Iron Maiden - Fear of the Dark (1992)Release ID: 91
Today we commemorate the final passing of Iron Maiden, some thirty years on from them being so cruelly taken from us by whatever it was they morphed into thereafter. I know that quality was waning on the previous release, but the fact is that No Prayer for the Dying and Fear of the Dark where both important albums for me as a youth, being the first two new albums from a band I had discovered via someone else's vinyl collection to date back in 1989 that I could go out and buy and discover at the same time as everyone else.
1992's opus was patchy to say the least. Opening track Be Quick or Be Dead set the bar low in all honesty and the anthemic From Here to Eternity lacked the same deftness to become a real Maiden banger as a Run to the Hills or Can I Play With Madness had achieved over the years. Things sounded a bit boring and upon reflection it is clear to see that this was the death knell for Dickinson and his first tenure with the band. He was critical of the studio (which Harris built in his own barn) and admitted that he felt the studio had limitations even though the overall sound was better than on the previous outing. Fact is though Brucie-baby that No Prayer For the Dying is a superior album both in terms of content and consistency. By the time 1992 rolled around there was no more Tailgunner, Holy Smoke or Bring Your Daughter...to the Slaughter type tracks left in the tank.
As the album draws on, the filler starts to become glaringly obvious and the end result is an album that sounded like a band just going through the motions. Despite there being glimmers of the trademark sound and style lavished sparingly throughout the twelve tracks, I only find the title track and the opening two tracks to be of note. Although memorable (probably because 16 year old me would play the album to death), the rest of the album falls far short of Maiden at their best.
After an incredibly unblemished run throughout the entirety of the 1980’s Iron Maiden opened the 90’s with their underrated “No Prayer For The Dying” album. While it certainly had its moments it didn’t compare favourably with the bands triumphant back catalogue. It was an inconsistent effort that featured almost as many disappointments as it did highlights but luckily it was saved by the high quality of the first half of the album. I have to admit that even though I recognized its obvious faults I also found a fair bit of enjoyment in it so 1992’s “Fear Of The Dark” release interested me quite a bit. I was hoping for an album that was free of the sort of simple commercially driven pop metal songs that popped up in the second half of its predecessor & concentrated on the more serious & epic material with which Iron Maiden had made their name.
The album opens with the a pretty decent triple play in “Be Quick Or Be Dead”, “From Here To Eternity” & “Afraid To Shoot Stranger” but things really start to get going in the middle section with “Childhood’s End” & “Wasting Love” being the album highlights in my opinion. These songs possess all of the epic atmosphere that you expect from classic Maiden without being short-changed in the heaviness department. Strangely there’s a drastic dip in quality from that point with only the brilliant title track offering any real meat. As on “No Prayer For The Dying” the weaker songs tend to be the more simple & rocky sounding tracks that are focused in a more commercial direction than I would like to hear on an Iron Maiden record. The four track sequence from “Chains Of Misery” to “Weekend Warrior” is a prime example of this. Even though the choruses undoubtedly possess some decent hooks these songs simply lack a bit of integrity & it makes for a disjointed listening experience where my pleasure factor is jumping from opposite ends of the scale. There are also some moments that sound a bit rushed & pieced together (see “The Fugitive”). They don’t quite flow as well as I’d like. Luckily the best material is good enough to carry the weaker stuff & at the conclusion of the epic title track I’m left with a mildly positive feeling even though I’m not quite convinced.
Unfortunately “Fear Of The Dark” is a very similar story to “No Prayer For The Dying”. There are some genuinely great tracks but as a whole it’s far from essential. I don’t think the production does the songs too many favours with the relatively thin guitar sound being overpowered by Steve Harris’ bass much of the time but that’s not really the issue here. It’s more a question of quality control. It seems to me like a missed opportunity as Iron Maiden clearly still had the talent to write the sort of classic material that their fanbase craved but they seemed to lack the direction & focus necessary to produce it consistently. Contrary to popular opinion I probably prefer the previous album slightly over this one but there’s not much in it. If you combined the best tracks from both albums you’d have a brilliant record. As they stand they’re both enjoyable but inessential parts of the Iron Maiden back catalogue.