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"Virtual XI" is the 11th studio album by British heavy metal band, Iron Maiden. It was released in 1998 on EMI Records and produced by Steve Harris & Nigel Green. The line-up for the album was Blaze Bayley (vocals), Dave Murray (guitar), Janick Gers (guitar), Steve Harris (bass/keyboards) and Nicko McBrain (drums).
This was the last of two Iron Maiden albums recorded with Blaze Bayley, who was replaced with former singer, Bruce Dickinson. It was also the last album the band recorded as a five piece, adopting three guitarists for its successor, "Brave New World" in 2000. It reached No.16 in the UK album charts and produced two singles - "The Angel and the Gambler" peaked at No.18 in the UK Top 40, while "Futureal" didn't chart at all.
"Futureal" begins the album with what is possibly Blaze Bayley's best performance on an Iron Maiden record. It's got all the elements of a classic Iron Maiden song - fast-paced, not too long, and, more importantly, it rocks. The unfortunate thing is, I keep wanting to hear Bruce Dickinson's vocals on this song, even though Blaze delivers it quite well. There are some nice riffs from Murray & Gers and you just can't get enough of Steve Harris' clunky bass. Of the Song, Steve Harris said "This was an idea that I'd had for quite some time but hadn't worked up into a full song until the writing started for the album. I Worked up all the music and vocal melody lines but I didn't have a suitable lyric, so I asked Blaze to write something for it and very fine it is too!"
We quickly go from the shortest song on the album to the longest. "The Angel and the Gambler" weighs in at just under ten minutes long and in reality, it probably could have benefitted from being a little shorter. In fact, Maiden did put out an edited version for the single cutting three minutes off the song, and I do think that version sounds a lot better. However, I must say that I really don't like the keyboards here but the guitar hooks are excellent, just as you'd expect with Iron Maiden. For me, this song is a little too stop/start. Just when I think it gets going it halts progress and completely irritates me in doing so. It does go into a soft phase part-way through but it's the same three lines over and over again being sung which is a little tedious. Steve Harris said "This was from an idea that I had when I was driving on the M4 motorway to Wales. Thank God I had a small cassette recorder with me! The idea reminded me of The Who / U.F.O so I took it in that direction. It's got a very 70s rhythm feel to it which I like a lot."
"Lightning Strikes Twice" attempts to kick start the album back to life and in all fairness it does a really good job. The guitar solo during the intro is a delightful melody but it's when the power chords hit that it really shows its true colours. Blaze's vocals are strong on this song except he completely ruins it by singing "Maybe lightning strikes twice" seven or eight times and it's pretty obvious he just can't hit the high notes that Bruce can. The highlights of the song are the guitar solos near the end. Steve Harris: "This started as an initial idea of Dave's and we just picked it up from there and worked it into a complete song together. I wrote the lyrics after coming up with the words for the chorus during the arranging of the music with Dave. He liked the idea of the title so I wrote the lyrics around that."
"The Clansman" is another epic song which is around the nine minute mark. This is probably my favourite song off the album because it's arranged beautifully. It begins with a soft guitar melody and a softer bass line playing in the background before Blaze whispers the first three verses. If I was critical, he's a little too quiet and barely audible over the guitars. This song is everything Iron Maiden has to offer with excellent guitar riffs and some complex drumming by Nicko. As much as I like this version, I do think Bruce sings it so much better live. Steve Harris talks about the song: "This started as two separate ideas, then I put them together and it worked! It's got a Celtic flavour to the music which is why I wrote the lyrics about the Scottish clans. They were inspired also by the "Braveheart" and "Rob Roy" films."
"When Two Worlds Collide" is a good Iron Maiden song but it somehow goes by largely unnoticed in the background. There are some solid guitar riffs here but it's too much of 'been there, done that', unfortunately. The classic Iron Maiden guitar gallop is present and Harris' bass sounds great but when you think it's going to explode it starts to taper off. The saving grace here is the incredible guitar solos in the middle. Steve Harris said "This was from an idea by Dave, who worked with Blaze and then I worked with both of them, adding parts to the music, parts to the chorus melody line and arranging the song. Dave wrote most of the music and Blaze wrote the lyrics."
