The Problem with the X-Factor?

Murder of Rue Morgue

Educated Fool
Is there really a problem with The X Factor? Let's see.
The vocals? No, Blaze did a great job singing those dark songs. Bruce is technically better but the emotion Blaze puts in there is just perfect.
The songs? No, apart from Look For The Truth (which is just a good song, nothing more, nothing less) every song featured here is either very good, great or amazing.
The production? No, it fits the dark theme very well.
You have very low standards.
 

Ascendingthethrone

Educated Fool
I think it is a brilliant album. It is best enjoyed listening from start to finish. The atmosphere sucks you in. I find that the songs are best enjoyed this way rather than being in the middle of a playlist. I think it is the only Maiden album like this (possibly AMOLAD).
 

Diesel 11

As you scream into the web of silence...
TXF is a perfect album to me. It’s about the experience, not about the recording. If I were to look at things objectively, I could make a case against the production, aspects to Blaze’s voice, Steve’s lyricism, etc. Yet I listen to music for the experience it gives me, and TXF has helped me a lot in some dark moments. I can’t see it as anything but a perfect album, and second only to Powerslave in my rankings. So subjectively, no, there’s nothing I would change about it.

To @karljant ‘s point: Bruce adds a new dynamic to the songs live, but I wouldn’t trade Blaze for him on the studio album. Blaze’s voice adds to the whole experience.
 

karljant

Ancient Mariner
TXF is a perfect album to me. It’s about the experience, not about the recording. If I were to look at things objectively, I could make a case against the production, aspects to Blaze’s voice, Steve’s lyricism, etc. Yet I listen to music for the experience it gives me, and TXF has helped me a lot in some dark moments. I can’t see it as anything but a perfect album, and second only to Powerslave in my rankings. So subjectively, no, there’s nothing I would change about it.

To @karljant ‘s point: Bruce adds a new dynamic to the songs live, but I wouldn’t trade Blaze for him on the studio album. Blaze’s voice adds to the whole experience.
I must reiterate that I can´t see anything wrong with the production (not on par with several others such as Killers, Somewhere In Time and Seventh Son but still pretty damn good) and can't see how Blaze and Steve's lyrics can be overlooked. There's some really good stuff there (either the movie/ books takes either original lyrics... perhaps the only exception being the somehow simplistic approach of BOTWA but nothing to be ashamed of).
When it comes to Bruce singing TXF material... well... agree to disagree. Not only I think Bruce can pull the somber undertones but also could bring something more that wouldn't break the album's atmosphere but empower it even more.
 

karljant

Ancient Mariner
I think it is a brilliant album. It is best enjoyed listening from start to finish. The atmosphere sucks you in. I find that the songs are best enjoyed this way rather than being in the middle of a playlist. I think it is the only Maiden album like this (possibly AMOLAD).
Yup. AMOLAD is definitely the other dark album from the band. Not as somber as TXF but songs like These Colors Don't Run, The Legacy and especially Benjamin Breeg and Thousand Suns are really dark portraits of human nature.
 

MindRuler

Ancient Mariner
I must reiterate that I can´t see anything wrong with the production (not on par with several others such as Killers, Somewhere In Time and Seventh Son but still pretty damn good) and can't see how Blaze and Steve's lyrics can be overlooked. There's some really good stuff there (either the movie/ books takes either original lyrics... perhaps the only exception being the somehow simplistic approach of BOTWA but nothing to be ashamed of).
When it comes to Bruce singing TXF material... well... agree to disagree. Not only I think Bruce can pull the somber undertones but also could bring something more that wouldn't break the album's atmosphere but empower it even more.
I'd take the production of The X Factor over almost any album they did afterwards.
 

