Bruce Dickinson had done it at last! If you know “Accident of Birth,” you know that by the end of the ’90s, Dickinson found his sound and it was amazing. With a new album out barely over a year later – “The Chemical Wedding” – it begs the question, was he able to do it twice? Since today is the 20th anniversary of the album, we thought we’d dig in and find out!
A little background information – this album was heavily influenced by the poetry of William Blake, as well as by alchemy and Aleister Crowley. With this interconnecting theme throughout, the album has a clear mood and tone that are equal parts mysterious and delightful.
The album opens energetically with “King in Crimson,” a lower-range song for Dickinson‘s voice and a veritable playground for heavy, almost grungy guitars with sweet riffing. The album’s title track that follows has a simple yet memorable heavy opening riff, which moves swiftly into Dickinson‘s melodic, gentle vocals. It’s good at this point to mention already the beautiful and fantastical quality of the lyrics throughout the album. “Chemical Wedding” may sound a bit Gothic on the surface, but if you take into account the source material for inspiration, it opens up entirely other worlds of meaning that you can sample at your leisure.
“The Tower” is the perfect track to follow this, opening with a delightful bass line which is shortly followed by more great guitar work. I couldn’t explain the reason, but I always felt like “Chemical Wedding” and “The Tower” were at least part of the same story, and that’s just based on feeling, not lyrics. Like the prior track, it has a great chorus and awesome hooks.
If there is a weak link (and by “weak” I mean “slightly less awesome”) in the album, it’s “Killing Floor”; not a bad track, but doesn’t quite live up to the insane quality of the rest of the album. While it retains the mysticism of the rest of the album, it comes across as a bit more blunt of a track with a harsher chorus, and stands out a bit against the beauty of the other songs.
It seems as though the energy from “Killing Floor” is immediately cut off when you hear the soft, reverberating intro to “Book of Thel,” but it picks up quite shortly into a lively, fun song, that includes the classic line, “something wicked this way comes.” The book of Thel is a reference to Blake’s poem of the same name. In a similar vein to “Book of Thel,” “Gates of Urizen” follows, which references more of Blake’s mythos; within, Urizen was a god of reason. A gently-strummed guitar part accompanies Dickinson before the drums and electric guitars kick things off a minute or so in. This is a great track dynamically, building and building in power until it explodes. And another great solo is in there too.
Like the last two, “Jerusalem” is based on the poem “And did those feet in ancient times…” and Dickinson has loaned most of the words from the original poem, while adding many of his own, such as the chorus. “Jerusalem” is perhaps the most beautiful song on the album, and while it’s hard to say any one song on this album is really instrumentally better than the others, there is just something about the solos and… really everything in this song. I also love the spoken word part at the end. “Trumpets of Jericho” brings the energy back up, with its lively, fresh instruments and Dickinson‘s brilliant vocals, ranging from a light grit to some nice high parts. The guitars balance out the lightness with a chugging heaviness that suits it perfectly.
The album closes out with two beautifully perfect songs – “Machine Men” and “The Alchemist.” The former is a superb piece of heaviness from Dickinson, with a lot of whammy bar and chugging guitar sound. The chorus too is very powerful with great lyrics. “The Alchemist” begins slowly and eerily with a mid-tempo and simple but effective riff that easily amplifies what Dickinson is singing. There’s a nice vocal part about 3/4 of the way through, and towards the end, the lyrics from the title track are repeated, making the album feel full-circle thematically as it slows down.
Ultimately, I’d go so far as to say that Dickinson outdid himself. It’s hard to match a 10/10 album a mere year later, yet Dickinson did it with seeming ease. The combination of him, Roy Z, and Adrian Smith seems to be pure gold and I’m only sorry they didn’t do more together as a trio(+) after this album. This is absolutely one of those albums that personally made me fall in love with metal music, so the score may be a tad biased, but close to 20 years after discovering it, I still love it with all the passion I did when I was a wee young teenager, and not a lot of CDs can say that.
Written by Bear Wiseman
- King in Crimson
- Chemical Wedding
- The Tower
- Killing Floor
- Book of Thel
- Gates of Urizen
- Trumpets of Jericho
- Machine Men
- The Alchemist
- Bruce Dickinson – lead vocals
- Adrian Smith – guitars, keyboards
- Roy Z – guitars, keyboards, producer, engineer, mixing
- Eddie Casillas – bass guitar
- David Ingraham – drums, percussion