This album is not by any means a concept album, but the central theme of Death is recurrent in one form or another. From the necessity to live life to its full in “Wildest Dreams” or the urge to make things right in “Rainmaker”, to the thoughts of someone who know his time is up in “No More Lies”. The band also proposes a detour into the minds of those who had a close encounter with Death, like this strange surreal meeting with the undead in “Dance Of Death”, or the remisniscence of centuries-old death in “Montsegur”, or, closer again, the head-on crash with the absolute horrors of war in “Paschendale”. There are of course a few off-topic songs, like “New Frontier”, that deals with the manipulations of life, or songs pointing out the sorry state of the world today - a subject dear to Steve Harris - like in “Face In The Sand” and “Age Of Innocence”. There is even what seems to be a criticism of the “Internet Generation” in “Gates Of Tomorrow”, with the allusion to the World Wide Web and the worry that it may represent our only future.
Only “Journeyman” stands out as an uncharacteristic Iron Maiden song. This is the first time that the band records a fully acoustic song, and they did a great job of it. Some will comment that it is an attempt to reach a broader audience, like Metallica did with “Nothing Else Matters”, but I beg to disagree here. “Journeyman” is an acoustic piece like only Iron Maiden could create, and they certainly remained true to themselves. On the other hand, if it can introduce other people - who would otherwise dismiss them - to Maiden's music and act as a gateway to the fantastic sound of this band, I certainly cannot complain. After all, more fans means more great albums to come.
All in all, it can be said that Dance Of Death is a pretty excellent Iron Maiden album, albeit uneven in the quality of the songs it contains, and that it has its place in Maiden's career alongside with some of the albums of the Golden Era. Many older fans will complain that there is nothing really new and ground-breaking here, but the band cannot release a Piece Of Mind or a Powerslave every time they put an album out on the market. With Dance Of Death, they have done a brilliant Metal album that will still please some of the older generations, while introducing the newer fans to the world of Iron Maiden's great music in an even better way than Brave New World had already done.
Yet again a good standard Maiden album-opener. Smith's signature is easily recognisable and he gratifies us with a blinding solo. All in all, there is nothing special to say about this song. It was a made-to-be single track with lyrics similar to those of 'Wasted Years' (another Adrian Smith composition), reminding us that life is short and that there's no point moping around whereas we could be out there having fun. The rumour has it that it could also be a reflection of Steve Harris on his divorce.
The main particularity of this song is that it was the first song of the album to have been disclosed to the audience during the 'Gimme Ed 'Til I'm Dead' tour that took place prior to the release of the Dance of Death album, and Bruce warned the audience at every concert that he didn't care if the song was illegally recorded and posted as an mp3 file on the Internet, as long as people were going to buy the album on the day of its release. This marks the beginning of a new attitude towards diffusion of music files over the Net, far remote from Metallica's who initiated court cases during the infamous "Napster Incident", and thus made themselves very unpopular.
Iron Maiden have understood that the mp3s anyone can download from the Net should be an appetiser, either before an album release or to get to know an album before buying it. People who download music without ever buying the albums are committing a crime by law such a crime's name is simply "theft" and are abusing this great system that allows the sampling of an album before its purchase. Steve commented quite rightly a few years ago that, because of such an electronic diffusion of music, they would have to re-think the way they do things in the future, and that's exactly what they did. Not a single note of the album was to be found on the Internet prior to the release of Dance of Death, and 'Wildest Dreams' was only known through the poor-quality live recordings that were made during the tour. This manoeuvre actually raised the fans' curiosity and constituted a pretty good marketing gimmick. Maiden had cleverly turned illegal diffusion of music files to their advantage, and fuelled more interest in their upcoming album than before.
One last thing to note about 'Wildest Dreams': the album doesn't start with the music right away, but with Nicko counting the beat. Most albums have Nicko talking at the end of some track or another, but this one is special in the way that "Mad McBrain" is the first one to be heard on an album before the music even starts. Nicko can also be heard before 'King Of Twilight', the B-side of the Aces High single, and on 'Justice Of The Peace', the B-side of the Man On The Edge single, as well as at the beginning of 'Losfer Words', the instrumental featured on the Powerslave album. What may be the reason for that? Just for fun probably...
