Somewhere In Time was Iron Maiden’s ultimate overdog challenge, where expectations of excellence had to be met. The classic line-up faced their fans and critics in a situation of success and stability unlike any they had ever known, and now they had to prove themselves.
Somewhere In Time
Produced by Martin “Masa” Birch
Released 29 September 1986
1986. The world was at Iron Maiden’s feet. The double whammy of Powerslave (1984) and Live After Death (1985) had seen Maiden conquer the globe, including the notoriously diffcult-to-break North American market. The World Slavery Tour in 1984-85 had been a gruelling triumph, and the Live After Death concert album was Maiden’s third consecutive platinum seller in the US.
Click here for the making of Powerslave and the dizzying tale of Maiden’s five-year plan to become big in America!
What Iron Maiden achieved in the mid-80s is still the stuff of legend for up-and-coming bands, and it’s also the shadow that Maiden themselves stood in when they set out to forge their path in the late 1980s.
Steve Harris might have felt great pressure at other crucial points in Maiden’s recording career. There had been the previous challenge of creating The Number Of The Beast (1982) with new arrival Bruce Dickinson, and there would be the later challenge of doing The X Factor (1995) when Dickinson had left. But their situation in 1986 was unique: Maiden’s line-up was stable and they had to deliver when everyone expected them to succeed. This is very different from feeling pressure to deliver when everyone expects you to fail.
Which makes the 1986 album all the more impressive.
Everyone even remotely interested in metal music was waiting for what the biggest metal band of the mid-1980s would come up with next, and it’s been heavily publicized that Bruce Dickinson had envisioned a drastic departure in style that the rest of the band and their producer Martin Birch rejected out of hand. What we got instead was Somewhere In Time, a classic Maiden-sounding album that clearly built on its predecessors but still sported some new and surprising elements.
The biggest change is immediately apparent: Synthesizers! Dickinson famously stated a couple of years earlier that you «can’t play heavy metal with synthesizers», but that is exactly what his own band does when they launch into Caught Somewhere In Time. The track is lengthy, among Maiden openers possibly most comparable to Where Eagles Dare on Piece Of Mind (1983), and relying heavily on guitarists Adrian Smith and Dave Murray to weave soundscapes around the simplistic chord patterns.
To a large extent, this is Adrian Smith’s album, his playing and writing taking center stage like never before, exemplified by the excellent and uplifting first single Wasted Years:
Indeed, without any songwriting contributions from Dickinson, who had all his semi-acoustic songs ditched, a heavier burden rests on Smith’s shoulders to come up with both music and lyrics. In addition to Wasted Years, which is surely one of Maiden’s most commercially inclined tracks, he also delivers the metallic Sea Of Madness, featuring one of the greatest Maiden guitar solos ever, and the brooding and groovy second single Stranger In A Strange Land.
At the same time, Birch’s production is far removed from the bare-bones aesthetic of the previous couple of studio albums, and the more lush and layered sound sits well with the new songs. Somewhere In Time was crafted at Compass Point Studios in Nassau and Wisseloord Studios in Hilversum in the first half of 1986, and it was the longest-gestating and most expensive Maiden production to that point.
In many ways the effort to modernize Maiden’s sound paid off. The droning synthesizers are certainly a sign of the times, but they also suit the material. Somewhere In Time has a unique identity in the Maiden catalog and enjoys a great deal of love from Maiden fans, as guest writer Pål Ødegård elaborates on in this essay.
On the other hand, some of the material might have fallen through if it wasn’t for Birch’s skills with the knobs and faders. Heaven Can Wait is strictly filler in this reviewer’s opinion, despite the middle section that features the first (and best) of Maiden’s many football stadium chants. The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner is also rather middle-of-the-road as a composition, but the tasteful guitar work from Murray and Smith, as well as the frenetic pace of Nicko McBrain’s drumming, elevates it to the type of Maiden song you always enjoy hearing again.
Deja-Vu, a Murray composition with lyrics and melodies by Harris, is a liberating burst of short and sweet Maiden metal. It is not as memorable as previous rockers like Aces High or The Trooper, but it is certainly of a type that fans of the band would come to miss in later years.
