Iron Maiden - The X Factor
On October 2, 1995, "The X Factor", Iron Maiden's tenth studio album, was released.
This is a controversial album among "Iron Maiden" fans, some of whom had a hard time accepting the new singer Blaze Bayley and were not open to changing of style the band went through.
If you are one of those fans or you just skipped "The X Factor", we are here to convince you that this is a great album that is really worth listening to.
The story of this album begins with the end of the tour that accompanied the album "Fear Of The Dark", when singer Bruce Dickinson left the band. Bruce felt he had exhausted himself as part of the band, he said he felt trapped inside a golden cage. He added that the easiest option for him was to continue to recycle himself within the band, with the second option being to step out of the comfort zone of "Iron Maiden" and try to find his way as a solo singer, maybe even reinvent himself. When he informed the band members that he was leaving, he had no plans for the future, he just knew he did not want to continue doing the same, so his friends had even more difficult understanding his decision.
After a break following the dramatic announcement of Bruce Dickinson, the band members decided that breaking the band up is not an option and that they were interested in moving on. At the same time, it was clear to everyone that this was not going to be an easy task to replace one of the greatest singers in metal and that it would be very difficult to find someone who could get into his shoes. They began auditioning for a singer to replace Bruce in 1994 and listened to hundreds of tapes and demos, from which 12 finalists were chosen to audition in front of them. One of those singers was Blaze Bayley from the band "Wolfsbane", which was their opening act in the early 1990s. As is well known, Blaze was eventually chosen to be the frontman that would replace Bruce, and bassist Steve Harris justified the band's decision by saying they were looking for something different from Bruce.
When Blaze came into the band, they had not yet written a single note for the album, so he was a full partner in the making, although in practice he participated in writing only three songs from the album, including one of the greatest and most successful songs from it - "Man on the Edge". The lyrics were written by Blaze inspired by the movie "Falling Down" starring Michael Douglas, and indeed the lyrics are repeated in the chorus. It is interesting to note that this is the only song on the album that bassist Steve Harris was not involved in writing at all and therefore it is quite surprising that Janick Gers and Blaze Bayley managed to score a hit in the amazing style of "Iron Maiden", which combines power and melody. This song is very prominent in the overall landscape of the album which is mostly gloomy, dim, slower, and heavier compared to the band's previous albums. There are almost no fast-paced rhythms here, no tracks close to Speed Metal, and it seems that for the most part the album has been adapted to the minimalist nineties trends whose motto focused on "Les Is More", which is not necessarily bad in this case.
Another reason why the album is darker and gloomier than its predecessors is influenced by Steve Harris' personal problems and especially by the divorce proceedings he went through at the time. Things are in line with the gloomy cover chosen for the album in which Eddie is inside a torture device. This also explains the fact that the only song in which Harris was not involved at all - "Man on the Edge" is among the upbeat material on the album and is also the song that most closely resembles the band's previous material.
It should be remembered that beyond the desire to change the style, regardless of the personal storm Steve Harris went through at the time, the album's slowness and heaviness may have stemmed from the need to adapt the material to Blaze Bayley's style and sound, or in other words, the songs here have been adapted to Blaze Bayley's limited vocal range, but we do not see this as a bad thing, quite the opposite. This brought a different and beautiful side of "Iron Maiden" that can't be heard on other albums.
The name of the album also matched the band's choice to make a change here. Steve Harris noted that they felt that this album had the extra thing, its unique quality, the "X Factor" so they chose the name "The X Factor", while the number "X" in Roman numerals represents the number 10 - and it was the band's tenth album.
And if we are already talking about a different album, then the choice to open up the album with a song like "Janick Gers" is a statement of intent by the band, that just cries out for "change". This is an epic, bombastic and complex musical piece that usually has a place of honor in the last tracks of "Iron Maiden's albums while here, the band chose to open the album with this amazing mini-epic that crosses the 11 minutes. The song is based on the book "The Name of the Rose" which later became the movie "Name Of The Rose" starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater, Which is also why the song opens with a kind of Gregorian chant/singing performed by "The Xpression Choir". It's one of Maiden's most complex, dynamic, melodic, and beautiful songs and we're just addicted to it. No wonder it's one of the few songs from the Blaze Bayley era that the band chose to perform live even after Bruce Dickinson's return to the band.
Similar to the two songs we mentioned above that were influenced by movies, the song "The Edge of Darkness" was also influenced by the 1979 film "Apocalypse Now", or more accurately by Joseph Conrad's novel "Heart of Darkness" on which the film is based, dealing with the horrors of the Vietnam War and their negative impact on the soldiers who experienced them. This song, too, is very dynamic and opens quietly and slowly, with Steve Harris' bass chords and slowly increasing the tempo, to a climax that ends with a melodic and sweeping solo battle by Dave Murray and Janick Gers, only to gradually slow down again, until the slow and quiet ending, Just as we started.
The song "Lord of the Flies" is also based on the book of the same name by William Golding "Beelzebub", which later became a film. The song written by Janick Gers and Steve Harris is also the second single released from the album, whose video clip was shot in Israel, including on "Masada" which the band visited during their performances in Israel in 1995. Like the previous single, this song is one of the most rhythmic on the album, mainly led by the guitars.
In the fact that four of the album's songs are based on books and/or movies, one can perhaps find similarities between this album and the band's previous albums.
Here is the place to note the wonderful combination between the guitars of Janick Gers and Dave Murray on this album, whose formation has been built over the 5 years they have played together, since Gers joined the band, and which has reached perfection on this album. The playing of both is sweeping and flawless. They lift each other and complement each other. Their harmonies are at their peak and the melodies are simply instructive. Listen to the solos in the excellent song "The Aftermath" or the opening of "The Unbeliever", listen to them in the song "Judgment of Heaven" starting at 2:46, or in the solos starting halfway through the song "2 AM". Particularly notable is Janick Gers' staccato playing, which blends in nicely and adapts itself to the band's updated sound and trends in the metal genre at the time. Gers also excelled here in terms of writing when he co-wrote 6 of the 11 songs on the album, when surprisingly Dave Murray did not contribute.
Steve Harris also brings a different color to this album, in terms of playing. Whether it's in songs that open with his arpeggio bass playing, like in the song "Fortunes of War", and whether it's in the use of the palm-muted strings in the intro to the song "Blood on the World", or starting at 0:22 in the song "The Unbeliever". We also really liked his combination with the guitars in the opening song "Look for the Truth" which brought back memories of the song "Remember Tomorrow" from the days of the debut album - "Iron Maiden".
3 more songs were written for the album and stayed on the editing table. "I Live My Way", "Justice of The Peace" and "Judgment Day", are all excellent songs released as b-sides and collections released by the band, also on the Japanese version of the album.
As we wrote in the opening of this review, we think this album is an excellent one, and we see it as a double gift we received from "Iron Maiden". On the one hand, we were lucky to have a different kind of album in terms of sound and style, quieter, gloomier, and more melodic. On the other hand, without this album, the power of Adrian Smith and Bruce Dickinson's comeback in the early 2000s, would not have been so strong. Just think what would have happened if the band had continued to release mediocre albums with Bruce, it would probably have disappeared from the musical world. So it was actually Blaze Bayley's entry to the band that would eventually lead to one of the most amazing comebacks in metal.
For Listening: Spotify, Apple Music