Certain albums carry powerful nostalgic value. In 2000, IRON MAIDEN released an album titled after Aldous Huxley’s classic dystopian novel of the same name (and in my opinion, the only dystopian novel that accurately predicted the path the world is on). In an era when all popular music was starting to sound the same, this album opened the doors to the world of literary-themed lyrics and stories unrelated to love, masterfully crafted to the tune of guitars. For those of you who weren’t newly warming up to heavy metal at this point in your life, this album also marked the glorious return of Bruce Dickinson (vocals), as well as Adrian Smith rejoining Dave Murray and Janick Gers on guitars. As this was the first IRON MAIDEN album that I truly loved, start-to-finish, I might not be the most objective commentator, but I genuinely believe that this is IRON MAIDEN‘s best album, which is why we’re going over it, track-by-track, 20 years later.
If “The Wicker Man” doesn’t get you into IRON MAIDEN, there’s a chance that the band is just not for you. This is one of the easily-accessible IRON MAIDEN songs that manages to be textbook-definition heavy metal, as well as catchy and fun as hell. The iconic riff in this song is a modern MAIDEN classic and this was still the era when Dickinson‘s vocals weren’t under any age-related strain. While the chorus is a tad repetitive (a rather constant problem with MAIDEN on the whole, or at least in recent decades), the song has great energy and is easy to sing along to – especially with the “whoah” parts towards the end; it’s a shame it doesn’t make it to many live sets these days.
If you want a song to kick off an album and get you hyped, “The Wicker Man” is a great place to start; if you want to just show off some songwriting and musical talent, “Ghost of the Navigator” is a perfect followup. MAIDEN has had a lot of mystique embedded in their music over the years, notable in songs like “Infinite Dreams” and “Childhood’s End” to name a few. Of all the songs on this album – with the possible exception of “The Nomad” – this track has the most mysterious vibe, likely created by the opening riff, which for whatever reason has always made me think of Charon (the ferryman from Greek mythology, not the band). This song is, from start to finish, just simply great. The mood constantly changes as it heads towards the solo, but never falters.
The flow of music that leads the listener from “Ghost of the Navigator” into the title track is nothing short of perfect. The move is seamless, with no hesitation, yet you can still listen to the songs separately – in playlists for example – without them feeling incomplete as standalone songs. I know at least a handful of other bands who have done a tribute to this dystopian classic novel (IRON SAVIOR and THE STROKES, to name a few), though I can’t say any of them quite captured its soul in the way that this song does. While I don’t think it’s the musical pinnacle on the album, it manages to dig deep into the heart of the source material and summarizes it beautifully. And when I say it’s not the best song on the album musically, that doesn’t mean the music isn’t good, just that the other material is better, likely relating to this being one of the more laid-back songs on the album. It does suffer again from a lack of diversity in the lyrics in the chorus, but the dynamic build-up following the first chorus helps remedy it. I also enjoy the way Dickinson sings “bring this savage back home” as the song fades out.
I’m a big fan of the guitarwork in “Blood Brothers.” The riff doesn’t lurk or tiptoe, but it moves in a way that feels almost exploratory and tentative. It’s hard to describe the feeling it instills, but walking through a graveyard might be close. There is yet another repeated one-line chorus in this song, but the overall track doesn’t suffer for it. I enjoy the passion in the C-part as well and the lyrics are rather moving. This is the only song that has a meaning deep enough to carry on this album’s legacy in the modern day – the song was originally written for Steve Harris‘ (bass) late father, but has more recently been dedicated to the late Ronnie James Dio in 2010 and to the brotherhood of IRON MAIDEN fans worldwide as recently as 2016. I also love the way the riff flows later on, to the point when Dickinson starts singing “When you think that you’ve used all your chances…” and then moves on into a nice solo.
“The Mercenary” is the only song on the album that I can’t quite get behind, which makes me sad, as this was one of the few songs from this album to make it onto live setlists. Perhaps the riff feels a bit like early classic MAIDEN – I’m talking Paul Di’Anno -era – but that doesn’t explain what prevents me from loving the song, as I liked the classic MAIDEN guitarwork. I believe it’s the style in which Dickinson sings the verses, combined with yet another overly simple chorus, lyrically, that holds this song back. “Show them no fear, show them no pain” is by far one of the best parts of this song and, though it’s my least favorite, it is still a decent track. Perhaps it is fortunate that it is one of the shorter songs on the album, around the 4-minute mark.
I adored “Dream of Mirrors” in my teenage years and while my affection towards this song has been inconsistent, I do still think it’s a cool track. That lurking riff borders on creepy and, combined with the lyrics, sets an interesting atmosphere. The song builds up beautifully, switching to a heavier sound in the bridge, before continuing to a refreshingly varied chorus. I also enjoy the sped-up part that kicks off just after the 5:45 mark, flipping the song from its eerie vibe back into the heavy metal that IRON MAIDEN is so well-loved for! There’s no shortage of soloing in this song, which is highly satisfying, and even though the song is over 9 minutes in length, it doesn’t feel like a long song.
