Christer Reviews: Fear Of The Dark (1992)

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After entering the 1990s with the not quite impressive No Prayer For The Dying, there is no denying the downturn in Iron Maiden’s fortunes and qualities with 1992’s Fear Of The Dark album.

Fear Of The Dark
Produced by Martin Birch and Steve Harris
Released 11 May 1992

2017 marks the 25th anniversary of the point in Maiden history when audiences started singing “o-o-hohooo, o-o-hohooo etc” as the quiet intro to the band’s most popular title track (Spotify rates it so, anyway) unfolded on stage. Fear Of The Dark has aged, but has it aged well?

The band presents us with an occassion for reappraisal by releasing their 1990s records on 180g vinyl for the first time.

It was certainly a challenging time for Maiden. Their first record of the new decade, No Prayer For The Dying (1990), had seen a steep decline in sales and concert attendance. A shift toward a less progressive and sophisticated style than their late 1980s output was a conscious effort to fit the zeitgeist, but it did not translate to sales.

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The early 1990s line-up of Iron Maiden, trying to distance themselves from the 1980s. Left to right: Dave Murray, Steve Harris, Bruce Dickinson, Nicko McBrain, Janick Gers.

The 1990 album that saw the departure of guitarist Adrian Smith and the arrival of Janick Gers was also quite easily the poorest Maiden LP to that point, offering a primitive production and nothing more than an average selection of new songs.

Click here for our investigation of the No Prayer For The Dying period that saw Adrian leave the band and Janick join in his place!

Iron Maiden, the flag bearers of the NWOBHM, now found themselves in the category of yesterday’s news. After turning the world of hard rock upside down and claiming the metal crown in their glorious 1980s, Maiden themselves became the victims of change at the dawn of the 1990s. In the age of grunge, most bands of the 80s were commercially dead in the water. It is something of a paradox that Maiden delivered one of their highest charters at that exact point in time…

There are probably two tracks in particular that are responsible for this distinction: The aggressive opener and lead single Be Quick Or Be Dead, and the crowd-pleaser Fear Of The Dark. With their high profile as Monsters Of Rock headliners in the summer of 1992, Maiden kept abreast of the musical changes that were sure to eventually ruin their European popularity. America had long since bid them farewell, and the North American leg of the tour was the shortest and least successful in the band’s history to that point.

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Iron Maiden faces two major challenges in 1992: The coming of grunge and the loss of their own musical inventiveness.

Musically, Fear Of The Dark is Maiden’s most confused album ever. Bassist and main composer Steve Harris delivers sub-par AC/DC with second single From Here To Eternity, while singer Bruce Dickinson’s writing partnership with Gers yields underwhelming stuff like the Led Zeppelin-pastiche Fear Is The Key.

Despite the effort to branch out of a niche, these songs are among the worst Maiden have ever recorded. Indeed, the best moment on the record is one that is decidedly Maiden in style: Harris’ beautiful war epic, Afraid To Shoot Strangers.

Another song worthy of the canon, if not spectacular, is Judas Be My Guide, which made our list of the top 10 deep Maiden cuts.  Then again, there is downright terrible material here, like The Apparition and Weekend Warrior. As well as bland and uninteresting middle-of-the-road efforts, including Wasting Love (the first Maiden ballad since Paul Di’Anno’s time!) and the shuffle rocker Chains Of Misery.

The album also signals an attempt to make the band’s image and lyrics a little more current and threatening, possibly as a response to the darker aesthetic that the grunge movement ushered in. Thus Melvyn Grant replaces illustrator Derek Riggs, turning in a very good cover illustration, while the lyrics ponder political and social issues.

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For the first time in Maiden history artist Derek Riggs was dropped. Band and management favored the sketches of Melvyn Grant and commisioned this artwork for the album cover.

On the one hand it’s possible to see the album as a brave attempt to modernize Maiden’s sound. Dickinson in particular would soon be exploring very different musical avenues and find that he couldn’t stay in the band. On the other hand Fear Of The Dark can be seen as a desperate attempt to modernize Maiden’s sound that simply takes the band away from their strengths.

At the time of the album’s release many critics were vocal in their opinion that Maiden was a dinosaur and should change with the times. But in retrospect it can be argued that such an attempt was actually made in 1992 and that it ultimately proved to be a wrong turn for the band.

However that may be, Fear Of The Dark remains an interesting subject of discussion about Iron Maiden. Some love this album, and some don’t.

Click here for an in-depth look at the Fear Of The Dark era and how it lead to singer Dickinson packing his bags and leaving!

