On March 23, 1998, Iron Maiden's 11th (XI) studio album "Virtual XI", was released, and indeed, in a sense it was "virtual"...
Why "virtual"? because in a sense "Iron Maiden" sounds on this album like an imitation of themselves. It's the album where they went furthest from their roots and probably also the band's weakest album in all of its amazing repertoire.
Farthest from their roots we said?
We will continue with the fact that this album includes a massive use of keyboards. Not guitar synthesizer effects, not the little additions that Michael Kenney plays throughout the bands album, but full keyboards that Steve Harris plays on three of the album's eight songs.
Want more? So "Virtual XI" is one of three albums that do not include a theme song which is the same as the name of the album. True, the previous album with Blaze Bayley "The X Factor" is another one of three.
If that's not enough, then it's the only "Iron Maiden" album whose closing song "Como Estais Amigos" was not written by Steve Harris, but by Janick Gers and Blaze Bayley, and happens to be one of the only two songs of "Iron Maiden" whose title is not in English (the other is" El Dorado "from the album "The Final Frontier").
And finaly this is the only "Iron Maiden " album that to date has not passed the million album mark, in sales.
This album has some precious gems, most notably "Futureal" written by Blaze Bayley and Steve Harris and selected in a 1999 by "Iron Maiden" fan poll, as one of the band's popular songs, and "The Clansman" written by Steve Harris inspired by the movie "Braveheart" With Mel Gibson and tells of the Scots' attempt to gain independence from Britain in the Middle Ages. Both songs were performed live even after Bruce Dickinson's return, the last of which was performed even in the band's last tour.
True, all the other songs on the album fall short of these two, but there are still some good songs here that manage to keep this album afloat and make it a well-deserved one.
"Do Not Look to the Eyes of a Stranger", one of the most interesting and special songs of "Iron Maiden" written by Steve Harris from the point of view of a worried father about the dangers that exist in the world.
And there's the "Lightning Strikes Twice" defined by Steve Harris as a "Never Say Never" song, the philosophical "Educated Fool" that describes the life of an adult man and especially the amazing ending song "Como Estais Amigos" which is a tribute to soldiers who fought on both sides of the Barricade in the Falklands War - a one-time song, unique and different from Maiden's familiar style.
The first single released from the album and deals with someone who is not afraid to take risks "The Angel and the Gambler", is one of theweakest on the album and we would define it as a strange choice to represent the album.
It is interesting to note, that during the sessions for the album 4 more songs were written: "Nomad", "Dream of Mirrors", "Mercenary" and "Blood Brothers". These songs will wait a year until the return of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith and they will surf up on the album "Brave New World".