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"Fear of the Dark" is the 9th studio album released in 1992 and produced by Martin Birch by British heavy metal act, Iron Maiden. The line-up for the album was Bruce Dickinson (vocals), Dave Murray (guitar), Janick Gers (guitar), Steve Harris (bass) and Nicko McBrain (drums).
Make no mistake, this is the last of the best of Iron Maiden... if that makes any sense. It was the last Maiden album to feature singer Bruce Dickinson until his return with 2000's "Brave New World", and it was the last album to be produced by Martin Birch before his retirement from the music industry. Things would never be the same in the Iron Maiden ranks with Blaze Bayley on vocals for two albums, and when Dickinson eventually returned, the band's glory days were behind them. The album itself is actually very good and was well received by the public. It reached No. 1 on the British album charts and lead song, "Be Quick or be Dead" peaked at No. 2 on the singles charts, tragically kept off the top spot by a very silly Right Said Fred song, "Deeply Dippy".
The album begins with "Be Quick or be Dead", which is one of the fastest songs on here that grabs you from the start and doesn't let go. I love the arrangement of this track ranging from the riffs to Dickinson's venomous vocals, but one thing that is noticeable is that Bruce's singing is slightly rugged, almost as if he's not been training his voice for awhile, though those of us that attended the 1992 Monsters of Rock festival at Donington Park can say for sure that he wasn't missing it that night. Bruce Dickinson said of the song "This deals with money, dodgy business, and corruption. Some people are supposed to rule your life and deal with financial stuff, but you just can't trust them because they try to cheat you at the first opportunity. But if you have no choice but to work with them, then the only way you can deal with it is to be more clever than them."
"From Here to Eternity" is up next and since this album it's become a live favourite with the crowd singing along to the chorus without fail. It's another song about Charlotte, the fictitious prostitute from the east end of London that has been written about the band in other songs. The bridge on this song is amazing with Janick Gers and Dave Murray sharing the solo duties. Some people have heavily criticised the album and this song in particular, but I still go to an Iron Maiden concert hoping to hear this one, and often do. The band obviously knows what the fans want to hear so it can't be that bad!
"Afraid to Shoot Strangers" is another of those Iron Maiden songs that will infuriate some but others will love it. It has a haunting melody to it and a marching drum beat which signifies soldiers preparing to go to war. It's one of the longest tracks on the album and I like the atmospheric sound it takes on, building up to a slow, sombre guitar solo in the middle before launching into the faster bridge. It's during the bridge where I think Nicko McBrain could have thought more about his drum parts and thrown in a roll here and there instead of single hitting the toms. Once the bridge is over, it's back to slowing down and the song finishes the same way it started. Bruce Dickinson said "The song was written about the people that fought in the Gulf War. It's a song about how bad war is, and how it's started by politicians and has to be finished by ordinary people that don't really want to kill anybody."
"Fear is the Key" is a song on which Bruce Dickinson's vocals do sound good, which can't be said for all tracks on this album. Unfortunately, though, the music doesn't do the legendary singer justice. Many people I've talked to over the years are in agreement that this song is filler, and, unfortunately, I tend to agree with them. The ending minute or so just sounds plain awful, almost rushed to a certain degree, and it's a song I don't listen to that often. Bruce Dickinson noted "This is about fear that exists nowadays in sexual relationships because of AIDS. Sex has become a synonym for fear. When we were writing the songs, we heard about Freddie Mercury's death. There's a line in the song that goes: "nobody cares until somebody famous dies", and that's quite sadly true. In the States, mostly nobody really cared about AIDS until Magic Johnson announced publicly that he was HIV positive. As long as the virus was confined to homosexuals or drug addicts, nobody bothered about it. It's only when celebrities started to die that the masses began to feel concerned."
"Childhood's End" comes in with a tidy guitar line that leads into galloping drums and bass which is joined by the two guitars. There is some classic Iron Maiden on this song with some of the more modern stuff the band was incorporating into the music at the time. Sadly, the song doesn't do the album justice and plods along without really screaming out at you to listen to it. Bruce Dickinson said about the song "Steve wrote this one. It mentions the fact that there isn't a single place in the world where humans can remain as kids. In ten years, we've made almost completely disappear the water, the air, the sun. And now, you have to be out of your mind to be willing to give birth to children when you see the current state of the world, so we wonder where this will all end."
