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Iron Maiden - Fear Of The Dark - 2LP -

Price per Unit (stuk): €33.95

“Fear of the Dark” is Iron Maiden’s second best selling record of all times, had quite high chart positions and includes one of the band’s most famous songs ever with the title track which has also become an almost irreplaceable live anthem. Still, this release is often criticized by fans of the band and generally seen as one of the weaker releases. Both positions are partially right.

Let’s start with the negative facts first. Usually, I really like the fact when you get value for money but in this case, the quantity of twelve songs may be more elevated than ever in the band’s career but several tracks also lack quality. Especially the middle section of this album is really weak. “Chains of Misery” is the most exchangeable song the band has ever written in my opinion. It has a boring topic, a generic length and above all a lifeless chorus. “The Apparition” is already more original because it doesn’t have a chorus and is a straighter song. It kicks off promisingly but soon the same pattern is repeated over four minutes. The pale and hectically performed instrumental section even adds to the negative development. Bad song writing leads down an initially interesting idea. “Judas Be My Guide” is better than the other two songs and often pointed out as a hidden gem but only a few melodies have a certain atmosphere while the song structure itself is once again less exciting and build around a chorus that tries too hard to be catchy and retro rock inspired but fails because of its too commercial and generic tone. If this album had been cut down to eight great songs or separated as two short releases, it would have been a strong comeback after the unbalanced back to the roots effort that was “No Prayer for the Dying” but as it is, “Fear of the Dark” is only a slight improvement from there.

This improvement is largely due to two songs that really stand out among the others. The atmospheric, majestic and passionate title track is one of the very best heavy metal songs in history in my opinion. I’m still getting goose bumps each time I hear the menacing melodies of the epic introduction and I still can’t stand still as soon as the track gets faster and leads to a powerful chorus and an incredible bridge with strong soli and vivid sing along parts. I think I don’t need to mention that the track’s majesty works even better on stage. This song is definitely a masterpiece. In my opinion, “Afraid to Shoot Strangers” comes really close to the title track. I know that both songs have very similar song structures but they are still different enough from each other to be both considered as excellent heavy metal songs. The third song on this release starts in a more melodic and plodding way than the title track and the dark and almost narrative introduction is a strong hint at what would be very present on “The X-Factor”. The guitar melodies are simply out of this world and mange to touch me each time I listen to them. On the other side, the track gets progressively faster and meaner than the title song and includes fast riffs battling with melodic soli in the outstanding middle part before it goes back to a more harmonious tone to close the circle. This epic track has been my first contact with Iron Maiden and I’m still deeply in love with this tune more than one decade later.

In between these two stand-out tracks and three of the worst songs ever written by the band, there still is a lot of hit and miss. The guiding line of an effort that would have otherwise sounded like a loose compilation effort as its predecessor is the melodic tone and melancholic atmosphere of several songs. The two stand-out efforts share their atmosphere with the melancholic “Childhood’s End”, the touching half-ballad “Wasting Love” which is among the best calmer and more commercial tracks the band has ever written and the majestic “The Fugitive” which is often ignored but manages to fusion faster and meaner riffs with hopeful melodies and powerful vocals. These three tracks are more than just decent, they are highlights on the record and the reason why this album is not among the weakest of the band in my opinion.

Iron Maiden was open for experimentation on the record. From the surprisingly fast, hectic and almost slightly thrash metal ridden opener “Be Quick or Be Dead” to the unusual psychedelic elements and sudden changes of tone and style in “Fear is the Key” that took many years to grow on me, Iron Maiden really offers several courageous song writing ideas. The problem is that these songs don’t really fit together on the album and create a very odd flow. This album requests a lot of attention and patience as well as an open-minded attitude towards different forms of rock and metal music to be fully appreciated. Many fans of the band expected the band to return to shorter and more consistent conceptual releases from the past, didn’t give this album a real chance and left it dusting on a shelf over the years. I think these fans should give the record a new chance and re-evaluate it more than twenty-two years later and they might realize that this release is still among the better efforts of the last twenty-five years.

Iron Maiden had a lot of interesting and also original song writing ideas and also a few great lyrical inspirations on this release. Maybe the world wasn’t ready for a visionary heavy metal band singing about the deadly consequences of AIDS, childhood poverty in war-ridden territories and a critical analysis of football hooliganism. In my opinion, this lyrical diversity adds a lot to the intellectual charm of the record and shows a band that has matured and didn’t want to repeat itself.

After all, I really adore this album despite a few flaws and three weaker tracks in here. The best songs on the album are among the best the band has ever written and several other tracks have either touching melodies, intellectually challenging lyrics or both which makes this record sound mature and fresh at the same time. Despite some hit and miss efforts, this album never gets boring and I regularly listen to it as it includes pretty much everything Iron Maiden stands for from melodic twin guitar solos over extremely atmospheric live anthems and from short crunching heavy metal tracks to more progressive epics. The band has lost this balance of shorter and longer tracks on more recent records which means a significant decrease in quality for me. This album reveals to have a lot more qualities than one might think of. Some fans should re-evaluate this release that ultimately deserved its commercial success and is much more appealing than its reputation.

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