From The Vault: Iron Maiden – “The X Factor”

Posted by Andrew Johann Datoush on Thursday, April 28, 2016 at 6:52 AM (PST)


Editor’s Note: Our writer AJD (aka. Drewdas Priest) kicks off our new From The Vault entries. This year has seen us feature some of longhairedpoet’s looks back on albums celebrating big anniversaries (like AC/DC’s High Voltage turning 40, for example), but much like our Deep Cuts, these From The Vault entries will be a way to have guest writers or regulars be able to rant about certain random records they love, if, say, I fall off the wagon and decide I have a burning need to remind everyone how much Pestilence’s Testimony Of The Ancients fucking rules. Get it? It’s different from, say, Decibel’s excellent Hall Of Fame series in that we are more interested in blabbing our own opinions with FTV than constructive research, hahaha. Think of these as, like, really late album reviews. 

This is a new type of posting from me. My intent with unearthing older albums is to give forgotten albums a second chance and possibly introduce yesterday’s albums to today’s younger fans and breathe new life into these albums. IRON MAIDEN’s 1995 release, The X Factor was an album I have always described as “criminally underrated”. True, this album has gotten a really bad rap over the years, but I can really only guess those that hated it only gave it one spin when it was released and being unable to get past the fact that Bruce Dickinson had been replaced by WOLFSBANE singer Blaze Bayley, put it on a shelf where it would collect dust. Seeing as the first three tracks of the album are regularly appearing in their set list and greatest hits collections, there has just got to be more to the album than the negative hashtags from Twitter users.

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Let’s do some digging… The first song of the album, the epic “Sign Of The Cross” opens with a dark, very ominous chanting for a little over a minute before you hear an acoustic guitar come in. This is already a great indicator that this is going to be a different IRON MAIDEN than we had been used to hearing before now, and we haven’t even gotten to Blaze’s opening lines of the song, which are so low tone, so soft, it’s almost haunting. It sucks you in and then suddenly pounds you as the band kicks up the power and Blaze belts out the lyrics ,“Standing alone in the wind and rain!”

The band is tighter than ever before with the instrumental sections, perfectly accompanying Bayley’s soulful voice. The album continues with the hits “Lord Of The Flies” and “Man On The Edge” before moving on to one of MAIDEN’s most underrated songs, “Fortunes Of War”. A beautifully crafted song, “Fortunes Of War” tells the story of soldiers on their way home from the war, and the battle now ahead of them. The lyric that hit me hardest from MAIDEN’s entire catalogue came from this song. “People say ‘don’t worry’ Say that time’s a perfect healer That the nightmares, they will come to pass”. I had seen the movie Jacob’s Ladder shortly before I first heard the album, so there are a number of scenes I remember well that play beautifully in my head as I hear this song. In the movie, there was a man that had returned to NYC after being in Nam and he would have crazy nightmares and hallucinations frequently, and was just completely losing his sanity. I think it’s a really good visual representation of these lyrics.

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Following “Fortunes Of War” is the excellent “Look For The Truth” which I don’t know if it had ever been in IRON MAIDEN’s live set list, but there was a really good pop when Blaze Bayley performed it live on his Alive In Poland DVD. “The Aftermath” and “Judgement Of Heaven” follow, and it gives you a sense of where bassist Steve Harris’ head was at during the writing process of the album. It must have been a hell of a dark place, but not dark enough yet, because what comes next is a dark, dreary bass solo that flows into another darker, angrier song, “Blood On The World’s Hands”, which is pretty much a huge “What the fuck is going on in our world?” type of song looking at tragedy across the globe, knowing the world is in turmoil and it could happen to us at any time.

“Edge Of Darkness” comes next, starting with the sound of a distant helicopter and a really soft tone in a similar vein of the intro to “Sign Of The Cross” at the start of the album. A really low toned intro that suckers you in and then hits you when you least expect it, and not just lyrically, but instrumentally, this is the best IRON MAIDEN ever sounded together. The guitar work is incredible. “2 AM” comes up next with the softest tune on the album which gives a sense of living on autopilot and hoping to get out of that funk. The album closes with “The Unbeliever” which deals with living life without belief in yourself and running away from your problems because you’re afraid to take them on.

This album is not only different from other IRON MAIDEN releases because of the singer, but instrumentally, it’s darker, moodier, and is tighter than ever before. I’ve always felt that the lyrics were deeper and more meaningful while the completed songs just had so much more substance than prior releases. I strongly suggest you check the album out regardless if you’ve bought it when it was first released, or never knew it existed. Hell, even if you’re reading this and are not an IRON MAIDEN fan, check it anyway, because it truly is very different from any other release in so many ways. I’d even suggest spending the extra few bucks to get the bonus track cd if you find it, because “I Live My Way” is worth it.

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