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Dickinson fronting Maiden, as they toured what seemed to be his swansong with the band, Fear Of The Dark.

The songs that make the cut, in this reviewer’s opinion, are Be Quick Or Be Dead, Afraid To Shoot Strangers and Judas Be My Guide. The title track is one of their most popular ever, but nothing more than a mediocre Maiden song. The rest are best forgotten. Not even the skills of producer Martin Birch, struggling with the qualities of Harris’ Barnyard Studios in his last ever job for Maiden, can save this project.

In the end, there’s no denying that Maiden seem to suffer from a dearth of musical inspiration in the wake of Adrian Smith’s departure. Years later Harris would reflect that “maybe Maiden lost something” when Smith left, and it could be said that they not only “lost something” but actually let go of something absolutely essential.

As the 1990s start unfolding, Iron Maiden have reached a point where the incredible quality of their 1980s output is just a fading memory.

Christer’s Verdict: 2/6

6/6 Masterpiece
5/6 Great
4/6 Good
3/6 OK
2/6 Disappointing
1/6 Crap

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16 thoughts on “Christer Reviews: Fear Of The Dark (1992)

  1. I think it’s a bit better than 2 out of 6. Even the misfires are either interesting or catchy: Wasting Love is an interesting ballad, From Here to Eternity is catchy and has a nice beat, plus there are the handful of really good songs you mention such as Judas my Guide. I think the Arabian psychedelic Zep style effort is also actually quite an interesting song. I would go for 3.5 out of 6. I don’t love all of it, but I do like most of it.

  2. ps in some of the pics from this era such as one of those above Nicko with his hair looks as if he is about to join The Clash.

  3. I’m not sure Maiden were solely victims of the changing times at the beginning of the 1990s, more that they changed the formula needlessly and broke it in the process. NPFTD and FOTD seemed like they were written to a pre-defined pattern, song writing by numbers if you like, and so they seemed very forced and un-maiden like.

    Adrian Smith didn’t seem to like the new direction, who can blame him, and with him gone Maiden lost possibly their most important member. I may get shot down here, but I would say that Adrian Smith was more important to Iron Maiden than Bruce Dickinson. The loss of his songwriting influence shows this.

    So I agree, a very poor Iron Maiden album, and in the bottom two with NPFTD. They are ugly twins!

  4. I can’t agree about From Here to Eternity, that is one of Maiden’s best not-exactly-metal tracks for sure in my opinion. It’s also one of the 6 or 7 songs from the album I consider to make up the good material on it.

    The problem with FOTD, for me, is that it’s just such a bloated, overlong record, with pretty much all of the bad shit in the middle (Childhood’s End, in particular, takes the cake for me as the worst song Maiden has ever written). Their move towards more socially-conscious lyrics I think also was to their detriment, as they sacrificed the epic tone to a lot of their songs to try and stay relevant, except that hadn’t really gotten it down yet. Listening to Blood Brothers, you can see the difference in how well that song is written and plays out compared to fare like Fear is the Key and Childhood’s End.

  5. Let me be clear: I am not comparing Maiden’s stuff to anything else. I am trying to investigate how I rate their albums in the context of Iron Maiden and nothing else. So I will use all six points on the scale, which will probably cause discussion. But it would be useless to tell you that I rate all these albums from good to masterpiece. In Maiden terms, I don’t. Although I love all of them.

  6. 3/6 album for me (using this website’s rating). It was an OK album overall, with some great songs (Be Quick or Be Dead, Afraid to Shoot Strangers and Fear of the Dark, overplayed or not), some very good ones (Judas Be My Guide), some good ones (Childhood’s End, Wasting Love) and then some fillers, from the OK (e.g. The Fugitive) to the rather mediocre (Weekend Warrior).

    The album brings me good memories, being the first one I got when it was released after becoming a fan in 1991, but that does not stop me from seeing its flaws (their output during the 90s was inferior to anything released before and after that time).

  7. Fear is such an uneven album. Really no progressive elements or epic songs. It’s basically an extension of No Prayer, with better production and a clear continued move away from Seventh Son. I feel they attempted to meet the more aggressive riff based acts like Metallica and Megadeth, but that’s not what Maiden is about. When Maiden does something really heavy, it stands out because they are more about harmonies. That’s why Montsegur seems much heavier than it is, unlike Metallica whose songs all have that plodding deep guitar sound, therefore it’s not special. As far as Fear I like Be Quick or Be Dead, ATSS, Wasting Love, The Fugitive (musically – not lyrically), Judas Be My Guide. The rest is alright. The title track only works for me in a live setting because of the fan interaction, other than that it’s not great. The Apparition and Weekend Warrior should have never made the album.

