Iron Maiden – The X Factor
Iron Maiden – The X Factor (1995)
Reviewed by Kylie McInnes
Wow, if ever there was a polarizing album in a band’s discography, this has to be the gold standard. Yup, Blaze Bayley is no Bruce Dickinson, but that is not what Blaze was going for at all on this album, or even the follow-up, Virtual XI. This is an incredibly dark and introspective album stemming from Steve Harris’s divorce and the general turmoil surrounding the band at the time. Even the typical “literature and cinema” tracks (“Sign Of The Cross” and “The Edge Of Darkness” in particular) are far less of the typical Maiden bombast and closer to the general feel of mainstream mid-90s rock of dark social commentary and exploring the darkness of the human psyche.
The album opens with the majestic and grandiose “Sign Of The Cross,” which plays like an 11-minute version of “No Prayer For The Dying” from 1990. After the Gregorian chant intro, it builds from a slow brooder to a mid-tempo trot before exploding into the single longest instrumental section in the entire Maiden catalog. Blaze absolutely kills it here; while he’s not the greatest vocalist ever, he certainly fits this song perfectly. This is quite possibly the best highlight of the post-Seventh Son era.
“Lord Of The Flies” and “Man On The Edge” follow up and complete the opening trio of the hardest rockers on the album. The former is a great take on William Golding’s novel about the entropic collapse of civilization in the absence of order, while the latter is one of the weaker tracks on the album based on the film Falling Down. Musically, it’s a typical Maiden speed metal number, but lyrically, it’s incredibly weak and are simply a retelling of the plot rather than an exploration of the themes of the film. Granted, it’s a Bayley/Gers track, and not one of Steve’s, but Blaze was able to write some rather poignant lyrics on this album (“The Aftermath,” “Look For The Truth,” “The Edge Of Darkness,” and “2 AM”). Why they elected to use “Man On The Edge” on the album rather than the Man On The Edge b-side “Judgment Day” (another Bayley/Gers speed metal number, but far superior both lyrically and musically) is a mystery, but oh well.
The rest of the album is all about the horrors of war (“Fortunes Of War,” “The Aftermath,” “The Edge Of Darkness”) and the inherent darkness of the human condition. “The Edge Of Darkness” is the best song of these, especially musically, while “Fortunes Of War” and “The Aftermath” seem redundant (both being a foreshadowing of Virtual XI‘s excessive repetitive choruses and bridges).
“2 AM” and “The Unbeliever” are very atypical Iron Maiden songs, but are incredibly well-done. “The Unbeliever” is certainly the “proggiest” Maiden track to date (especially the start/stop riff in the verses) and “2 AM” is a striking example of the despair about the individual not really having an effect in the grand scheme of things.
The non-album tracks (three Maiden originals, two covers) are definitely worth checking out since, while the original tracks don’t quite fit the themes of the album as a whole, they are all quite solid. As said before, “Judgment Day” would be the best rocker on the album with a striking riff set. “Justice Of The Peace” is a bit too lighthearted for the album, but would have been a nice fit on Virtual XI‘s more upbeat mood. “I Live My Way” feels more like a Fear Of The Dark” leftover, and it’s too bad. The cover of The Who’s “My Generation” is probably the worst cover in Maiden’s collection (my general dislike for The Who not withstanding), while the UFO cover, “Doctor Doctor” manages to approach, possibly even surpass, the quality of the original (and I love UFO, and the original has been Maiden’s introduction-to-the-introduction track for over a decade). Four out of five certainly isn’t bad!
This is most certainly the oddball in the entire Maiden discography, but is well worth checking out. The trick to enjoying this album is to not listen to this as a Maiden album, but rather as a separate entity altogether. It certainly requires a totally different mood than say, a Powerslave, but this is quite the dark masterpiece.
4.0 // 5