Bruce Dickinson - The Chemical Wedding (1998)

Credits:

  • Bruce Dickinson - Lead Vocals
  • Roy Z - Guitar
  • Adrian Smith - Guitar
  • Eddie Casillas - Bass
  • David Ingraham - Drums
  • Produced by Roy Z at Sound City, Van Nuys & CA. Silver Cloud, Burbank, CA.

 

Background

I didn't know about Iron Maiden from their beginning, but I became a fan during the Bruce Dickinson period. I loved the power, energy, melody, and drama in Maiden's music. As a bass player at the time, I loved Steve Harris' galloping playing style, and always had a blast playing Maiden songs on bass in coverbands. And I always loved Bruce Dickinson's voice on the classic Iron Maiden studio albums: Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, Powerslave, Somewhere in Time. As a big fan, I went to see them whenever there was a chance. But what I saw live, was a Bruce Dickinson who often struggled to hit the same notes he sang in the studio. Part of the problem was that live, Maiden often tended to speed up and let the songs get away from them tempo-wise. This often didn't give Bruce adequate time to breath properly between vocal phrasings. There is clear evidence of this on Iron Maiden's Live After Death. Just listen to how fast they play Hallowed be Thy Name. It's ridiculous. But beyond that, Maiden toured a ton in the 80s. And I also think that those 300 date per year tours beat the living shit out of Bruce's voice. And each tour seemed worse than the last for Bruce. By the time Iron Maiden released 7th Son, I personally felt Bruce was physically out of gas, and the band was creatively out of viable ideas. They were repeating themselves -- badly. And then the unthinkable happened. I lost interest in Iron Maiden. And then so did a lot of people.

Well, the classic lineup of the band split. Bruce and guitarist Adrian Smith left. Steve Harris replaced them and carried on. I didn't care. As far as I was concerned, it was over. Bruce Dickinson started a solo career. I didn't care. As far as I was concerned, his voice had gone down hill.

So when I finally caught on to this album, it blind-sided me. It probably shouldn't have, but it did. Some of the Dinosaur Rock Guitar forum guys had said some good things about it, so when I saw it in a used bin for five bucks, I picked it up because I was curious. But I quickly I went from curious to blown away!

In my opinion, Chemical Wedding is what Maiden should have evolved into in the 90s, but didn't. With Dickinson and Smith on board, it's got obvious hints of that old Maiden flavor, but it isn't hopelessly shackled to those tired, old Steve Harris chord progressions and galloping rhythms that just don't work anymore (see Iron Maiden's reunion: Brave New World). By contrast, these songs were written on guitar rather than bass. Roy Z, producer of the band "Halford," is the other guitarist, and I think it's his presence on songwriting and arranging that makes Chemical Wedding sound FRESH rather than dated. The songs here mostly use a common but winning formula. There are elements of more modern metal here: a more high gain sound, guitars are tuned down. And yet, the band manages to preserve the tastiest elements of the old Iron Maiden flavor. So while it's quite heavy, it's is also extremely melodic. Perhaps best of all Bruce's voice sounds awesome again! This CD flat-out knocked me on my ass! Best new metal album I've heard in ages. It gets better with each listen. So let's start.

Track By Track (vocal cues in parentheses)

King in Crimson (4:43) Big, slow, power chord intro sounds very tuned-down and modern metal. Then the tempo picks up with a fast, ascending, single-string riff played with a very distorted, fuzzed-out guitar sound. Band kicks in and the second guitar plays a quick little melody as the whole song explodes into a huge, muted-riff crunch fest. Bruce comes in powerful and low. (In the darkness the Raven's head). Verse part two (daylight has come) is a descending chord pattern followed by the ascending riff again. This repeats. A third part -- is it a bridge? --(As the veil reveals the outer darkness) features a power chord progression that ascends in whole steps. This is accompanied by Bruce singing melodically and climbing higher through his vocal range. These devices raises the tension enormously. The chorus dumps the song out of the ascending, releasing the tension perfectly. (Arise, awake, the King in Crimson comes). Fairly complicated song structure, but it works great! They play off the single-string riff again before heading back to the next verse. The whole verse chorus pattern repeats. Then a real bridge: the single-string riff over drum hits. This leads into the first guitar solo. Roy Z doing a Dave Murray-like solo. 2nd solo is Smith. Chorus repeats. Song end is almost a Cozy Powell type thing -- heavy and staccato. This song is a fucking jackhammer. It sets an awesome vibe for the whole album. You're gonna get steamrolled, so sit back and enjoy it!

Chemical Wedding (4:04) The mid-paced title track begins with a huge minor descending/ascending powerchord progression for the intro. The verse brings the dynamic down. Effected guitar --sounds like a phase shifter maxed-out to boingy. Bruce starts off pretty quiet. (How happy is the human soul). Chorus is huge, anthematic, and wonderfully melodic. (And so we lay, we lay in the same grave). And Bruce's voice is fabulous. Stronger than ever. Operatic. And this is one of those chord progressions and melodies that so damn strong it gets stuck in your head for days. Back to the intro part and verse two. The song keeps unfolding. There's a second part of the second verse that comes in loud and Bruce's voice ripping into the second chorus. Roy's guitar solo is melodic. Chorus is so good, they just bludgeon you with it to close the song. And Bruce sounds fantastic, wailing away with the melody.

The Tower (4:44) This song has strong roots in Iron Maiden. Quicker pace. The opening bass riff is reminiscent of Wrathchild. The structure, guitar parts, and harmonies are all very Maiden-like. Almost sounds like it could have been on Somewhere in Time. Not so coincidently, the solo is Adrian. Another strong, melodic chorus. Good strong song, but I actually prefer when the Maiden influence is less obvious.