"The Educated Fool" begins in the same vein as "The Clansman" but it doesn't come close to matching it, musically. The lyrics just don't do it for me and the song as a whole seems like it was a little rushed in writing, arranging and recording. I'm going to class this as a filler song because I really can't think of it being anything else, even if you try to take it seriously. Of the song, Steve Harris said "This started from the guitar melody line that you hear at the beginning and it fitted really well with a couple of other ideas that I had at the time. It turned out very strong and is one of Blaze's favourites on the album."
"Don't Look to the Eyes of a Stranger" is an excellent song which is a meaty eight minutes long. I like everything about this song except there is one little flaw - the lyrics aren't complete and singing the same lines over and over again has been done before on this album. It is still played very well, though, with catchy riffs and some great musical arrangement. Steve Harris said "This is another idea which I'd had for a while but hadn't managed to work up into a full song until now. I wanted it to sound a bit orchestral as it had a majestic feel to it. It also sounded very ominous so I wanted to make the end part completely mad and manic. I think Janick's not too sure about that part but I think it works great."
"Como Estais Amigos" brings the album (and Blaze's Iron Maiden career) to a close with a ballad paying tribute to the fallen during the Falklands War. But here's the thing - with the exception of "Wasting Love" on 1992's "Fear of the Dark", Iron Maiden really don't do ballads and this one just doesn't work for me. It tries to sound good but it rarely gets out of first gear. Steve Harris: "This was written by Janick and Blaze, with Janick writing the music and Blaze the vocal melody lines and lyrics. It's a sad but powerful song, quite dark but dramatic, about the Falklands War. I think it makes an excellent album closer."
In summary, Iron Maiden went through a transition after Bruce Dickinson left the band with Blaze Bayley coming in on vocals. Ironically, I stated at the time of Bruce's departure that Blaze was the only guy that could replace him and although he does a good job on the two albums, he just couldn't match Bruce on-stage. You're probably wondering why I've said that so I'll cut to the chase. It's my belief that this album was written specifically for Blaze Bayley's vocal style in mind and that's one reason for its lack of fire. There are some good songs here but this would have turned out completely different with Dickinson on vocals and I have no doubt it would have been a much better album.
2. The Angel and the Gambler
3. Lightning Strikes Twice
4. The Clansman
5. When Two Worlds Collide
6. The Educated Fool
7. Don't Look to the Eyes of a Stranger
8. Como Estais Amigos
My rating: 7/10
==Members At The Time Of The Release==
Blaze Bayley - Vocals (Joined in 1994 and left in 1999)
Dave Murray - Guitar (Joined in 1976)
Janick Gers - Rhythm guitars (Joined in 1990)
Steve Harris - Bass guitar (Founding Member)
Nicko McBrain - Drums (Joined in 1982)
Michael Kenney- Keyboards (Joined in 1988)
==Part II Of The Blaze Era==
After releasing The X Factor, which was considered one of their darkest albums to date, Blaze Bayley stayed with the heavy metal giants for one more album named Virtual XI. I know that there's some fans that would prefer to skip the Blaze era because they're so used to Bruce Dickinson. There's people who didn't like The X Factor and decided that they weren't going to bother with Virtual XI. I think both albums are very different to each other because this album is a lot more upbeat whilst The X Factor is grimmer. Virtual X is more truer to their roots.
Futureal has that decent guitar solo introduction that feels like an Iron maiden song. I think it's a wonderful way to start the album off because it's catchy and it's also a good song. The Angel and the Gambler has this nostalgic 80's feeling to it. Like Futureal it's quite energetic touch. While you can still tell that The Angel And The Gambler is an Iron Maiden track, it doesn't feel like metal music.
Lightning Strikes Twice has a really cool chorus and the change of speed gives the song a very interesting flow. It's got a really desolate sound that goes very deep. It starts off quite progressive and then it goes onto a really structured rhythm. After listening to this song, most of it goes right out of my head, but the chorus really sticks with me.
