Iron Maiden – May 11th, 1992
In 1991, Iron Maiden were at a low point in their thus far illustrious career. The previous years album, No Prayer For The Dying, had been a critical and commercial mess, with most fans marking it as their worst ever album. Not helping matters were the constant rumours that lead singer Bruce Dickinson was ready to quit the band and continue with his solo career. Thus when a new studio album was announced for release in 1992, there were those who thought it would be the final fall from grace and those who thought that, surely, things could only get better.
The line-up for the album
Vocals: Bruce Dickinson
Guitars: Dave Murray & Janick Gers
Bass guitar: Steve Harris
Drums: Nicko McBrain
remained the same as for the previous effort (Gers replacing long time guitarist Adrian Smith), but it was to be Bruce’s last with the band until they reunited for 2000’s Brave New World. There was much unrest within the group, particularly between leader Dickinson and founder Steve Harris, who each saw the 90’s Maiden heading in a different direction. However all were in agreement that a change was need to move them forward into a new era. It was decided to begin with a makeover for their long-time mascot, Eddie.
Eddie had appeared on all of their previous album and single covers and was drawn by artist Derek Riggs. For the Fear of the Dark cover, Maiden put the word out that they were looking for a fresh take on their old favourite. Many ideas were submitted, including some from Riggs, but in the end it was a design by Melvyn Grant that was chosen. Moving away from the zombie like creature that rampaged, had missing body parts and killed people it depicted Eddie as a sort of evil tree-spirit. It was far more of a classic and subtle design, which has now gone on to become a favourite among fans.
On April 13th, 1992 the first single "Be Quick Or Be Dead" was released in the UK and jumped in at #2 on the charts. The track was just what fans had been waiting for. With its speed, aggression and typical heavy metal lyrics, it harkened back to the days of old and raised expectations for the forthcoming album.
A month later the Fear of the Dark album was released to eager fans and it debuted at number 2 in the UK* and number 12 in the US. While it was not their highest opening, it was probably a lot better than the circumstances of its creation would have lead most to believe. And just to cement its credentials, it later climbed to #1 and became one of their biggest sellers.
On June 29th the second single, "From Here To Eternity" was released and Maiden kicked off their Fear of the Dark World Tour. The tour was to be one of their largest and most elaborate yet staged, running from June until November and featuring many on stage effects. During this time they were also to be the headline act at Castle Donnington’s Monsters of Rock festival for the second time, a feat accomplished by only a few other bands.
However, despite the year starting off well, the second single only got to #21 in the UK charts and the tension between Dickinson and the other band members was reaching an all time high. Just two months into the tour, Bruce officially announced that he would be leaving as soon as his obligations to the current album were fulfilled. Although this did not come as a total surprise to anyone, it left many fans feeling the band would not last much longer. It also made the rest of the tour quite fraught to perform. Years later when Steve Harris published the story of the band, he claimed that Bruce had made no effort on the tour and had made it harder for everyone than was necessary. But of course there are always two sides to a story…
"I've got my version of events and he's got his. It all comes down to how you see the world. For Steve, Maiden's more important than anything. To me, there are some things that are more important than the band I'm in. I didn't know it was going to be that much of a big deal when I left, but as soon as I walked out onstage and looked at the audience I thought 'Sh**! If I run around grinning like a fool, the audience is going to think, "What a wanker! If he's so happy, why is he leaving?".' And if I wander around looking miserable as sin, they'll wonder why they paid £20 for a ticket to see this tosser. I was stuffed. Some nights the audience was hostile. It was like doing a gig at a wake! Some nights I enjoyed it, but on others I was thinking, 'I wish I wasn't here!'.
The moment I left Maiden I made a deal with myself that I wouldn't do anything that I didn't believe in ever again. Steve and myself always used to clash. He wanted to fire me after the first month of the 'Number Of The Beast' tour - because I kept getting in his way onstage! I had an extra six inches added to the base of my microphone stand so I could trip the bastard up! I got fed up of him standing in front of me when I was singing. I got all these chips in my teeth where he used to elbow me. After a gig in Newcastle in '82 we were going to go outside, sleeves rolled up. But we learned to live with each other. And if Steve hadn't had that personality, Maiden would never have existed."
