It’s time to end 2022. I’ve already done my top albums list for the year, so for the last AOTW I’ll just pick something and go with it. Here we have a good collection of songs, though wrapped in one of the most hideous album covers in history. Given the band, that was no small sin.
Iron Maiden – Dance Of Death
Released September 2003 via EMI Records
My Favorite Tracks – Paschendale, Dance Of Death, Face In The Sand
Before I even get into the album itself, I’ll take a minute to discuss the awful cover art. The art was commissioned to David Patchett, who has done some great work on album covers by British doom band Cathedral. Patchett submitted the Grim Reaper Eddie design with a few shadowy monks behind him to the band. Band and management felt the design looked empty, so they countered with some computer-generated figures to fill out the piece. Patchett did his best to work with what he was given, but ultimately decided to remain uncredited as the cover artist. The cover itself has been universally reviled since it was revealed to the world.
I made this point some time ago when I talked about some bad album covers, but just imagine – being an artist engaged in the trade of making album covers and NOT wanting your name associated with an Iron Maiden album cover. The band who became known through their iconic album covers. This cover art was certainly a gross misstep and the blame lies squarely within the Maiden camp for it.
Thankfully the album itself holds up. It is 11 songs clocking in at near 68 minutes, which seemed a bit long then but is virtually an EP for Iron Maiden now. Though the album got released on different days of the same week across the world, everyone got the same version so it’s go time.
The album opener is also one of two released singles, though nothing was officially released ahead of the album. The band encouraged people to record the song live and distribute it via Internet during the golden age of file sharing, which many did.
The song is a pretty simple rock tune. It’s one of those motivational ones that talks about letting go of the past and setting out to get “it,” whatever it is. The song is not particularly well-regarded in the scope of Iron Maiden opening tracks but I think it’s a bit better than it gets credit for.
The other single from the album, this was a track primarily composed by guitarist Dave Murray. Smiling Dave has largely stepped away from songwriting as the band as gone on so this is a rare treat. It has a very catchy Murray riff and the lyrics tend with the business of washing away unpleasantness and starting anew.
No More Lies
This wasn’t a single but did wind up the subject of a souvenir EP. The song sees its narrator facing the inevitable end of mortality and deciding to take it upon his or her self to achieve what they feel they have left to do in life. So far the themes of the songs have been very life-based and more realistic than the epic fantasy tales of Maiden yore.
Here Maiden get pretty hard and tackle a 1244 AD castle siege. I know as much about it as you do. Apparently it was pretty brutal. Despite the harder nature of the track, there is a fair bit of Maiden melody in this one.
Dance Of Death
The title track was composed by Steve Harris and Janick Gers and stands as one of Maiden’s most epic title songs. It is a tale of someone joining the danse macabre and barely making it out with his live, promising to only dance again when it’s time for him to do the dance of death.
This is a massive composition with epic arrangement and Bruce Dickinson really going all out on the vocals. While other songs got selected as singles, this is one of two from the album considered among Maiden’s best and makes one wonder why they didn’t just release this one on its own instead.
Gates Of Tomorrow
Back to a more straightforward rock track that has something do do with taking self responsibility as opposed to waiting for some cosmic force to save you, or at least something like that. It’s not my favorite by any means but it’s still a decent listen.
A very rare gem here – this is the sole songwriting credit attributed to drummer Nicko McBrain in Maiden history. The song is pretty bright and melodic but the story is dark – it’s a tale of someone cloning humans and coming to regret it, a sort of Frankenstein thing.
It’s back to war now and to World War I, the setting being the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Passchendale. The battle was massive and cost several hundred thousand lives, analysis of the battle takes up millions of pages.
In terms of the song, this is one of Iron Maiden’s most epic achievements. It is a massive presentation that recounts the story of but one of the great many who died on the battlefield in the controversial fight. The song features soaring verses and plenty of splendid guitar work. I do feel like the massively positive reception to this track helped inspire Maiden’s direction forward, as many more of these epic-type songs were to come in the post-reunion era. Paschendale is a heavyweight contender for the best Maiden track since the reunion.
Face In The Sand
I talked about this song a bit before when I discussed the songs Iron Maiden have yet to play live. While the album and this track came and went without much fanfare, I feel like this is honestly one of the band’s most underrated moments. It’s another epic track that builds to a huge explosion and I think it’s almost criminal that the song doesn’t get the same kind of love I have for it.
The song deals with the modern day consumption of news and media and how it warps perspective. Everyone is waiting for the end, yet it never comes despite being told over and over again how it’s just around the corner. Even outside of the song’s intent, this is a pretty grim apocalyptic track.
Age Of Innocence
Heading to the album’s close is this track about crime and punishment and how the world was changing. I don’t entirely agree with some of the song’s conclusions but it’s a nice tune overall. For a bit of fun, the No More Lies EP has a hidden bonus track that features Nick McBrain “singing” this song. While Maiden have a long history of essentially wanking off on their B-sides, this one is outright hilarious.
This album closer marks yet another first for Iron Maiden – it is their only fully acoustic song. It was originally done electric and that version is on the already mentioned No More Lies EP, but they chose to go acoustic here. The track can start arguments among fans but I see nothing wrong with it, it’s a pretty good song.
Dance Of Death had a nice market reception even with its hideous cover art. The album charted well in a great deal of countries, showcasing the worldwide power of the band and establishing that they were indeed back and their reunion wasn’t a fluke or short-lived thing.
The album might not be the highest-regarded product of the reunion era but it still carries some quality with it and a few of the band’s biggest highlights. It’s also great for a deeper section of Maiden trivia, as there are many “first and only” moments on the album. It’s great for a deep dive into Maiden lore to see all of the things that only happened here, with Nicko’s songwriting, the acoustic track and others I might not have even mentioned. The album cover sucks, but the album itself is pretty good.