Some bands are overshadowed by the conceptions that people have garnered about them before the first note even plays. Admittedly, this is a good problem to have; it means that your success is such that your name precedes you and that you have created such fame for yourself that your very name evokes your style. However, this can also lead to ears shut fast, shying away from the conceptions that they have of what your music is and will be. Even fans can turn sour, as it becomes harder and harder to convince them to try something new. Iron Maiden suffers from this “problem” in the first degree: they are one of the most iconic and famous bands out there. Their music has an instantly recognizable style, one which has influenced countless bands and has left its mark on the metal scene forever.
Which leads us to Brave New World. Launching the current phase of their career, probably their last, this 2000 album is drenched in both the misconceptions of its past and of its future. On one hand, many write it off as one more falter in the ailing machine that is the latter days of Iron Maiden. On the other, still more expect to hear on it what they think that are Iron Maiden are, fueled by dried out repeats of their anthemic tracks. Instead, what they find is a bravely fresh album, a triumphant return of a band that was thought dead after three very poor albums. This album manages to beguile both camps; it isn’t anything like the albums after it nor does it rely completely on the images of the past as its chart and blueprint.
In order to grasp this invigorated duality, we might wish to start at the end of the album. “The Thin Line Between Love & Hate” remains one of the most unique tracks that Iron Maiden have written, to this day. It perhaps exemplifies the timbre which made Brave New World so endearing: it’s much, much “brighter” than their previous works. While solos still feature heavily, they are absent from several tracks and when they are present, they aren’t always the sole focus. Instead, riffs and melodic progressions take center stage and no where is that more obvious than with “The Thin Line”. Thus, this track sounds like something that might fit on a Rush album. The chords are open and spread wide and the long run time gives the track room to breathe and really showcase its advantages.
Of course, no discussion of an Iron Maiden album would be complete with paying special attention to Bruce Dickinson and Steve Harris, the true backbone of this band. While “The Thin Line” gives us a rich taste of Dickinson-returned, once again back with Iron Maiden after a lengthy absence, it’s the title track to which we must look if we want to grasp the true magic happening between the founding member of the band on bass and the once-again inseparable vocalist. “Brave New World” features some of the heaviest bass mixes in Iron Maiden’s career; Harris’s bass is practically dripping off of every riff. These deep sounds accentuate the solos just as well as they do the vocals, but there’s mystical quality, unspecified charm, in their interactions with the high pitched vocals.
Coupled with the signature “army of guitars” bridges and solos, these elements and the way the come together make “Brave New World” one of the best Iron Maiden tracks ever and certainly one of the best written after their heyday. However, Brave New World the album still has plenty in store for us. When surveying the rich tapestry of the tracks that make the meat and bones of this album, “Blood Brothers” immediately catches the eye. Is this because of the perfect yet uncharacteristic introduction of strings not only on the chorus but also in choice parts of the verse? Perhaps it is just that Dickinson sounds out of breath in a good way on some of the parts, lending the track an immediacy and urgency? It’s quite possible both of these but undoubtedly also the amazing solo in the middle which immediately into one of the most anthemic leads the band have produced since “Fear of the Dark”.
Evoking that name almost feels like blasphemy, as millions chant its chorus across the world. But what that famous track lacks is solid backing parts around that chorus; the verses have always felt very thin to me. In their stead, “Blood Brothers” has an intricate structure. After the first solo, the verse changes structure morphing into an amazingly composed segment backed by convincing and intoxicating synths. This quickly builds up into crescendo with the help of Dickinson and multiple bridges, bringing the track to a close that shakes your heart and leaves you out of breath, like every great Iron Maiden track should. It’s perhaps one of their ambitious tracks, containing multiple solos, bridges and verse types but is also somehow strangely cohesive and secure in its vision.
For those thirsty for traditional Iron Maiden, this album has plenty of that as well. “Ghost of the Navigator” or “Out of the Silent Planet” should serve you well in that regard. Their riffing work and structure are classic Iron Maiden, break neck speeds that leave you searching for the nearest object to destroy or the closest beer to hoist. “The Mercenary” near the middle of the album, also does a good job of this; it simply begins after “Blood Brothers”, careening into furious riffs backed by an insanely groovy chorus. McBrain does an amazing job on the chorus, effortlessly blending touches on the cymbals for maximum head bobbing effect.
It’s quite hard to bring this article to an end; there are at least ten more moments on this album that I’d like to delay on. Brave New World is an astonishing return to form from a veteran band that many fans had written off until it came along. While the albums that come after it vary in their quality, this one proves why Iron Maiden are one of the greatest names to have ever graced the skies of metal. It is both a consistent and well founded album, standing tall and steady on the established and instantly recognized sounds of the bands but also an exploration, a look into the future and a visionary effort of a band determined to keep pushing ahead and keep its flame alive.