firmly in the realm of mid-tempo heavy metal/hard rock, there are a couple of outliers to give a little variety. ‘À tout le monde’ is the token ballad here, and while it can be considered a shoot for radio play (one which paid off) what results is a very poignant and touching ballad. Dave’s lyrics while simple, hit hard and his singing is genuinely emotionally compelling; this song is perhaps the best example of the versatility he displays on the album. The song features an earworm of a chorus along with lush acoustic guitars and excellent soloing as ever, and despite its lack of reliance on heavy and hard riffs the song remains engaging throughout. ‘Victory’ is a more up-tempo track and the closest thing to a thrasher here – it’s a fun little song that displays the same strengths as everything else, and its lyrics refer to numerous titles from the band’s back catalogue up to this point. It’s a more blood-pumping track that makes for a good note to end on.

It’s easy to write off this album as yet another commercial effort in the wake of Metallica, or just Countdown to Extinction but with no holdovers from the old days. However, I think a better way to look at it is a refinement of Countdown to Extinction‘s formula to produce a more consistent work that succeeds where its predecessor sometimes fails. It’s the sound of a band using their raw talent as well as learning from the past to fully transition into a new genre, while sacrificing none of the music’s quality or personality as well as improving in some regards. Do not skip this one out, if you’re after a really good heavy metal album this is it.

Rating: 88%

Iron Griffin – Curse of the Sky

Stop it

This album is a patience-testing and extremely redundant affair. It’s almost insulting with how nothing-y it actually is, and how people are actually receiving this positively (I know someone who is considering this to be an album of the year candidate and it’s only March) is beyond me. Before getting into the music it will be stated outright that only check this out if you like piss weak trad metal with almost nothing going for it at all.

To get the main issue with the album out of the way: it is totally, 100% unexciting on the instrumental front. At no point during this album’s half hour duration do the instruments do anything of note. The riffs are the most basic, derivative, and trite trad metal riffs possible; the kind of thing anyone versed in this sort of metal has heard hundreds of times already. They have no energy or drive to them, the guitar tone is weak and thin so they lack any sort of weight, and there’s just no skill put into them beyond ‘the guitars are in tune’ (and frankly, messing about with that would make this album substantially more interesting.) This is pretty much the album’s biggest problem; the main body of the songs have nothing in the way of personality or memorability – they don’t engage you even while playing and certainly don’t stick with you afterwards. The other instruments are the same story really. No interesting bass parts, no good drum patterns or fills, nothing at all.

Earlier it was stated that this album had almost nothing going for it at all, as the album’s one saving grace is the singer. Maija Tiljander’s performance is spectacular, to put it simply. She’s like a life ring to cling onto to prevent drowning in a sea of wallpaper paste – i.e. the only thing that makes this album even vaguely tolerable to listen to. She wails and sings her heart out and it’s truly astonishing how much power and energy goes into every last lyric, especially when her voice is as smooth as it is. She has a great vibrato and despite being incredibly expressive with a lot of that wailing vibrato she still manages not to overdo it. Each song has so many vocal acrobatics and other otherwise interesting and amazing vocal lines that it’s insulting that she’s paired with the talentless hack making all that dull noise behind her.

Really, there is no reason for this to exist. Outside of the vocals nothing on it is done in a fresh or exciting fashion, and there is no vision to the backing music. The instrumentalist is normally the drummer for Mausoleum Gate – and frankly that is where he should have stayed. Instead he somehow managed to rope in a great singer and cobble together this completely pointless album that manages to be a taxing chore despite only being thirty minutes long. The instrumentals are almost insultingly bland given how wide the gulf in talent is between the two members, and while the vocals mean sitting through the album isn’t impossible, they definitely don’t save it. Put Maija in front of some players who actually know what they’re doing, because she deserves so much better than this.

Iron Griffin would be better if they were a different band.

Rating: 35%

Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger

Hits like a Phillips head into the brain

If ever there was an overlooked classic, this is it. When Badmotorfinger is actually remembered it’s largely known for being one of the lesser grunge albums released in 1991 (commercially being overshadowed by Ten and Nevermind), and the album that preceded the smash hit Superunknown – and even then the songs that stick in the minds of most are the three singles: ‘Rusty Cage’, ‘Outshined’ and ‘Jesus Christ Pose’. I’d say there’s a lot more to this album that meets the eye; to my mind it’s an excellent metal album and one of the greatest albums of the era, and it remains the band’s best album, in my eyes. I also feel that there are some musical characteristics to this album that often missed, perhaps a side effect of only 3 of its tracks remaining in the memories of most.