Musically, 'Rainmaker' is an excellent fast piece, a typical "Murray-style" rocker that is also a taylor-made single for Maiden. Although the lyrics are somewhat repetitive, the chorus is really remarkable and sticks to you mind long after the song is over. The instrumental part is also great, with a brilliant solo by Dave Murray, and should certainly have been longer. An instant classic in any case.
The song itself has nothing to do with the 1995 novel of the same name written by John Grisham that was made into a courtroom drama in Francis Ford Coppola's 1997 film. It has nothing to do either with the Vanden Plas song of the same name, which can be found on the German band's 1997 album The God Thing. This is in fact once again an allegory of life, with the desert portraying our existence. When it rains in desertic areas, the vegetation comes out extremely rapidly and the whole landscape is changed, making it more adapted to life as we know it. The metaphoric rain in the song probably tries to render this impression and the message may be that, at times of rain or happiness as the case may be our life changes and feels more enjoyable. Who is this character who can start the rain and that the lyrics seem to blame for not doing it? This is a bit of a mystery.
Rain droplets on a leaf Can we actually start the rain, and can this life-supporting rain flow more often? It seems doubtful that this rain can fall on our lives on its own accord, and this address to an external person seems futile. Why count on others and wait for good times to roll our way whereas we could take measures to find happiness ourselves? The cracks in our lives, like the cracks on the ground that are washed away by the pouring rain, can be healed only by our own doing. Some say that "Time is a great healer", but Time itself needs sometimes a little help that we can only provide ourselves. After all, we should all try to find whatever can make our personal "garden of life" flourish and we should be our own rainmakers.
With a cool Celtic-sounding soft intro, this song is reminiscent of 'The Clansman' in its very beginning. The main reproach that could be made to this song is that the chorus is very repetitive, although it does eventually seem to fit to the rest of the song. After a few listens, it seems obvious that the repetition of the words "no more lies" is an inherent part of the song and blends quite nicely with the rest. The instrumental section contains extremely good guitar solos, respectively by Dave, Adrian, and then Janick, and show an excellent use of the three-guitar attack. This piece ends softly, as it had started, and leaves the impression of yet another Maiden classic that will certainly become a concert favourite.
Darkening sky The lyrics deal with a character who knows that his time has come, with the darkening sky representing the beginning of the end (Steve Harris has mentioned that the lyrics quite match the story of the Last Supper in the Bible). However, this particular character seems to have lived his life to the full and does not express any regrets to leave this world. There is a hint as to the possibility of reincarnation ("Maybe I'll be back some other day"), as is customary in many Maiden songs that deal with death. The title of 'No More Lies' itself could have different interpretations. It could be that, when the end comes, there's no more time to lie about how we see our life. The illusions we had about our past simply vanish and we're confronted to the truth, no matter how much we tried to hide from it before. On the other hand, it could also represent the hope that, if there is a next life, it won't be filled with lies as the previous one was. Wipe the slate clean and start all over again, with truth and honesty "I'm coming back to try again". Even if there is such a thing as reincarnation or another life, it seems doubtful that truth will prevail then, as it never did before anyway.
As for all dying people, there is this crazy unfounded hope that things won't stop there ("don't tell me that this is the end"), and that our conciousness will go on forever. All we've experienced and the knowledge we've gained throughout our lives would otherwise go to waste, and we would be like some piece of electrical equipment that would have served its time just to be switched off one last time before ending up in a scrapyard. We all like to believe that this is not the case and that we can carry on indefinitely. No one knows for sure if this is the case, though...