The saving grace of the album is The Clansman which is an epic song about Freedom. A lot of people adore the Live At Rio version with Bruce Dickinson because the live version gives the song a lot more edge. The studio version is quite good too. I think this track is a beautiful gem. I love the desolate melodies and vocals on this track.
When Two Worlds Collide is nothing special, but it is a solid track. The melodies are standard and your typical guitar solos are there. But after listening to The Clansman, I was expecting something a bit more exciting and less standard.
The Educated Fool shows some great examples of the bass guitar including the wonderful introduction. I think the lyrics with some powerful imagery, but I think there's too much structure which makes the song sound repetitive and strained. Blaze also sounds very flat on this track and not even the backing vocals add anything extra to the song.
I enjoyed the string arrangements in Don't Look to the Eyes of a Stranger. I think Blaze soars on this track. Whilst in other tracks, the repetitive nature has been a problem, I think the repetition works on this track because it adds more emphasis to the song. The track is brilliant.
Como Estais Amigos is a slow burner that's similar to When Two Worlds Collide. The way the music is much more louder than Blaze at the beginning and then eventually getting louder gives a true touch of tragedy. This song reminds me of the remembrance day on November 11th. It's a very thoughtful track from beginning to end.
Even though Iron Maiden do have better albums, I don't think Virtual XI is genuinely a terrible album. I think it's a good album with some crunchy riffs and classic sounds. I think the main problem with the album is that it's not as memorable as songs from Number Of A Beast, Brave New World and Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son. Blaze is a good vocalist, he dosen't fit in as well as Paul and Bruce did because he had some issues with his health which eventually caused the band some friction.
When I first listened to the album, I didn't like it that much because I thought it was really boring and uninspired. I changed my mind after a few more listens, and even though it's got it's up and downs, I think it's a really interesting album. Virtual XI features the best songs from the Blaze Era. I'd like the listen to this album again. I think overtime I'll really love this album.
Bruce Dickinson?s departure from British heavy metal band Iron Maiden meant that the band?s general appeal inevitably waned, and new vocalist Blaze Bayley was never fully accepted as a replacement during his five years with the band. I have written a lot of Iron Maiden reviews as there is so much to write about, but rest assured that I am running out of albums in that regard. Following the very dark but grand scale of The X Factor, Maiden returned to a more high spirited musical style with Virtual XI, and as such it has the potential to be a great album. Unfortunately, the nineties were a decade of quite bad decisions on the part of Maiden, and for every excellent epic there?s a dull track with annoying vocals. These sight tracks, mostly of substantial length, are a bit of a let-down by the band?s standards, but this album was thankfully the last of Iron Maiden?s uninspired records to be released. 1. FUTUREAL The album begins with this short, punchy number that?s reminiscent of Maiden?s past album openers ?Aces High? and ?Be Quick or Be Dead.? The upbeat heavy metal style makes it clear from the onset that this is a very different record to The X Factor, and Blaze?s vocals, while obviously not being up to the standards of metal virtuoso Dickinson, suit the song?s rhythm well. No interesting developments or changes, this is a very straightforward rock track coming in at under three minutes with some catchy vocals and riffs. Very reminiscent of a Di?Anno-era Maiden. ?Whenever anyone seems to treat me like a freak It makes me see I'm the only one who feels That I know what is real? 2. THE ANGEL AND THE G
;AMBLER Just when Maiden seemed to be getting back on track, they produce their cheesiest song ever. There is really very little to save this overlong, seventies-style blues-rock track from spoiling the album and to make things worse the band released it as a single (with a music video that really should have waited a couple of years before attempting computer graphics). This isn?t just my bigoted opinion as I?ve hardly read any positive comments on the song: in short, Maiden should never use a Hammond organ in their songs, especially when that song tediously drags out to ten minutes. ?Don?t you think I?m a saviour? Don?t you think I could save ya? Don?t you think I could save your life?? (Sigh) 3. LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE This is a progressive track that has the potential to be great, but is dragged down by a little unoriginality. Although anything is welcome after ?The Angel and the Gambler.? Blaze?s vocals sound a little out of place in the mellow parts of the song, but are suited to the hard rock riffs once they kick in, and there are some great distorted solos in the latter part of the song that remind me of the better parts of The X Factor, however there isn?t much to distinguish this as a great Maiden track rather than simply the third track on an album. In typical Maiden style, the title isn?t a metaphor for luck happening twice: it is literally a track about lightning hitting the same spot twice! ?Is it the rolling of thunder that scares you Is it the crashing of clouds that hold fear But all I know as I sit in a corner alone It takes me back to my childhood again? 4. THE CLANSMAN Based
on the film ?Braveheart,? this is by far my favourite track on the album, and the only one I consider to be an Iron Maiden classic. A soft opening is a Dave Murray/Steve Harris trademark that has been increasingly annoying and tedious since the Fear of the Dark album, but the energy and epic scale of this song makes up for that, even using light orchestration in the mellow sections. Although it lasts for nine minutes the enjoyment never lets up, with the rousing choruses of ?Freedom? and ?No we can?t let them take any more? ? if only the rest of the album had been this good it would surely have been a winner, but as such it stands as one of Blaze Bayley?s finest moments with the band. The only problem is that some of the band?s later tracks such as ?Blood Brothers? and ?Face in the Sand? use a similar formula and as such would make this appear less original in a live set; that didn?t stop the tribute band Ironically Maiden from screaming it out early this year. ?Freedom!? 5. WHEN TWO WORLDS COLLIDE Another soft opening before the rather slow-paced but catchy song properly begins. This is a fairly average track, but I really like the guitars ? reminiscent of ?Virus,? my favourite song from the Blaze Bayley years released specially for the ?Best of the Beast? collection ? and Blaze?s vocals are great in this one too. A more reflective metal song than the rest, this is the kind of track that gains more appreciation with each listen, it even has a brief ?woah? section towards the end that is obviously designed with live crowds in mind. Again, the title is far more literal than readers may at first assume. ?My telescope looks out into the stars tonight, A little speck of light seems twice the
size tonight. The Calculations are so fine, can it be growing all the Time?? 6. THE EDUCATED FOOL A very good track, this is very straightforward until an excellent high guitar section separates the end section and Blaze sings in a different style. This track is tarnished only by its place in the album, as by now it?s all been heard before and the listener is in need of something radically different to stay interested. Still a very good track, but not on par with some, and confirmation if anything that this album lacks some originality. ?I want to leave my life on my own I want to lift the unturned stone I want to walk right into the fire I want to live out all my desires? 7. DON?T LOOK TO THE EYES OF A STRANGER Yet another song that begins quietly before becoming heavy, it isn?t too bad but is another track spoiled by its length and the sheer repetitiveness of the chorus. The guitar melodies are good but nothing too spectacular, and Blaze attempts some unwise high vocals that are much more suited to Bruce Dickinson?s talents. There are a few changes within the song but all of these involve the music becoming unbearably slow and not very interesting; this track should have been planned and executed a lot better. ?Don't look to the eyes of a stranger Don't look trough the eyes of a fool Don't look to the eyes of a stranger Somebody's watching when the light goes down? 8. COMO ESTAIS AMIGOS An excellent end to the album, this sombre and respectful track has some great acoustic guitar sections and effective use of or