In general this album is rather dense, varied and inaccessible take on heavy metal, with it exploring multiple strains of the genre as it filters in different influences and songwriting styles. For example, in the first 3 songs the tracklist goes from ‘Rusty Cage’, a speed metal song with a crushing doomy ending, to the catchy mid-tempo heavy metal/hard rock influenced ‘Outshined’, to a foreboding and torturously slow doom/sludge metal dirge loaded with shrieking in ‘Slaves and Bulldozers’. This is a trend that continues throughout the album; it’s comprised almost entirely of curve-balls with no real pattern to anything and it makes for a very interesting and satisfying listen. Through the various twists and turns the album takes by featuring these very different songs one after the other, as well as the odd nature of the music itself, Badmotorfinger quickly reveals itself to be one strange album.

Of course, the band members themselves need the musical chops to pull off the various musical ideas, and indeed they do. The album is filled to the brim with excellent guitarwork, with riffs that draw from heavy, doom, stoner and sludge metal, with some nods to hard, psychedelic and alternative rock in the simpler, groovier and noisier style the guitar riffs sometimes take. They even play with unconventional time signatures and alternative tunings throughout the album in a way that feels natural – it feels as if they’re doing so to give the music a strange and off-kilter feel as opposed to showing off. The drumming is always appropriate and engaging, ranging from the steamrolling aural assault witnessed on ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ to a timekeeper that drives the band forward on the rocking ‘Drawing Flies’. The leads are tasteful, emotive and technical, and highlight the classic rock influence that occasionally rears its head on the album. And of course there’s Chris Cornell’s singing – the man really is one of the greatest rock singers of all time, because he has it all: an astonishing four octave vocal range, superb emotive and expressive capability, attitude, personality, and sheer sonic power. He also shows incredible versatility, ranging from a foreboding, booming mid-range to fiery and passionate wailing and on several songs (‘New Damage’, ‘Room A Thousand Years Wide’, ‘Slaves and Bulldozers’) throwing in some truly unhinged shrieking to go with the equally unhinged music.

Obviously having a lot of ideas and being able to pull them off is one thing, but they also need to be backed up with varied and interesting songwriting: this is the real strength of the album. The culmination of this is ‘Jesus Christ Pose’, with its controlled and effortless progression in structure and riffing and its extremely dense atmosphere. Across the rest of the album, whether it’s a short, fast song (‘Face Pollution’), a more psychedelic song (‘Searching With My Good Eye Closed’ or ‘Somewhere’), or an absolute crusher (‘New Damage’), the band always manage to keep it fresh with change-ups in the riffs and the basic verse-chorus structure (sometimes dispensing with it entirely) and never following a formula from song to song. In the process the band show themselves to be versatile musicians who can expand upon a basic template of Sabbath-inspired metal in multiple ways. Another thing to commend is its consistency; every song, even the less popular and well received songs towards the album’s end, are excellent examples of the band’s unorthodox approach to their style. Pretty much the only bad idea across the entire tracklist is the ridiculous and pointless intro to ‘Searching With My Good Eye Closed’, which serves only to draw out the song longer than it needed to be while being stupid at the same time.

One of the best examples of what this album is about is the aforementioned ‘Jesus Christ Pose’. In its 6 minutes it wastes no time in establishing itself as a seriously frenetic number with thrash-like, rolling riffs over a similarly rolling and pummelling drum beat and yet another stellar wailing/shrieking performance from Chris. It never lets up in its momentum or establishes a hook for the listener’s mind to return to, flowing effortlessly from one riff to the next with no let up. Then of course there’s ‘Room a Thousand Years Wide’, which may be an even better example of how odd this album is: it is 4 minutes of one chugging doom metal riff with its final minute being consumed by a blaring saxophone solo and more of Chris’ shrieking; it really is as absurd and wonderful as it sounds. I think these two tracks kind of sum up the album as a whole; it’s weird, wonderful, seriously creative and just a little left of field. Don’t let its quirks put you off, give it some listens and over time its wonders will be revealed to you. This is one of the greatest metal albums of all time; essential for any metal fan.

R.I.P. Chris Cornell (20th July 1964 – 18th May 2017)

Rating: 98%

Megadeth – Countdown to Extinction

‘This is it’

To say that Metallica completely changed the playing field when it came to metal and more specifically, commercially successful metal is an understatement. Its influence on future heavy music aside, it opened the floodgates for multiple genre mainstays and their imitators to release albums that were a drastic change in direction. Following its 1991 release Anthrax went grunge, Sepultura went groove, and Megadeth, in all of Dave Mustaine’s wide-eyed envy, took a similar approach to Metallica for this release. The two explore a lot of the same sonic territory, this came soon after Metallica and at an analogous point in Megadeth’s career, and the two share a lot of the same flaws. And since the two are so similar, I’ll get this out of the way – since people are so hasty to point out Metallica sold out and give the band crap, Megadeth did too. I don’t know what makes people give this album or the band more of a pass for the same sin, as Dave sold out hard here and the music suffered for it.

