My favorite album along with SIT. Pure magic and I love Blaze voice. Probably the most underrated album ever by any band. At least IMHO
LolTHE X FACTOR (1995)
1. Sign Of The Cross - 10/10
For the tenth album released under the Iron Maiden moniker, ‘Arry and the boys trade out a hard-hitting rocker opener for a lengthy, brooding epic about holy persecution. Blaze Bayley is ushered in on a high note, as his lower-than-Bruce yet nonetheless powerful vocals guide the listener through the eyes of one in mortal danger for the sin of having another belief than that which is acceptable. But it’s also stuffed with music that twists and turns, from the opening Gregorian choir, to the trudging instrumental, and that eruption of a solo section, one that celebrates Iron Maiden in all its glory. This one takes its time but is well worth the listen, every goddamn time.
2. Lord Of The Flies - 10/10
As amazing as Sign Of The Cross is, it isn’t the highlight of the record. Hard to believe, but the very next song knocks the ball out of the park even farther than its predecessor does. Lord Of The Flies opens with a trademark Janick riff, building up this rocker before erupting into the chorus with vigor and force, but also a sense of the darkness that marks this album. The lyrics are inspired by the book it shares its name with; we see the world through the eyes of one of the lost boys trapped on an island where savagery becomes the only means of existence. Blaze gives off an incredible performance, and not even Bruce could improve upon it when he returned to the band and they took it out for Death On The Road. It’s one of Maiden’s best songs, and I still get chills whenever it comes on.
3. Man On The Edge - 10/10
With all of the bleaker songs that make up this record, I suppose that one traditional Maiden rocker was bound to creep in to off-set the tone, and Man On The Edge is just that rocker. Opinion seems to be divided over this song; for some, it’s the best song on the album, since it differs in style from most of the other tracks. For others, that difference makes it the album’s worst. Personally speaking, I love it as I love all the other songs on here. It’s a necessary breather and burst of energy before the trudge into the abyss that will follow. Once again, Blaze is shining through, and makes lyrics that would seem weak otherwise really stand-out. And the chorus is just as catchy as every great anthem should be.
4. Fortunes Of War - 10/10
And this is when the album really starts to get dark. A quiet intro leads into a soulful Blaze performance, this time taking on the guise of one who has returned from the horror fields of war and is now scarred with PTSD. It’s a slow-building song, but all that build-up pays off when the song gets going. The chorus feels like a line the ex-soldier repeats over and over again to try to feel better about everything — to no avail — and the instrumental section is one of many great, melodic ones to be found within the album. Sad yet oh-so-real song.
5. Look For The Truth - 10/10
Literally the only moment on the album where I feel like they didn’t quite get it is in the first two lines of this song, where Blaze doesn’t quite get it together. But to dwell on something as insignificant as that would be to overlook all the other amazing stuff this song does, because it does get so much better. Blaze is again as powerful as ever; his belting “oh-oh-oh” sections sweep you up into its wake, and goddamn it, they’re one of the many things that made me fall in love with this album in the first place. The verses and chorus are simple yet used to great effect, and another great solo section rears its head too. Simply another amazing song.
6. The Aftermath - 10/10
One of Maiden’s absolute best anti-war songs, this. It starts out slowly, quietly, before breaking into a heavier trudge. It feels as though you’re in the trenches, walking through the muck and the mud, and hardly getting anywhere... which happens to be the point of the song. When the war is over, I’m just a soldier. Insignificant, forgotten, alone, dead or dying. It’s a brilliant song and has some of the band’s best lyrics to boot. “Once a ploughman hitched his team, here he sowed his little dream... now bodies, arms and legs are strewn where mustard gas and barbed wire bloom...” Absolutely brilliant stuff.
7. Judgement Of Heaven - 10/10
Depression, suicidal thoughts, questioning your role in life, and where you belong. Throwing in religious quandaries on top of that and you’ve got a song that’s deeply relatable to many people, myself included. The way Blaze makes it seem so personal is a credit to the man’s ability as a singer. I love Bruce, and while he can be emotional as fuck when he wants to, he is primarily a showman, a storyteller, giving things a very theatrical flair to them. Which is awesome, but Blaze is more of an Everyman sort of guy. When he gets emotional, it feels even more genuine than when Bruce does it. No other singer could have made this album work as well as he did.
8. Blood On The World’s Hands - 10/10
Stevie gets in some chops with the long but fantastic bass opening, which leads into another song in which Blaze shows off his chops. As this darkly brooding monster rolls over you like fog on a dark and dreary night, it leaves in its wake powerful musings on the world at large. With all the death, violence, and destruction, mankind seems doomed to forever walk an Earth with blood on its hands. Yet another amazing song.
9. The Edge Of Darkness - 10/10
Apocalypse Now is such an amazing movie it’s hard to describe in words. The Edge Of Darkness doesn’t even really compare to its inspiration, and yet it’s absolutely perfect in what it does do, which is taking small bits and pieces from the film and injecting them into the listener’s mind. The opening section with the helicopters flying in is amazing, and the music that comes in takes it to the next level. We see Captain Willard, all alone in Saigon, before he is tasked with killing “a madman”, the formidable Kurtz. The song works best when it transports you to that heart of darkness, where the blood-red journey ends, and leads you back to give Apocalypse Now another well-deserved viewing. Both work well separately but also complement each other beautifully.
10. 2 A.M. - 10/10
Another song about depression, or, more accurately, feeling completely tired of life and all it holds within it. Another stellar Blaze performance helps out the reality factor, and another awesome instrumental section boosts it up even more, this time with a classic Maiden harmony in tow. I’m running out of words to describe these songs, they’re all just so absolutely incredible.
11. The Unbeliever - 10/10
Finally, the culmination of the album arrives in the shape of The Unbeliever. With all of the talk of mental unrest, this one cuts right to the point and envelopes all of the themes already touched upon into one satisfying track. The narrator also comes to grips with his life; all his life he hid and ran, now he must step forward and take control once more. I love the music to this one too, particularly the instrumental section where the bass takes center stage as the guitars build themselves up around it. What a way to close an album.
The X Factor ends with Steve saying, “That’s the one!” And oh yeah it is. There is not another album like it, not one that is so full of dark emotion, passion, cathartic at points, bleak at others, and yet through it all filled with a glimmer of hope. It is certainly one of the greatest records ever conceived and a shining gem in Maiden’s discography. To make a long story short, I fucking love it.