The 90s were a tough time for classic heavy metal. Grunge and alternative bands dominated the mainstream rock charts, while the underground scene went progressively into more extreme directions. The metal scene constantly expanded beyond the limits of England, USA, and Germany, with tons of bands and new subgenres emerging all the time. British metal giants such as BLACK SABBATH, JUDAS PRIEST, and IRON MAIDEN went through major lineup changes and had to struggle to maintain the level of popularity achieved in the previous decades. In the case of IRON MAIDEN, the 90s kicked off with the departure of long-time guitarist Adrian Smith, soon followed by iconic frontman Bruce Dickinson. The Blaze Bayley era is still regarded by many fans as the band’s darkest period, with mixed reactions to their studio albums and live performances, while Bruce’s solo career slowly started to take off.
Luckily enough for the fans of the classic IRON MAIDEN sound, the 90s wouldn’t last forever and the new millennium started with the promise of a new album with Dickinson and Smith back in the band, becoming a six-piece with three guitars for the first time in the history of The Beast. After the successful “Ed Hunter Tour,” their long-awaited twelfth studio album entitled “Brave New World” would finally see the light of day via EMI on 29 May 2000. The concept for the title-track and the album cover was based on Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel of the same name and as a curiosity, the upper half of the cover was designed by their 80’s long-term collaborator and artwork legend Derek Riggs, in what would be his last contribution to an IRON MAIDEN album cover to this date.
I assume most of us are already familiar with the music, so I’ll put emphasis on the general aspects of the album and its importance to the resurrection of IRON MAIDEN’s career and, why not, the entire classic heavy metal genre in the early 2000s. In a world largely dominated by “wannabe” bands mixing hip-hop elements with metal sounds and appearing constantly on MTV wearing baggy pants instead of denim and leather, we definitely needed somebody to remind the world that classic heavy metal was still a force to be reckoned with. After all, this would be the album that would allow them to headline events as important as the third edition of the legendary Rock in Riofestival, an album that would also inspire a new generation of metalheads to look back at the glorious days of classic heavy metal.
Looking back, “Brave New World” gave us some top-quality singalong anthems such as “The Wicker Man,” the title track itself, and crowd-favorite “Blood Brothers.” The live renditions of the latter would become a highlight of their recent tours, bringing thousands of souls together into a chant celebrating the spirit of brotherhood in metal. The more progressive and intricate side of their music would also shine in long tracks like “Dream of Mirrors,” “The Nomad,” and “The Thin Line Between Love and Hate.” There would be also room for more straight-forward metal numbers like “Out of the Silent Planet,” “The Fallen Angel,” and “The Mercenary,” all of which could easily pass for one of their 80s classics. But personally, the true gem in the album will always be the overly dramatic and epic “Ghost of the Navigator,” a song that stills gives me shivers down the spine twenty years later.
The addition of a third guitarist gave them the chance to experiment with increasingly complex arrangements, taking their twin-guitar concept to a new level, achieving a massive sound with the help of then-newcomer and now long-term producer Kevin Shirley. The exquisite crafting and execution of the songs on the album conveys a feeling of greatness and pomposity that suggests a clear intention to take back their throne in the realm of heavy metal. Upon its release, some pointed out that the “Brave New World” was a shameless and uninspired attempt to revive the good old days, but I couldn’t disagree more with that statement. I would go far enough to say that this is their best studio effort since “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” and the last IRON MAIDEN album I would truly enjoy from start to finish.
“Brave New World” meant a fresh new start for what is arguably the most influential metal band in history, who had to pay their dues once more after achieving universal acclaim during the 80s. Sure, they have gotten more intricate and bombastic than ever during the last two decades and their live shows are still some of the most impressive productions you can witness in the music business, but as far as albums go, this one will always hold a special place in my metal heart. Objectivity and music usually don’t get along very well, but the fact that this album came out at the time I was starting to listen to metal and helped me choose this path I’ve been walking during the last two decades is a sign of the impact a single piece of art can have on someone. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.
Written by David Araneda
- The Wicker Man
- Ghost of the Navigator
- Brave New World
- Blood Brothers
- The Mercenary
- Dream of Mirrors
- The Fallen Angel
- The Nomad
- Out of the Silent Planet
- The Thin Line Between Love and Hate
Bruce Dickinson – vocals
Dave Murray – lead & rhythm guitars
Adrian Smith – lead & rhythm guitars
Janick Gers – lead & rhythm guitars
Steve Harris – bass, keyboards, co-producer
Nicko McBrain – drums