Like Metallica, this is a drastically simplified and scaled back album from the technical excellence, songwriting prowess and undiluted aggression displayed on this album’s 4 predecessors. Most of the material here is written in a fairly melodic heavy metal/hard rock style, though there are some speedier holdovers. Virtually every song here is simpler in every respect compared to before, being built around a verse-chorus structure with little deviation in that formula, and the songs are more focused on catchy choruses and the vocals than ever. Dave does a lot more melodic and clean singing here and his snarling, nasally voice sounds at odds with the accessible direction the band is going in, mainly as he hadn’t gotten used to singing in a more conventional and melodic fashion yet. He doesn’t really emote much outside of aggression and when shooting for a less aggressive feel he sounds like a fish out of water; not bad but certainly odd and awkward. It’s not a voice that is easy to get used to though once that happens he’s not so bothersome. The drumming and riffs meanwhile are more minimal, simplistic, and less aggressive than before, with the riffs taking on a heavy/groove metal character. The shorter songs means the solos are shorter too, though technically they still are up to scratch as they have a great deal of flash and taste to them. The change in style here isn’t a problem inherently, and unlike Metallica the band certainly don’t extend their songs to the point of tedium on this one. The problem here is another one that dogged that album though – the music reeks of wasted potential as many of the songs here simply aren’t that impressive and don’t serve up much to interest the listener or commit the songs to memory, perhaps caused by deliberate restraint on the band’s part and not being comfortable writing in a more accessible heavy metal style.

Much of the material here doesn’t pan out so well, mostly due to not having interesting instrumentation or vocals – these tracks aren’t bad or even that boring, just very plain and bland. There are a couple of quiet verse/loud chorus hard rock/heavy metal ballads (the title track, ‘Foreclosure of a Dream’) that progress in a very predictable fashion and don’t bring much to the table instrumentally or vocally beyond catchy choruses, which are admittedly some of the best on the album. On the heavier side of things, ‘This Was My Life’ and ‘Captive Honour’ go in one ear and out the other (beyond the latter’s stupid extended intro dialogue.) The band is obviously going for more hook-driven numbers but they don’t bring the riffs, energy or choruses to make the songs stick, and so they aren’t even catchy like the ballads. On the other hand, ‘Architecture of Aggression’ and ‘Psychotron’ clearly had more work put into them, featuring much stronger riffs that are more groove and thrash influenced. This stronger backbone the songs are built upon gives the songs and the choruses the energy and drive needed to stick. ‘Skin ‘O My Teeth’ and ‘High Speed Dirt’ are a pair of uptempo numbers here that take speed/thrash riffing and aggression and inject them into a condensed and hook-centric verse-chorus formula. ‘High Speed Dirt’ feels a tad unnecessary as it covers a lot of the same ground ‘Skin ‘O My Teeth’ did at the start of the album, but by virtue of having more energy, speed and aggression than a lot of the songs here it still remains a highlight.

To highlight how inconsistent the album gets, it manages to feature two of Megadeth’s best songs and one of their worst. ‘Symphony of Destruction’ is an amazing single, combining a beautifully simple, hard-edged heavy/groove metal riff that is impossible to forget with snarled verses and one of the best sung passages on the album in the form of its catchy chorus and an always welcome set of leads. It’s the best example of the condensed and commercial heavy/groove metal style on the album, and beats out nearly everything else in its field at the time. ‘Ashes in Your Mouth’ pretty much bucks every stylistic change seen here, being an amazing thrash epic that combines this album’s more melodic, hook-driven formula with the aggression and technicality found on the albums that came before it. It’s a very catchy song with an equally memorable and groovy main riff that has multiple phases to its construction, including a set of extended solos that form its bridge. It alone makes this more than worthy of any Megadeth fan’s collection and would not be out of place on Rust in Peace. However, there’s also the laughable and silly ‘Sweating Bullets’ which is inexplicably a popular song for the band. It’s truly a stain on the band’s catalogue; there’s nothing enjoyable about its crappy and tedious stop-start riff, the corny spoken word narration that form the verses or the descending melody that forms its irritating hook.

