12 Years Ago: Iron Maiden Build on Reunion Buzz With ‘Dance of Death’
After a six-year absence from Iron Maiden, Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith rejoined the band in 1999. Needless to say, expectations were high. They delivered with both a triumphant world tour and solid album, Brave New World from 2000.
There was a determination to keep things moving and not just repeat the past. With that in mind, the second album by the reunited group, 2003’s Dance of Death, recalls prime Iron Maiden but with renewed vigor.
“Wildest Dreams,” co-written by Smith and bassist Steve Harris, opens Dance of Death with authority and is packed with all of the band’s signature sounds. “I’m gonna exorcise the demons of my past,” Dickinson sings, and quite convincingly at that. The nearly eight-minute “No More Lies” features some of the prog elements Iron Maiden has used from time to time. The title track starts in similar territory, evoking Jethro Tull with its minstrel guitar and Bruce Dickinson’s storytelling.
“Gates of Tomorrow” and “New Frontier” are straight-up rockers. Iron Maiden steer toward the epic on “Face in the Sand,” which includes a somewhat complex arrangement and dark mood. Not surprising since Dickinson sings about the Iraq War. While his performance may be a bit over-dramatic, there’s no denying that he sounds committed to the subject.
“I was thinking that whatever empires you tend to build, they’ll all crumble and fade away into something else,” Dickinson said in the band’s authorized biography Iron Maiden: Run to the Hills. “So, to my mind at least, the best thing you can hope for, if you were to leave anything behind, is just an imprint in the sand.”
“Age of Innocence” is a hidden gem by a group that has plenty. Featuring some heavy riffing and a round of killer guitar solos, Dickinson checks in with the album’s most direct lyrics: “So we can only get one chance / Can we take it? / And we only got one life / Can’t exchange it / Can we hold on to what we have / Don’t replace it / The age of innocence is fading like an old dream.”
The album-closing “Journeyman” is a rarity in Iron Maiden’s catalog, with no electric guitars to be found. Acoustic guitar and strings mark the territory, while drummer Nicko McBrain pushes the song along. It’s a departure for the band, but it ends Dance of Death perfectly.
Iron Maiden recorded this album the old-fashioned way: on analog tape, which adds a layer of warmth. Dance of Death never sounds sterile or processed, unlike so many other hard-rock and metal bands recording in the digital age. But the record clocks in at nearly 70 minutes, making it somewhat long and demanding. Still, that’s a relatively small complaint for such a strong effort from Iron Maiden.
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