Today is October 1, the day which saw the release of Iron Maiden’s eighth studio album back in 1990, all of 25 years ago. Here are a few features in celebration:
FEATURE FRIDAY: Times of Change, 1990-91
Retro Review: No Prayer For The Dying
Maiden Live in Philadelphia 1991
No Prayer For The Dying was the first Maiden album I bought upon release. I became a fan through listening to Live After Death on MC (that’s right, dinosaurs) in 1988, and I quickly rushed out to buy their then latest album, Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son. Between these two records I was hooked for life.
At the age of 12 I consciously anticipated this new album release. I remember seeing the newspaper ad where Eddie’s hand reaches out of a grave to spray paint the title and release date on his headstone. It was magic, and I was all ready for another mystical journey.
(Continues under pic!)
But even at such a young age, I remember feeling distinctly disappointed in the new release. I’d heard the completely underwhelming single Holy Smoke on the radio, and the rest of the album didn’t quite make up for it. The Maiden I fell in love with, the band of Powerslave and Somewhere In Time, was already a thing of the past.
Even so, there are many Maiden fans who hold this record in high regard, and whatever one thinks of it there is no question that 1990 was a watershed in the band’s history. The following features take a look at different aspects of the 1990-91 period that brought many changes to Iron Maiden and their fans.
Here is a retro review of the album, Maiden’s first effort of the 1990s: No Prayer For The Dying.
And here is an in-depth discussion of the making of the album, a process which saw Adrian Smith leave the band and Janick Gers join in his place: Times of Change, 1990-91.
The scaled back production values of the record would be reflected in the scaled down production of the stage show, and here’s a full concert from the tour: Live in Philadelphia 1991.
Happy birthday, No Prayer!
86 thoughts on “No Prayer For The Dying is 25 years old!”
Funnily enough, this was the second LP I bought upon release, and had the original pressing on vinyl for many years before moving house and losing it in the process. I enjoyed Seventh Son but at the time (not now) much preferred Powerslave because the concept of Seventh Son seemed a little vague to my fourteen year old mind. So I welcomed No Prayer, and being a thrash fan at the time (not so much now) was very happy with the stripped down vibe and shorter tracks. Hard to imagine now but at the time many critics in the press and on the radio saw this as a return to form after the misfire of the previous album, which for many of us seemed to take a full decade to really sink in as the masterpiece it is.
Then I’m on the right track in the making-of feature I wrote about the album! I can’t remember it myself, thought Seventh Son was a masterpiece from the first time I heard it, but through the research it seems to me that No Prayer was a pretty conscious effort by the band to “get with the times”, be “more aggressive”, and thus try to pick up the thrash crowd.
Steve will never admit it, but looking back at press pieces from 1990-92 it’s weird how Seventh Son is constantly written off by journos and how the band locks in with them in talking up Fear Of The Dark for example as being more valid than what they did in the late 80s…
It seems that the early 90s was the only time in Maiden’s career where they were actually chasing credibility by altering their own style. Something they will never ever admit to, but it’s plain to see and hear. And going by Andy Taylor’s remarks, quoted in the making-of piece, the down-scaling of the live show wasn’t simply a deliberate choice but also dictated by Maiden’s strained economics at the time. Maiden can be real mythmakers when they want to.
I think so, too. One place where Maiden’s style sacrifices of the 1990-1993 era are noticeable, is in the language used in the song lyrics on No Prayer for the Dying and Fear of the Dark. This is where Maiden abandon their inner British gentleman and start incorporating a more vulgar (“s**t,” “arse,” “money,” “enema,” “well-hung,” “bastards”), colloquial (“ain’t,” “gonna,” “gotta,” “wanna,” “cool,” outta,”), and idiomatic language style, with the end result sounding as if someone took lyrics from a Megadeth album and slapped them on Alice Cooper’s Trash album (I wouldn’t be surprised if Hey Stoopid also sounded a lot like Fear of the Dark, but I can only speculate, as I have never heard the album, save for the title track).
Christer, where did you get that quote from Andy? It is rather interesting…
I take pride in listing my sources at the end of each feature, and this quote is from an interview in The Guardian back in 2003, talking about the business of Maiden and Sanctuary. 🙂 In the feature I put it in the context of Maiden’s declining sales in the US in the 1988-1990 period. Andy’s statement seems to suggest that Maiden couldn’t have toured with a mid-80s style production in the early 90s even if they had wanted to. Their record sales in the US were halved from 86 to 88, and concert attendance took a dive, while they were touring with what must surely have been a hugely expensive crew and production. As sales got halved again from 88 to 90 it would have been a financial disaster to tour with a big production.
Thanks a lot for that reference Christer!
I seem to remember reading something somewhere about the costs of the Seventh Son tour. Kind of goes hand-in-hand with what you (and Andy Taylor) are saying.
I came to become a Maiden fan around this time as well — just after SSOASS was released. My first exposure came from Live After Death and blossomed from there. The first new release I had a chance to anticipate was No Prayer..
That’s funny, we’ve had exactly the same initiation to Maiden. 🙂
My first Iron Maiden album too! I have fond memories of it, but that does not make it better than it really is: a mediocre album showing the signs of what would happen later in that decade. Thankfully they were able to rectify things in 1999 to enjoy a career renaissance.
I can’t agree more with you in that in the grand scheme of things, No Prayer for the Dying was a mediocre album in almost every aspect. However, unlike Fear of the Dark, which was a fake modern and fake American-sounding album, and which serves no other purpose than to collect dust on the shelf, No Prayer for the Dying, with endearing tracks such as “Fates Warning,” “Mother Russia,” and the title track, is a record that I do occasionally listen to and otherwise think fondly of, flaws and all.
I completely agree with you! Even though I think there are too many mediocre tracks on No Prayer, I enjoy listening to the album now and then. Can’t say the same about Fear Of The Dark…
To be honest, I think Mother Russia is a pile of poo… LOL
IMHO, the best songs off Fear of the Dark are better than the best songs off No Prayer for the Dying. That being said, I have not listened to the albums for a while though…
For me, Fear of the Dark is worth it for really only 3 songs: Be Quick or Be Dead, From Here to Eternity, and the title track. But those are some of my favorite Maiden songs, so the album occupies a very weird place in their discography.
My memories from late 80s and early 90s were that maiden were often criticised by the press, but the fans were unconcerned by this.
SSOASS was obviously very popular at the time, and felt like the culmination of all the great 80s albums. I remember being so disappointed by No Prayer Wednesday it came out, it seemed that all the culture and history that maiden had built up in the 80s had been discarded.
Personally I felt pretty let down and barely listened to No Prayer at the time, I hated it!! Do I have no fond memories of it, but listening to it now I don’t find it too bad, it is a maiden album after all. There are some good tracks trying to get out. It really misses the presence of Adrian Smith, but even if he’d stayed I doubt it would have made much difference as the record was written in the stripped down style on purpose. Respect to Adrian for sticking by his morals and getting out!!!
Sorry about the auto complete typos!!
The latest Classic Rock issue suggests that there is more to Adrian’s departure than him sticking by his morals (too much partying might have had something to do with it too).
That being said, Maiden were not great without Adrian and him coming back to the fold was indispensable. Nowadays it is Adrian, Steve and Bruce who steer the (air)ship…
One important thing to mention is that NP was released at the height of popularity of Thrash & as a result had pushed Maiden into making a back to basics album & Bruce’s raspy vocal delivery. While I care little about the album, b-side songwriting quality., I will always stand by Fear of the Dark being a really good record and I never understand why people today dislike it, and it was well received in the day.
That’s very interesting. It’d be interesting to learn more about this newly-surfaced theory about Adrian’s departure. However, even if it is true, Adrian’s official story, namely, that (1) Maiden were playing their songs way too fast live, or “choking the life out of them,” as Adrian would say, and (2) that their style was heading in a direction he couldn’t endorse, wouldn’t be any less valid, as all of these things are absolutely true. When Adrian left, he also took the edge that he gave to Maiden with him, leaving Janick with bigger shoes than he was capable of filling. The Book of Souls, a de facto Dickinson-Smith album in Iron Maiden disguise and an album abundant in those sexy riffs, courtesy of Mr. Smith, proves that beyond doubt.
Frankly, I don’t think there’s much of a revelation there since it’s been known that Adrian wasn’t particularly enjoying the touring at that point. He wouldn’t have continued with Maiden into the early 90s even if they were all teetotalers, though.