By this point one had come to expect the closing track of a new Maiden album to be the patented Harris epic. There had been Hallowed Be Thy Name, To Tame A Land and most memorably Powerslave‘s inimitable Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. On Somewhere In Time the epic tradition continues with Alexander The Great.
It does struggle to live up to the immense legacy of the previous Harris epics, closing the record on a fine if somewhat diluted note, but this has more to do with the standard that the band has by now established for themselves. In short, Maiden have made themselves hard to beat.
Bruce Dickinson had written great things for Maiden before, and despite being a no-show in the songwriting here he would do so again. In a similar way Harris’ material for Somewhere In Time, while certainly good, would be bested by his efforts for the next Maiden album.
Click here for a review of Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son (1988)!
The theme of the Somewhere In Time album, as the song titles imply, is loosely tied together by most of the lyrics relating to travelling, space and time. With that starting point, long-time illustrator Derek Riggs delivers a truly classic sleeve that really makes vinyl worth it:
The current black vinyl reissue is faithful to the original packaging, but the Somewhere In Time concept, lyrics and artworks lend themselves to the gatefold treatment, and the 2013 picture disc takes advantage of this. The gatefold opens to reveal shots of the band on and off stage in 1986-87.
But just when you thought the picture disc reissues were going to nail the actual pictures (unlike the notoriously period-confusing 1998 CD remasters), here comes the first fuck-up with a shot from the wrong tour in the bottom left corner. And the once celebrated Maiden quality control takes another nosedive with the new black vinyl edition, where the stereo channels are flipped into playing Murray on the right and Smith on the left…
Anyway, on with the good stuff, the picture disc itself is adorned with Riggs’ Wasted Years and Stranger In A Strange Land illustrations, the latter of which cleverly continues the tale of the album cover:
Taken as part 3 of an artwork trilogy that began with the Wasted Years single and continued with the album cover, also spinning off with the Somewhere On Tour illustration, this is Maiden and Riggs at the height of their visual storytelling, an embellishment of the music that inspired countless young bands in the 1980s.
In sum, Somewhere In Time is an album that’s very sophisticated as a concept and a production, but a little less compelling as a collection of songs. Some are strong, chiefly the excellent Smith entries, while Harris’ tracks disappoint slightly in light of what he delivered on Piece Of Mind and Powerslave.
But even so, Maiden’s low points in the 1980s were still far better than just about anybody else’s high points. One can hardly argue with anything the band delivered in their 1982-88 period.
Click here for our in-depth discussion of the making of Somewhere In Time!
Apart from Harris’ average input, by his own standards at the time, the album suffers most from the absence of a truly enthusiastic and involved Dickinson. Smith is clearly the Man of the Match and deserves great credit for making Somewhere In Time the classic it is.
Christer’s verdict: 5/6
28 thoughts on “Review: Somewhere In Time (1986)”
I must desagree completely on your view on Somewhere in time album. To be short, Alex The Great is for me Maiden´s best song. Its innovative in concept and sound. If compared to Rime of the MAriner, it has a more complex and diverse arrangement with different time signatures and many different parts that fit all perfectly together. The intro gives us the sense of a marching army with a beutiful feel on the guitars and bass. Clean and drive guitars solos, drumming on the edge and a good history class on lyrics and singing.
At that point the band was technically on the top of their capabilities coming from endless touring and recording over the previous years!
I do not look at it as a lower quality work. But of course, it is artistically impossible to get 4 masterpieces in a row!
There’s no doubt that many people disagree with me on this. As you can see from the other articles linked in this review, you’re not alone. But I would point out that I only rate it as “low” as GOOD (4 out of 6), and that is in a Maiden context. Compared to just about anything else in metal at the time it’s obviously GREAT.
When it comes to terms of metal history, I’d say all of Maiden’s records in 1982-88 are masterpieces. But it would make for a very dull review series if I just said “they’re all the BEST!” 😉
Add to that the fact of not having Bruce as a songwriter.
