Of all the bands to ride heavy metal’s improbable dominance of the music charts in the 1980s, few enjoyed success as baffling as Iron Maiden. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal pioneers morphed into the fathers of both power and progressive metal and became a megalithic arena act on the backs of songs that tended to concern either monsters or British military history. Of course, the colossal bummer of the 1990s hit the band as hard as any other gang of heshers, with two back-to-basics LPs getting slammed for coasting on fumes before Bruce Dickinson bailed to be replaced by Blaze Bayley, whose gruff bark and narrow range made him a poor substitute for the vaunted Air Raid Siren. With cratering sales and waning interest in both the band and Dickinson’s solo career, the two parties reconvened and decided to reunite for a new album that, in the face of a tattered metal scene and broad disinterest in the kind of music Maiden made, had few prospects.

As far as statements of intent go, though, Brave New World could not have done better than to launch with “The Wicker Man,” the band’s most rousing anthem since “Wasted Years” and a complete refusal to capitulate to the drop-tuned chug-a-lug alt. metal that was en vogue. Iron Maiden has never been starved for outstanding openers, but this mid-tempo beast, filled with Dickinson’s familiar wail backed by a beefed-up triple-guitar attack from Adrian Smith returning to the fold and the band keeping his replacement, Janick Gers. It’s certainly the sound of an older Maiden, less rushed and more stately, but the arena-ready chorus of “Your time will come” has made it a live staple to this day.

From there, the band acts as if they never let up from the career trajectory toward prog metal that previously peaked with 1988’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Of the album’s 10 tracks, only three fall below five minutes in length, exactly as many that coast right past the eight-minute mark. With rare exception, however, these songs are anything but bloated. “Ghost of the Navigator” quickly builds from a Ren-Faire opening to a mid-tempo trot that teases a full collapse until it roars back into focus. The title track is a fist-pumping anthem that feels much more concise than its six-and-a-half minutes would lead one to believe. “Dream of Mirrors,” the album’s centerpiece, retains the best of Harris’ standout epics of the Bayley era, “The Clansman” and “Sign of the Cross,” darting between fleet, neoclassical acoustic breaks amid swelling stomps before erupting around the halfway mark into an arena roar before the guitarist lurch into a classic Maiden gallop capped off by chant-along vocals and laser-precise guitar solos. Of course, the presence of Dickinson pushes this well above the band’s handful of mid-’90s classics; in general, Dickinson sounds better on this album than he did for much of his solo career, having benefited from improved vocal training for metal musicians. Lower his voice slightly to account for vocal wear and tear, he nonetheless hits his soaring wail with beautiful control, muting the unhinged screams of yesteryear with more commanding focus.

Peppered amid these longer tracks are the moments of intensity that catapulted Maiden to success. “The Mercenary” is such classic Maiden in its sprinting energy that you could convince even a fan that it was a discarded studio outtake circa-Powerslave with minimal effort. “Blood Brothers,” despite its length, is so warm and crowd-friendly that it’s no wonder it stands as the album’s second-most regular live staple. Harris wrote the song as a tribute to his late father, but he shrewdly left the chorus open and inviting enough to allow the song to apply to anyone, from stadiums full of fans to Ronnie James Dio following the metal god’s 2010 death. For all of Harris’s proggy ambitions, he nonetheless knows how to root his excesses around a sturdy backbone of verse-chorus structure, and Brave New World shows his songwriting in fine form.

Almost no Maiden album, even their most beloved classics, is devoid of filler, but it’s worth noting that the six-song stretch from the opener to “Hall of Mirrors,” which in the vinyl era would likely have constituted the entire album, is a strong contender for their most unimpeachable, all-killer album run since the heights of Piece of Mind. Admittedly, there are some stumbles in the back nine. “The Fallen Angel” is the final shorter track on the album, and it lacks the hook or energy of the other two. “The Nomad” is six minutes of power metal spectacle that runs into the issue of being nine minutes long, the final third being devoted to a dull holding pattern outro that hints at the padding that would start to creep into even the finest of Maiden’s subsequent 21st-century work, which has been defined by an almost willful desire to make tracks and albums as long as possible. Mercifully, things rebound with “Out of the Silent Planet” and its numerous time changes leading to a corkscrewing guitar solo and a furious ending, as well as the churning “The Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” which teases the same tedious breakdown as “The Nomad” only to roar back with a melodic second wind for a hidden gem in Maiden’s massive discography.

At first blush, and even when factoring in the Aldous Huxley name-check, it seems mildly amusing to name an album of such throwback, classic metal Brave New World. Indeed, contemporary detractors knocked the band for producing such trademark material so out of step with then-cutting edge heavy acts like Slipknot, a take that has since aged like milk in a greenhouse. But the title oddly fits when one considers the album’s impact. For its own sake, the LP was a huge success, scoring a top 10 in the UK and top 40 on the Billboard charts alongside the best reviews Maiden had received in years in anticipation of a tour that returned them to the top of the heap of rock’s arena acts. It was also the opening salvo in heavy metal’s remarkable comeback story, with numerous acts previously considered down for the count (Judas Priest, Accept, Saxon) suddenly springing back not merely to enjoy the nostalgia circuit but to rally with some of the finest albums of their career. Maiden even ripped the lid off of the budding power metal movement they themselves spawned, helping younger bands they inspired like Iced Earth and Rhapsody of Fire become mainstays of Latin American and European metal festivals that experienced exponentially exploding success. Maiden would have had a coup just coming up with a killer album after a dismal decade of diminished returns. Instead, they were the first sign of metal’s phoenix-like rebirth, ground zero for old and new groups alike to push the genre to artistic heights that have arguably outstripped even the supposed heyday of the 1980s.

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