I guess that listening to no prayer for the first time years since its release, one could think of it as a lame album. But back in the days when i came home with it, i was blown off. At last maiden sounded raw and fresh, which seventh son never did (though beeing a great album). In retrospect ssoass might be a “better” album, but in 1990 it was yesterdays news. Many things had happened between 88-90 with bands like megadeth, slayer, metallica, anthrax and judas priest all released their strongest albums. What would maiden do, make another seventh son? Then we had death metal which came strong from out of nowhere. Being a huge maiden fan then (and now) i really liked what i heard. Another thing was eddie. Back in eighties it was some scary shit, but with the new raw covers of other bands, even eddie needed an update. That might explain the covers of both no prayer and fear of the dark being a bit different. Maiden fought for their position, and metal was something fresh then, not the nostalgiatrip it now has become. Today the album is by many one of the weakest, but in 1990 it sure was the best they could come up with. Its still my all time favourite album with maiden, as painkiller(1990) is my top judas priest album of all time. Two old bands making their best effort to keep up with the new bands. Its really like sports, without competition you wont do your best. Without no prayer and fear of the dark, maiden might not even had existed today, think of that. even rockstars need money. And about Adrian, he was not hard enough for the nineties, his solo stuff was in my opinion just soft shit. Glad he joined forces with bruce and came back stronger than ever though. And am i the only one to think that bruces singing on ssoass is not his best? Back in 90 i was happily suprised that he sounded better than on ssoass, raspy or not.. Or am i just old and boring?
Interesting view about Adrian, and you have a point if you look at A.S.A.P. on its own, but I don’t think you could call his Psycho Motel work soft.
I think Bruce’s singing on SSOASS (and the other 80s records) is fine, but his live performances weren’t great around that time.
With No Prayer, I think it ultimately fails due to poor songs which were further let down by a new singing style and drop in guitar standards.
I realize that with No Prayer, Maiden may have been trying to adapt to the heavy and raw sound of the thrash scene, but it failed with this album. Seventh Son, even though proggy, still feels like a heavier album, due to its atmosphere, themes, and musicianship. No Prayer lacked in lyrics and playing. The Clairvoyant and Seventh Son songs both feel heavier than Tailgunner and No Prayer songs. There is a lot of forgetful songs on No Prayer with exception of Run Silent Run Deep and Public Enema Number One (horrible title). Hooks inYou and The Assassin are cringeworthy for Maiden tunes. Not as bad as The Apparition, but close.
I would have to completely agree with Alan Bell and Bill Perry on this. Besides, I find it kind of disturbing in retrospect that Maiden’s thought process was all about how to be cool for the kids. It doesn’t suit Maiden to chase fashion, but with No Prayer that was actually their intention. In the in-depth feature about the making of the album I dig into this. It’s really telling that Steve took the no 1 charting of Bring Your Daughter as a sign that they were “doing something right”. No Prayer was a conscious effort to reverse declining commercial fortunes, particularly in America, and it failed completely in that regard.
wasen´t somwhere in time an effort to adapt to mid eighties synthguitar sounding crap? npftd is sounding far more maiden than somwhere will ever do. bad songs, perhaps, but sounds maiden at least. and the guitar solos are some awsome stuff. i understand that not many like the album today, but most of them were not even born 1990. it was a different world back then. a somwhere in time part 2 in 1990 would have sold even less. thats my point. what should they have done, quit the band and come back when softer metal was popular again (like bruce and adrian)? and eddie, isn´t he around to be cool for the kids? for there was nothing cooler than an iron maiden shirt when i was in school. i never heard steve complain about that. everyones biggest problem is the songs, nothing else, for would the songs been their best ever, well you would not be complaining. if a rock band gets shit for sounding more rock than ever, well then we have a major problem!
Somewhere in Time is a far superior album than No Prayer. Contradictory to your point SIT sounds more Maiden than No Prayer. No Prayer comes off as a bad hard rock album, not necessarily heavy metal, whereas SIT is a progressive metal album. Sea of Madness is heavier than anything on No Prayer. The musicianship is much better on SIT. There’s really not a bad song on SIT. Adding synth was not about adapting to an eighties sound, but was about adding a different texture to a progressive album. There’s really not that much synth on the album. The synth does not overpower SIT but rather just adds some depth to the sound.
@Tomba: That line could easily be turned around on you – if a metal band with prog leanings gets shit for sounding more metal with prog leanings than ever, Somewhere In Time, well then we have a major problem! Pointless really. People like or dislike whatever albums they want, but this isn’t much of an argument either way. And I’m not sure what the argument is in the fact that no, I would not have been complaining if No Prayer had their best songs ever. That’s precisely my personal opinion – it doesn’t have good enough songs on it to defend the change of style.
We might be confusing two issues here – sales and quality, which is what Steve also seemed to be doing at the time. Seventh Son sold significantly less than Somewhere In Time in the US, but I think it’s a masterpiece. The drop in sales led Steve to alter the band’s style. As he said at the time, he thought a lot of fans might have been “disappointed” in the direction they had taken lately, which would mean the drop in US sales with Seventh Son.
Whether or not a different kind of album, SIT part 2 or whatever you want to throw out as a hypothetical, would have sold more or less than No Prayer is besides the point. They would probably have sold the same whatever they put out. What I was saying was that the attempt to arrest their commercial decline with No Prayer failed. That’s simply a matter of numbers. Sales crashed.
The Eddie point seems irrelevant to me. Yes, he was cool for the kids, but he was with Maiden from the start. They didn’t invent him in 1990 when they saw Vic Rattlehead, so that they could catch up with Megadeth. But they did remove him from his fantasy settings in 1990, which was clearly also a conscious effort to get away from the 80s, which was no longer perceived as cool.
Whatever anyone thinks about No Prayer is fair enough. The argument in my in-depth piece is that Maiden consiously adapted to a trend and saw chart success as vindication. In itself that is very interesting, because they will never admit to thinking like that. They are also pushing the notion that stripping the show down was a conscious choice, but their business manager seems to indicate that touring with 80s style productions in the early 90s would have been beyond their financial means. In other words, Maiden’s musical and visual change of style at the time was very much dictated by commercial interests.
hmm? with sound i mean how things sound. guitars etc. The sound itself has nothing to do with the songs. For example sea of madness which someone mentioned, a heavy song, but with the awful sounding krueger amp, its just not heavy sounding. And its no suprise that they made an “lighter sounding” album just then with def leppard, van halen and a lot of other glam bands were popular. My personal opinion is that the sounds ruins the album, its sounds more zz-top than maiden. Same as turbo with Judas priest. I think that npftd is far closer sounding with piece of mind than sit is. Sound that is, not the songs. So npftd came as no suprise. A bit harder, yes, but a pretty straight forward metal/rock album in the same vein as the four first ones. They had a number 1 and 2 single in the uk, and a number 2 album, so it would not be a disaster. The biggest sales drop came in us, which is not a suprise since trends come and go over there, and sit was more fit to the us market in 85 than npfd 1990. The tour would have been planned long before the album reached the shops, so the budget approach would be based on the sales and touring ssoass. So something had to be done for the us market, since uk and rest of europe was still doing pretty fine. Maiden is a big buisness, not a charity, so i understand the thought. But its no more or less following a trend that sit was back in 85. And the progressive thing, i have never ever seen maiden as a progressive band. A handfull of lengthy tracks, yes, but as far as playing goes, its pretty straightforward stuff compared to a ton of bands. Like many bands from the 70ies.. Its not even Yngwie Malmsteen or Megadeth kind of tricky stuff. Just great simple music. Sales and quality never goes hand in hand for metal music, the best selling album is almost always the most commercial album. Maiden has its core fans, and they buy just about anything, its the ones who isn´t core fans who decides if the album will sink or swim. In this case it sank since old bands very seldom gets new and fresh all of a sudden. It wasent Pantera kind of new and intresting for the big public, but it was new and fresh for me. And i like the songs, i love mother russia, bring your, assassin, run silent, fates warning, no prayer and public enema nr 1. Great stuff compared with just about anything really. The covers i do not care about, i would not care if they had a purple bike on the cover, its for the kids, and for the t-shirt sales while touring. Your point is absolutely right, they made it for the changing market, the new sound and the raspy voice, which i frankly do not understand beeing an issue. But i think that many missed that they did exactly the same thing on sit. It just sold better.. But blaming the record for its sound, (since we are very near maidens roots with the sound), thats just wrong!
It’s not wrong, it’s an informed opinion. But it’s clear we have completely different views on this.
I’ve already argued my points in the article that was linked here, including the 1990 scaled-down touring being a result of the huge drop in Seventh Son sales in the US and that No Prayer continued the severe downturn despite being designed to arrest it. SIT wasn’t designed to fix a commercial problem, since Maiden was the biggest metal band in the world at that point.
Anyway, the making-of article is pretty comprehensive and I’ve got nothing else to add to it. It’s fair enough that you don’t understand why it’s an issue, I just honestly think it’s an interesting perspective on a stylistic change in Maiden history.
To each their own.
I remember when I heard I was disappointed NPFD. I had read statements saying Harris the new record was a returning to their roots, but NPFTD was nothing like “Iron Maiden”, “Killers”, much less TNOTB or POM … I think there are several elements to consider to analyze the album. First, the context, as already discussed above; Maiden came to do two albums, both are undisputed classics today, but by then there were not welcomed as well. SIT was widely criticized, not least SSOASS was also criticized, although both drives were very successful and their tours were very intense. It is quite possible that Harris would like to change the style to accommodate at times in heavy and rock music. The second element to consider is the departure of Adrian Smith; is too much visible. I really do not think there bad NPFTD issues, although some like “The Assassin” or “Mother Russia” are expendable; I think lack freshness, freshness that brings Adrian Smith with his riffs, which obviously can never bring Janick Gers, because he can not. The songs have the essence Maiden, but sound rigid, forced … The third element is the production: Harris insisted on the mobile studio and the result was not right, something the band admitted years later. All whole NPFTD made an album that started a period something dark in the discography of Iron Maiden. But still, every time I hear it I feel something special, especially with “Tailgunner”, “Holy smoke”, “Fates warning”, “Public Enema No. 1,” or the title track.