Based on the true story of the Cathars (Bruce Dickinson was on a holiday in the area of Montsegur, in Southern France , and was so fascinated by the tale that he wrote a song about it), this song starts with an intro reminiscent of 'The Fallen Angel' and of some of the best rockers on the Piece Of Mind album. This is without doubt the heaviest song of the Dance Of Death album, with a very strong metal guitar riffage and massive drumming, all accompanied by Dickinson's fierce and powerful voice. Quite sadly however, the pre-chorus (the part that starts with "As we kill them all...") sounds a bit too light-hearted for such a dark topic and unbalances what could have been otherwise a great song.
Originally inspired by Ingmar Bergman's 1957 film The Seventh Seal, the song starts very softly and ominously with the lyrics warning of an awful story to unfold, a "story to chill the bones". The soft music builds slowly in a crescendo as the story is being told until a little Celtic-/Eastern European-sounding melody starts and the song litterally explodes. The instrumental part makes the best use of the three guitars, and the solos follow each other with each of the guitarists showcasing his great personal musical ability. The song ends once again quietly with the lyrics trying to find a moral to this macabre story, that we should live life as if we were going to die tomorrow, a topic that has re-occurred quite a lot in Iron Maiden's songs lately. This is yet another good Maiden epic that benefited of the composition talents of both Janick Gers, mainly for the original idea, and Steve Harris, essentially for the lyrics.
'Dance Of Death' is not referring to the medieval dances of death, a series of ancient plays that have reached us through paintings and engravings, the most famous of which being Holbein's (14971543). Instead, the story takes us to the deep South of the United States, where Voodoo has taken place and is still said to occur regularly still now. The setting of the story is the Everglades, a marshy area and a national park at the southernmost tip of Florida, and somehow quite close to where Nicko McBrain lives, although there is no indication that the drummer inspired the location of the tale. The lyrics are reminiscent of those of 'The Number Of The Beast', although the character of the story is here actively participating to the gruesome ceremony and there is no mention of Satan (the undead may have "ascended from Hell", but they seem to be on a night out without the "boss").
This strange little song suffers from a lack of originality and is probably the weakest on the Dance Of Death album. On the first verse, Bruce Dickinson adopts once again this harsh and raspy way of singing that characterised the decline period of Iron Maiden when No Prayer For The Dying and Fear Of The Dark were released. The main riff shows no real creativity and Janick's solos are quite horrendous, giving the impression that he's clumsily trying to pile up as many notes as possible in the shortest time available. 'Gates Of Tomorrow' has besically the feel of a B-side and seems to have been included on the album as a filler.
The lyrics are somewhat unclear and seem to allude to some super-natural entity whose main goal is to deceive unsuspecting humans and lead them astray. On the other hand, this character is paradoxically quite willing to free the emprisoned souls by cutting the threads of the web and then show them what the future has in store for them. Hearing the lyrics, I cannot help but think of the Fates (or M?rae), these ancient Greek divinities that, according to the mythology, ruled the mortals' lives. They were three of them: Clotho, spinning the threads of life; Lachesis, who wove them and therefore deciding of human fate; and Atropos, who randomly cut the threads of life, thereby being an early representation of Death. The song may then refer to humans being "trapped in the web" of life, from which there no escape.
Another explanation that many fans find plausible is that this is a reference to the Internet, hence the "Web". There has been a lot of controversy about the diffusion of music files over the World Wide Web and Iron Maiden have obviously tried to prevent the copying of their music prior to the release of the Dance Of Death album... and it worked quite effectively. Moreover, they seem to have thwarted all attempts to unveil the mysteries of the new album including the cover art over the Internet and seem to have had a lot of fun with it. Think of all the arguments that surrounded the release of the official cover artwork, and how so many fans thought that it was a joke and not the real cover. Could have Iron Maiden "cut the threads" of the World Wide Web? This seems unlikely, but if this instrument is supposed to be the "Gates Of Tomorrow", the future looks on the one hand very bright, as the Internet is the greatest encyclopaedia that ever was if you know how to use it properly, or pretty grim on the other hand, as abuses of the system and hours-long isolation in front of a computer screen announce ominously a slow but inevitable de-humanisation of the users.
