After entering the 1990s with the underwhelming 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 “The Juggler” Birch and Steve Harris
Released 11 May 1992
For nearly 30 years audiences have been singing “o-o-hohooo, o-o-hohooo”, and so on, as the quiet intro to Iron Maiden‘s most popular title track (Spotify rates it so, anyway) unfolds on stage. Fear Of The Dark has aged, but has it aged well?
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, particularly in the United States of America. A shift towards a less progressive and less sophisticated style than their late 1980s output was a conscious effort to fit the zeitgeist, but it did not translate to sales.
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 Maiden History chapter on the No Prayer For The Dying period that saw Adrian leave the band and Janick join in his place!
Iron Maiden, the early flag bearers of the NWOBHM who had outgrown that movement to become the world’s biggest metal band, 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 from the 80s were commercially dead in the water. It is something of a paradox that Maiden delivered one of their highest charters at that point, but chart positions do not necessarily reflect sustained sales over a period of time. Fear Of The Dark would chart nearly as high as Somewhere In Time in the US, number 12 to the latter’s number 11, but it would sell nowhere near the latter’s double platinum amount of records. In the UK, however, the album went to number 1.
There are probably two tracks in particular that were responsible for the popularity of Fear Of The Dark: The aggressive and thrash-like 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 changes that were sure to eventually ruin their European popularity. Overseas the North American leg of the tour was the shortest and least successful in the band’s history to that point.
Musically, Fear Of The Dark is Maiden’s least cohesive album ever. Singer Bruce Dickinson and new recruit Gers would co-write the engaging opener Be Quick Or Be Dead, which gave way to bassist and main composer Steve Harris’ sub-par AC/DC imitation of second single From Here To Eternity. Its chorus might have been built for singalongs in arenas, but the verses have no momentum.
The album’s best moment is the third track, Harris’ anti-war epic Afraid To Shoot Strangers: It builds beautifully from a quiet opening into memorable mid-paced staccato rhythms draped in haunting guitar melodies, and eventually thunders into a full-throttle Maiden onslaught before calming back down again.
But then the record comes to a nearly complete standstill with Dickinson and Gers’ Led Zeppelin-pastiche Fear Is The Key, which leads into the weakest middle section of any Maiden record to this point. Childhood’s End, Wasting Love (the first Maiden ballad since Paul Di’Anno’s time!), The Fugitive and Chains Of Misery all fail to make any lasting impression besides proving that they would have been unthinkable on an Iron Maiden album prior to 1990.
If most of these songs are middle-of-the-road, there had never been a Maiden album with such downright terrible material: The Apparition and Weekend Warrior, songs of which both Harris and Gers are guilty, is the sad sound of a band that has lost its teeth.
Despite the effort to branch out of a niche, several of the Fear Of The Dark songs are among the worst Maiden have recorded. Diversifying stylistically by imitating other classic rock bands does not equal being inventive, and by 1992 Maiden seems to have run out of steam and lost the creative touch of their 1980s period.
Ironically, 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 thrash and grunge movements had ushered in. Thus Melvyn Grant replaces regular Maiden illustrator Derek Riggs, turning in a very good piece of cover art, while the lyrics generally ponder political and social issues more than the history and fantasy themes that had been a Maiden trademark.
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.
Indeed, the best moment on the record, Afraid To Shoot Strangers, is one that is decidedly Maiden in style. Another song worthy of the canon, if not spectacular, is Dickinson and Dave Murray’s very Maiden-esque Judas Be My Guide, which makes our list of the top 10 deep Iron Maiden cuts.
At the time of the album’s release many critics were vocal in their opinion that Maiden was a dinosaur and should either change with the times or go away. But in retrospect it can be argued that such an attempt at changing 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 our History chapter about the Fear Of The Dark era that led to Bruce Dickinson leaving Iron Maiden!
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 questionable qualities of Harris’ Barnyard Studios in his last ever job for Maiden, can save this project. Nicko McBrain’s drums do sound much better than they did on the previous album, but the polish does not cover up the lack of great songs. And when Birch retires in 1992, Harris is left alone to produce and mix Maiden’s upcoming slew of live albums.
Click here for a review of A Real Live One (1993)!
Ultimately there is no denying that Maiden suffer 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: The fact remains that Iron Maiden have never made a truly great record without Smith, and the albums of his 1990s absence are easily the lowest point of their recording career.
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
26 thoughts on “Review: Fear Of The Dark (1992)”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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…
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.
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).
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..