Good points, Juan Pérez. If Maiden were to see through the “back to Killers” approach that they wanted for the album, they should have let Martin Birch record them as planned. In Battery Studios where Killers and The Number Of The Beast were recorded. Those two records have a very nice and fat sound, and there is every reason believe that No Prayer would have sounded much better if Martin got his way. But this was the beginning of Steve Harris taking over the production decisions.
I give up defending npftd, since i´m alone with my opinions, but Its rather intresting with the sound issues. If the band dislikes the sound and everything, why wont they do another mix of it? I mean, fear of the dark is made in the very same “studio”, and sounds totally different. The “sound” is very much in the hands of the one who is mixing it all. More or less delay or chorus here and there, levels on drums and other instruments totally changes everything. Recording the pure sound from the amps would not be much of an problem to anyone of the top names in the business. The sound on npftd is pretty dry with not much reverb, delay and other “nice” element on the album which are more present on fear of the dark. I especially love the snare and kick drum sound nicko uses in the eighties and early nineties. The drums really made much of the maiden sound with the warm and pretty natural sound together with the dry sounding bass. But without synth, overdubs and warm filling guitar sound it gets dry. After the pro-tools and triggers came as a new standard much of that is lost. The ghost notes and living elements are gone to make a better quality recording. In death metal the plugs and triggers are an absolute must since the tempo is that much higher and you must have a lot dryer and shorter sound to actually hear every hit. In the book bruce plays dream theater to nicko and says, why dont we sound like this? Its funny since mike portnoy said that the record in question is the one which he hates coming to drum sound since he used triggers there for the first and last time and all ghost notes were lost. Nicko is an oldschool drummer, and a bloody great one, but his new “sound” is not always doing him justice. for example, listen 3.17 in caught somewhere in time, the snare fill, and compare it with the very beginning of death and glory. I find the old drum sound much better. More ghost notes and less gate and compressors. And i totally agree that mr harris should be banned from the studio when it comes to producing, its not his strongest ability, though i personally like the sounds on that record. But yet again, its maybe just me being anal with these kind of things again? 🙂
Hehe, no problem man. But no, you’re not “alone” with your opinions, so don’t feel sorry for yourself. 😉
When it comes to the Barnyard, you can’t really compare No Prayer and Fear. For the No Prayer album, they wrote and rehearsed there, like they had done with Seventh Son, but it wasn’t a studio. They used the ancient Rolling Stone mobile unit, which Martin Birch didn’t really want to do. It was a set-up for the 70s, and Birch did the best he could. After that, Steve built a studio there, which was first used for Fear. Still not a great studio, but obviously better than using a mobile unit.
I’m not sure Bruce said “why don’t we sound like this?”, but he sure used Dream Theater as an example of someone getting a better sound with much less money than Maiden spent when they recorded in Steve’s studio. Maiden were probably tied to Barnyard at that point, because it was the only way Steve could really finance the place.
In any case, since 1990 Steve has been in charge and gets pretty much want he wants. 🙂
I will preface this by stating I know nothing about production of music for an album. With that said, I’ve been a die hard Maiden fan for decades, introduced to them by NOTB. My major qualm with Maiden all these years in the consistency in the production of their records. For me NOTB was the best production. It had a fat and full sound. Powerslave was good too. I never understood why Maiden couldn’t consistently sound as good as NOTB. POM, even though a good album, lacked in production. The drums and guitars lacked a fullness and punch. Even the bass seemed muddled and not as thick sounding.
Seventh Son, even though musically excellent, was recorded to low in sound. To get the full sound of the album I need to turn the volume up on my stereo and increase the bass, whereas Metallica albums for example, I don’t have to raise the volume to get the desired sound. I find this a problem with Book Of Souls as well.
For me the best sounding studio albums are NOTB and AMOLAD. For the most part Maidens live albums have sounded better than the studio albums, with the exception of A Real Live One. A Real Dead One was alright, but Live after Death, Death on the Road, Rock in Rio, and En Vivo sound better than the original recordings from the studio albums.
@Bill Perry: I think the answer to your question about the change from Beast to Mind is simply the quality of the studio. Killers and Beast were both recorded at Battery in London, which seems to have been the London studio that producer Martin Birch prefered.
After making their millions with Beast, management decided that Maiden should become tax escapees and work outside England. Birch was told to find a studio in some tax haven somewhere. He says in the official book that he would have recorded Mind in LA or New York if it was up to him, but Compass Point in the Bahamas was the one that he thought was OK and that management agreed on for tax reasons.
He states flatly that they would have gotten better technical results somewhere else.
Metallica are pretty well known for mastering their albums heavily, which often means that all the levels are raised to the breaking point. Or beyond it, as is the case with the mastered-to-death sound of Death Magnetic. Steve Harris has often been opposed to the mastering that Kevin Shirley wants for Maiden records, resulting in Dance Of Death and A Matter Of Life And Death hardly being mastered at all. Which often means that you’ll have to raise your volume control to get the level you want. 🙂
Well, there is two kinds of “sound”. What i mean with sound is not the quality of the recording, but how the instruments sound. Since most of the records today are digitally recorded the studio is not that important as it used to be. And both npftd and fear of the dark are digitally recorded, so there would have been lots they could have done with the sound, even with the old rolling stones wagon. its all about mixing it properly really. I have heard records made at home that sounds just amazing. recording digitally gives you loads of options since you are basicly just recording a signal or impulse and not the actual sound. A bass can sound anything from a bass to a piano or an airplane if you want. Maybe not back in 1990, but now with pro-tools and programs as such. But the downside is that for example drums on records today sounds nothing like an actual drumset sounds. The volume on a record depends often on mastering, but a higher volume has really nothing to do with the quality of the recording. On lp records you have two “tracks” one is read from the side and one from the bottom, which gives you stereo sound. The more music you have on a Lp the thinner is the track and therefore you get slightly better quality with a wider track (shorter records). But for a normal listener it really do not matter.
On piece of mind the bass is far to high (in my opinion) in the mix and it is taking over the guitars which then of course sounds weak. And i have always wondered why anyone haven´t reflected over that. A song like revelations needs punchy guitars, but now it sounds more like a bass-solo. Compare it to “the prisoner” where guitars are a lot louder and you get my point. But i guess its in the ear of the listener?
Live albums are almost never live. The best live album of all time in my (and bruce dickinsons :)) opinion is judas priests unleashed in the east. Which is fixed in a studio to a level that its almost an studioalbum. Old songs recorded live and mixed with new equipment sounds often really good when fixed in a studio. Another thing is that while recording and writing an album in the studio you do not really know how it turns out in the end. Some tracks sounds really good and some awful (to those who record them). For us they all sound the same since we haven´t been at the rehersals and do not know the original thought with the song. playing them live for years gives you time to adapt tempos and even change some things in the songs. A song like hallowed be thy name is far better live since its a bit different and given new elements. The intro on the original is not even tight, the third and fourth bell is so out of tempo that its a miracle that anyone did not notice it while recording and fixed it. The drumming live is different (yet again, in my opinion better) and the tempo is higher. little things like that often makes live recordings a bit more intresting.
I think that you are on the same page as i when it comes to sound, since both notb and a matter of life and death has high guitars and the bass is not so up in the mix. It sounds a bit harder that way. And the same goes for the most of the live recordings. I think that justice for all has the best sound of all metallica albums, and there is almost no bass on it. Bass is not a solo instrument, but a tool for those who cant play but likes to be in a band 🙂 (yes, that was a joke)
@Tomba: No Prayer was recorded on the quite ancient Rolling Stone mobile unit, as you say, which can’t possibly have been a digital recording…? In any case, that unit was plugged into a rehearsal room in a barn which was never intended for album recordings. What Maiden did here, in effect, was making some expensive and OK-sounding demos on equipment that their producer didn’t want to use for a proper album production.
It might have been possible to improve the recordings through the application of digital pads on the drums and so on, but that would really underline the fact that the recording was done in a less than ideal environment. The band’s story, at the time, was that the sound of the room was precisely what they wanted to get across to the listener. This they did.
Personally I think the sound of Bruce’s vocals are great throughout the album, but that’s the easiest thing to manage (just use the right microphone for him) and the one thing that was non-reliant on a proper studio…
Good point about Hallowed. I’m sure everyone noticed the out-of-sync drums and guitars on the intro, but they probably decided that they didn’t have time to fix it. Birch barely got the album mixed in time for release. 5 weeks of recording and mixing! Don’t ever tell me that classics can’t be made quickly. 🙂
Justice we completely disagree on.