"Wasting Love" is an Iron Maiden ballad that I really don't enjoy for the simple reason that it's not the sort of song I like to hear from a band of this stature, and this is just another filler song on what should be one of heavy metal's defining albums of the 1990s. The only good thing about it comes near the end with a well-planned guitar solo which is backed up by some wonderful riffs. Bruce Dickinson: "It's about those who jump from one bed into another, those who sleep with whoever comes their way, without giving or receiving whatever they're looking for, because they are very lonely. They are lonely within themselves, but they are continuously in action, collecting short-term relationships in order to fill the void they feel."
"The Fugitive" pulls the album back in the right direction with some hard-hitting guitar and bass riffs that I enjoy a lot, but the lyrics are sort of bland which drags it down a little but not enough to deter it from being a very good track that rocks. Although it's not made known by Bruce below, I think the song deals with the novel and subsequent Harrison Ford movie of the same name. Bruce Dickinson said "This is one of Steve's. The story is pretty straightforward, a bit like an adventure. It's about someone who's on the run. He escaped from prison and everyone's after him. The lyrics are therefore quite paranoid, to tell the truth! He eventually makes it, he gets out, and he's still running at the end of the song."
"Chains of Misery" is a song that isn't mean to be taken too seriously - especially in the lyrics - but it's a song that promises a lot from the onset and doesn't let go until it ends. I like this song a lot because it doesn't try to be clever but it still delivers in the manner of which any Iron Maiden classic song does. It's rarely played live which is unfortunate because I'd love to hear it on-stage. Bruce Dickinson said "This song is about the little devil that sits permanently on our shoulder. This little devil who can ruin your life. For instance, you meet a girl, you have a great relationship, and all of the sudden you do something stupid with no apparent reason, and you wonder "Why am I doing this?" You don't really know why you act the way you do, but you feel that you have to do it. Maybe it's a feeling of guilt that drives you, maybe you feel that you're not 'good enough' to deserve all this. In any case, you act against your own interest without really knowing why."
The less I talk about "The Apparition", the better, yet I am compelled to do so to complete the album review. Filler is a word I'd use, but hate using about songs on albums. If they're not good enough, why bother putting them out there for all to hear? To be blunt, the song just doesn't get going and not even some really good solos from Murray and Gers can help the sinking that this song continues to do the more it goes on. This is quite easily the worst song on the album, so without further ado, let's move on to the next track.
"Judas be My Guide" is one of the better songs on the album that doesn't fail to put a smile on my face. It opens with a great guitar hook that leads into some cool riffs with a dancing solo before the main part of the song is aired. It's a track that reminds me of early Maiden and especially "Die With Your Boots On" in its style and pace. The chorus is very catchy which is essential for a song to be a crowd-pleaser and that's what I especially like about this song. Bruce Dickinson: "This is a pretty ironic song, actually. I don't know if it will be well received because it's somehow perilous to be ironic in the world of rock music. It's about the dark side in all of us, and I decided to call this dark side 'Judas'. It's this trend that would make anyone sell anything, that would make them care about nothing, that's this little Judas who's inside all of us, and if he becomes powerful enough to rule the world, then... bye-bye!"
When I first read that Iron Maiden was doing a song about football violence, I immediately envisaged what it would entail. The first time I listened to what transpired, "Weekend Warrior", it threw me sideways. Not because it was everything I thought, but because it was nothing like I'd imagined. What I'd initially thought was a fast-paced song with plenty of guts, but what I got was a slow-ish number that still rocks but just not in the way I wanted it to. In fact, the song probably rocks in a non Iron Maiden way, if that makes any sense. Bruce Dickinson noted "This is a very good song which Steve wrote. It's about football and all the violence that surrounds this sport. Hooliganism is a terrible thing. You have those people who don't have any other interest in life but the football game on the week end. Those people indulge in whatever violence they're capable of during the game, having fights with supporters of the other team, screaming insults, then they go back to their little jobs on Monday morning, and that's when you realise that they're nothing."