-Bruce in response to 'making very little effort'
Despite all this, the tour came off very well. Eddie appearing on stage in his new tree-monster disguise caused much delight among fans and the title track off the new album became one of the best live performances Maiden had ever done. Most of the concerts were filmed and recorded to be released as a live video and CD the following year. The resultant albums, A Real Live One and A Real Dead One, were released in 1993 and since Dickinson had by then departed, they turned into minor live classics. The show from Monsters Of Rock was released briefly on CD as Iron Maiden Live at Donnington. Being a limited run and now out of print, it is quite a collector’s item. Another rarity from this era is the Wasting Love single, which was briefly released in Europe after the tour.
Once all was said and done, there were still contrasting views on the greatness of the album. Everyone agreed it was better than the last one; however certain fans still have two complaints often levelled at the album.
One is that it’s not 'Maiden' enough - doesn’t have their old sound, too many slow tracks, doesn’t compare to their 80’s output. Now, this is true in a way - but there will probably never be another Number Of The Beast or Killers – every band has its years, and the early/mid 80’s were certainly that for Iron Maiden. For the hardcore metal heads, tracks like Afraid to Shoot Strangers and Childhood’s End are simply not fast enough to satisfy their lust for headbanging. However both tracks are widely regarded as some of the best on the album and really show off the wide range of styles that the band can pull off. They are blessed with something that is not always common in some genres of metal, and that is a singer who can really sing. This is one of the albums that best shows off Dickinson’s vocals, as well as Steve’s songwriting ability – not to mention some really neat guitar playing.
Many people also argue that while the two singles, the title track and a few others are real killers, the rest of them are throwaway fillers whereas on the old albums every song was a classic. This is perhaps the most valid point. Fear of the Dark contains some of the best Maiden songs ever, the ones I would keep if I could never listen to anything else. Yet some of them are quite forgettable and interchangeable, they are not bad, they just aren’t spectacular either.
I’d certainly say that it would be on the must have list of their albums, both for its classic tracks and for the fact that it marked such a turning point for the band. If fans had known what was to come in the form of the two next albums without Bruce then they probably would have been a lot more appreciative. Over 10 years later the album still holds up as a great metal listen, and despite having some songs which are just good but not great, it really works as a whole.
- Be Quick Or Be Dead (3:25) (Dickinson/Gers)
No one ever said this wasn’t classic Maiden. It’s fast, the vocals are sung with clear and pointed aggression and the video has lots of 80’s hair and metal looking guitar work. This is one of the best tracks on here, a great way to start.
- From Here To Eternity (3:38) (Harris)
It seems that Mr Harris must have been listening to a lot of AC/DC and Motley Crue when he came up with this one. It’s got those sort of pseudo-sexual lyrics about a girl and a bad ass motorbike (suitable 80’s video included). However it’s got a great rhythm, and an awesome group chorus that is perfect to join in with.
- Afraid To Shoot Strangers (6:56) (Harris)
This is probably one of the best Maiden songs ever. It starts off slow and almost solemn sounding, suitable considering it was written about The Gulf War. It’s only at about the 3 minute mark that the guitar you would expect to hear kicks in, but it’s worth the wait. No, the speed freaks didn’t like it, but this is a fantastic song.
- Fear Is The Key (5:36) (Dickinson/Gers)
Up until now you would be forgiven for thinking you were listing to a new Number Of The Beast, however this is where it starts to go a little funny. This is one of those not bad, but not wonderful songs. Intro is cool, sounds like it will be going somewhere, but then somehow the lyrics just don’t come together with the music and it all falls apart at the end. But Bruce can sing!
- Childhood's End (4:40) (Harris)
Most fans didn’t like this song because it was too 'serious', like, whatever happened to Charlotte the Harlot? I must say, the lyrics are kind of depressing, talking about all the problems in the world and the music doesn’t really grab you either. A good effort, but not too much fun to listen to.
- Wasting Love
The fans didn’t embrace this one much, this really is a rock ballad, and I’m not much into that either. This one really just doesn’t sound much like Iron Maiden, old or new.
- The Fugitive (4:54) (Harris)
This one’s better, has some strains of a previous song, The Prisoner. It’s the kind of song that makes you pretend you’ve got drumsticks in your hands and encourages singing along badly. The lyrics fit in very well with the albums theme of paranoia and persecution, which can be found in much of their older work.