This is a fascinating discussion! I’ve always struggled to define the sound of a record, and this thread has made me try to establish what it is I like about all the classic maiden albums i.e. those recorded in the 1980s.
Iron Maiden, always liked it. Nice clean sound.
Killers, more of the ‘classic’ Maiden sound but I think it isn’t crisp enough, slightly too polished?
NOTB, great sounding guitars and drums, mega.
POM, same as NOTB.
Powerslave, good but always sounds lightweight and slightly tinny back to back with POM.
SIT, similar to Powerslave but worse as guitars often blend into one slightly distorted noise at times. Maybe the synths?
SSOASS, similar sound to Killers but better, quite low volume.
I can make motorbikes go fast, don’t ask me to mix a record though!
The thing about No Prayer is, if it had been put out by an up and coming metal band that was just breaking through, it probably would have been pretty highly regarded. But the thing is, this is Maiden we’re talking about. We KNOW they can do better, because we’ve heard them do better. It’s the same thing I’ve heard a lot of fans say about Metallica in regards to Load. For them, the standard is incredibly high, and for them to consciously abandon the direction that had seen them reach unprecedented levels of musical awesomeness is especially disappointing. Because, if No
Prayer was an attempt to get away from the direction they took on Seventh Son, it really doesn’t take the direction they went before that, either. It doesn’t sound anything like NOTB, Piece of Mind, or Powerslave. It obviously seems to be aiming more for the sound of the first two albums, but even then, it doesn’t sound a whole lot like them, either. It seems like they got together and said “Hey, let’s record some really grimy, underproduced garage metal!” And hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. I like a good deal of songs off No Prayer, and the dirty sound quality has a certain appeal to it. Like I said, if a band came out with that as their debut album, it would probably do really well for them. But this is Maiden we’re talking about. They’d already gone through that phase when their first album came out, and they’d moved on to bigger and better things. They’d earned the huge amounts of money required to record and produce the highest quality album possible, and they were making better music because of it. It’s a huge disappointment that Steve and Bruce let themselves get caught up in all the critical backlash against Seventh Son, because they’re honestly above that, as artists and as people (especially Bruce, who nowadays I can’t see ever giving a flying fuck what some punkass, knuckle-dragging critics have to say). Thankfully, after their dark age in the 90s, they started to get it, and realized that, when you’re the biggest metal band in the world, you should aim big every time and always be thinking forward instead of backwards. That’s how we got Brave New World, and I couldn’t be happier for it!
Good points, Andre. I think The X Factor was the point were Steve started thinking “fuck it, I’ll just do whatever I want”, after a few years of getting carried away with the media backlash against Maiden’s late 1980s.
As for No Prayer, Bruce has stated that the idea was to make an anti-Seventh Son, which speaks volumes about how he and Steve had completely changed their minds in a couple of years after first (and rightly) thinking of Seventh Son as a masterpiece. Adrian claims that the intention was to get closer to Killers, which he found completely wrong. And if they were to follow through on that aesthetic they would have had to let Martin Birch record the album in Battery Studios, as planned. The mobile unit and the rehearsal room in Steve’s barn was never going to make it.
well, we all think differently about things. I think that brave new world was a leap 20 years back in time, and both fear of the dark and no prayer are ten times better albums. But that´s just my opinion. I think that the guitarplaying has gone the wrong way since 92. A lot of one string stuff and simple melodies made in a hurry. Those complex guitar parts we heard on powerslave and up to ssoass are long gone. They have now three guitar players, so why dont use it in a proper way? The songs get longer and longer, but there is not that much more riffs in them than then the old days. A song like flash of the blade is a perfect example on creative guitarwork. Sounds a bit more fresh than the E-C-D songs steve often writes. That´s what i and many in my age remembers iron maiden for. The complexity and creativity. Something a lot of other bands didn´t have in the eighties. Now its more sluggish and grinding slowly forward, and it takes forever to reach the first chorus. Even fairly bad songs like the duellists has awesome guitarwork, which indicates that there has been some time put down in the work. Everything up to ssoass sounds like a hard working band fine tuning every single detail. npftd would have been hard in the opposite way, since its not easy to do an album with the less is more approach and make it sound good. The newer albums are still really great, but far less creative than the old ones.
The sound of maiden albums are in general really good. Even the horrible sounding somewhere in time matches with the new space age theme they had going on. Check out these isolated vocals and instruments on youtube if you want to really dive in details.
The sound of npftd matches the garage approach they tried to achieve. And everything in between. I have some minor issues i personally would have done different. The bass on pom is too high and a bit irritating, the snare on brave new world is like it would be in a different room that the rest of the drumkit with that awful sound. Listen to the song nomad and tell me if the snare is good. It ruins the whole song, but i´m sure that someone finds it as the best sounding snare ever. And some other stuff, but as said, in general over 35 years, really really good, close to perfect! But listen at the albums up to fear on a proper lp player with old loudspeakers, since a laptop wont make it justice.
I don´t know a single thing about motorbikes… 🙂
I completely agree with you about the guitar parts, Tomba. It’s been a lot better since Adrian returned, but Steve has lost his inventive quality in writing and arranging them. I think When The River Runs Deep on the new album is a good example of that. After the second chorus, the song could really have taken flight with something as great as the harmony parts in Aces High, but it just grinds to a halt with an uninventive one-note thing that seems to be taken out of the mid-90s somewhere…
But buddy, don’t go preaching about loudspeakers and people not being born in 1990 when you run these arguments. Most of us were born before that point, we remember the 80s, and we crank our metal on old-school stereo systems. 😉
Since the discussion has progressed into comparing albums over Maiden’s vast catalog, here are my top 5 Maiden studio albums and bottom 5 studio albums. Please discuss and compare.
1. Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son (epic, with a blend of metal and progressive elements, which makes it joy to listen to from beginning to end. Not a bad or boring song on it)
2. The Number of the Beast (the album that I first heard. Full on metal that spawned and influenced a new generation of faster and heavier metal bands)
3. A Matter of Life and Death (a combination of NOTB and Seventh Son, with epic songs with a hard driven edge. It feels like their heaviest album recorded with the atmosphere and themes)
4. Powerslave (just a great metal album. Some filler but the high points are fantastic)
5. Piece of Mind (great follow up to NOTB, but the production and Quest For Fire hurt it a bit. If it was recorded the same way as NOTB, it would probably be higher)
Bottom 5 (#1 being the worst):
1. Virtual XI (really like nothing about it, except the live version of The Clansman that came about)
2. No Prayer For the Dying (new direction after Seventh Son, was a bad move. It didn’t build off the previous record nor did it grab the sound and emotion from their early material)
3. The X Factor (should be re-recorded with Adrian and Bruce, because some of it is quite good, just missing those two intregal members)
4. Fear of the Dark ( some good songs, but the The Apparition and Weekend Warrior, yuck)
5. The Final Frontier (it’s really good, but as a follow up to AMOLAD, it fails, and is my least favorite of the renunion era. A very unbalanced record)
Good choices, but I’d take out AMOLAD and put it in the place of Final Frontier. Somewhere In Time can drop into the top 5.
I do like a lot of the 2000 onwards material, but cannot put any of it above any of the 1980s material.
I guess I’m just old school! Goes for my Hi-Fi too.
i never in my wildest dreams thought that everyone here were so old 🙂
Some kid once asked me if i was born in the middle ages when i talked about cassettes and record players…
I get the feeling here that not that many likes the dance of death album, which i kind of like the most of the albums after fotd. The cover to the album is just epic, in all the wrong ways. Wonder what the hell happened there since the idea was pretty good??
Never ever speak bad about quest for fire, its a killer song with bruce going higher than ever before :). the only filler on that album is the trooper!
i will not ever mention age again, ok!
I like Dance Of Death, one of my favourite reunion albums.
Really like Quest For Fire too, the cheesy lyrics never bothered me, but I was 13 when I first heard it so maybe the right age for them!
Alan, I also like Quest For Fire, but it sure is one of the tracks that seems to be divisive. 🙂
Hehe, that’s surely a rare take on Trooper, Tomba. 🙂
The DOD cover? Rod and Steve liked the proof-of-concept sketch. And decided to use it. Like you would use a demo with humming for a song on an album. And the artist demanded that they remove his name from the credits, since it was meant as a pitch, not an album cover.
I started listining to music in 1990. So, NP was the first Maiden album I bought upon its release. I like it a lot back then and after internet came out, I was really surprised that most Maiden fans don´t like this album.
IMHO, the songs are very good for the style they chose for the album. The biggest problem was the production.
After 25 years, I still enjoy listen to it. Even though, my Maiden favorite album is Somewhere In Time.
