New decade! New guitar player! New album! The 1980s were over, and Iron Maiden faced many challenges in maintaining their status at the dawn of the 1990s.
No Prayer For The Dying
Produced by Martin “The Bishop” Birch
Released 1 October 1990
Iron Maiden had conquered the world. The 1980s were their decade, like the 1970s had been Led Zeppelin’s decade. From 1984 through 1988 Maiden were the biggest metal band on the planet in terms of popularity, and they could hardly be faulted for their innovation either.
Click here for our review of Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son (1988)!
Following a year off in 1989, at the end of which the Maiden England concert video was released, Iron Maiden reconvened at the dawn of a new decade. The 1990s would bring multiple changes and struggles to the band, and their claim to the metal throne would be challenged and ultimately succeeded by Metallica.
The first change occurred when guitarist Adrian Smith, who had recently released his first solo album with the band ASAP, became disillusioned and was pushed to leave Maiden. The source of Smith’s frustration was partially the musical direction that Steve Harris and Bruce Dickinson championed for the new project: A stripped-down, back-to-basics approach, reminiscent of the Killers (1981) album.
Click here for a review of ASAP’s Silver And Gold (1989)!
The resulting album, No Prayer For The Dying, is a radical stylistic departure from the previous couple of studio albums, with hissing guitars and a snarling Dickinson up front, and a very direct «garage» kind of production by Martin Birch.
Truth be told, the producer was against doing the album on an ancient mobile recording studio in Harris’ rehearsal barn (soon to become Barnyard Studios) instead of a real studio. He probably did the best he could, but the well-produced late 80s Maiden sound was now a thing of the past.
Tracks like opener Tailgunner and the rousing Fates Warning actually suit the shift in production values, the latter being one of those rare Dave Murray compositions. Even if the dry drum sound of Nicko McBrain is particularly low-fi, these tracks sport an aggressive attack that overcomes the sonic deficiencies.
But there is no disguising the fact that the band also deliver material here that is well below the high-water mark of the previous record. First single Holy Smoke and the compulsory album epic Mother Russia are among the weakest tracks that Maiden had ever committed to tape at that point, and Hooks In You (co-written by Smith and Dickinson) isn’t much better.
No Prayer For The Dying also features the weakest title track since the dawn of Maiden’s classic era. Which doesn’t mean it’s a bad song, just average. Actually, Dickinson went on record upon the album’s release in 1990 to claim that it was one of the best quiet-beginning type of songs he had done with the band. Take that, Hallowed Be Thy Name, Children Of The Damned, Revelations, and Infinite Dreams! This kind of statement certainly highlights the enthusiasm for the project that drove the band at the time, but in retrospect it seems absurdly overstated.
Two things stand out about the performances on No Prayer For The Dying. Quite predictably, Adrian Smith’s groovy and melodic guitar work is sorely missed. But on the other hand, Bruce Dickinson is back to hitting the high notes like it’s 1982! Someone should really quiz him about this unexpected development, the strained performances of the late 1980s being abandoned for good.
Also on the plus side, Smith’s replacement is one Janick Gers, and the injection of energy is palpable throughout the record, as it would be on stage. Not as sophisticated as a player, Gers is a much more free-form kind of guitarist, but the collective energy level of the band has rarely been as high, and this helps them partially counter the weakness of the production. Much of that is thanks to Gers.
Click here for the full tale of Adrian Smith leaving Maiden, Janick Gers joining, and the making of No Prayer For The Dying!
It’s just not enough to salvage an album that fails to live up to expectations that are perhaps unfairly high in the wake of the band’s unreal 1980s period.
But what else should we demand from Maiden than excellence? Given my previous criticism of Harris’ songwriting on Somewhere In Time (1986) – which is still a great album – it’s clear that I hold Maiden to a very high standard, and No Prayer For The Dying is a frustrating step down from the output of the classic 1982-88 period.