“The Fallen Angel” has one of the coolest intros, with its wicked drums (thanks, Nicko McBrain!) and fantastically dynamic build-up. Something about this song makes me think it is what “The Clansman” should have been if Dickinson had been the vocalist. I love “The Clansman,” but it lacks a certain energy and exuberance that “The Fallen Angel” makes up for completely. They didn’t skimp on the chorus in this one either, keeping the song’s story going in full force. I’d be curious to know what inspired this particular song, as the concepts of “fallen angel” and “chosen one” were and still are pretty common tropes. More excellent soloing follows, with I’m assuming at least two of the guitarists getting a turn at the song, as the solo changes up three times. I would have loved to see this song live at some point. It has great energy and fits well between two particularly long and mystical songs.
While it’s incredibly hard to say for sure, “The Nomad” is potentially my most-played song from this album. The riff is amazing and the entire song sets an unbelievable mood for the story it tells. Yes, not only does this song tell a story, but it creates a viscerally real character, secretive and mysterious. You can’t tell if this nomad is alive or dead, good or evil. It’s poetic and Dickinson shines as a narrator. Apart from that, this song is just a 9-minute eargasm of solos, riffs, and wicked lyrics. It’s hard for me to express just how much I enjoy this song, but if you like mystical things, fantasy, or just good ol’ heavy metal, I find it hard to believe that you wouldn’t like this song.
“Out of the Silent Planet” could have easily been the closer the album. It has a cool opening riff and Dickinson‘s echoing and layered vocals have a really final feel to them. Lyrically, this song is phenomenal. I confess that once upon a time, I thought that “Brave New World” was a concept album. If that had been the case, this was one of the few songs that actually made sense in such a context. I wonder what it was actually written about, if not the eponymous novel. The ferocity of the message in this song is biting and Dickinson is yet again at the top of his game. Though this song has another fairly simple chorus lyrically, I really enjoy the way the guitars take on the vocal line and they pair up so nicely. All of the guitarwork in this song is beautiful and the dynamics are perfect. The solo just keeps going and going and never gets dull. It sounds like whichever guitarist – if not all three – played those parts was enjoying the song enough that they didn’t want it to end, and neither do I!
Having said that “Out of the Silent Planet” could have been the album’s closer, I’m so glad it wasn’t, because “The Thin Line Between Love and Hate” is such a great finale. In fact, I don’t think a single MAIDEN album closer was this good until “Empire of the Clouds” from “The Book of Souls“ (2015). That’s 15 years and three albums falling short before they had an album that could match this as a finale. Anyways, I love the heavy, bordering on industrial beat in the beginning of the song. A song potentially about the fine line between good and evil, I really enjoy the lyrics in this track. There is a bit of political judgment and also some rather provocative thought regarding the future. I love the sort of dual-chorus in this song, the first being “There’s a thin line between love and hate” and the second being the “I will hope, my soul will fly, and I will live forever” – each has its own power and creates a different atmosphere. The “thin line” parts are cautionary, while the “my soul” parts are more hopeful, thus eventually ending the album on an optimistic note. More amazing solos follow, briefly interspersed between choruses, and then longer solos follow toward the end to help the song wind down, though they just keep going, riffing the vocal lines a bit. You think the song is drawing to a close, but it picks up once more and goes into some more awesome soloing. The solos aren’t wanky or overdone either – they fit the feeling of the song and make it all the more enjoyable to listen to. This is how you do guitars properly in heavy metal! The guitars once again reintroduce the vocal line before Dickinson joins in, and the song fades out, ending the album on what I consider to be a perfect note.
Thus we conclude a phenomenal album and one of my personal all-time favorites. “Brave New World” appeared at a time when the “classics” were behind IRON MAIDEN already, so most of the songs from this album are sadly absent from their live shows and I consider that to be nothing short of a tragedy. This album has everything I love about heavy metal – outstanding musicianship (and oh so many great solos), thought provoking and/or story-like lyrics, and Bruce Dickinson before his voice started sounding too strained. While a few of the songs suffer from the traditional IRON MAIDEN “one-line” choruses, the songs aren’t made any worse by the lack of diversity. It is truly a masterpiece that should be considered among MAIDEN‘s best.
Written by Bear Wiseman
- The Wicker Man
- Ghost of the Navigator
- Brave New World
- Blood Brothers
- The Mercenary
- Dream of Mirrors
- The Fallen Angel
- The Nomal
- Out of the Silent Planet
- The Thin Line Between Love and Hate
Bruce Dickinson – vocals
Steve Harris – bass
Adrian Smith – guitars
Dave Murray – guitars
Janick Gers – guitars
Nicko McBrain – drums