Well Bruno, I’m not sure that “most” Maiden fans don’t like it. I think that quite a few Maiden albums are more controversial than No Prayer. Speaking for myself, I think it’s OK. But decidely less great than all of their 80s records. 🙂
The two things that makes no prayer controversial is, as i see it. For the first, its timing, right after ssoass, and secondly that it does not suck big time like the x-albums. It has some really good tracks, and it splits the opinion. You cant hate it, but its different. The viritual 11 is just a joke, and a really bad joke, so no-one really cares. Therefore it is not as controversial. I was one of the few who actually paid to witness maiden on that tour, and it was no fun night. After that i gave up maiden as long blaze would be in the band. The reunion tour, just a few years later was magic. saw them in stockholm and the whole crowd went crazy. Every single one stood up the whole 2 hours, even those with seats. The last concert in friends arena it was back to sitting again, the sound in the arena was so bad that you could not even hear what they were playing. So its a bit of a rollercoaster, both with albums and the shows.
yes, the trooper is just awful. I really really hope that they do not ever play that song again. Before every show we always say. when (cause they will) they play the trooper, we can go to the bathroom and fill up our beers :). imagine the euphoria if they played judas be my guide, sun and steel or even a song like the prophecy instead. But no, it has to be the trooper. I mean, we pay for the tickets, we dont want to hear the same tracks every single tour. Or do we? Its the same as with paranoid, living after midnight, smoke on the water and all these albumfillers. radio and the bands believe that we want to hear them all the time, but we dont! Its three minutes that could be spent playing some proper track.
The lyrics on quest for fire. I had never thought about them being cheesy until internet came along and ruined everything since it was my favourite song on pom.. Some things just go by without thinking of it. The lyrics have always held high standard compared to some other bands. The only song i can come up with from the golden era with lousy lyrics is invaders. And perhaps a bit much airplanes for my taste, but i can live with that.
I also paid to see Maiden on the Blaze tours. I enjoyed the club gig I saw in 1995, but the Virtual XI show in 1998 was depressing. And since I remember 1998 so well I never get worked up about the production on Maiden’s 2000s records. Been to rock bottom. Nothing scares me. 😉
I saw the reunion show in Stockholm, and I completely agree with you – the vibe was incredible. The crowd’s roar when Bruce ran onto the stage is the most spontaneously joyous sound I’ve ever heard a crowd make. When it comes to Friends Arena, Maiden Revelations were one of the sites that criticised the sound. But our beef has been with the new sound engineer. We’ve had below-par sound on way too many occasions since Doug Hall was let go.
I’ll always stay for The Trooper, and refill my beer when they do Fear Of The Dark. But as much as I’m sick of hearing that song, the crowd reaction when they play it leaves no doubt – the audience demands it! Pure and simple. And there was audience outrage when they dropped Fear in 2005, just as there was outrage when they dropped Trooper in 2006. Maiden get the message, the audience votes with their cheers. Whether I personally agree or not.
I would agree regarding Doug Hall leaving. The Final Frontier gig I saw was one of my all time favourites but when I saw them on the Maiden England tour I was very disappointed in the sound quality. It could be down to the venue differences (Birmingham NIA v O2) ie smallish v massive? Doubt it though.
I hope they nail the sound on this tour.
For the record, happy to drop The Trooper and FOTD.
It seems to me that the drop in sound quality must surely be due to the person in charge, not the venues. And that same person is almost certainly doing the sound for the upcoming tour.
Friends arena has a really bad sound. every act have had the same problems, more or less. So if they come to sweden, the tele2 arena would be far better. Yes, its amazing to see 70.000 (or somewhere around that) fans in the same building, but not with that sound. I wonder what the band thought when they read the reviews and it was just about the sound and people wanting back money for the tickets. It was a big night for maiden and then it just got wrong in the worst kind of way.. really sad. But it do not explain why sabaton had really good sound (compared to maiden) the same night. Your theory about the new guy is really plausible. But even that, stay away from friends arena!
Talking about shows. I saw Robbie Williams stage and was blown away by the massive size of that thing. Ivé always thought that metal bands had the most outrageous stages, but this one really takes the prize. I am no expert on stages, the only really big production ivé ever seen is metallicas some 5-6 tours, and they seem to be about even with maiden, though using more pyro. The maiden england stage was a bit lame i think, and the best one i have seen would be dance of death, which was pretty unmaidenish in some way? The thing that really stood out that time was the amazing floor!
i wonder where this thread will end 🙂
Do Maiden even read the reviews though? You’d hope so, especially considering how much of an emphasis is put on the fan’s experience, but they’re now in the position where it almost doesn’t matter any longer. If I don’t go to the next gig because the last one was poor, then there will be 10/100/1000 people who’ll buy the ticket instead.
But anyway, the reason I made a point about the venue size is because I saw AC/DC at Wembley stadium a couple of months ago and the sound was crap, a lot of echoes and distortion, however, my feeling with Maiden at the O2 was that it wasn’t caused by the venue.
Fingers crossed for this tour.
Of course they or someone in the crew reads. But if they get any smarter of it, i don´t know? This tour will be just like any other tour. Playing some five tracks from the new album, the classics and in the best of times perhaps one song we would not have guessed. Thats just fine, but with internet and the same setlist the whole tour there will be no suprises left for us if we dont see the very first show. That´s the worst part with playing the same set every night. Then between the albums they now reprise old tours which is just absurd if you think about it. Its a big money making machine, and they are playing it safer than safe. The only ones who suffers are the true fans really. The shows have gone from the best night of your life to just a nice two hours of nostalgia with a few new songs. Its still fun, but you wont get suprised or exited anymore. And it should not be like that at an Iron maiden concert.
Of course there is always people who is defending this. But i think they are getting crushed by metallica when it comes to the music and the variation at the shows. if we pay 110 dollars for a show, i think they should take a little time and actually listen what we, the fans want. And there can not be one single person who thinks playing exactly the same set night after night is a brilliant idea? I bet no one in the band exept steve finds that intresting and fun. Whats the point going touring if its not fun? Is it only about money?
Yes i´m bitter. But i think i have some good reasons to be it when not even my friends who are die hard maiden fans for decades shows up at concerts anymore because of this.
Sorry Tomba, but I think you’re committing a (possibly bitterness-induced) fault of argument here. On the one hand you’re complaining that you don’t get enough rare songs, and on the other you’re complaining that they’re doing the History tours. “The only ones who suffers (sic) are the true fans really.”…? Well, sorry you had to suffer through Maiden digging up rare tracks like Rime Of The Ancient Mariner and Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son.
And personally I couldn’t give a shit whether Metallica play The Day That Never Comes this gig or The Memory Remains that gig. When they play Blackened it might be because they have dropped Battery. If Maiden didn’t play The Prisoner when I saw them last time, because they were playing Heaven Can Wait instead, I’d be pissed off. I think Maiden fans have had pretty close to the best of all worlds the past 15 years, new albums at a rapid clip and History tours in addition. 🙂
@Christer: wise words my friend. I wholeheartedly agree with you.
Well i found pretty exact stats on those two songs. They have preformed those songs a total of 625 times combined. And featured on several videos and live lp´s. The only song with more plays from powerslave is 2 minutes to midnight, and the three songs from ssoass they played more often live is evil that men do, moonchild and the clairvoyant. Which may be a bit of a suprise when you concider aces high beeing a more “rare” track than mariner.. i know i´m beeing anal and i get your point. Mariner is for the books on place nr 19 of the most often played live tracks.. 🙂
Metallica has played both blackened and battery at the same gig a lot of times. Why play only one “epic” track per gig or tour (i do not count hallowed as a epic, but a “must play” here)? Why don´t open with ssoass and close with rime or to tame a land. Variation, mix it up sometimes. It always comes to one or tops two “rare” tracks per tour. And with rare tracks i would like to hear is songs like sun and steel, judas be my guide, como estais amigos, prophecy, the fallen angel (only played nine times ever if the info is correct) or whatever.
The mariner on ullevi must be one of my best maiden memories of all time, so i do not complain about that. But i would not cry if they would skip say wrathchild which they have preformed 1174 times, or sanctuary (1271 times). Those two tracks have been played every single day for over six years in a row.. The trooper is not my cup of tea, and you don´t want to hear fear of the dark, but those two tracks are still in another league than wrathcild and sanctuary..
Another one for the books. Sign of the cross is the third most played song post 1988 with 297, on second place we have afraid to shoot.. with 401. Fear of the dark tops with 892 plays. Number one all time is of course Iron Maiden with 2058 times and that bloody trooper is fourth with 1364..
No, i don´t have any kind of point with anything of this. But its really interesting information. Now i know that the older tracks of course has more plays since they have been around a bit longer and the powerslave tour was massive. But if you skip the “must be on almost every tour” tracks, and find the first not evergreen classic track, then it would be the evil that men do on 11th place with 785 plays. That is the track we all have to complain about, since statistics don´t lie 🙂
Number cruncher, you! Great! 🙂
Re: Blackened, I wrote “it might be because they have dropped Battery”. Point stands, Metallica often drop a tune for a different tune. But just for about 1/3 of their set, while always playing the standards people demand. In fact, when they let people vote for the setlist, we got the most boring sets of their recent career. There’s every reason to believe that the same thing would happen if Maiden let people vote. 😀
And it’s not that I don’t want rare songs. I’ve been battered on the official forum because I thought the Maiden England set was too safe. On the other hand, I’ve also been battered for thinking they would play something like The Prisoner, which they actually did. And I’ve been battered for arguing that Maiden’s 1999-2010 period saw a high number of rare songs being performed, with a huge amount of variation between tours.
