When Iron Maiden reunited with longtime vocalist Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith in 1999 for the Ed Hunter tour, fans were thrilled to see the majority of the lineup that brought the world such great albums as Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind and Powerslave.
Sure, drummer Nicko McBrain was absent from the legendary Number of the Beast and there was an extra guitarist in the band by the time Smith came back, but axeman Janick Gers’ flash and agility nicely complimented the dual attack of Smith and Dave Murray.
The more significant cause for celebration was Dickinson’s return after two shaky albums with ex-Wolfsbane vocalist Blaze Bailey. As If fans were looking to the future while enjoying the present as Ed Hunter swept through the nation, they weren’t the only ones. Before Iron Maiden even took to stage for the first show they had already written the majority of their twelfth album Brave New World, which came out on May 29, 2000.
“From the moment we started the songwriting process, we saw the tour as a small blip on the way to making [Brave New World] — something to cheer us up,” Dickinson told Detritus writer Clay Marshall in 2000. “It started the ball rolling; it started winding people up. People [asked themselves], ‘If they can still do this live, can they still make a great record together?'”
Iron Maiden, Live in Hamburg, Germany (1999)
The answer, as it turned out, was abso-fuckin’-lutely! The excitement of being a fully functioning unit again shines throughout Brave New World like a flashlight through the night. Musically, all three guitarists and Harris were on fire, crafting a combination of volcanic riffs and catchy hooks for songs like “The Wicker Man,” “The Mercenary” and the title track, and delving into more complex arrangements in the epic, expansive “Blood Brothers,” “Dream of Mirrors” and “The Nomad.”
“I think that this is genuinely the best-sounding Maiden album there’s ever been,” Dickinson said. “All respect due to Piece of Mind, which is my previous favorite record and still sounds good, but this is just one level of brutality beyond that… The musicianship within the band is so scarily good. People don’t even realize how good the players are in Maiden. That’s why it’s possible for us to do it.”
Before Brave New World evolved into a dynamic, multi-dimensional journey, it began with the simple, galloping number, “The Wicker Man,” which inadvertently turned out to be the first single. “It started off being a riff by Adrian. I thought it sounded very bouncy, and I started putting a catchy little melody to it,” Dickinson said. “I thought, ‘This could be a real good single,’ so we started playing around with it. [Bassist] Steve [Harris] came in with some of the anthemic bits at the end. And there it was, four-and-a-half minutes long without even trying to get a single-length track.”
Iron Maiden, “The Wicker Man” Music Video
The rest of the album was born of far more meticulous thought and adventurous musicianship. Instead of ending songs once they had reached a certain length, Maiden stretched them out until the members felt they had reached their natural conclusion. All but three of the songs are more than six minutes long and three exceed eight minutes, leaving plenty of room for Dickinson and Harris to tell intricate, involved stories.
As they’d done in the past, Maiden reached to literature and films for inspiration. “The Wicker Man” was inspired by a 1973 British horror film directed by Robin Hardy, The title track was written after Dickinson re-read the Aldous Huxley novel Brave New World and “Out of the Silent Planet” was influenced by the 1956 sci-fi movie Forbidden Planet.
Once they returned from the Ed Hunter tour, Iron Maiden flew to Paris to start working with producer Kevin Shirley at a studio called Guallaume Tell. Harris and Shirley co-produced, and got along so well they worked together on all three of the group’s subsequent albums. Instead of tracking the drums first and then adding the other instruments Iron Maiden decided to record Brave New World live in the studio.
Iron Maiden, “Brave New World” — Live at Rock in Rio (2001)
“[It had] a huge sounding drum room, [and] loads of glass so we could all get eye contact with each other while we were playing,” Dickinson told Detritus. “At the same time, I could do my vocals completely live and be separated from all the racket. We rehearsed all the songs up as if we were gonna go and do a gig, and then we did a gig, basically, for each song, but in the studio.”
When asked why he decided to get back together with Iron Maiden after eight years away from the band, Dickinson explained that he enjoyed his solo career, but that the chemistry between the members of Iron Maiden is undeniable and he longed to return to where he always felt he belonged.
“We’re not sad old fuckers getting back together to go and make a few bucks,” he said. “That’s sad and cheesy, and not something I’m interested in. I would rather stack shelves. As soon as I rejoined Maiden, this avalanche just appeared in my life. The whole world of metal suddenly descending around your ears going, ‘He’s back in Maiden!’ I thought, ‘You know, if I’m going to potentially put [my solo career] at risk’ …[But] regardless of whether the other guys in the band have solo careers or not, we all feel that this is going to put Maiden back right at the top of the league, in terms of metal, on their own terms.”
Iron Maiden, “Out of the Silent Planet” Music Video
Brave New World was Iron Maiden’s last album to go gold in the U.S., though that’s likely more of a reflection on universally declining album sales than any indication of the quality of the records that followed. The disc debuted at No. 39 on the Billboard album charts and was generally well-received by critics and fans.
“I still think the band may be a little too quirky in its own way for the kind of triple-platinum type audience,” Dickinson told Detritus. “In the ’80s, we were too heavy, and all the hair bands went quintuple-platinum. We sold a million, and we did cool. Then, all of a sudden, everything’s flipped around now, and now everything’s really atonal, and yelling and screaming and everything, and people are wondering whether Maiden’s heavy enough. We actually transcend all that bullshit.”
As long as they remain true to their ideals and continue to follow their creative muse instead of some emerging or existing trend, Iron Maiden will be just fine.
Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the author of Raising Hell: Backstage Tales From the Lives of Metal Legends, co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.
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