Killing Floor (4:27) No relation to the blues song with the same title. Fast, guitar riff-based song. Heavy, crunchy, ballsy intro. Verse is the same part brought down a touch and muted. (So this is dreamtime). Bruce singing another powerful melodic line. Verse part two (Sleepy eyes awake) is almost alternative flavored -- but heavy, and a tension building progression. The chorus goes back to the heavy riff (Satan, has left his killing floor). Bruce really belting it out, especially on the word Satan. Solo is over a different part. Sort of an attitude solo. Starts in the blues scale and then goes off into some weird areas. First one is Adrian, second is Roy. Bridge is an effective, mood-changing melodic thing -- has almost a medieval flavor. Bruce is singing the melody in the background. The song then slams back into gear with the riff and pounds the song home with the chorus. Outro solo almost sounds like a Moog synth, but is probably guitar. Song ends abruptly. Heavy tune that kicks ass.

Book of Thel (8:10) Here's where the album begins to turn really dramatic. This eerie mood; the spoken word narration -- dramatic devices than move the form beyond just music into concept. Song begins with that foreboding flavor. A Harris-like bass melody pattern, with a moody guitar melody over it. Tension. Angry guitars come in with a great riff. Bruce gets right to the point and goes right for your throat from the outset. Verse part two ups the ante again (Stand inside the temple as the book of Thel is opening), raising the tension. And just like in the title track, the verse's tension is released in a big, melodic and anthematic chorus. (Count the dawning of the damned). They keep the chorus short this time and plow back into the verse, guns blazing. Verse and chorus repeat. This time the chorus repeats a second time. Then there is a bass breakdown that lets the song change the tempo and the guitar riff for guitar solo one (Adrian). Another break with Bruce singing melodically over hits. Solo two is Roy. Then another heavy melodic break part. Back to the verse, chorus. Again, Bruce sounds fantastic on the outro chorus. The foreboding intro part returns with piano and spoken word narration: (What demon hath formed this abominable void) and BANG! I'm sent back 20 years ago to the glory days of dramatic metal. And I got a big fucking grin on my gob cause I'm getting the same vibe I got the first time I heard the beginning of Number of the Beast, and the middle of Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. Great stuff.

Gates of Urizen (4:21) Another moody song that builds gradually. Arpeggiated guitar intro over bass. Again, another very melodic vocal. Bruce's voice is full of character. First hint of the chorus is kept quiet (the ladder falls away, at the gates of Urizen, fallen eagles blaze). Drums enter with along with a quick melodic solo over the existing part. Chorus two slams (at the gates of Urizen, the ladder falls away) power chords, operatic vocals. Huge. Melodic. It's got it all. I've never heard Bruce sing any better than he does on this album. First solo is Roy, second is Smith.

Jerusalem (6:42) This song's intro has a interesting mix of flavors. Some of it's Eastern with tambourine and a quiet guitar part with just a touch of drone in it. The vocal melody is very Anglo Saxon. Oddly enough, this song's flavor reminds me of the Spinal Tap classic, Stonehenge. Even parts of the vocal delivery are similar. Song begins to build (Let it rain). Drums come in gradually, and eventually the song gets to full power. (Let it rain) Bridge (See the gleaming sparks of the citadel.) Tempo quickens for the solo section. Adrian first, Roy second. Song returns with a heavy power chord melodic outro and Bruce singing with all kinds of power. Back to the quieter Eastern flavor -- reminiscent of Zep's Battle of Evermore. The narration returns: (Here is her secret place).

Trumpets of Jericho (5:57) Back to that fuzzy guitar jackhammer we heard on the opening track. Fast, single note riff. Tuned down-again. Modern heavy. Vocals come in powerful. (This is the maze of life). Verse is very rhythmical, though Bruce sings melodic on verse part two (What heavy burden holds me back). The chorus is another really catchy one. Melodic and operatic again (At the trumpets of Jericho, still the walls remain.) Verse and chorus repeat. Roy solo first. Heavy break. (As they drag you down) Second solo - Adrian. Verse and chorus repeat. Great, ballsy, song that marries the heaviness of modern rhythmic metal to the wonderful melody of classic 80s metal.

Machine Men (5:41) Another heavy, riff-driven song, with touches of old Maiden. Angry vocal from Bruce at the verse. Powerful, heavy, chorus again, with a melodic vocal. (Machine Men, cannibals of rust). Bruce sings more melodically in the second verse. Another heavy sledge hammer break between solos (Roy first, Adrian second) and on the outro. Big balls on this one.

The Alchemist (5:58) Discordant, effected, and noisy intro. Song has a hypnotic pulse. Very heavy. Bruce adds some melody with the verse vocal. Chorus (Don't try and blame me for your sins) has heavy that tuned down feel, and a chord progression reminiscent of the title track. Roy on the solo. And indeed, as the song winds down, they actually return to the theme and that wonderful chorus of the title track (And so we lay, we lay in the same grave) which closes out the album nicely. If you haven't popped the CD out yet, at around 8:10 there is a last bit of narration (And all this vegetable world appeared on my left foot)

Summary

It's not easy to combine all the elements that are at play here, but this album strikes the perfect balance between modern metal and classic metal. Roy Z gives the whole thing an injection of new blood and ideas, while Adrian Smith keeps one foot grounded in a melodic past. Albums like this prove you can have the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, most bands neither recognize that fact nor possess the skill to pull it off. These guys do. Chemical Wedding is a Number of the Beast for the new millennium. It is the crowning moment of Bruce Dickinson's post-Maiden career (thus far). Chemical Wedding's future has classic written all over it.

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    Bruce Dickinson

      By Dinosaur David B. Copyright ©2002 All rights reserved.