Visually, the album also marked the end of the days when fans could look forward to intricate concepts and feasts of design and packaging, with artist Derek Riggs turning in an uninspired work that seems so painfully one-dimensional in light of the previous four or five record sleeves. In truth, it is nothing more than a cheap rip-off of Riggs’ own Live After Death (1985) masterpiece. After giving Eddie a surreal narrative in his journey through cover concepts from 1981 to 1988, it is now back to basics like none of that ever happened.
Tailgunner, Fates Warning and the submarine mini-epic Run Silent, Run Deep are the best tracks on offer. Dickinson’s solo album leftover Bring Your Daughter…To The Slaughter (hi-jacked from that project when Harris heard it and loved it) did become the band’s biggest hit in the UK, but it is clearly a league or two below the standard of Flight Of Icarus, 2 Minutes To Midnight, Wasted Years and Can I Play With Madness, to name a few previous singles.
Click here for a review of Dickinson’s Tattooed Millionaire (1990)!
The title track of the album is all right in its quiet part but suffering from the poor production values, and The Assassin is musically interesting but not emotionally engaging in the way that Maiden had constantly been throughout the 1980s. Public Enema Number One, meanwhile, is energetic enough to entertain although it is annoyingly hard work to ignore the title.
No Prayer For The Dying is a better album than the one that would follow it just 18 months later. There is still enough of the 1980s Maiden spark to just about carry them through, and with later 1990s Maiden releases in mind it is probably safe to assume that Martin Birch saved the production from being a train wreck.
But when only about half the tracks get near the expected levels that were defined by the band’s first decade of recording, Iron Maiden greet the new decade with their poorest LP offering to that point. This is a far cry from Piece Of Mind (1983), Powerslave (1984), or indeed the previous record, Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son. The 180g black vinyl reissue is also of little interest, except for the monumental printing errors in renaming Tailgunner “Tail Gunner” and messing up the lyrics to Holy Smoke.
And for Maiden the troubles were just beginning. Their subsequent album would be the last of the original Dickinson era and lead into a period of commercial decline that they would only shake off upon his return in 1999.
Click here for our review of Fear Of The Dark (1992)!
No Prayer is alright as a bit of fun for the fans, a record that sounds unlike any other Maiden album, whether you see that as a good or a bad thing. But it’s just a diversion, accepted mostly because of the greatness that preceded it.
Christer’s verdict: 3/6
20 thoughts on “Review: No Prayer For The Dying (1990)”
This album is really weak especially after an effort like SSOASS… Still the thing that saves it, is that it goes by fast, (not pushed long songs) and it’s kinda fun to listen to… I totally agree with you… It’s just an average (sometimes bellow average) Maiden record…. Still my second to worst Maiden album… The dark era begins…. 😛
After SSOASS came this album … At first very disappointing for me, and certainly an album that does not reach the level of what is Iron Maiden. However, over time will I have a special affection, and songs like ” Tailgunner “, “Holy smoke” , “Public Enema Number One” or ” Fates warning” make me feel things. Perhaps a more careful production would have given another dimension to album; lack of Adrian is much appreciated… no arrangements, the songs do not sound sometimes flexible… Anyway, I like more than ” Fear of the Dark”, though many think otherwise.
This was the first Iron Maiden album I bought (in red vinyl), so I have fond memories associated to it. However, the albums that made me a fan were “The number of the beast” and “Live after death”, which I got recorded in cassette tapes by a classmate shortly afterwards.
That being said, I still think “No prayer for the dying” is a really average album (I think the only Maiden album that I find worse is that turd called “Virtual XI”), showing the problems that were to plague the band in that decade. “Fear of the dark” has some really weak material, but the strong songs are, IMHO, much stronger than the best stuff off “No prayer for the dying”.
I agree with you… The fact that Fear Of The Dark had more material doesn’t justify it to be worse than NPFTD, cause as you said the strong moments on fotd are way stronger than NPFTD’s.
Love the 2 albums but you are right 🙂
I’ll get to Fear Of The Dark later, but I’ve already implied that I think No Prayer is a stronger album. Like Ghost says, FOTD has some really weak material, I’d say it’s got the weakest material of any record in Maiden history bar Virtual XI… But yeah, a few of the songs are strong.