- Chains of Misery (3:38) (Murray/Dickinson)
Getting faster now. This one has another 80’s rock inspired group chorus and is actually rather catchy in some parts. Perhaps the simplest and most straightforward track on the album – it fits in nicely but wouldn’t be on the must have list.
- The Apparition (3:54) (Harris/Gers)
A song without a chorus. Instead we’ve got two long verses questioning the nature of life and death punctuated in the middle by some typical showing-off from the three guitarists. Nice to listen to while its playing, and you’ll probably find yourself singing it later too, but you won’t remember it forever.
- Judas Be My Guide (3:09) (Dickinson/Murray)
Lyrically this seems to follow on from Afraid To Shoot Strangers, questioning the reasoning behind war and the dilemmas faced by those forced to fight. Musically it’s sort of the fast, guitary part that was missing from Afraid... Short, sharp and to the point, this is another of my favourites off the album.
- Weekend Warrior (5:40) (Harris/Gers)
Somewhat softer, and not a bad song really. Something in the voice reminds me of some other great songs of theirs, The Trooper perhaps. However, being about soccer hooligans, it just feels really out of place on this album. I’m not sure why it’s there as it doesn’t seem to tie in with anything that’s come before it, and certainly pales considering what comes next. Not bad, not great.
- Fear Of The Dark (7:18) (Harris)
And now for the masterpiece...
Ah, and then last, but not at all least, we get to the title track. Even if the whole entire album was good for nothing else, it gave us this. The Iron Maiden concert anthem. On the album it sounds fantastic – live it is nothing short of sublime. It was the live version of this that made me go from loving Iron Maiden to thinking they were one of my best bands ever. Recorded at the Rock in Rio concert in 2002, one hears 250,000 (that’s a quarter of a million!) people singing along with Dickinson as the band plays the intro. It’s awe inspiring, gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. Groupie adulation aside, give it a try for yourself and if you’re going to be any kind of Maiden fan you’ll soon find the volume up, your eyes closed and your ears open.
This song acts as a sort of sequel to two earlier tracks, Murders In The Rue Morgue and Innocent Exile. Those songs focus on the fate of a man on the run after being falsely accused of murder, who is understandably harbouring some rather paranoid feelings. This feeling of conspiracy and skittish nerves is really well presented in the vocals and the music's build up from its slow start. It has also got some super guitar riffs and goes from a simple beginning to a complex middle section with everyone giving the best you’ve ever heard from them.
I am a man who walks alone
And when I'm walking a dark road
At night or strolling through the park
When the light begins to change
I sometimes feel a little strange
A little anxious when it's dark
Fear of the dark
Fear of the dark
I have constant fear that something's always near
Fear of the dark
Fear of the dark
I have a phobia that someone's always there
Have you run your fingers down the wall?
And have you felt your neck skin crawl?
When you're searching for the light?
Sometimes when you're scared to take a look
At the corner of the room
You've sensed that something's watching you
Have you ever been alone at night?
Thought you heard footsteps behind?
And turned around and no one's there?
And as you quicken up your pace
You find it hard to look again
Because you're sure there's someone there
Watching horror films the night before
Debating witches and folklores
The unknown troubles on your mind
Maybe your mind is playing tricks
You sense, and suddenly eyes fix
On dancing shadows from behind
When I'm walking a dark road
I am a man who walks alone
What else could you know about Fear of the Dark?
- Nyctophobia is the scientific term for the fear of the dark.
- The track Fear of the Dark appears in the Iron Maiden PC game Ed Hunter. It plays during Level 4, Graveyard. Be Quick Or Be Dead was used in the soundtrack for Carmageddon 2: Carpocalypse Now.
- After Fear of the Dark so divided fans between those who thought it was not old school enough and those who thought it was a huge musical progression, Iron Maiden was jokingly given the nickname 'Marmite of Rock', you either love it or hate it.
- Cradle of Filth did a cover of Fear of the Dark for the A Tribute To The Beast album. I love Cradle of Filth, and this is an interesting idea but it just doesn’t even come close. Remember what I said about Bruce really being able to sing?
*Many sources claim it debuted at #1, but the official site says #2, and one would assume that to be more accurate.
- The Official Iron Maiden site: http://www.ironmaiden.com
- A brief Iron Maiden history: http://www.netsector.com/tony/maiden/briefhistory.htm
- Songfacts – Fear of the Dark by Iron Maiden: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.lasso?id=3010