After twenty years in the band, this was bound to happen: Nicko McBrain eventually wrote a song for an Iron Maiden album. He wrote the basics and the bass-line, and the musical result is quite decent for a first song. The song is a standard Maiden fast tune, and has mainly been salvaged by the two excellent solos by Adrian Smith and Dave Murray, although, like 'Gates Of Tomorrow', it has the feel of a half-baked song that should have ended up as a B-side on some single. However, it would be unfair to Nicko to discourage him, and I hope that he will write more songs in the future.
However, the lyrics are in my view the weakest point of 'New Frontier'. Not only are they a shallow religious blurb, but they are also pretty offensive to scientists and, as a biologist, they appalled me quite a bit. This is the kind of pamphlet that led to physicians practising abortion being murdered in the United States, and that could incite feeble-minded religious extremists to do the same with any scientist dealing with the living. A very grim outlook indeed!!
The first thing you hear in the song is Nicko's rhythmic hits on the hi-hat in a similar way to Morse code, the old communication method consisting of short and long signals on a broadcast, and that was used quite a lot for communication during WW I. Then the intro starts in earnest with periods of melodic calm alternating with more intense blasts of music, reminiscent of the quiet periods in-between times of heavy shelling that took place during the trench war. The scene is quickly set and Maiden's music renders once again visions of war and assault, like it does so realistically with songs such as 'The Trooper', for instance. Only instead of horses charging enemy lines, this is here a story of mud-filled, horrid death and absolute horror like only the Great War has shown in recent History. This is also probably the most poignant Iron Maiden song, depicting with vivid images what the life and death conditions were on the front at that time. The ending of the song is soft, containing verses that attest of the absence of hatred between the parties at war, as both sides of the front line were ordinary people thrown into the slaughter by their respective mindless leaders and all suffered equally. This is a fantastic epic song that is bound to become a classic.
'Paschendale' tells us of the horrors of the First World War, taking the example of a battle that happened in Belgium, but the story could have taken place on virtually any battlefield of that time. Here, a new light is shed on the atrocity of war, as this one (like WW II) was fought essentially by conscripts who were dragged into this terrible nightmare, unlike most recent wars like the First Gulf War depicted by Iron Maiden in 'Afraid To Shoot Strangers' wars that were fought by professional soldiers whose job is to guarantee peace after the famous Latin proverb "si vis pacem para bellum" (if you want peace, prepare for war).
'Face In The Sand' is yet again a statement about the ways of the world and how people react to the horrors that happen on a daily basis. The intro is a long intrumental piece with a few Celtic nods and grows into a great crescendo, with Nicko using a double-kick for the first time on an Iron Maiden recording although he admitted himself that he had suffered a lot playing this song, and would be rather pleased not to have to play it live, which is a shame as it would be a great moment during a concert. The syths are put forward in a brilliant way and create a special atmosphere that is most enjoyable. This is a powerful piece that manages to convey a lot of emotion, and whose instrumental intro could fit in quite well as an ending to 'Paschendale'.
The lyrics, not unlike those of 'Brave New World', seem to deal with the general state of mind of the western world whose populations have become dependent on news that are pre-digested and sometimes warped. "Everyone's waiting for something to happen/Everybody's waiting for something to see" attests of a life of passive boredom, just to be fed with disasters depicted on a tv screen ("looking at death from the sky" is probably an allusion to satellite tv). Even "lunatics" are "waiting for bigger disasters", which they sometime even engineer themselves. Could it be a reference to the attacks on New York and Washington on 11th September 2001 ? It is possible, although the main suspect of these attacks namely Ossama Bin Laden seems to have been more of a calculating and patient mass-murderer than a lunatic. A man driven by hatred, but by no means insane.