Nice! If you listen to Nicko on Caught Somewhere, it is probably his greatest performance. He introduces his own doublebass ina single pedal technique and blasts completely! The whole tune it´s like an army atacking a village and leaving nothing left standing except fire and destruction! 🙂 It´s like 300% full on! It is the peak, the apex of his drumming carreer in my opinion. There was nowhere else higher he could go from that, and in fact, he kind of stabilized a bit lower on the ensuing records.
For me, Nicko is no doubt tied with Adrian for Man of the Match on the Somewhere In Time album, just like Bruce is Man of the Match on the Piece Of Mind album. 🙂
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I can’t believe it took me this long to discover this site. In any case, I remember when I first listened to Somewhere In Time back when I first became a Maiden fan in the late ’80s. At the time I thought it was average, but as the years went on, it grew on me. Now it’s without question one of my favorites, not just for Maiden, but for any album.
Welcome to the site! 🙂
Hello from Switzerland. I just listened to this new pressing and i noticed a quite strange problem with my copy:
The loneliness of a long distance runner has a playback problem around 2.20 mins. in the song. the sound gets strange and it seems like the song slows down for a few seconds. just like in the old days, when you tipped on the tape while in playback mode.
It really sounds different to the original pressing, i compared it. And it can’t be my turntable…
Strange, otherwise the mastering is just perfect.
Somebody else noticed this?
Hello, Roman! 🙂
Wow, strange! I’m no expert at these things, but to me it seems like a mechanical fault with the vinyl. Which is the risk we run when we buy physical product…
Anyone got an idea about this?
Interesting, Heaven Can Wait is actually my favorite song off this album. The chorus is what gets me, TBH, but I have some pretty eclectic tastes anyway, so I’m not surprised it isn’t the most popular track on Somewhere In Time It definitely occupies a weird place in between the sound of Powerslave and that of Seventh Son, as if this was the result of that difficult transition between those two sounds, the pure heavy metal sound of the former and the more progressive, conceptual sound of the latter. The end result is an imperfect product, but still very enjoyable. I can’t help but think if Bruce hadn’t gone a bit batty and had helped contribute to the songwriting, the album would likely have been a lot stronger.
Good points! I always like to point out that even if I rate Somewhere In Time lowest of the 1982-88 records, it’s still one of my favorite records. Maiden in the 80s were really THAT strong.
I just don’t think Steve delivered the goods in the songwriting. Adrian obviously did, but Bruce was out of the picture. Steve’s songs just aren’t up to what he did in 82, 83, 84 and 88 in my opinion. 🙂
In retrospect, many writers in mags and papers in the early 90s would really bash both Somewhere In Time and Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, to the point where the band started agreeing (in 1992 Bruce called Seventh Son a flawed record and said that they were now focusing more on the music…!) and so they went in a completely different direction at the time.
I think the general opinion these days is that Maiden’s early 90s pretty much sucked compared to their late 80s, so a bandwagon is a dangerous thing…
Yeah, I’d imagine the direction they took for Seventh Son would ultimately be vindicated and embraced when Bruce and Adrian returned, emphasizing refinement and quality over the more raw sound they had in the early 90s. Plus, I think we can all agree Bruce sounds a lot better when he’s not raspy and guttural.
@Andre: And I guess you could say that getting back to something closer to Seventh Son was what they tried with The X Factor, although I don’t like that album.
I actually have yet to listen to either album from the Blaze era, given how I never see them sold in stores and I haven’t actually tried looking for them online (interestingly enough, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a No Prayer for the Dying CD anywhere I’ve been, either). It seems most stores ignore the 90s albums altogether because of how unpopular they are. Except, of course, for Fear of the Dark.
@Andre: All 90s albums are available in any digital outlet were Maiden is available, like Spotify. If you want CDs they should be easily available through stores like Amazon. But we sure can’t blame physical stores for not stocking albums that don’t sell, and the Blaze era records are certainly Maiden’s worst sellers.
Alexander is as great as 82-88 composing certainly!