Ultimately like the album Dave wanted to replicate so badly, this winds up being a perfectly decent if inconsistent foray into commercial waters, and a waste of potential given what had come before it. It contains some of the band’s best and most iconic tracks but has a lot of filler to go with the killer, though even some of the weaker songs here are catchy and pleasant enough to work as mindless entertainment, and outside of ‘Sweating Bullets’ nothing here is skip-worthy. This is definitely essential for any Megadeth fan due to its highlights and place in history of the band and metal as a whole, but be prepared for a less than stellar effort.

Rating: 68%

Metallica – Metallica

Metallica go through the never

So this is it, the infamous eponymous effort from the band we all love to hate. Some things should be cleared up immediately – this is a sellout by the band (one of the few times that’s really applicable, to be honest) and this did kill off thrash completely (but the bloating it suffered towards the end of the ’80s was the major factor behind that.) However, selling out is a fairly minor sin by my judgement given that the music is the most important part of an album, and really an album can’t be blamed for others imitating it because it isn’t as if another band *has* to change style in the wake of a commercial behemoth such as this. No, this album’s flaws rest entirely on its restraint and lack of ambition.

As the cover art and album title symbolise, this album is very much geared towards simplification and minimalism, and at every turn this album is scaled down from its predecessor. Take for instance the drumming – Lars was at his peak around the last album with at least a smattering of more complex drum patterns, fills and double bass, whereas here his performance consists of simpler straight beats. The soloing has been toned down in technicality as well, with Hammett relying more on the wah pedal and having shorter slots to fit the shorter songs. The riffs for the most part are no longer highly aggressive or technical in the mould of their first 3 albums or droning and monolithic as was the case with …and Justice for All, rather they take on a highly simplified heavy/groove metal character with only a handful of riffs per song. While I can appreciate that all of this was done as they couldn’t take the sound of …and Justice for All any further, it feels as though the band plays it a bit too safe with most of the material, and this shows at just about every turn. The album never really surprises or challenges the listener akin to the more aggressive, thought-provoking and intelligent works, and more importantly the band members never really challenge themselves either.

This restraint also becomes apparent when the song structures and progressions are considered. Just about every single song is built upon a verse-chorus structure with no variation in this regard, and it’s clear that the hook is the focus of any given song. While it again would have been better if the band members had stretched themselves a bit more in this regard, the album doesn’t get stale as to their credit every single hook on this album and the vast majority of the riffs are memorable. At the same time however memorability can be attained through either repetition without progression or writing the best possible material, and unfortunately the band lean too heavily on the former, with a lot of songs being developed in a sluggish and flat manner. For example, the hit singles ‘Sad But True’ and ‘Enter Sandman’ simply don’t have enough musical ideas to justify their 5+ minute running times. The same can be said of ‘My Friend of Misery’ and perhaps even the acoustic ballad ‘Nothing Else Matters’, though the latter does have a rather touching feel to it and a superb solo from James. On his vocal performance – it is one of the only elements on this album that isn’t a considerable regression or otherwise mediocre. He retains most of the grit and bite to his voice but also deals with a fair amount of more standard singing which is pulled off well on a technical level – and as the ballads show his voice can be rather emotive as well.

In fact, it’s songs like ‘Nothing Else Matters’, ‘Wherever I May Roam’ and especially ‘The Unforgiven’ that highlight the flaws of this album more than anything else. These three songs (as well as ‘The God that Failed’) all feature fairly strong atmospheric qualities, with ‘Wherever I May Roam’ being an epic even by Metallica standards, and through these songs one can realise that this album is the first by Metallica to not have an overriding atmosphere throughout, which was present in spades on the last 4 releases. They do shoot for a darker feel across the album through the production, lyrics and sense of melody, and while there are flashes of this at points a lot of the material isn’t quite well written, ambitious or convincingly performed enough to really have an atmosphere in the way the aforementioned tracks do. It is also with these songs that one gets the sense that the band did the best that they could when writing them, which isn’t true of a lot of the other songs. This album is not a consistent listen, and a few tracks like the rather plain ‘Holier Than Thou’ could have easily been dropped to make it a more memorable and concise listening experience. The combination of being midtempo largely throughout and primarily being composed of simple, groovy riffs leaves variation at something of a premium, with about a third of this album’s tracks not really standing out in any particular way and not having enough of a personality to live up to the legacy of Metallica.

