A fan of all of Iron Maiden, but a fan of especially the Blaze era for Maiden, in particular the X-Factor album.
Iron Maiden is arguably the greatest metal band in history, and many would go so far to say they have never made a subpar, or even a weak, song. Unfortunately, even Iron Maiden has an era in their history that many have neglected, or purposely want to forget about, more specifically about their tenth album, The X-Factor. I argue that not only is The X-Factor one of Maiden's best albums, but also one of their most significant albums that moved them closer to what they would become in the future.
As many may or may not know, The X-Factor was released in 1995, and was a big change for Iron Maiden mostly because this was the first album in 13 years without Bruce Dickinson on vocals, and the first to feature Blaze Bayley. Over the years, Blaze has received many mixed opinions on his tenure in the band, related to his vocal abilities, his stage presence, and his contribution to the overall image of the band. Another significant change that this album introduced was a darker, more morbid side to Iron Maiden's music that no one had heard before. Songs about scars from war, being brought forth to heaven, reflecting on life, and sins the world has committed. Both of these major changes turned off many long time fans, believing the musical change was not helping the band's image. Heavy metal in general was struggling at this point, so many dismissed this change in Iron Maiden as just another lackluster attempt to re-live or bring back past glories. While most bands did begin to either sell their integrity, or were past their golden years, I argue Iron Maiden retained both of those, and continued to expand and grow as a band, it and the X-Factor was a worthy successor to Iron Maiden's past albums.
Blaze as Lead Vocalist
To be clear, I think it is not fair to compare both Bruce Dickinson and Blaze Bayley's vocal abilities, as they both have totally different styles that I believe neither can truly replicate the other. While Bruce has a higher range, more opera-like vocals, Blaze introduced a more baritone style that fits perfect for the darker nature for this album. With Blaze on vocals, it also forced the band to have a slight change in musical style that still has the signature Iron Maiden sound, but with a distinct difference that signifies that this is a different era for Iron Maiden. Change for a lot of band's typically isn't a good change, but Iron Maiden definitely is an exception to the rule. Because of this, it has given us three eras to Iron Maiden to look to. Just because Blaze is a different type of vocalist to Bruce and Paul Di'Anno, doesn't mean he is a bad vocalist. He seems to have the reputation among some fans that because he doesn't sing similar to Bruce, that automatically means he isn't a good vocalist, which I think is totally unfair to judge him as such. Unlike many vocalist replacements at the time, Blaze stayed true to his style and abilities and did not fall victim to trying to appease fans and general audiences alike. He came into Iron Maiden as his own man, bringing his own style that Steve Harris felt was a much needed direction for the band, and stayed true to that during his five years in.
The Lyrics and Songs
To date, this is definitely some of Iron Maiden's most thought provoking and deeply meaningful lyrics across their whole catalog, and the music itself compliments them perfectly. I think this is one of the reasons why people dismiss this album more often, simply because the songs are generally more morbid for Maiden and the lyrics are something that most people either do not relate to or they simply do not visualize them like many other of Maiden's songs. I think they are songs that a person has to be at a particular stage in life to truly appreciate. This certainly isn't the go to album to try and get someone into Iron Maiden, for most people. All eleven songs on the album demonstrate this. The songs Fortunes of War, The Aftermath, Blood on the World's Hands, and The Edge of Darkness are all war related. Sign of the Cross, Lord of the Flies, Look for the Truth, Judgement of Heaven, 2AM, and The Unbeliever are all about reflections on life and how we view it. Man on the Edge is definitely an outlier on this album, a lot more upbeat and free spirited, but fits nonetheless. Now, Iron Maiden has been writing about songs for these topics for years at this point, but the songs on this album were more from the perspective of being on scene, an actual reflection in person, instead of being told from an outsiders perspective or telling a tale. The point being, not everyone can relate to lyrics about war, and not everyone is in a stage of life to be reflecting on it and I think that is another reason why this album is heavily overlooked is because it has a certain niche to it.