Black Bart

Ancient Mariner
My two cents on what "the problem with the X Factor" is:

Intrisincally, I think it was John Kalodner (or Keith Olsen?) who said that , according to him, it all boils down to three things, in this order: 1) the songs 2) the performance 3) the sound.
Well, the sound is clear and fits the mood of the songs.
As regards the performances: although nobody in Maiden is an elite musician (especially when Bruce was not there), they are exceptional team players, which is most of the time even more profitable than being an excellent instrumentalist, especially in the genre. Yet, Blaze showed limitations, even in the studio (just listen to how "the name of the rose" comes out). Since he was the focal point of this album, it actually was a problem. I am of the opinion that it is not really his fault since the keys in which the songs were played (and/or the melodies he was asked to sing on them) did not suit his voice... but that's another kettle of fish.
Where they couldn't win with this album is, in my opinion, mostly because of what makes the success of a band in the end: the songs themselves. The only song that comes close to "a hit" is eleven minutes long... and it ultimately reached this status thanks to another singer. Besides, a lot of songs ressemble each other (all the songs written inside the "Afraid to Shoot Strangers" mould) and those which do not ("The Unbeliever" and "Blood on the World's Hands") are very difficult to get into for a casual listener, whose attention a band the status of Maiden will necessarily attract, and least temporarily. While the album contains good ideas, it lacked the right artistic direction: Steve Harris, who was not in a good frame of mind back then, basically did what he wanted without the redeeming "editorial checks and balances" provided by Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith (which may explain why AMOLAD is so popular, though it is not a favourite of mine - I prefer when Maiden weaves lighter atmospheres- but that is not the question either).

Apart from that, they also couldn't win because they were swimming against the fashion tides, even though it can be brought to their credit. The press was out for blood, back then, with bands which enjoyed success in the 80s and who were "insolent" enough not to disband in the early 90s. Maiden were so "yesterday's news" and "uncool" back then - even if the mood of the album somewhat tended to suit the depressing trend of the times- that their chances to win mainstream popularity with this album were meagre, especially in the US where the promoters clearly showed a lack of support by programming them in 500-seat theaters.

Of course, I get all those impressions in retrospect. I discovered Maiden basically just when Bruce left and by the time TXF was released, I was a completist fan. The anticipation was huge and I felt slightly disappointed by the album (certainly because I expected something closer to what they did before) though not long after, the album started to grow on me, but never to reach the albums released before it in my appreciation.

Finally, the cover itself: at least, the band took a risk (possibly motivated by a desire to bow to the tastes of the times and look more "adult")...but it backfired enormously when some shops refused to put this picture on the shelves. The one they were left with (Eddie on the electric chair, from afar) was not good enough for their standards, not to mention the disappointment for the fans who couldn't stomach Eddie not being drawn.

In retrospect, it is not even a question that Bruce and Adrian's return (and to some extent Derek's) saved Maiden.
 