So I realize there is no way people will agree on every detail, but by and large Maiden have delivered beyond what people had a right to expect back in 1998. At least that’s what I think.
And when it comes to the set being the same throughout a tour, that might have a lot to do with Bruce as well. He’s performing something extreme, and I honestly don’t think he wants to mix it up and see how it goes. He wants to nail a set.
A tour where they played one song from each album would be great. Here’s how my wish list would look like, taking into account songs they never play or haven’t in quite some time.
Hallowed Be Thy Name
Alexander The Great
Run Silent Run Deep
Be Quick or Be Dead
Sign of the Cross
The Fallen Angel
Lord of Light
Mother of Mercy
The Book of Souls
Much more likely you would get
The Number Of The Beast
2 Minutes To Midnight
The Evil That Men Do
Bring Your Daughter…To The Slaughter
Fear Of The Dark
Lord Of The Flies
The Wicker Man
Dance Of Death
These Colours Don’t Run
Speed Of Light
This thread has been a really cool read. I just wanted to add my own opinion and story from No Prayer for the Dying’s release.
I had been a fan since 1986, just after Somewhere in Time, so Seventh Son was my first “new” album, No prayer my second. I loved Seventh Son, but in the meantime I had heard Appetite for Destruction, and Guns n’ Roses would probably have been my favourite band in 1990 if you had asked.
Now, I remember seeing No Prayer in the shops and my immediate reaction was of shock. I flipped over the LP and on the back there was no Adrian, and he had been replaced by some guy with permed hair!! I also remember scanning the song titles and thinking “Public Enema” and “Bring your Daughter” sounded pretty cheesy titles for Maiden.
I finally received the album as a Christmas gift that year, and I have most fond memories of listening to the album. In fact, I often dig the album out to listen to around winter time for that reason. So talking from the heart there is something special for me about this album. I can easily sit through and listen to the entire album in a sitting, as the songs and the album are not too long, and it is probably amongst my most played Maiden albums for those reasons.
With my head, I can see that there are some not great things about the album. Maybe it was the Holy Smoke video, those bad song titles, but I always thought that the band lost some mystique, and became a bit too goofy at this point (for whatever reason). There was something a bit lazy and “lowest common denominator” about the topic of the songs – Tailgunner was another song about planes, televangelism was a topic that had been tackled by Ozzy and too many other artists, and it’s never that great when Maiden sing about sex or girls like on Hooks In You or Bring Your Daughter. They just weren’t that sort of band, to me. Certainly I wonder what else Adrian would’ve been able to bring to the table in terms of songs.
I once read that the Run Silent lyrics had been left over from Bruce’s work around Somewhere In Time. I have this pet theory (with no other evidence!) that other material may have been left-overs from the last few years. Certainly, Holy Smoke would’ve been a more relevant song topic a few years earlier. And any contemporary topics would’ve been shelved for the Seventh Son concept. The writing and recording also happened more quickly than they had planned. Just a theory of mine.
Great story, thanks for sharing! 🙂
And you’re absolutely right that the writing and recording happened more quickly than planned. A lot more quickly really. Which is what pushed Adrian out. Being a bit of a Buddhist, I tend to think that this was the way it had to happen, but it sure wasn’t originally designed to go that way. 🙂
i really hope that after this tour there will be a fear of the prayer or no prayer for the dark tour with only quality material 🙂
I think live versions with a three guitar line up would be good. Tailgunner, Run Silent Run Deep, Fates Warning, Be Quick or Be Dead, Judas Be My Guide, along with staples such as Fear of the Dark would be cool. Probably wouldn’t get Fates Warning of Judas, though. More likely Bring Your Daughter and Wasting Love.
All tha songs you mentioned would be gold! Fates warning and judas are songs to die for! But yes, more likely to hear the “classics” from those two albums
Personally I would enjoy all of that. But first of all, we know that Maiden never perform a track that was not performed on the original album tour. So you can easily discount several of those tunes.
People never give up on that No Prayer/Fear thing! 🙂 I can’t say anything but what I always do: It would be a complete suicide in commercial terms, and thus it will never happen.
I think a lot of you are confusing the symptoms with the cause. Yes, No Prayer for the Dying may have had substandard production values, a misguided stylistic direction, and poor songwriting, but the real reason No Prayer for the Dying is a weak album, is explained by Adrian’s departure and Janick’s arrival. First, the chemistry wasn’t quite there, as it really takes time for a band to learn how to best exploit each other’s strengths and minimize the weaknesses. Second, Janick’s arrival disturbed the established dynamics within the band, with not enough time to adjust. And lastly, his interplay with Dave was much weaker at that point, and didn’t reach the desired level of fluidity until X-factor, but especially Virtual XI. No Prayer for the Dying is also where the seeds for the demise of Steve Harris’s creative powers were sown, and it started with he title track and the by now patented Janick Gers melodies played around the seventh, eight, ninth, and tenth frets on the guitar in E Minor. This would then become a rising, and progressively annoying trend, with similar melodies in songs such as Afraid to Shoot Strangers, Fear of the Dark, Sign of the Cross, Judgement of the Heaven, The Unbeliever, The Clansman, When Two Worlds Collide, No More Lies, Dance of Death, and several others. Since No Prayer for the Dying, it took the band eight albums until they finally figured out how to take advantage of the new approach, with the evolution finally complete on the fine-tuned The Book of Souls.
In addition to the previously mentioned trend, Janick’s influence on the songwriting added three more weak spots. First, Janick’s propensity for playing the vocal lines from choruses in the upper register of his guitar. Maybe the best (or worst, should I say) example of that is his guitar melody in the chorus of Ghost of Navigator. Although playing melodies in that part of the guitar neck makes notes sound fuller, it also compounds intonation issues due to the simple nature of guitars being the imperfect instruments that they are. Second, his propensity to write songs that rely on sheer aggressiveness more than on intrinsic quality. As an example, after the typical quite intro, Face in the Sand starts off with a bang: heavy palm muted guitar riffs with alternate picking on one string, complete with the introduction of the double bass drum from Nicko for added heft. After the first verse-chorus routine, however, the song just seems to lose steam and gradually declines from there. Two other examples are Ghost of Navigator and The Talisman. Lastly, Janick’s propensity for writing harmonies over chorus vocal lines. Prominent examples include Montségur, The Legacy, The Alchemist, and The Book of Souls. It wasn’t until The Book of Souls that the band either learned to eliminate some of these inefficiencies, or to use them effectively to further a song’s potential. Despite that, if Maiden continue releasing new records, the damage is done, and Janick’s work is likely destined to be more of the same hit and miss.
Lastly, though somewhat off topic, I want to use the opportunity to bring up The Alchemist as the prime example of Janick’s weakness in writing good harmonies. The harmony in the beginning of the song is not only weak, but rather sounds like a Maiden parody, or some kind of Bollywood version of old-school Maiden from the DiAnno era. In my humble opinion, the song is very embarrassing and completely out of place in an otherwise at least respectable effort.
I don’t think I’m confusing symptoms and causes. Adrian left the band because of the aesthetic choices that Bruce and Steve championed. I sure think he’s a better guitar player than Janick, but at the same time I think Jan sounds pretty good on No Prayer. Jan obviously had no way of influencing anything in terms of production or songwriting, since they started recording the day after his audition (or resumed … the first few tracks had been recorded with Adrian) and it was all set to be recorded on an ancient mobile truck in a rehearsal room in a barn.
Jan co-wrote Bring Your Daughter (which he never got a credit for) and played the hissing guitars that Steve and Bruce wanted at the time, because they thought it would regain their cool. Not much else he brought to it, lest we forget his positive attitude and diplomatic qualities that serve Maiden well to this day.
I can’t see how No Prayer would have been significantly better if Adrian had stayed, beyond some better guitar playing. First of all, it’s a hypothetical (and like I said, I think his guitar playing is way beyond Janick), but secondly it was already clear that Maiden were not going to make the kind of Maiden album that Adrian wanted to make. They wanted to distance themselves from Somewhere In Time and Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son. So Adrian left.
Cause and effect. 🙂
But I absolutely agree that losing Adrian was a major problem for Maiden. Even Steve Harris admitted it later and brought him back, but he sold the notion at the time that Maiden were so much better without Adrian because Adrian didn’t want to make heavy music. Big old lie or at least an indication of Steve’s single-mindedness in making Maiden cool for the thrash kids.
But for the discussion of No Prayer in isolation, it was already clear that Adrian, in his own words, would not get to contribute what he wanted to this Maiden album. So I completely agree with your statement that this marks the time when Steve took over.
What I meant is that No Prayer for the Dying gets blamed too much for its perceived subpar production quality, and too little for its subpar songwriting, which was the unfortunate byproduct of a decision to “update” the band’s musical style, and the introduction of Janick as a replacement for Adrian.