No Prayer was the first Maiden album I was waiting for upon release. The first I bought was Seventh Son in 88 or 89, but prior to that I became a fan when a friend let me borrow the Live After Death cassettes. LAD + SSOASS meant I was deeply into the more mystical aspects of Maiden, so even though I was just 12 at the time of No Prayer I remember being disappointed with that album… I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but I was all geared up by Maiden’s 82-88 albums and felt underwhelmed by No Prayer.
I was so disappointed when this record came out, it failed to excite on so many levels:
1 Vocals – Bruce’s new growly, snarly vocal style really grated on me, it was like he was trying to be Brian Johnson or Axel Rose. It was probably easier for him to sing, so maybe it was related to this, as his live performances weren’t great on SSOASS tour.
2 Guitars – With the departure of Adrian Smith, the guitar solos seemed to lose all structure and cohesion. I think Smith’s more structured solos kept the more free-flowing Murray in check, but when Gers arrived it was actually Murray who was the more disciplined player, meaning everything just got very widdly widdly!
3 Song writing – Obviously not as good as (any) previous albums, but not a total disaster in my opinion. Better production, guitars and singing would have made a huge difference.
and last but not least…
4 Artwork – Very poor! I think this was the first Maiden album where I bought the cassette rather than the LP, mainly because the artwork wasn’t worth the detail. I actually bought a second hand LP last month as a collection filler, and the artwork is still rubbish in my opinion.
All four of these complaints are about to get louder with the next release though!!
1 – It’s an interesting thing how Bruce changed his style. But to be fair, the more aggressive style was exactly what Maiden (Steve) wanted at the time. Bruce was also back to hitting high notes he hadn’t been near for five years.
2 – Very good point, in my opinion.
3 – Also a good point. There is stuff here that could possibly have been developed into another classic Maiden album, with the aid of Smith and more time to write. It’s a shame that Bruce and Steve got into the whole “let’s do it quickly with a mobile studio” spiel, because there could have been something better coming out of this.
4 – Good point again.
I’ve got an in-depth article about the making of this album, and I’m thinking I’ll publish it tomorrow. 🙂
Many people criticized the singing of Bruce in several of the songs of NPFTD … but the truth is it was not a new style … Just listen “Powerslave” or “2 minutes to midnight ” to realize it. It’s like people who criticized singing the verse of “El Dorado” … is it not the same singing the verse of ” The Evil That Men Do”?
Too true. One of the weirdest things I’ve ever witnessed from Maiden fans was the thing about El Dorado having “spoken words” and not singing in the verses. That’s just a patently absurd statement.
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Musically, this album is, in my opinion, a step back for Maiden, considering what they accomplished with Seventh Son. The idea of “getting back to their roots” seems to have been successfully realized, but I question if that was necessary. That was certainly Adrian’s mindset, it seems, and that had to be a big reason why he left. Still, this isn’t a bad album by any stretch of the imagination. The overall tone on a lot of the songs could be considered….shall I use the word “playful”? Even some of the more politically-minded songs like Holy Smoke have a not-so-serious sound to them. Like, it seems the boys had a lot of fun making this album. Maybe too much fun, however, as, while not bad, for Maiden standards, it falls woefully short, especially considering the masterpiece they had just made. What separates it from Fear of the Dark, in my opinion, is that it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome and gets over with quickly.