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karljant

Ancient Mariner
Blaze showed limitations, even in the studio (just listen to how "the name of the rose" comes out). Since he was the focal point of this album, it actually was a problem.
100% agreed... Blaze was under the spotlight with huge shoes to fill and that magnified every single aspect of his performance. Plus there's the "cult of personality" hangover factor... People tend to linger to the original/previous singer's voice even when they're replaced by excellent frontmen (Dio, Owens, Bush and even Dickinson for some people are excellent examples). When they're replaced with more limited ones the reaction is understandably more negative.
I am of the opinion that it is not really his fault since the keys in which the songs were played (and/or the melodies he was asked to sing on them) did not suit his voice
Once again I totally concur: adopting a drop D tune would've work wonders and make the record even darker.
The only song that comes close to "a hit" is eleven minutes long... and it ultimately reached this status thanks to another singer. Besides, a lot of songs ressemble each other (...) and those which do not ("The Unbeliever" and "Blood on the World's Hands") are very difficult to get into for a casual listener, whose attention a band the status of Maiden will necessarily attract, and least temporarily.
Mmmmm don't agree the slightest. It's true that Maiden had always had some hit like short song favorites (Wrathchild, Run To The Hills, The Trooper, Wasted Years and The Evil That Men Do come quickly to mind). But the majority of fan favorites are songs that clock over 6 minutes (some of them way more) like Phantom Of The Opera, Hallowed Be Thy Name, Revelations, Where Eagles Dare, Powerslave, Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, Alexander The Great, Seventh Son or Fear Of The Dark. And as far as I recall the most critical voices weren't from casual listeners: it was the long time fans. There are a couple of similar song structures in The X Factor: on one hand we have the long intros followed by midtempo in Look For The Truth and The Aftermath. Plus you have the tracks strongly marked by crescendos followed by multiple passages like Fortunes Of War, The Edge Of Darkness and The Unbeliever). One single structural trait is common to these two types of structures: long quiet intros. This is the first time Maiden really filled an album with lengthy calm introductions (seven songs have calm prologues that excede by far the 1 minute mark), a trait that would be repeated in every single following album.
So other than the change of frontman if people want to blame the songs per se of being quite different of what the band used to deliver, blame it on the dire and dark ambiance and long intros. Everything else is way more Maiden sounding than p.e. its predecessor: Fear Of The Dark.
all the songs written inside the "Afraid to Shoot Strangers" mould
Afraid To Shoot Strangers is not the best of examples for an X Factor mold. Sure it has a somehow brooding ambiance and has a quiet initial section but that's all. To begin with ATSS's time signature is something completely off Maiden's standards (and rock standards in general): it begins with an odd 12 by 5 in the quiet part and then all of a sudden it goes to the traditional 4 by 4. Plus the first part is hardly an intro: it's more like a section of its own abruptly followed by the bridge/ chorus part (like they "pasted" two different songs). IMO this is by no means where the album got its structural inspiration from. The X Factor on that regard is something quite new for the band and the previous songs I can spot slight similar traits are Still Life or Mother Russia.
which may explain why AMOLAD is so popular, though it is not a favourite of mine - I prefer when Maiden weaves lighter atmospheres- but that is not the question either
There you have it: this record is by far the most similar regarding structure and atmosphere. One may discuss which one's the most well crafted album but I believe what brings AMOLAD to an higher echelon is Bruce's voice.
Apart from that, they also couldn't win because they were swimming against the fashion tides, even though it can be brought to their credit. The press was out for blood, back then, with bands which enjoyed success in the 80s and who were "insolent" enough not to disband in the early 90s. Maiden were so "yesterday's news" and "uncool" back then - even if the mood of the album somewhat tended to suit the depressing trend of the times- that their chances to win mainstream popularity with this album were meagre, especially in the US
Even in their golden 80's era Maiden never received the media attention they deserved especially in the US. They had really limited airplay for a band of their dimension and that was also a consequence of trends (the US main metal media was much more biased into Hair Metal acts). Of course with the rise of the Seattle scene that dislike would even be reinforced but Maiden never relied on the media to ascend to the throne of metal back in the 80's. . Plus, only 2 years prior to all this, while the so called Grunge movement was in its full force Fear Of The Dark (the song) became one of Maiden's most airplayed and requested songs of all times. Once again I believe that the answer to the TXF lack of selling numbers is far more easy to explain and resides in the absence of one person solely.
In retrospect, it is not even a question that Bruce and Adrian's return (and to some extent Derek's) saved Maiden.
It wasn't only Bruce and Adrian's return... it was WHEN it happened. The Seattle movement was long since gone and the new "big thing" in heavy music was dying. Nu Metal. A number big names from the 80's started to re surface, marking a wave of revivalism in the first half of the 2000's: not only Maiden but also Megadeth, Halford and later the reunion with Priest and Slayer. I secretly believe that Black Sabbath's reunion a couple of years before captured the media attention towards the romanticism of reunions and kind of inspired a lot of these bands to re ash their older traits. It's curious how ever since then Maiden gets way more media attention than back when they were at the top of their game in the 80's.
And they deserve it, by the way.
 
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MaidenUlster

Invader
The X Factor is, in my opinion, the most underrated Iron Maiden album. It contains some of my favourite Iron Maiden tracks (Sign of the Cross, for example) and I'm a big fan of Blaze's solo career. I will absolutely "die on the hill" of defending this album, which I love.
I get the impression that feelings towards X Factor amongst the fans, and towards the Blaze era in general, are starting to mellow a bit, which is great.

I'll answer the question "what's the problem with the X Factor" by putting the question a different way:

Why was the album a commercial failure and why was it hated for so long?

I think it never really had a chance. Before a single note of music was recorded, the album faced an uphill struggle for two reasons which are totally independent of the content of the album itself.

1) The market for heavy metal had been obliterated by 1995. Big heavy metal bands from the 1980s were regarded as dinosaurs. Grunge was the thing. Enough has been said on this elsewhere by people who know more about it.