chestration similar to ?The Clansman? in the background. Despite it being written and composed by Blaze Bayley and Janick Gers, two men who were not ?original? Maiden members, it?s one of the better tracks on the album and has some of the best guitar solo work on the CD. This is the kind of song that can easily take the listener to a nice place for a while before they hear the fade out and realise they?ve listening to an Iron Maiden album. Quite different and refreshing. ?And if we do forget them and the sacrifice they made, Will the wickedness and sadness come to visit us again?? VERDICT Virtual XI, Iron Maiden?s eleventh studio album, is often regarded as their weakest effort, although The X Factor is also usually a contender for that dishonour. Having only previously heard the brilliant epic ?The Clansman? and the quite fun ?Futureal? I found this hard to accept, but having listened to the album in its entirety I agree that this is probably the band?s low point. Steve Harris? songwriting talents are far below his usual standard, and the very existence of ?Angel and the Gambler? makes me question the band?s sanity; Iron Maiden redefined heavy metal in the 1980s while also bringing it to the masses, but this album only serves to alienate loyal fans and newcomers to the band. No wonder this was their first album to be released on a virtually unknown record label after they were dropped from EMI. This seems a little harsh, but it?s the fact that Iron Maiden are letting themselves and their fans down so badly with this release that annoys me; thankfully I have the safe knowledge that they were soon able to sort everything out, and there are a couple of excellent tracks on here. Blaze Ba
yley?s vocals receive undue criticism here; he?s obviously not as good as Bruce Dickinson, but his different range and style leads to a different sound for the band. It?s simply the lack of any genuine originality or flair that left the band in a decline after their excellent ?Seventh Son of a Seventh Son? album in 1988. Bruce Dickinson left in 1992 for very just reasons, and it was only the return of Bruce and departed guitarist Adrian Smith in 2000 that got the band back on the road to excellence. Up the Irons, I suppose. ~~~~~~~~ Alright then, if this isn?t a good example of the band, what is? (a.k.a. Recommended Iron Maiden albums, you know, if you like that sort of thing): POWERSLAVE (1984) ? Eight killer tracks, from fast hits to true epics. LIVE AFTER DEATH (1985) ? Incredibly energetic performance with songs from the band?s first five years, some sounding much better than on the studio albums. SEVENTH SON OF A SEVENTH SON (1988) ? Really interesting sound, great lyrics and a running storyline. Sort of. DANCE OF DEATH (2003) ? Not quite as good as the band?s eighties works, but their best album in many years. I have very high hopes for their next album, whenever that will be.
After the departure of frontman Bruce Dickenson, Iron Maiden immediately set about finding his replacement.Former Wolfsbaine vocalist Blaze Bailey was eventually named and once again Maiden got back into the studio and on the road.After the good,yet extremely brooding and dark 'X FACTOUR' was over the band returned to the studio to record Blazes second album fronting Maiden;and 'VIRTUAL XI' was the result. The albums opener 'Futureal' is a fast paced rampage remenisant of Maiden classics such as 'Be quick or be dead' or 'Aces high'.Virtual XI can also boast other exellent tracks such as 'Educated Fool','Dont Look To The Eyes Of A Stranger' and the epic 'Como Esta Amigos',one of my personal all time favourite tracks! However nothing can be perfect, and Virtual XI is no exeption.The album is also home to the song 'The Angel And The Gambler'.A retro-seventies sounding track featuring a hammond organ.Another key weakness to the otherwise stunning album is its length.Containing only eight tracks the LP is too short and thusly spends longer on my shelf than in my CD player. Having said this,all tracks flow well together and the majority of the material is very strong.A damn fine album,but there is always room for improvement!
Maiden's second atempt at an album with Blaze Bayley as vocalist, Virtual XI, and personaly i think its not a bad album. Blaze seems much more comfortable since his previous efforts on the "X factor", and the maiden flame again burns. Infact after this album the last thing i saw in store for Blaze was a sacking. The Album was well recived by the loyal fans, and when i went to see the Virtual XI tour. Both the crowd and Maiden were amazing. This album marked a definate return to form for Maiden and at the time of release was there best since "Seventh Son". However Blaze was still being raged by loyal Bruce fans and so the album was never given its full credit. Songs like "The Clansman", "Como esta amego" and "Dont look to the eyes of a stranger" can hold there own easly against any Maiden classic and yet the album becomes mared by the pathetic excuse of a song the "Angel and the Gambler". Where the entire song is Keyboard baesd. It is a relitivly short Album and would benifit from a couple more tracks. And its good enough for me to feel confident saying that if Bruce Dickinsn had have sung on the Album it would be hailed as a classic. 8/10
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Angel And The Gambler
3 Lightning Strikes Twice
5 When Two Worlds Collide
6 Educated Fool
7 Don't Look To The Eyes Of A Stranger
8 Como Estais Amigos