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The X Factor
Released: 1995, EMI
Editors Note. Metal-Rules.com was founded in 1995 as a forward thinking site. Our goal is, and always has been, to support Real Metal. The decision was made that very rarely do we ever go back and review an album from before 1995. Does the world really need another CD review of Master Of Puppets, Powerslave or Screaming For Vengeance? We don’t think so. We have always supported what is happening now.
Starting in January, 2014, as we head towards our 10,000th review and the 20th Anniversary of Metal-Rules.com, we are looking back and filling in a few gaps in the review database. We want to complete the post-1995 review catalogue of some of the bands that we have supported since 1995, when very few, if any website were supporting real Metal. It’s fun to go back and revisit some of these albums that we did not review when they were first released. Enjoy!
People fear change. I understand that. I’m not a huge fan of change, if it is not warranted, especially if it just change for the sake of change. I do not adhere to the theory that a band cannot change singers and be successful and/or entertaining. There are many examples of high profile bands changing singers, some scenarios are more successful than others. Johnson replaced Scott. Dio replaced Osbourne. Hagar replaced Roth. Corabi replaced Neil. Owens replaced Halford. Olzon replaced Turunen. And of course Bayley replaced Dickinson. Bruce quit. What was the band supposed to do? Pack it in at the height of their power following an album that went Top 40 in a dozen nations including #1 in their native land? Some think maybe they should have.
Writing this review feels an ancient history lesson, but here it is. THE X-FACTOR was the bands 10th studio album. It was the longest gap between studio albums in the bands career and of course the first to feature new singer Blaze Bayley. The band wanted to reinvent themselves and in the era when supposedly Metal was ‘dead’, they produced one of their darkest, heaviest, meanest albums of their career. The cover art featured an elaborate Eddie model instead of the usual drawing, he looked injured, dark and mean, like a lab rat in a cage, perhaps a visual parallel to the band at the time.
The album is by far the longest and darkest album in the bands career running a big 71 minutes and an enormous 83 minutes of you got the double disc version with the extra tracks. Blaze is not Bruce and vice-versa, so it is useless to compare however Blaze has darker tones and far less operatic, classical delivery style. Blaze got fully integrated into the band early on co-writing exactly half of the 14 songs. In a bold and ambitious move the band opt to launch the album with the 11-minute epic, ‘Sign Of The Cross’. The guitar tone is darker and the songs are not as bright and dynamic as many of the bands other sing-along, anthems.
Writing this review with the advantage of almost 20 years of hindsight and you can see the beginning of the new Maiden sound. It was on this album that Steve Harris started to indulge his well-documented love of UK Prog. THE X-FACTOR is the first time that the band started to move towards a progressive sound, more akin to fellow countrymen Magnum and Pallas. This evolution is not necessarily evidenced in tone but in composition, presentation and arrangement. Over the course of the next five albums spread over two decades the band has become far more elegant and regal with the progressive sound featuring long songs with long intros and long solos and long outros, and a considerably slower pace. Gone are the spit and fire, the days of spitfire Metal, replaced with the pomp and ceremony of a band that are no longer angry young men from working class London. This album was the start of the sound with any number of the longer songs being able to fit quite comfortably on any later era Maiden album, but certainly not able to fit on any previous Maiden album. It was a benchmark, transitional album. It was not the beginning of the end as some suggested, it was the start of the third (and longest running phase) of the bands career. Conventional wisdom separates the Blaze years as the third phase and the return of Bruce as the fourth phase, but if you really listen there is a symmetry and continuity all across every album since 1995, and it started here.
THE X-FACTOR was not well received by the press at the time, please refer back to my opening comments about people who fear change. Oddly enough, I probably listen to it start to finish more often than most of the Bruce era albums! This is one the cases where the Metal-rules.com definition of a four out of five is truly appropriate, ‘Something every Metal fan should own’.
1. Sign of the Cross
2. Lord of the Flies
3. Man on the Edge
4. Fortunes of War
5. Look for the Truth
6. The Aftermath
7. Judgement of Heaven
8. Blood on the World's Hands
9. The Edge of Darkness
10. 2 A.M.
11. The Unbeliever
Nicko McBrain Drums
Steve Harris Bass
Janick Gers Guitars
Dave Murray Guitars
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