2) The change of singer. Iron Maiden could have hired anyone as a singer, and that person still would have been Not Bruce Dickinson, and therefore gone down badly with a large section of the fans, especially more casual fans.

But what about the album itself? There are several things about the album which probably alienated a lot of their fans and made it pretty inaccessible to casual listers.

1) It represented a huge change in direction for the band. Compared with the two previous albums especially, this was a marked departure in sound and presentation. The cartoony artwork of FOTD and NPFTD was replaced by the fairly disturbing model of Eddie being lobotomised. All of the promo material I've seen of the album is dark and gloomy. This is reflected in the change of singers - gone are the soaring highs of Dickinson (even if he had been doing that weird screeching on the last two albums), and instead we get the baritone of Blaze.

2) The change in singing styles is mirrored in the songwriting on the album. Instead of short, fairly upbeat radio friendly tracks like From Here to Eeternity and Hooks in You, the album opens with monks chanting and then an 11 minute song about the Inquisition, most of which is instrumental. A lot of the tracks are long and not very commerical at all. They start quiet and slow, they get loud and fast, then end quiet again.
Lyrically, the album is extremely heavy, dealing with PTSD, depression, suicide and so on. Admittedly there was the odd track on previous albums touching on, say, loneliness or fear, but on the X Factor it's end to end and pretty heavy going. Steve Harris was going through a lot emotionally at this time and it shows.

For a lot of people, this was all too much. I imagine a lot of fans just thought "what the hell is this? This isn't Iron Maiden!" and moved on.

Now, all of the things listed above are things I like about the album. I think a lot of the songs are brilliant. Sign of the Cross is a work of genius. The chorus in Judgement of Heaven is great. Fortunes of War is one of the best tracks from their 90s period. I think they deal with pretty serious themes in a mature way and Blaze's voice and delivery are absolutely key to that. When he sings about being alone, or suicidal, or waking up sweating with nightmares about war you can believe it. Ditching the bombast and bravado of the 80s was a brave but also necessary decision and Blaze is essential to crafting that darker sound.

There is, however one problem with the album that it is hard to get past and it is a problem that would be repeated on the next album. The production is bad. The guitars sound weak and lack authority. The drumming sounds bored and is extremely pedestrian. The whole thing sounds murky and muddy. This might have been an attempt to accentuate the dark, brooding atmosphere of the album, but it does not go well with the long, heavy songs and it ends up plodding a bit. The whole thing becomes positively soporific.

The moment I realised how good this album was was when I listened to a bootleg of "Fortunes of War" live, and when I saw the Rock in Rio performance of Sign of the Cross. Once the songs have some energy injected into them in a live setting, they come to life with a real energy and ferocity. Unfortunately, this does not come across on the album. So why the poor production? I think the problem with this album (and the bigger problems on VXI) are down to the fact that Steve had total, unchallenged control of the band. There was no Bruce or Adrian or even a Martin Birch to challenge him.

So, to sum up - the deck was heavily stacked against The X Factor before anyone stepped into the studio. What came out of the studio, whilst one of my favourite albums, could be easily dismissed after a first listen as "not Maiden and rubbish".
 

Jer

Yes, Yes, Another Beer!
I think they deal with pretty serious themes in a mature way and Blaze's voice and delivery are absolutely key to that. When he sings about being alone, or suicidal, or waking up sweating with nightmares about war you can believe it.
But there’s another aspect to this that’s also pretty critical, which is all of the unforced technical errors in Blaze’s recorded performance. Whatever you think about his skill as a singer, or the potential appeal of the unique elements of his voice, the hard reality is that he misses a lot of notes on The X Factor, sometimes really badly, and his timbre is really inconsistent. For example, in “Man On The Edge” it seems like every delivery of “falling down” sounds different. Is that an intentional choice, or a lack of vocal control? I think based on a preponderance of the evidence most people would conclude the latter.

I don’t think you can overstate the impact of bad production and a technically flawed vocal performance giving the entire album an amateurish feel. It felt like a bad joke at the time for a lot of people.
 