  8. Actually it s a good album. It has three classic songs, the title song BQOBD and ATSS. Also FHTE is a very good song o my opinion and i love Judas and Fear is.. So u got so far 3 tops and 3-4 really good songs oh and the Fugitive. But am always wondering, what if they had listen to Adrian. What kind of album could they had realeased ? Well dont say BNW because it came out after 10 years.

  9. Very interesting read, opinionated as always. It’s a bland album, with a one or two exceptions. Even so, it’s a better album than the x-factor and Virtual xi, but those being post-Bruce, that may be an unfair comparison.

    • I don’t think its a coincidence that the four worst albums are the ones after Adrian left. However I do think The X Factor could be very good with Bruce on vocals and better production ( it sounds very hollow). Virtual XI is just a bad album. I remember listening to it for the first time and being so disappointed and shocked as to how far the mighty Maiden had fallen. The reunion albums have all been great to good. A Matter of Life and Death ( great – on par with NOTB, Seventh Son, Powerslave), Brave New World (great), The Book of Souls (very good), Dance of Death (good), and The Final Frontier (good).

  10. FOTD was the first Maiden album I picked up on CD (up to that point — all cassette tapes). I’d agree with your 2/6 assessment as that’s about where I put it in relation to other Maiden material. Whomever said it’s basically an extension of No Prayer with better production is dead on.

    • It was my first Maiden CD too. I loved it at the time, but I have to admit that it has not aged well…

  11. Just re-listening to this on the new vinyl reissues. I remember when it came out thinking it was better than No Prayer for the Dying, but now, you’re right. It hasn’t aged well at all. A couple of cracking songs and a couple of average ones … and a bunch of the worst Maiden with Bruce songs ever. Still, I was 19 when it came out and at the time it seemed like the best thing ever!

    • I was taken with it at the time, being a 14 year old Maiden fan that had never seen them live. But it should be said that I had already been through a sense of disappointment with No Prayer by then. If the 1992 Fear record had directly followed Seventh Son it’s likely that I would have been more disappointed in it at the time. Looking back I have to admit that I think the album is among Maiden’s weakest.

  12. Let´s divide my opinion in 2 parts: emotional and rational.

    1 – Emotional: I was 16 and I still remember how excited I was about the news (in rock magazines – no internet back then!) about the new album. I also remember the video premiere of BQorBD. I love the fast song and the video. I bought the double vinyl upon its release back then. Also, it was my second concert ever (1992 – Fear of the Dark tour – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). The crowd was so crazy that it was like an ocean wave. I was going back and forth during the first 3 songs and couldn´t see the stage!

    2 – Rational: it didn’t age well for me. I don’t like the production, it seems to polished: drums are loud, guiitars have no bite. It has the two opposites in terms of songs – fantastic and crap (Maiden´s standard) ones.

    Classic: Fear of the Dark (I am surprised that some folks here don´t praise this song); Judas be my guide (it should have been played live – one of my Maiden´s favs).

    Very good: Afraid to shoot strangers; Wasting Love; Be quick or be dead.

    Good: The Fugitive.

    Crap: The rest! I do like the guitar melodies on Chilhood´s End though.

    I really do prefer to listen to No Prayer than this (I don’t think No Prayer is that bad like most people).

  13. I really don´t understand why all complain about the sound and Harris studio? FOTD has in my opinion the best sound of all maiden albums. It has a very clear and warm tone to it. and i honestly do not understand what the issues would be with the sound? And this was 1992. If fear had been made for Lp with a playing time around 35 minutes, it would have been a good album. Perhaps the need for those 4 extra songs for the cd made it weak? Weekend warrior, childhood, apparition and from here sounds as typical B-sides to me? Both wasting love and bqobd were kind of experimental, and maybe even afraid to shoot..? And they worked out really good. So something good came out of it. It´s better to do something new and fresh without the constant fear of failing. But when something is so clearly shit, why record them? Yes, some songs were weak, but why the hell did they put them on a record? I do not think that anyone in the band could have listened to weekend warrior and felt pleased with the outcome? It´s more poor judgement than poor songwriting. Or laziness? Had they only rewritten a few new good tunes or made the LP shorter, well then it could have been a classic? They came close, but not close enough. The good stuff is really good, the bad stuff worse than ever..

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