"Fear of the Dark" is the titular track and my favourite song on the album. In fact, it's probably in the top ten of my all-time favourite Iron Maiden songs - it really is that good. There's not many better feelings at a concert than watching the band play this song when it's an open-air gig and the sky is black. I've witnessed this a few times and it really doesn't get much better than that. This is the song that Dickinson gives it his all in his vocal capacity and it's a real shame that he didn't let go with all guns blazing for most of the others. Bruce Dickinson: "Steve, who wrote it, is really afraid of the dark. It's the story of a man who walks in a park at night and, as it's getting darker, he sees all sorts of worrying things. He becomes totally paranoid because his imagination is working overtime. It's a great track."
In summary, the album is missing a certain spark. 20 years later, I'm still not sure what that spark was. Former guitarist Adrian Smith was maybe a missing factor, as Maiden always sounded better with his playing. It's still an album I listen to now and then, but I unwittingly find myself skipping a few tracks here and there. Having said that, it's an Iron Maiden album and it should be in your collection. The gems on the album make up for the songs which don't quite make the grade, and that is good enough for me.
1. Be Quick or be Dead
2. From Here to Eternity
3. Afraid to Shoot Strangers
4. Fear is the Key
5. Childhood's End
6. Wasting Love
7. The Fugitive
8. Chains of Misery
9. The Apparition
10. Judas be My Guide
11. Weekend Warrior
12. Fear of the Dark
My rating: 7/10
Following the departure of guitarist Adrian Smith from Britains most popular heavy metal band, the albums of Iron Maiden immediately fell into a slump devoid of the creativity, talent and enjoyment of their eighties offerings. Replacement guitarist Janick Gers was not inherently a weak link in the band, and indeed has remained as a third guitarist to the present day even following the reunion of lost band members, but the remaining four members of Iron Maidens classic line-up seemed to have lost the drive and imagination present on their earlier releases.
Vocalist Bruce Dickinson in particular was increasingly unimpressive compared to his incredible earlier performances, and left the band after the Fear of the Dark tour to pursue a successful and ultimately much more rewarding solo career. Bruce and Adrian both returned to the band in 2000 and have remained there to this day, making for a much stronger Iron Maiden that is comparable to its glory days. Oh yes, and some of Bruces later solo albums were fantastic too. (1997s Accident of Birth and 1998s Chemical Wedding in particular, which also featured Adrian as well as the talents of Roy Z).
Quite deliberately, the band opted for a change in musical direction after failing to inspire with the apparent return to form of their previous record. The influence of seventies blues rock acts is quite prevalent in many tracks here, with a more laid back tone to most tracks and noticeable alterations in the guitar, drum, bass and vocal style. This was not intended to expand the bands appeal (their number one single in 1990 and a string of top ten albums ensured that this was not necessary), but more a determination to release something different.
Bassist, primary songwriter and band founder Steve Harris recently remarked that the bands fans will always ask whether their upcoming albums are going to be concept albums, that is albums based around a specific theme or storyline, and he consistently tells them that Iron Maiden have only ever released one concept album (1988s excellent Seventh Son of a Seventh Son), however similar assumptions about Fear of the Dark would not be unfounded; three tracks deal with fear, while other titles such as The Apparition, Be Quick or Be Dead, Childhoods End and The Fugitive express concern or paranoia, however there is no real thread connecting these twelve tracks other than the bands desire to focus on current affairs and events such as war, AIDS, capitalism and social decline as opposed to the historical and mythological angles of much of their older work.
As a contrast to the very poor production quality of their previous No Prayer For the Dying album, the over-polished, shiny production of the two albums before that and the more raw sound of their earliest work, the production here is actually quite interesting; everything can be clearly heard and defined, but nothing is overdone, a testament to Steve Harris and Martin Birch. Guitars sound clean but forceful when necessary, the bass can be heard clearly, and the drums dont sound like Nikkos whacking some cardboard boxes for a change. Bruces tired vocals do present an issue that cannot be tempered through production tricks however.
1. BE QUICK OR BE DEAD
The first single released from this album seemed to show a more brutal and enjoyable side of Maiden, with its harsh lyrics against the media and its speedy drum beat and guitar riffs. Definitely one of the highlights of the album, this makes for an excellent opener but is still not up to the high standards of the bands earlier openers such as Aces High and Moonchild. Bruces vocals are at their most aggressive here, and it sounds very enjoyable.
Covered in sinners and dripping with guilt,
Making you money from slime and from filth.