Forostar

Ancient Mariner
I get the impression that feelings towards X Factor amongst the fans, and towards the Blaze era in general, are starting to mellow a bit, which is great.
I got the impression that more people started to accept Blaze as soon as they:
- heard Blaze's first album or any of the other strong ones from that era
- saw him live (with Blaze, or solo)

But yes, The X-Factor indeed may still continue to increase in popularity, as opposed to the early nineties albums, which seem to be even more overlooked.

These days there are more albums in the metal world with slow build-ups, long intros. TXF was ahead of its time.
Could be a reason for more acceptance.
I was never bothered by the production. They even made an interesting choice by having all solos in the left or right audio channel. A unique feat on a Maiden studio album.

I loved the album straightaway, even though I heard a few offkey moments. Less than a handful of such moments bothered me a bit, not some exaggarated amount.
 
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MindRuler

Ancient Mariner
The X Factor will always be special for me because it was the first "new" Maiden album I bought, there was alot of excitement prior to the release date and even more when I finally got the album. The X Factour was also the first time for me to see Maiden live, and the first live show ever.
 

Yax

Ancient Mariner
For example, in “Man On The Edge” it seems like every delivery of “falling down” sounds different. Is that an intentional choice, or a lack of vocal control? I think based on a preponderance of the evidence most people would conclude the latter.
Pretty sure the track is compiled from at least two takes, with maybe a splice here and there (not anything wrong or eyebrow raising about that). He is changing the placement of the vocals between the first chorus and the rest of the song, but that's not all of it. The overall frequency balance of the vocals change as well, verses etc included, with more treble towards the second half or so, due to angle, distance or other factors.
 

Forostar

Ancient Mariner
I'd rather hear different deliveries than plain copy work for every chorus with exactly the same results, even if that is accepted/usual.
 

karljant

Ancient Mariner
@MaidenUlster's post is a really interesting one with some takes I absolutely agree, others I somewhat share while a few others I do not concur.

The X Factor is, in my opinion, the most underrated Iron Maiden album. It contains some of my favourite Iron Maiden tracks (Sign of the Cross, for example)
Agreed. Sign Of The Cross is in my top 10 Maiden songs BTW.

The market for heavy metal had been obliterated by 1995. Big heavy metal bands from the 1980s were regarded as dinosaurs. Grunge was the thing.
Somewhat. I agree when it comes to 80's bands (with the exceptions of Metallica and Megadeth). But then again you had really strong upcoming acts in Pantera, Sepultura, Machine Head, Korn. Plus Soundgarden and Alice In Chains were more metal bands than Grunge. They only got that label because they were from Seattle. Things changed but there were still a lot of metal being popular (at least in Europe).

The change of singer. Iron Maiden could have hired anyone as a singer, and that person still would have been Not Bruce Dickinson, and therefore gone down badly with a large section of the fans, especially more casual fans.
Mmmmmm. I don't know... If the by then rumors were true and Maiden did hire Michael Kiske I think performance alone it would've been a blast. But then again it was never anything else than rumors and if by any chance Kiske ended up in Maiden the next record would've never sounded like The X Factor (and that's a real downside since I really love the album).

It represented a huge change in direction for the band. Compared with the two previous albums especially, this was a marked departure in sound and presentation.
IMO yes and no. Fear Of The Dark IMO is way less Maiden than TXF: all those hard rock fm tracks, a power ballad. With the exception of a handful of tracks the record absolutely lacks any Maiden DNA. On that regard TXF is much more Maiden like: brought back the pomp, heaviness and epic long songs with some sparkles of prog metal here and there. The main difference is the somber tone, subjects and ambiance. The band went down that path like they never did before and even after the only album that comes near that vibe (although not as dense) is A Matter Of Life And Death.

The cartoony artwork of FOTD and NPFTD was replaced by the fairly disturbing model of Eddie being lobotomised. All of the promo material I've seen of the album is dark and gloomy.
Yup, although they have already went to a bit more horror like take in FOTD cover. Nevertheless TXF's artwork took it to an entirelly new level.