Everyone's waiting for news on TV But no-one learns the lesson of the past and a short memory span characterises our civilisation, as "Everyone is looking but no one's listening". People simply take interest out of misplaced curiosity, like those sad cases who slow down on the motorway to better watch an accident in the sick hope that they'll see a bleeding corpse or two. Besides, "Everyone's looking for the reason why", as they do not seem to fully comprehend what they see, as it was the case when the terrorist attacks on the US territory occurred. People around the planet were in shock and could not understand that anybody could plan and execute such horror, and many just stated that this was the work of a "lunatic". The right question to ask, though, would have been "how come some people hate us so much that they go to such horrifying lengths to try and destroy us?" Indeed, why should the nice brave Western world be the target of such attacks? Think about it.
Everyone's nightmares are going to happen The only thing left to do is, according to the song, watch and wait. Praying for an answer and a stop to all these disasters and wars may not do much good, but it shows anyway a step in the right direction in the form of a positive attitude and the hope that the catastrophes will end. They probably will continue until the end time, when there's no-one left to continue the strife and impose misery on the world: "But the end never came and we're digging the graves/And we're loading the guns for the kill". Iron Maiden tell us that the "signs of the end time" are already visible to those who know where to look. Could they be right? Let's just wait and see..
This song is Steve's response to the outrage of the current situation in the United Kingdom (and probably elsewhere), where the official figures of the crime rate are supposedly decreasing as compared to the last century, although other more independent surveys seem to show the contrary. Reports indicate that, whereas the average criminality is on the decline, violent crime is however on the rise. And, last but not least, England and Wales have been shown to be the highest-ranking areas for criminality in a survey covering 17 industrialised countries around the world, including the United States, a country that has usually a bad reputation when it comes to this subject.
A lot of controversy has arisen following the discussion of the song's lyrics and they have been a particularly hot topic even on the official Iron Maiden bulletin board. The band have been accused of dishing out "bad Tory tabloid nonsense", but is someone's revolt regarding the state of the country he lives in so shameful? Times have changed and there is here a longing for the so-called "good old days", as they where according to Maiden the "age of innocence". Let's bear in mind, though, that Steve Harris and Dave Murray, to name but only these two, have grown up in a pretty though area where the East End mafia, an organised criminal institution in which by the infamous Kray brothers were heavily involved, was still very active and up to no good. Could we call this a safer time than now? It is doubtful although there was at the time some sense of honour among these structured organisations and they would seldom if ever strike blindly at innocent people.
In our current society, crime has become almost exclusively a "spur of the moment" type of thing and anyone can become a victim, should the potential villain(s) see the right opportunity. Elderly people as well as younger ones are constantly at risk of being mugged, "even in [their] own home". Opportunist crime is probably nowadays the most widespread and the most dangerous, as the attackers do not have any specific plans in mind and simply violently lash out at their victims. Most are young and their inexperience often leads them to panic and to become extremely aggressive.
The case of Tony Martin comes to mind when listening to the lyrics of the song, notably with the lines stating that no-one is safe, even at home, and that the "judicial system lets them do it". Tony Martin, a Norfolk farmer, has been tried for killing a 16-year-old and wounding another with a shotgun blast during an attempted burglary by the two teenagers back in August 1999. In The Guardian's words an independent and fairly impartial newspaper in the UK "[Tony Martin] was depicted as the ordinary man who, plagued by burglars and let down by the police, had struck back but was now being persecuted for his actions", but he was also "always an odd kind of hero [who] thought of himself and few contradicted him as an 'eccentric' who preferred the company of the three rottweiler dogs he lived with on his dilapidated farm, Bleak House". Some see Martin as a victim who had suffered repeated burglaries and who, before the lack of an adequate response from the law, decided to do justice himself and to defend his property. Support associations have even been created to demand his release from prison and stronger laws that would allow every citizen to defend himself as he sees fit. On the other hand, Martin has also been depicted as a strange loner whose misanthropy had led him to lead a secluded life in a booby-trapped farm guarded by three Rottweilers. The accusations went as far as to pretend that he had embushed the two boys and that his act was not one of a panicked old person, but that of a mentally-disturbed man whose hatred had led him to murder.
