Why Iron Maiden's "The X-Factor" Is a Heavily Underrated 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