The change in singing styles is mirrored in the songwriting on the album. Instead of short, fairly upbeat radio friendly tracks like From Here to Eeternity and Hooks in You, the album opens with monks chanting and then an 11 minute song about the Inquisition, most of which is instrumental.
... And that's why The X Factor is much more Maiden sounding than the previous 2 albums IMO. If you check the band's catalogue you'll easily understand that Maiden is much more about long epic songs about historical stuff like the inquisition or Rock FM tunes about motorcycles and chicks. Plus the album also had short strong songs in Man On The Edge, Lord Of The Flies, Judgement Of Heaven (and should also feature Judgement Day).

A lot of the tracks are long and not very commerical at all. They start quiet and slow, they get loud and fast, then end quiet again.
Lyrically, the album is extremely heavy, dealing with PTSD, depression, suicide and so on. Admittedly there was the odd track on previous albums touching on, say, loneliness or fear, but on the X Factor it's end to end and pretty heavy going. Steve Harris was going through a lot emotionally at this time and it shows.
Indeed. And the "They start quiet and slow, they get loud and fast, then end quiet again" is taylor made for that frame of mind Steve was into and the subjects the songs approach.

Now, all of the things listed above are things I like about the album. I think a lot of the songs are brilliant. Sign of the Cross is a work of genius. The chorus in Judgement of Heaven is great. Fortunes of War is one of the best tracks from their 90s period. I think they deal with pretty serious themes in a mature way
100% agreed.

Blaze's voice and delivery are absolutely key to that. When he sings about being alone, or suicidal, or waking up sweating with nightmares about war you can believe it. Ditching the bombast and bravado of the 80s was a brave but also necessary decision and Blaze is essential to crafting that darker sound.
It depends. Although Blaze sounds great and truly delivers that suffering feeling at some passages (normally the lowest keys) sometimes he kinda struggles on other notes as @Jer pointed out. And Bruce can also sing really eerie low tones really well (once again there's lots of examples regarding that both in is solo albums or post reunion Maiden) . Blaze's biggest contribution for that dark ambiance IMO was on the composing department (where he blessed us with absurdly good songs).

when I saw the Rock in Rio performance of Sign of the Cross. Once the songs have some energy injected into them in a live setting, they come to life with a real energy and ferocity. Unfortunately, this does not come across on the album. So why the poor production?
I have nothing against TXF's production. It isn't stellar but far from being bad... and I'll go as far as saying it's far from being the worst among Maiden records. The reason why I agree SOTC sounds way stronger in RIR is because it's several BPM faster and Bruce while singing exactly the same notes gives more body to the vocal line (the same works for MOTE's live version). His live take on Lord Of The Flies live on the next live album is also a great improvemnt regarding the album version IMO but this time it's solely because of the ocatves up generating more dynamics.

So, to sum up - the deck was heavily stacked against The X Factor before anyone stepped into the studio (...) dismissed after a first listen as "not Maiden and rubbish".
Unfortunatelly you're right. But it's mainly due to the cult of personality. That "No Bruce = No Maiden" dumb attitude. Hey it's their problem!

I will absolutely "die on the hill" of defending this album, which I love.
Also totally love it. In my book it's Maiden's 7th best album and even surpasses a couple of records from their golden 80's era. Although there's no dying on any hill here. If people want to hate it go ahead. As long as I can listen to it I couldn't care less. :)
 

Forostar

Ancient Mariner
... And that's why The X Factor is much more Maiden sounding than the previous 2 albums IMO. If you check the band's catalogue you'll easily understand that Maiden is much more about long epic songs about historical stuff like the inquisition or Rock FM tunes about motorcycles and chicks. Plus the album also had short strong songs in Man On The Edge, Lord Of The Flies, Judgement Of Heaven (and should also feature Judgement Day).
TXF is a lot about personal matters, soul searching(?), views. Serious, self reflecting/personal songs started on the previous album (e.g. The Apparition and Wasting Love) but went way further on TXF. It could not be more distant from Maiden in the 1980s.

"Maiden IS more about", what does that even mean? But let's go down that path: Alright, Maiden did about a handful songs about motorcycles and chicks in their total career. But is this really your major association with the Fear of the Dark album (or No Prayer album)? There are 12 songs on FOTD, and the majority is not about that. Musically, TXF continued with ideas done on, hello again, Fear of the Dark (title track, Afraid to Shoot Strangers. But they took it further. They made many songs with long intros. Nonetheless, in that regard, TXF has more to do with Fear of the Dark or No Prayer for the Dying (Mother Russia and Run Silent Run Deep intros) than with 1980s Maiden. So what is Maiden DNA? If you mean 21st century Maiden: alright, it has more in common with post TXF Maiden than with the 1980s.