Despite me largely thrashing this album though, the band certainly did succeed in one department – solely as a piece of entertainment this is a well done and functional album. On a technical level the band never skips a beat, every single song is enjoyable while it is on (until one starts to think about the repetition or safeness of the material) and the production is perfect. I’ve never heard a metal album with such phenomenal production – everything on this album sounds crisp, as heavy as an anvil and full of life. If only such perfectionism could have been applied to the material, because as it is this album is the sound of an artist not being the best they could be and while it ticks most of the boxes it also reeks of wasted potential. It’s an important release for sure, and it’s not bad by any stretch, but it is fairly disappointing.

Rating: 75%

Iron Maiden – No Prayer for the Dying

The sound of Iron Maiden dying

n spite of what their first seven albums would imply, not even the mighty Iron Maiden are infallible, and actually weathered out the ’90s with very little of their musical worth or dignity intact. While Blaze Bayley is rightfully singled out as the worst thing about the Iron Maiden albums of this time period, don’t think that the two Bruce Dickinson fronted albums from the earlier half of the decade were much better. Far from it in fact; while I’m not too fond of this band’s 2nd Dickinson era albums, it’s also pretty obvious to me that a release like No Prayer for the Dying is a far less creative and (quite amazingly) a more musically stagnant and tired-sounding effort. It represents the band quickly losing creative steam and poorly integrating some outside influence to the proceedings as well. This is easily one of the weakest Maiden albums, as well their most annoying.

The music isn’t especially far removed from their ’80s albums, but the songs nevertheless lack the larger-than-life quality presented on the 5 albums that came before this one; it was a mood achieved through complex songwriting and intelligent riff construction built around the omnipresent guitar harmonies. This is a considerably more stripped back, rock-infused album, and while this regression alone doesn’t make it a write-off the depths the band have plumbed is truly stunning. There is a near-total lack of high quality, memorable and thought out riffs and harmonies, with the guitars mostly playing bland metallic hard rock fodder that lacks any of the energy, atmosphere and intelligence of their older works. It’s very run of the mill and forgettable music, okay while it’s on but out of one’s memory a short while after the album has finished. That’s not to say it’s all bad though, with competent soloing in spite of the loss of Adrian Smith and Steve Harris’ usual bass guitar wizardry, but these plus points alone don’t save the album.

To make matters worse, Bruce Dickinson puts forward one his most irritating vocal performances. While his voice retains its range he too has taken on board some hard rock influence, resulting in a gravelly inflection to his singing. This isn’t a problem on its own, but as a result of this he seemingly can’t hit a good clean note or put melody into his voice, instead simply shouting over the music with little restraint. The relatively banal music no longer accommodates for any gravitas or passion Bruce might have been able to put into his singing, and the music’s lack of intrigue also makes this a more vocally oriented effort, further exacerbating these issues.

However, in spite of the mediocrity of the instruments and the bad vocals in front of them the real killer here is the songwriting, which is both a very large step down from before and bad even when this album is viewed in its own microcosm. The songs are largely flat and unengaging; there’s very little in the way of intelligence or nuance in the structuring of a lot of these songs. They all have a tendency to repeat themselves a lot and not go anywhere. There is a clear lack of focus and development in the musical ideas used in each track, and despite the relatively short lengths of all of these tracks they tend to meander and ride off one idea like a strong intro (you need look no further than ‘Tailgunner’ for an example of this.) There’s very little depth to the compositions or any sort of atmosphere. Few winners emerge from this album as a result; just about everything is simply too dull and shallow – certainly the title track is a decent half-ballad and ‘Mother Russia’ lacks Bruce’s awful singing but everything else is either textbook rockametal or a song with promise that goes nowhere, aside from the hilariously bad ‘Holy Smoke’ which sounds like an overly simplified punkish commercial track gone very wrong.

The repetitious nature of the songs does mean a few hooks are catchy (there’s a good reason ‘Bring Your Daughter…’ is a live staple and it isn’t because you want to remember it) but this can be said of any piece of music, memorability derived from good craftsmanship is a far more meaningful indicator of quality. The lyrics on this album are very poor, especially considering the poetry and epic stories Iron Maiden had delivered in the past. The aforementioned pseudo-classic is one case, but the incoherent ramblings of ‘Tailgunner’ or the mindless tripe of ‘Holy Smoke’ will serve as equally apt examples of their failure on the lyrical front – in fact only the title track and ‘Mother Russia’ have decent lyrics. And as a final insult even the production is a step down, with the drums having a dry sound to them and everything else sounding decidedly lifeless and tired. Quite how a band that was a bastion of excellence that redefined metal could crash and burn like this remains something of a mystery. It’s a tragic album this; the downfall of a heavy metal legend. Do not seek this out unless you wish to be irritated or saddened.

Rating: 38%

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