In any case, whoever Martin is, can we take the law into our hands and punish so severely those that are not properly penalised by the justice? I do not necessarily think that "A life of petty crime gets punished with a holiday", although it is sad to see that the justice is sometimes slack and that some "Assailants know just how much further they can go". The whole judicial system would need a good clean-up and a revision in order to satisfy the victims' claims to compensation for their ordeal. Some crimes are punished, others are not, and it is this last category that is intolerable and that sometimes push otherwise law-abiding citizens to unlawful action. On the other hand, wrong or unnecessarily harsh convictions can also make things worse. For those who know the famous BBC soap opera EastEnders, the case of Martin Fowler comes to mind. Martin was a pretty decent young man who did time for manslaughter and who for a long time after his release despised work and the working people. He was making somewhat "easy" money with dodgy deals and burglary, his petty crimes extending to lies and deceit of his own family. Sometimes, the remedy can be worse than the disease itself.
Repression is one thing, education is another. These so-called petty crimes would not occur if people were educated in the respect of others and of their property. As the whole society seems nowadays assisted by some unclear "higher instances" that provide them with easy pre-digested information, easy fast food, easy welfare state money, and the like, some take the easy way and steal the property they would like to own but are too lazy to work for (or simply destroy it if it cannot be stolen "if I can't have it, no-one else will"). This pathetic mentality, sustained by the lack of proper guidance, leads to the civilisation of mugging, rape and burglary that we currently live in. This state of our society will not change unless people learn to respect each other and recognise that work, as hard as it may sometimes be, is often rewarded by the ability to eventually own what you wished for. I cannot believe that there is more satisfaction in stealing something than in actually earning it.
Musically, 'Age Of Innocence' is a very good piece that starts softly to explode into a blinding riff and heavy rhythm. The instrumental part is Maiden at their best, following a brilliant solo by Dave Murray. The rapped part ("You can't protect yourselves...") is at first a bit surprising and unusual for a Maiden song, but after a few listens you'll realise that it is an integral part of the song and that it blends in quite nicely with the rest. The song ends softly, as it had started, in a melancholic statement that the "age of innocence" whatever that may be "is fading like an old dream")
'Journeyman' is the long awaited all-acoustic song of Iron Maiden. It has been compared to 'Prodigal Son' for this similarity, although 'Prodigal Son' contains some non-acoustic elements, whereas 'Journeyman' doesn't. Maiden are not renowned for their acoustic pieces, but when they compose one, they really give their best and the result is an unusual although very recognisable Maiden tune of very high caliber.
There isn't much that can be said about this song, except that it is a brilliant piece that is probably along with 'Paschendale', but for different reasons the best song on the Dance Of Death album. The lyrics are not in any apparent way related to the Orson Scott Card novel of the same name. A journeyman is someone who has learned the skills of a particular trade and who travels around a country for a few years to exercise this trade before finally settling somewhere as a master of his trade. Journeymen hold nowadays a certificate in their trade indicating that the holder has met certain standards and learned the skills of the trade.
The journeyman of the song doesn't seem to have any other trade than that of living, which he has exercised virtually everywhere on the planet, "From the red sky of the East to the sunset in the West", indicating that we are all journeymen in our own right, but never becoming a master in the art. The philosophical aspect of the lyrics show that although "We have cheated Death" and indeed the human lifespan has vastly increased in recent years "He has [also] cheated us" in the way that a longer life still inevitably ends at one point anyway, and whatever we have undertaken in our lives is just a dream (the "strange illusion" that is referred to in 'Hallowed Be Thy Name'). Life is just made of subsisting memories of our deeds, good or bad, and our achievements are nothing but "shadows we made with our hands" in the eye of the Great Leveller.
This is basically a song of hope, inciting us to "turn to the light" that burns in the darkness of our lives instead of chosing desolation (a verse that seems to be whispered once again by Bruce during the soft instrumental break). This is our own individual choice that no-one can take away and, as journeymen, we can practise our trade the best we can to try and make things better for ourselves and for those around us. A brilliant song indeed, both musically soothing and lyrically deep.