Fear Of The Dark IMO is way less Maiden than TXF: all those hard rock fm tracks, a power ballad. With the exception of a handful of tracks the record absolutely lacks any Maiden DNA. On that regard TXF is much more Maiden like: brought back the pomp, heaviness and epic long songs with some sparkles of prog metal here and there. The main difference is the somber tone, subjects and ambiance. The band went down that path like they never did before and even after the only album that comes near that vibe (although not as dense) is A Matter Of Life And Death.
The power ballad is also present on TXF, namely 2 AM. It uses ideas from Wasting Love, almost literally (an important passage and solo). The chick(s) are also in 22 Acacia Avenue and Charlotte the Harlot. And Prowler as well. Fear of the Dark is a transition album, lyricwise and musically.
They combined acoustic guitars with electric (at the same time). They used 2 guitar lines in the same note without making it a (typical) harmony. Idea taken to TXF. Songs with long calm intros, taken and forever kept. If TXF is in Maiden DNA, then so is Fear of the Dark. Also when you do not like these few songs about girls and bikes. Yeah they make the album different from average Maiden, but TXF is also different from average (or typical) Maiden in their whole career. Namely: that sort of songs, with long calm, melancholic/dark intros, which started on the two previous albums are not present in the 1980s. And the quantity of such songs, and the moody dark nature of the songs are also not present on almost all other albums. AMOLAD comes closest but that is not an average, or typical Maiden album either.

O before I forget: Man on the Edge a short strong song? Hello Fear of the Dark: Be Quick or Be Dead. Hey, a short strong song. Not that different either.
 
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Diesel 11

As you scream into the web of silence...
It depends. Although Blaze sounds great and truly delivers that suffering feeling at some passages (normally the lowest keys) sometimes he kinda struggles on other notes as @Jer pointed out. And Bruce can also sing really eerie low tones really well (once again there's lots of examples regarding that both in is solo albums or post reunion Maiden) . Blaze's biggest contribution for that dark ambiance IMO was on the composing department (where he blessed us with absurdly good songs).
But I think what @MaidenUlster is getting at is that — regardless of missed notes or not — is that Blaze comes across as more honest than Bruce does, and I don’t mean this as a slight at all, just a noticeable difference in their approach to singing. Bruce is my favorite singer so I’m saying this with all the admiration possible — he is just too theatrical to get across Steve’s raw emotions the way Blaze does. Just look at “Tears of a Dragon”, the most emotional song he’s ever written. What makes it great is the way Bruce combines his personal feelings in a really poetic way that feels like the theater performance of a lifetime.

But Steve isn’t half the poet that Bruce is. What makes Steve great is that he comes up with ideas for songs constantly and just writes what comes to him, and that’s filled with a ton of great imagery. A lot on the stuff on TXF sounds like it was scribbled down directly without a major polish, which adds to the raw feelings of the album. Whereas Bruce would have felt like you were witnessing a night at the opera, Blaze makes you feel like you’re actually witnessing the real subject matter. Just because his delivery feels more honest than Bruce’s does, and again, neither approach is bad at all, they’re both worth something in their own right.

That’s why I like studio and live versions of SOTC, because it’s taking the same song and injecting something different into them. One feels like you’re really there in the wind and rain, the other is like a terrific performance at the local theater. At least to me.
 

Jer

Yes, Yes, Another Beer!
I'd rather hear different deliveries than plain copy work for every chorus with exactly the same results, even if that is accepted/usual.
But it’s not like he’s mixing up the melody or the rhythm of the delivery, he’s just failing to deliver the same line with a consistent vocal timbre. Do you really think that’s intentional on his part and not just evidence of a general lack of vocal control and consistency?

It’s not isolated to The X Factor, either — this inconsistency gets gradually worse on his solo albums from Blood & Belief through The King Of Metal. Only after that (and some singing lessons, IIRC) did he start exerting more control.
 
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