I think that the production “issues” on this record are being overstated, as are the sonic qualities of some of Maiden’s other albums. To see my point, let me provide some context by offering my view on the sound quality of each of Maiden’s albums.
Iron Maiden: Too much treble on the guitars, but this problem could have been the sign of the times (punk), and does give the recording an incredible edge, which may have been just what was needed at the time.
Killers: Much warmer and refined. DiAnno’s voice is subtly lowered in the mix, which gives the record a dreamy and intimate sound quality, which pairs well with the concert photos in the booklet.
Number of the Beast: Since there’s still quite a bit of treble in the guitar sound, the guitars sound almost metallic here. The high frequencies help lift the sound and the many palm-muted parts, giving the impression that the record is heavier than it actually is. This may explain why, to this day, people still praise the sound of the record and describe it as very heavy.
Peace of Mind: Very raw guitars, with lots of mids in the EQ, which gives them a classic and primitive sound at the same time, a perfect fit for the classic script on the cover and the medieval themed booklet design.
Powerslave: Very tight overall, almost compressed sounding, which may emphasize the very technical nature of the instrumentation on the record.
Somewhere in Time: Instruments are slightly muddy and seem to bleed into each other. Overall, the record sounds warm and bluesy, perfect for the quiet passages in “Sea of Madness” and the positive, happy vibe of the cartoonish cover art, plus this thing was recorded in the Bahamas, so it would have to sound warm, no?
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son: Perfect in every aspect. All instruments have bite, yet sound brilliant at the same time—a feat only the great Martin Birch could achieve. The drums and vocals are towering over the rest of the instruments, lending the recording a brilliance, coldness, and clarity that is the perfect foil for the expansive scene of the cover art, which comes complete with water ripples (clarity), ice bergs (coldness), and hovering lights (brilliance).
No Prayer for the Dying: Again, a very open and clear—not thin—mix. The instruments sound very spread out from each other in the mix, which pairs nicely with the mystical and moody intros on “Fates Warning,” “Running Silent Running Deep,” and “Mother Russia,” for example. There’s still a certain mystique all over this record, possibly a remnant of the Seventh Son aesthetic.
Fear of the Dark: Lots of bass and thumping guitars. Very dense, but not boomy sounding. Some of Dave’s and Janick’s fastest fretboard wizardry ever, nicely accentuated with a good deal of delay on the guitar solos.
X-Factor: Janick’s taste in simplicity prevails here, with partner-in-crime Steve handling the technical side of the execution. Every instrument, particularly the guitars, sounds very primal and primitive here. The dry guitar sound was recorded using old-school combos, maybe with a small amount of reverb. The primitive sound is complemented with the band logo carved in stone. One of my favorite guitar sounds ever. As much as I liked the Seventh Son sound, I think Janick’s penchant for simplicity may have helped the band survive the ’90s, negotiate the ’00s, and triumph in the ’10s with the wonderful sound on The Book of Souls.
Virtual XI: Maiden’s exploration of mid-rangey sounds continues here and reaches extreme proportions. The first time I heard Futureal, I thought the guitars sounded horrible. Overall, a very warm sounding record with an equally warm cover art, courtesy of Melvyn Grant, giving us a splash of saturated reds.
Brave New World: Sound-wise, possibly my least favorite record. The guitars sound way too brilliant and sterile, and all the instruments sound very distant and isolated from each other. It just doesn’t sound like Maiden.
Dance of Death: A partial return to form, so to speak. I read somewhere that the album was recorded using analog gear, but the guitars sound very synthetic and digital, almost clipped. Everything sounds very harsh and lacks dynamics, resulting in a very unpleasant and fatiguing listening experience.
A Matter of Life and Death: Modern but pensive. This record shows further improvement and in many ways provides the template that would later be perfected on The Book of Souls. In some ways, the production is reminiscent of the X-Factor, but somewhat more refined.
Final Frontier: If A Matter of Life and Death is Bruce Dickinson’s X-Factor (I call it X-Factor 2.0), then Final Frontier is his Virtual XI. A much warmer recording, with Melvyn Grant providing the visual counterpart, which abounds in deep, saturated blues, and even some infernal reds, which neatly tie the work to the Virtual XI artwork. No Prayer for the Dying often gets the credit for its weak production values, but even if that were true, that’s nothing compared to the volume fade-in and -out issues on “Starblind.” A brilliant song, almost entirely ruined for the posterity.
The Book of Souls: Finally, Janick’s appreciation of a simple approach to sound is finally paying big dividends. The guitars on the record sound textured and lively—a real treat. Overall, the production is simple and unpretentious, showing the band exactly as it is. I still don’t think it can rival the sonic quality of Seventh Son, but at the same time, I fully appreciate the fact that, after almost 40 years of existence and heavy metal dominance, Maiden are operating on an entirely different plane here than the rest of us mortals, as they strive to show their most vulnerable and genuine side. That kind of intellectual and artistic zeal is something that just has to be appreciated in its own right.
I know this is a bit of an indirect way of defending the production on No Prayer for the Dying, but I hope that if you guys have read my post this far, you will understand my reasons for doing so.
Essay-length posting! Epic! 🙂
Speaking only for myself, obviously, I have never thought that the production of No Prayer is a bigger problem than sub-par songwriting. In my review of the album, my conclusion is precisely that the drop in songwriting quality and the loss of Smith are major problems, even though I also criticise the production. No reason to believe it wouldn’t have sounded a little better with Adrian playing.
At the same time it’s hard to argue that No Prayer would NOT have sounded better if Martin Birch had been allowed to record it at Battery as planned. He certainly thought it would be better, like he thought it would be better to record Piece Of Mind in LA or NY. Of course, we can not know for sure in either case, but Birch tends to know what he’s talking about.
The sound “quality” you are talking about are to 90% mixing issues, and your opinions of what sounds good. If no prayer, or ssoass sounded exactly how they wanted it to sound, well, then its perfect. If you record pure noise with high tech stuff and then play it exactly as it sounded, it´s still great quality.Some low budget black metal albums may have bad quality, but never a maiden album recorded mostly on state of the art stuff over months.
I agree very much with the most of what you write about the sound of the mixes, exept pom which sounds really annoying with a bassguitar louder than the guitars. I find the post 2000 albums sounding really bad. The drums are a bit all over the place with a snare mixed like its in another room than the rest of the kit. The plug used to the snare is like the first one on the pro-tools list, and they could have done a better effort on that one. The pure sound on fear of the dark sounds more fresh and modern than every album since that. And picking up Kevin the caveman was a really bad choise. They try to find a “modern 80ies sound” which is just strange since bruces accident of birth sound better and more old maiden than maidens albums. That would have been the sound for them, and roy Z would have been the man. He has worked miracles with bruce, helloween and halford. All eighties metalbands which roy gave really great, fresh sound without sounding “different”.
Better sharper production would very much give maiden a little more edge to the riffs, which deserves more space than the poor onestring melodies they seem to prefer for some reason unknown to us all??. A nice clean old snaredrum and less “clicky” bassdrum would help too. Adrian is brilliant with coming up theese punchy aggressive riffs that stinks maiden, but the whole point gets lost when a lousy guitar melody takes up all the space. That happens when all three has to play. What about janick? ööh, let him put a melody over the riffs to fill it up… Think 2 minutes to midnight, Riffs, that´s maiden!
As much as I dislike Fear of the Dark as a Maiden album—it’s a great album, but not a great Iron Maiden album—I do agree with you that its production values are flawless and, as is usually the case with Martin Birch, serve to further the particular artistic vision the band had at the time for that album.
Although I also agree with you about Kevin Shirley, I believe we should cut him some slack for having the difficult job of recording and mixing a band with three guitars. A look at Maiden’s recorded postreunion live performances, which often deserve to be labeled “racket” rather than heavy music for the first time in their careers, reveals just how much noise there is to separate in the studio. Though having three guitars did benefit the band a lot after they learned how to properly deal with the new dynamic, the fact still remains that recording three distorted guitars, where each is meant to contribute to the whole as well as be heard as a solo instrument, is arguably a very difficult job no matter who’s behind the mixing desk.
With Roy Z in charge, it is likely that all the postreunion albums might have sounded a bit more like The Book of Souls, which I find sounds a lot like a Bruce Dickinson solo album with Adrian Smith. This is why I personally see the postreunion albums as an evolution, with Brave New World sounding good but not right for Maiden, and each subsequent album—save for Final Frontier, which is a bit of a mixed bag—being an incremental step toward the goal, The Book of Souls. Ever since the reunion, fans have been wanting an album in the vein of Accident of Birth or Chemical Wedding, and with The Book of Souls they finally got as close to getting their wish as possible. With Roy Z it would have been a case of more instant gratification, whereas with Kevin Shirley it was a long, but organic progression from an album, Brave New World, that sounded like it was trying to be new, fresh, and different without taking into account the band’s core strengths, to an album, The Book of Souls, that delivers the new and fresh, with the best habits that the band have cultivated throughout the Blaze Bayley and the postreunion eras.