I bought this one the very day it came out. Got it on red vinyl since the album was delayed a few weeks and the recordshop owner gave me the red one for the same price since i had been there every single day asking if it had arrived yet. i am very suprised that not more fans like this album since it seems to be one of the few albums the whole band seemed to like at the time. I think that piece of mind and no prayer are the only two albums wich you can hear some kind of “metal” attitude on. Just raw good music and keep it simple type of songs (minus the trademark epic song on every album). The sound on this album is just right for maiden. A strange thing is that everyone seemes to have a problem with the “new sound” on the album, though its pretty much the same sound as on the “epic” piece of mind. if something, its an old sounding maiden record! Somwhere in time, there you have a bad sounding album, and ssoass is not far behind (the sound, not the tracks). The sound (of the band) on no prayer is still ok if it would have been released today, and theres not many maiden albums wich you can say that about. I think that a metal band should sound metal, and this album does just that. Many of theese critics have made up their opinion years after the records release. But back in the days it was a kickass record with a load of really good songs on it. i would cry tears of joy if maiden could do an album like this today. I hold this and piece of mind as maidens best albums since its all about the music and less about artwork and things that do not matter when you actually listen to the music..Fates warning, bring your,no prayer,run silent run deep, assassin and mother russia are hugely underrated. (just like the prophecy,judas my guide,mother of mercy and sun and steel..) so 3/6 is not a fair verdict in my world
Well, I’m not quite in your world. 😉
I love this album, maiden was different, seventh son was perfect, understand fans were shocked, but years later… love it and continue to listen it ! I think Janick is a major musician for Maiden (lot of great work on x factor for example), Adrian too … 😉
dikinson was genial.
Pretty awful in the main this album. The first two Maiden albums are my favourites but this supposed return to that sound is way off. Or rather, the songwriting is. Songs like Holy Smoke and Bring Your Daughter are up there with some of the worst Metal songs I’ve ever heard, never mind Maiden songs.
A bit of an underrated and overhated album. Maybe it hit a soft spot since NPFTD was the first Maiden cassette I ever heard (those were the days). For someone coming historically from 7th son the perspective might be different for sure (It was on the contrary a disturbing experience to me hearing Seventh Son as a young metalhead, after diving deeply into No Prayer and Live after Death)
This album is stupid fun (Daughter Smoke), it’s odd (Assassin), there are simply great tracks (Public Enema, Run Silent, Mother Russia), so I prefer it to most of the bloated 21st century work.
I personally don’t know of anyone who hates this album, so I think “overhated” is overstated, to be honest. But I can easily imagine Seventh Son being a strange thing to hear after this, absolutely.
In one of his not infrequent bouts of delusion, Steve Harris declared No Prayer “the best thing we’ve done” (Kerrang 297, 7.7.90). And I must admit I bought into the hype. I liked Tattooed Millionaire and thought Holy Smoke was a natural extension. I got into Maiden in late ’87 but did not see the band live until 1990 – the day before No Prayer was released. The band played seven tracks from the album (alas no Run Silent, Fates Warning or Mother Russia). The new tracks sounded bombastic and supremely heavy in the confines of the relatively small Ayr Pavilion, and Bruce was in great voice. Tail Gunner, admittedly, was a tad underwhelming but things really blasted off with Public Enema No. 1. (I assumed Bruce was pronouncing ‘enemy’ in a funny way until I read the song title on the album cover.)
That concert, which remains very vivid in my memory, has left me with a certain fondness for No Prayer, but I cannot deny how lacklustre the album is. Tail Gunner is a damp squib. The title track is dreary. Hooks in You sounds like Maiden covering a song by another band; a b-side at best. Bring Your Daughter might have made an interesting curio as a stand-alone single, but feels out of place on the album. Janick’s solos are uniformly horrible. Dave’s aren’t much better. Gone are the days of the fluid but disciplined guitar hero; self-indulgent and scrappy widdly widdly merchant to the fore. No more melodic and memorable ‘solos you can sing’. Bruce’s rasp is annoying and the overall sound is more 70s heavy rock than the 80s metal Maiden helped to define.
And yet I still kinda like it! There are seeds of greatness in Public En., Run Silent and Fates Warning. Despite my dislike of the guitar solos, the classic Maiden harmonies are still there, as is some quality riffage. No song overstays its welcome. Mother Russia may be lower tier but it does function in epic style and in well under six minutes. When not rasping, Bruce’s voice is in great shape. I have come to appreciate the production. Certainly underwhelming but nice and clear – none of the Shirley (Harris) mush.