A lot of people would certainly say so, and many would also mention Caught Somewhere In Time. But for me personally they don’t rank as high as his best efforts on the other 82-88 albums. 🙂
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Hmm.. the rating seems tad bit harsh- the album deserves 4.5 to 5
Maiden out performed with each album until Seventh Son, in my opinion. Slightly over polished but Somewhere in Time achieved a futuristic sound, something unexpected and new for 1986 and even now, it just sounds evergreen. It remains my favorite Maiden album above the rest
I’m not rating the albums in relation to anything outside of Maiden, so it purely reflects my comparative opinions of the Maiden records. And I get told all the time that I’m wrong about Somewhere In Time, but I’m much harsher on the 90s…
It very interesting to me how in the mid to late 1980s Maiden gradually moved from darker themes, e.g., murder, and blood and guts references on their first two albums, less so on but continued horror inspirations for “Number of the Beast”, beginning to shift to more history and sci-fi in “Piece of Mind”, more history and literature on Power Slave, plenty of literature and sci-fi with “Somewhere in Time” (SIT). Even the instrumentation and vocalizations had developed a more progressive and optimistic element over those years. But then Adrian Smith left and it was back to basics with “No Prayer for the Dying” (NPFTD) :-\. Adrian had become one of my favorite songwriters and I had great respect for him wanting to reinvent (or at least expand) his playing style on SIT, and with the band’s progressive genius on “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”; it didn’t make sense to me (a fan since 1983) for Maiden to go back to basics. After NPFTD I didn’t buy another Maiden album until “A Brave New World”.
Update: As I have recently worked my way through Maiden’s 1990s, and also look forward to eventual reviews of their 2000s albums, I have come to conclude that my original 4/6 rating of Somewhere In Time must be amended. It’s now 5/6. That’s how it goes when you essentially make a list over a period of many years…
How interesting. I’ve recently pushed Somewhere In Time dramatically up my rankings also. An album I seem to brush aside too easily n the past. I’ve really been enjoying it a lot lately, especially the “title” track and Loneliness…
Are you likely to be doing a Brave New World review soon? I noticed your reviews currently go up to Virtual XI.
Somewhere in time feels like an album that is very much standing in the shadows of the rest of the 80’s albums. I have noticed that it´s very highly ranked among most fans, but it seems that the band themselves and music magazines often doesn´t include Somewhere in time among the 4-5 best Maiden albums.
I can understand Bruce though, even if I think it´s very good that his vision for this album was put to stop.
I have a hard time to objectively rank this album among the Maiden catalog, because it´s hard to say that it has stronger hit-songs than Piece, Number, Powerslave etc. – But it´s just something about it that makes it my favourite album regardless of that. It is really hard to explain why.
Maybe it´s the futuristic sound and the epic voice of Bruce…Not to forget the epic album cover.
I just love every single song! Despite at least two of them being what we have to consider “filler-songs” -It´s one of the few Maiden albums where I don´t feel like skipping a single song.
I am genuinly dissapointed that Maiden seem to refuse to play more of these songs live, despite having several nostalgic tours in the reuinon-era.
They only play Wasted years or Heaven can wait. I would love to see them perform the opening track, Sea of Madness, or Alexander the great. I would trade one of those to another live performance of Fear of the dark any day.
I guess this all boils down to how ridicoulusly good Iron Maiden was in this period (the 80´s), the standard was so high. If we imagine that this would have came out as a “back to form”-kind of album like Brave New world, maybe it would be more appreciated by the band themselves.
(Sorry for bad english, up the irons!)
I agree completely, Emil. The standard Maiden set for themselves in the 80s was truly ridiculous. Let’s hope there’s some more Somewhere In Time coming on tour in the future, it would make a lot of people really happy.
Emil, Thank you for your synopsis and very thoughtful review. Its interesting that my Maiden listening habits ebb and flow between the more progesive tracks on this album or the more straight ahead rockers of Killers. Maiden has quite a range will always being true to themselves.
I saw Maiden in concert in Germany on the Somewhere on Tour and World Slavery Tour.
I have to add that your English is great! Up the Irons from the USA!