I agree that by having three guitars, there is some waste (for once I won’t scapegoat Janick), but I also contend that much of the waste is inevitable, and the only way to minimize it, is by introducing more of the layered acoustic sections and more complex (i.e., progressive) song structures that have been a hallmark of Maiden’s postreunion work.
Lastly, I get what you’re saying about the bass volume on Piece of Mind, but imagine how it would have sounded, had the bass volume been turned down some. With the guitar sound pretty much dominated by mids, this already pretty unmelodic and unaccessible album would have been still more abrasive sounding.
To mix three guitartracks is not really an issue. Most songs have at least 10-15 tracks minimum with overdubs leads and stuff. They claim its as close “live” as you get, but i highly doubt it, since it makes no sense at all doing it that way? They play all together, then keep the drumtrack (since steve claims they don´t use a clicktrack), fixes it and start building on it with other instruments. I would believe that in f.i adrians tracks, he plays most of the rythmguitars and overdubs himself and the other helping with leads, melodies and harmonies. It´s extremely hard to duplicate some others rythmguitar track to very perfection. Every stroke with the pick has to be exactly the same or it sounds untight. So its a lot faster and better to do it yourself. Live these things don´t matter at all since its a blur anyway. The vocals is often sung line by line or even word by word sometimes. Then you try out tons of stuff which wont make the album and other things that you wont hear in the mix. Just listen to the last chorus of mother of mercy and you hear the different takes and cuts on that demanding part to sing. Which of course is totally fine. But its no one take and move on stuff..
They make it sound like its just a few fun days in the studio and then its done almost live with just a few overdubs. But how come then that they have these endless arguments over tempos and details between nicko and steve? And why a fast album only takes three months to record? Of course they try their absolute best to make it just perfect in their opinion, and what would it be worth if they wouldn´t do that? Even we in our band take for ages in the studio to record a four track demo, so why would a band like maiden record a double album in a few weeks? Makes absolutely no sense at all? The new technology allows so much more, but it do not always speed things up since the number of overdubs will increase. A standard metal song (demo) uses like 50 channels, so how many would you have in a song like empire of the clouds? Only nickos drums takes like 50 channels 🙂
The melodies on top of the riffs i cannot explain, i just think that someone really thinks that they sounds nice? I would like to hear the riffs a lot more and sharper and skip or tone down the one string stuff a lot. But that´s me..
I agree that they tend to talk up the “live” thing as a bit of a PR exercise. In the new FC mag they are also ridiculously intent on stating and restating how cool it is that the FC isn’t more modern and digital. It’s the way Maiden have become. They even tried to defeat the internet this summer, when the release date for ‘Speed Of Light’ leaked. They see this whole old-school live band thing as their identity. And I suppose it is.
As a rule, Maiden spend about 8 weeks recording their albums, and then you have to add weeks of writing before that and mixing and other stuff after that. Albums like Beast and Mind were recorded quicker than the Shirley records. Even Seventh Son took only about 8 weeks to record, but of course The Book Of Souls is twice as long… I just don’t think the time it takes is always the reason for the production choices being made. I simply think that Steve (most of all) dictates this in large part. He wants Maiden to sound like they have done ever since he took charge. He wouldn’t allow a producer to mess much with that, only to the extent of keeping Adrian and Bruce happy enough to go along with it.
And of course, we all have different opinions of which sound good and which don’t, that’s an inescapable fact.
BTW: One instance of click-track on the new album! Nicko did ‘The Man Of Sorrows’ to a click, because they wanted to keep some of Dave’s guitars from his original drum machine demo. 🙂
At least to me, Maiden’s claim that they record live in the studio, sounds plausible. In the age of Garageband and Pro Tools, it is no longer necessary to rerecord the same track multiple times to make it sound bigger—bands just duplicate the track as many times as they’d like with a few clicks of a mouse.
Adrian has stated in an interview that they first record the basic structure of a song live, and come back later to add solos and other little embellishments. There is evidence to support this claim on When the River Runs Deep, where it appears that Nicko inadvertently sped up the tempo in the bridge, and I suspect there are also some minor irregularities on The Great Unknown, but it’s harder to tell in that case. As for the drums, I doubt there are more than ten tracks maximum, one for each microphone.
But, back to No Prayer for the Dying. There’s no doubt that the album could have sounded bigger. However, bigger would have been necessarily better, but just bigger. Taken for what it is, and not for what it could have been, the album’s production is still very, very clean. The guitars sound warm, round, and spacious, and it suits the album in a very charming way, as is best evidenced on the eerie intro to Fates Warning. So, Christer and I do actually agree that if No Prayer for the Dying is to be blamed for anything, it’s mostly for the songwriting quality, which, though still on a high level, doesn’t showcase what Maiden are truly capable of.
My point about the live thing is just that they’re overselling it. No doubt they record as they say, but it seems obvious to me that they push the point really hard because they see it as a selling point. Particularly this time, because they rehearsed in the recording studio and not a rehearsal studio.
“Wrote the album in the studio” is an exaggeration in the PR material, since tracks like ‘If Eternity Should Fail’, ‘The Red And The Black’ as well as the Bruce/Adrian songs were written before the band went to Paris. But they certainly wrote some stuff on the spot, which they have previously done in the rehearsal studio. Now they rehearsed in the recording studio and therefore recorded tracks earlier than usual.
Come to think of it, they have written songs in the recording studio before. ‘Rime Of The Ancient Mariner’ was barely finished in time to get it recorded, and two tracks on Somewhere In Time were written and/or rehearsed after the band got to the recording studio, according to Dave back in 1986.
In fact, according to Steve in the new FC mag, ‘The Book Of Souls’ was at least partially written as far back as the previous album, which is just one example that the new album didn’t start at zero when they got to Paris last year. 😉
The argument about Shirley and Roy Z bores me to sleep. Sorry, no offense intended. But anyone who thinks Steve Harris was ever going to let Roy Z (or anyone) come in and make Maiden sound different from how Steve wants them to sound … Well, that’s a parallel universe in which Steve Harris is a completely different person. 😉
that is why they´re still garagebands, they duplicate… it sounds shit, or exactly the same.
ten tracks, have you seen his drums?
There’s something we might be overlooking.
In the mid-80s Maiden started recording abroad, in a Bahamas studio that Martin Birch didn’t think was the best suited for the task, in order to save money through staying out of the UK and working in a tax haven.
In the early 90s, Maiden scaled down their stage productions, quite likely because they did nowhere near the business they had done in the 80s and they had taken a financial hit at the end of the 80s. At least that’s what Andy Taylor seems to imply, and the steep drop in the US with Seventh Son must surely have hurt financially.
Throughout the 90s they stuck to recording in Steve’s own studio, without hiring a producer to be in charge, and I guess a top producer in a top studio would certainly have cost more money than the Steve situation did.
The reason for not using pyro on every tour can reasonably be seen as a cost-saving measure. The same can be said for numerous other things that sometimes irritate fans.
It might be infered that at least part of the reason why Maiden always spend about 8 weeks in the recording studio with a producer is in fact money. The longest production in the 80s was Somewhere In Time, which Steve has called going “a little crazy”. The long productions of the mid-90s were done in Steve’s studio with Steve as producer. I would not find it hard to believe that these are also financial restrictions imposed by management. (Not the Steve part! Rod has claimed he was not happy about Steve taking on that role! But maybe the studio situation?)
In 1990 they would also have saved loads of cash by recording on the Rolling Stone mobile for about four weeks or something in Steve’s barn, instead of doing the planned 8 or something weeks at Battery Studios.
Way back in the mid/late 90s the band I was in at school did a cover of Holy Smoke.
If you think the original is underwhelming then you ain’t heard nothing yet… I enjoyed playing it though, most of our songs were more in the oasis mould of just playing chords the whole time, so having a couple of riffs to play was a great interlude for me (especially as I was designated the rhythm guitarist and very rarely got a solo).
We did this one gig in a church, and when it came to time to play Holy Smoke we completely bollocksed it up. Drummer counted in, to I started playing the intro riff, but the other guitarist and bassist were on another planet and didn’t start playing. We just about got it together by the time the verse came round. I’ve often wondered if there was more than just rank incompetence behind us making a mess of Holy Smoke in a church…
Haha, that’s a funny story. Actually, Holy Smoke is a fun track to play, I agree. However, there is often a difference between what is fun to play and what is fun to listen to.
We did a much better version of Remember Tomorrow a while later (after a lineup change resulting in a new bassist, singer and a 3 guitar lineup – before IM tried it, we also had a go at a couple of VXI tracks), and that is brilliant fun to play. Pretty easy too, since we were good at it.
NPFTD is exactly were IM took a deep dive into sheer mediocrity and never made it back to the surface. I still wonder how and why Smallwood approved of this record even being released as absolutely everything about it sounds and look cheap. Just remember the album was released a few days after Megadeth’s RIP and how old and tired Maiden sounded compared to it. Funny is how history will repeat itself two years later when Countdown To Extinction was released around the same time and made FOTD sound absolutely out of context.