Parading your bellies in ivory towers,
Investing our lives in your schemes and your powers
2. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY
The first signs of the blues influence through the atypical guitar sound, this was soon released as a second single but fails to live up to the standards of the first track. Saying that, its not a bad track and although the ensemble chorus spouting repetitive lyrics sounds cheesy, its quite standable. Bruces raspy lyrics are a definite turn-off here though, and lyrically this is the fourth and final part in the continuing saga of Charlotte the Harlot. (You know, if you follow these kind of things).
She fell in love with his greasy machine,
She leaned over wiped his head kickstart clean.
She'd never seen the beast before,
But she left there wanting more more more
3. AFRAID TO SHOOT STRANGERS
One of the finest tracks on the album, even though the structure of a quiet opening leading to a melodic riff and louder section at the end is something that was already a little exhausted on the bands last album and would go on to feature prominently and less successfully on their later 90s offerings. A thoughtful and slow song about war, this is an example of what the rest of the album should have been like; musically different but still very appealing, with a haunting and distant drum beat from Nikko McBrain complimenting the guitar harmony and synthesised orchestra perfectly. Bruces quiet, deep vocals also add to the atmosphere, making for one of the best offerings of this point in Maidens career that likely holds a wider appeal than the rest of the album. Well done; the harmonious solo towards the end is also excellent, and doesnt overdo things.
Trying to justify to ourselves the reasons to go,
Should we live and let live?
Forget or forgive?
4. FEAR IS THE KEY
The first track to sound distinctly average, this sounds like a re-hashing of some of the previous outings, but does have quite a catchy and upbeat rhythm. Bruce sounds better here, and the Egyptian-style nature of some of the guitars is interesting, but its not a track that pops into my mind very often. The lyrics are again pretty good though, especially the comment that nobody cares until somebody famous dies. Some quite good progression into different tempos towards the end, but nothing particularly striking.
I remember a time when we used and abused,
And fought all our battles in vain
I remember a time we thought that passion was free
In the heart of the night
5. CHILDHOODS END
The opening riff is pleasant but reminiscent of the last track, however when this song gets into its beat it is quite catchy and memorable. Nikko tries out a very fast galloping sound on the drums as the guitars take a back stage and this sounds nicely different, but once the chorus comes in there is really not much else that the song has to offer. A slow, moody track with some of Bruces best vocals, but still nothing groundbreaking or classic, which is a shame. An upbeat guitar section halfway through sounds good, but still continues the established riff.
No hope, no life, just pain and fear
No food, no love, no seed
6. WASTING LOVE
One of my least favourites on here, this travels too far into unnecessary soft rock territory. Slow and subdued, this also features some potentially embarrassing vocals from Dickinson and some of the worst lyrics the band have offered, and even the louder chorus (the best part of the song) is pretty unimpressive and soon fades into faux-acoustic melodies. The worst aspect of the song is certainly is length however, as it drags on far too long at six minutes; were it a three to four minute track like most on here it would be easier to forgive.
Maybe one day I'll be an honest man,
Up till now I'm doing the best I can.
Long roads, long days, of sunrise to sunset,
Sunrise to sunset
7. THE FUGITIVE
This track begins quite promisingly with a return to a stronger, more hard rock form with pounding drums, but then it all becomes a little confusing when Wasting Love-style slow melodies make themselves heard. Bruces vocals are quite good here, except for in the abominable chorus that belies the bands earlier excellent lyrical offerings. This is unfortunately one of many weak links on the album, and fails to hold this part of the CD together amidst some other equally unimpressive offerings.
I am a fugitive
Being hunted down like game,
I am a fugitive
But I've got to clear my name
8. CHAINS OF MISERY
Theres something of old Iron Maiden mixed with a swing beat that makes this a fairly average song, although not one that I would class as among the best on the album. The unison vocals from track two are back here in the titular chorus and I like the muted sounds of the guitars as the chorus approaches, but on the whole this is a little bit predictable and devoid of surprises; even the solo is weak. Its not easy for me to say this, you know.
He lies to you he won't let you be
He's got your chains of misery,
He won't be still till he's turned your key
He holds your chains of misery
9. THE APPARITION
This song wastes no time in introducing the vocals, but is again something of a weak link. I dont hate it in the way that most Maiden fans seem to, perhaps as Im comparing it to some of the tracks on here that I truly do dislike, but the solo sections sound like theyre straight from either the seventies or a bad computer game, and the idea of making Bruces vocal track slightly off centre from the guitar riff just results in a bad song.