The Hidden Meaning and Theme Behind the Album
If you read more into the album, and the history surrounding it, you will see that the songs are a reflection of what the band members were experiencing at the time of writing this. Some were going through divorce, changes in life that were more likely negative than not, which contributed to the darker nature to the album. This is a big reason why I think this album is under rated, a lot of heart and a lot of emotion went into making this album, and it gives it a more human connection that many people could relate to depending where we are at in life. This album shows that even with Iron Maiden at its lowest point, they can still put out and album that is a worthy and progressive successor to what they would become in the following decade.
Overall, I think Iron Maiden's the X-Factor could arguably be the most worthy successor of an album for any band that was trying to compete for what they once were. They progressed in a style that stayed true to the integrity of Iron Maiden, but brought something new to add. The reasons why most people state for not liking the album seems to revolve around Blaze being a different vocalist from Bruce, and the more darker songs that were not usual for Iron Maiden. Most changes for bands typically are not good, but Maiden is definitely the exception to this. I firmly believe the X-Factor is easily one of Iron Maiden's top 5 albums and will stand the test of time forever. It may not be the most relatable album, and it may not be everyone's tastes, but its an album that commands a certain amount of respect for the band making this in their darkest time, and for not selling out to appease the style rock and metal was going in at the time. I would encourage everyone that is a Maiden fan or even anyone interested to sit down and listen to this album and analyze it. Share it around to anyone you know that may take an interest in it. This just might make album of the year for them.
© 2020 Jason
Ara Vahanian from LOS ANGELES on April 15, 2020:
Interesting. I think that my favorite song on No Prayer for the Dying is The Assassin. The beginning with that bass line and then the main riff...too good! I recall hearing the LIVE After Death album on cassette tapes way back in the day. That's my best recollection. Somewhere In Time is one of those albums I had on cassette tape before I had it on CD. If there's any band that could perhaps set a record for the most number of years active and playing, Iron Maiden could be the band. They have never had any extended breaks.
Jason (author) from United States on April 15, 2020:
Run Silent Run Deep will always hold a special place for me, it is the first Iron Maiden song I listened to and what got me into them. The X-Factor compared to No Prayer for the Dying is hard to judge I think. I love both albums, and I think No Prayer for the Dying is heavily underrated as well. I love the more stripped down style they were going for. Which album is superior though, I would give it to X-Factor. It is more complex musically and lyrically is more thought provoking. Live After Death is nice too. Iron Maiden is one of the few bands I think sound just as good live, if not better, than in the studio.
Ara Vahanian from LOS ANGELES on April 14, 2020:
I sure can when I get the chance to. I really like the album LIVE After Death though it is a LIVE album. How does The X Factor compare to No Prayer for the Dying for instance? That's another one of those albums that may have been overlooked.
Jason (author) from United States on April 14, 2020:
Hey, thanks for reading through this. Been wanting to write about this since we last spoke about this album. Hope you can take some time to look over my other Iron Maiden related articles.
Ara Vahanian from LOS ANGELES on April 08, 2020:
The X Factor is a different album and good for the time in which it was written. However, whether Iron Maiden is the greatest heavy metal band ever is actually subjective. I think that the length of songs such as Sign of the Cross is an issue. Lord of the Flies has this weird guitar sound to it. Is it a heavily underrated album? That's a good question. Musically this album is different also because there is less of the synth style sounds that we heard on albums such as Somewhere in Time or Powerslave. The X Factor came out at a time when there was also another great album Symbolic by the Florida death metal band called Death (yes that was the band's name) so that's another reason why I remember about The X Factor. Yes, the lyrical themes in this album are dark and there are good songs in it. This is a good first album in 13 years without Bruce Dickinson and it may be better than Iron Maiden first two albums but does it deserve to be in their Top 5? Another great question to ponder. Good album nonetheless.