I fully agree with Tomba regarding what he said about the production on the album. I think the sound is very good, but not exactly Maiden. The bass sound is too warm and is missing that typical clunk that can be found on the intro to “The Clairvoyant,” for example. Also, the bass is very loud in the mix, further contributing to the perception of warmth and polish in the overall sound. The guitars also have a warm and shimmery sonic quality to them, probably as a result of more bass and treble in the EQ and possibly a generous dose of reverb, as well as delay, for solos. Like everything else on the record, it’s a very American sound, drenched in reverb and delay. Every time I hear Fear of the Dark—which rarely ever happens—it reminds me of Alice Cooper and “Poison” with that pent up, turbocharged guitar distortion.
I personally find songs like “Fear is the Key” and “Childhood’s End” interesting, both musically and lyrically. I could even make the case that the experimentation on songs like “Childhood’s End” represents a newfound level of creativity for Maiden. However, I also have to agree with most of the other posters on here that the record is extremely uneven in quality.
My biggest problem, though, with Fear of the Dark is that it just doesn’t sound like Maiden, and the problem goes deeper than the production itself. Just like on No Prayer for the Dying, Maiden went for a psedo-modern aggressive edge, updating their lyrics with crude language and their sound with more distortion and time-based effects to create a bigger wall of sound. Although I do appreciate the brilliant sparkle of the guitars and the warmth of the bass in their own right, these stylistic shifts don’t translate well to Maiden’s core style. I would argue that it is precisely the excessive production on the album that makes the album sound dated today.
childhood’s end is great to me because of the vocals and the drums. I agree that the guitars have no bite though. Maybe listen to it and block out the guitars.
Christer, can you please continue the reviews? You are missing Brave New World, A matter of life and death, dance of death, and Final Frontier
Since no one is paying me to write these things, I have to do it in my own time. I won’t get around to it until early summer, I suspect. 🙂
The review was my thoughts exactly – until I revisited Fear of The Dark after more than 25 years of oblivion! Suddenly it became one of my Maiden favourites.
I like that big US sound – it that reminds me of the golden era of metal alongside Ozzy’s No Rest for The Wicked and No More Tears, Slaughter’s Wild Life, Alice Cooper’s work from that era somebody already mentioned here, Skid Row, FireHouse and W.A.S.P. with Headless Children etc.
I also remember trip to London with my father in spring of 1992 and remember seeing Tower Records’ windows plastered with Fear of The Dark and Maiden logos. I really got the impression that they are still on the top of the metal world.
I had bought the record the day it hit the stores here in Finland and listened to it constantly – until disappointing live albums next year. Afterwards I somehow forgot whole album. Listening it again after all these years made me think it’s superior compared to No Prayer for The Dying.
My favourite tunes are Childhood’s End (only minus being the line: “No food” on chorus. That sounds dumb), Chains of Misery, Judas Be My Guide, Be Quick and the absolute gem Afraid To Shoot Strangers. Even Weekend Warrior has good chorus and some decent guitar work. The title track is overplayed, hard to say anything about it anymore.
Also respect for big production video for From Here to Eternity. I even bought shaped picture single of that back in the day. There’s song “Can’t See My Feeling” on the b-side. I remember it was challenge to get all the Maiden singles because there were so many non-album tracks to grab.
I agree that Fear of The Dark does not sound like Maiden but it’s way better than it’s weak predecessor – and unfortunately last decent album Maiden ever did.
Thanks for your thoughts, Shadowstone!
That’s a brave take on the title track! Can’t say I disagree on technical terms, but some songs are just magical at live performances.
A harsh but overall fair assessment I’d say.
“Diversifying stylistically by imitating other classic rock bands does not equal being inventive” – this struck me as an insightful observation because you could also use this phrase to describe Bruce’s Tattooed Millionaire album. I think TM casts a long shadow over No Prayer and Fear and may account for the move away from the traditional maiden sound. We know Bruce went along with the stripped down approach for No Prayer because of the similar vibe to his solo material. Fear is more or less a continuation of that. It’s also the first album for which Gers receives writing credits and I wonder aloud here how much of Weekend Warrior, Fear is the Key, Apparaition etc were left over from Tattoeed Millionaire, or at least conceived with a similar mindset. I will also say as a final note that when Bruce left, having the principal songwriters in the band as Gers/Harris left me zero confidence in the first album without Bruce!
Yeah, it’s interesting. According to Bruce he didn’t just go along with the change, but was enthusiastic about it. At the time of Fear Of The Dark he talked very negatively about Seventh Son, as hard as that is to believe today. If I remember correctly, Wasting Love was left over from the Tattooed writing sessions.
Having such an album cover in 1992 pretty much tells how low Maiden has fallen artistically by the time. Harris alone can’t be blamed. Very poor management if you thing of how Metallica, Ozzy Megadeth or even Rush were firing all cylinders at the time.