In a world of delusion
Never turn your back on a friend,
Cause you can count your
real true friends on one hand
10. JUDAS BE MY GUIDE
Its cheesy and obvious, but this track does manage to redeem the album a little as I really like it. The general mood is quite happy and enjoyable, while the verse style and especially the chorus are reminiscent of the bands finest works. It may be that I just love hearing that guy sing in that operatic voice yeah, thats probably it a very good song though, and certainly better than most of the other songs on here. Nicely brief at only just over three minutes as well, with some great guitar harmony stuff.
Judas my guide,
Whispers in the night,
Judas my guide
11. WEEKEND WARRIOR
Just as things had started to get interesting (and were about to again with the final, title track), the band present what I regard as the worst song they have ever done. Some songs from their debut sounded a bit too old fashioned, and later vocalist Blaze Bayley wasnt as good as Bruce, but this is a terrible track that Im so glad they didnt release as a single; the acoustic sound given to the electric guitars fails miserably, while Bruce just gets on my nerves with the new, gravely sound in his voice that really suggests he should take some time off for fencing and flying (which he thankfully did). Dont listen to this.
The rebel of yesterday, tomorrow's fool
Who are you kidding being that cool?
12. FEAR OF THE DARK
The main reason Iron Maiden fans bought this album, this closing track is undoubtedly the finest track on here and it was this song (albeit a live version released a year later) that first got me into the band. That may be just reason for regular Dooyoo readers to hate it already. Quite epic in scale, although not to the extent of the bands previous large-scale tracks, its still a brilliant metal song that starts softly to build the excitement before launching into one of the bands best ever guitar riffs. Everyone is at their best here, and I genuinely find it hard to believe that the band could produce something this good while also coming up with Weekend Warrior.
Fear of the dark, fear of the dark,
I have constant fear that something's always near.
Fear of the dark, fear of the dark,
I have a phobia that someone's always there
Public opinion regards this as a fairly average album, and I have to agree, but I would also not recommend it to anyone interested in the band; although these are very seldom, there are indeed a couple of excellent points in this CD (most notably the title track), but buying a live album such as the excellent Rock in Rio (also available on DVD) will save you the trouble of owning about nine very poor songs.
As I said earlier, I actually find it very difficult to see how this CD could be this unimpressive when it features such classics as Afraid to Shoot Strangers, Be Quick or Be Dead and Fear of the Dark: it cant really be blamed on individual members, although Bruces vocals do show a lack of commitment at a number of points, although its safe to say that the band had lost a little interest in creating genuinely exciting music at this point in their careers. For the record, their next album would not be released until 1995 (with a different vocalist) and showed a darker, more bleak side of the band but at least instigated a resurgence in their creativity. As a huge Iron Maiden fan I dont enjoy slagging them off, but its clear that this album only reached number one in the charts due to their previous popularity and support. Not a dark chapter in the Iron Maiden saga; more of an incredibly dull one.
IRON MAIDEN discography and my own self-righteous opinions as shown by star points
1980 Iron Maiden ***
1981 Killers **
1982 The Number of the Beast ****
1983 Piece of Mind *****
1984 Powerslave *****
1985 Live After Death (live) *****
1986 Somewhere in Time *****
1988 Seventh Son of a Seventh Son *****
1990 No Prayer For the Dying **
1992 Fear of the Dark **
1992 A Real Live One (live) **
1993 A Real Dead One (live, again) ***
1993 Live at Donington (live, again again) ***
1995 The X Factor ***
1996 Best of the Beast (best-of compilation) ****
1998 Virtual XI **
2000 Brave New World ****
2001 Rock in Rio *****
2002 Edward the Great (greatest hits) ***
2002 Eddies Archive (lost tracks and stuff) **
2003 Dance of Death ****
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Be Quick Or Be Dead
2 From Here To Eternity
3 Afraid To Shoot Strangers
4 Fear Is The Key
5 Childhood's End
6 Wasting Love
8 Chains Of Misery
10 Judas Be My Guide
11 Weekend Warrior
12 Fear Of The Dark