Wednesday, February 03, 2010

As the Palaces Burned: Bruce Dickinson - The Chemical Wedding

On September 24, 1991 Nirvana released Nevermind. Nine years later, a reunited Iron Maiden played Madison Square Garden. The time in between was one of metal's bleaker periods, where the genre's mainstream face all but disappeared and it retreated not just underground, but underwater. To celebrate the rare gems of this dark time - and remember our fortune now that metal has ceased to be such a dirty word - we've launched As the Palaces Burned, a weekly series published every Wednesday covers metal albums of note released between 1991 and 2000.

I’m going to be in a lot of trouble this week. I have selected Bruce Dickinson’s Chemical Wedding as my choice. Not Accident of Birth but Chemical Wedding.

I like AoB. It is fine. It has some great songs like “Darkside of Aquarius” and “Taking the Queen.” But like Halford’s Resurrection album it is a safety record. A lot of the riffs are derivative and he tried too hard to sound like Maiden (although it could be argued that he was making better Maiden records than Maiden were without him during this period).

But Chemical Wedding was a risky record and an even riskier proposition since he still hadn’t regained his audience yet. Even before you open the jewel case you are greeted by one of William Blake’s paintings, “the Flea.” In fact I bought this in 1998 as an impulse purchase because of the cover alone. The William Blake art and song titles alluding to his body of work (“Book of Thel,” “Gates of Urizen,” etc.) were enough to get me to spend $15 while hanging out at the Borders by SUNY Albany.

Most of this record sounds like an alternate universe version of Iron Maiden where Dickinson, not Steve Harris, calls the shots. No version of “The Trooper” here for the punters. This is Dickinson being handed the keys to the kingdom and letting all of his eccentricity flow. Starting off with “King in Crimson” the down-tuned guitar riff shows off a much darker side to Bruce Dickinson’s sound than we had previously heard. Songs like “The Tower” are “Revelations” on steroids. The lyrics are cryptic blends of bible stories, the writings of Blake, vague allusions to Alastair Crowley, and generalized insanity.

From “Book of Thel”:
The burning sweat of poison tears/The river flowing red with blood
The cradle-robbing hand of death/Caresses every dreaming head

Waiting for the marriage hearse/To take you to the funeral pyre
So you burn the family tree /The generations burning higher

This is not “Run to the Hills” for sure. But the songs do have strong hooks and a lot of the great shout-along moments which make the Brazilians go nuts, as evidenced by the live record Scream for me Brazil.

Come for the exotic take on Maiden-esque Metal. Stay for the odd pseudo-mythology lessons. Revel in the amazing artwork licensed from the Blake estate. This album isn’t for everyone, but like Halford’s Crucible it shows the power and creativity Roy Z can conjure out of a classic artist trying to get back on their feet.

Live version of "Book of Thel":

Killing Floor:

King in Crimson:


SaucyJ said...

Chemical Wedding is definitely the jam. You could have easily written the article solely on Scream For Me Brazil but I suppose that would be cheating.

The band on this record/AOB/Scream for me Brazil is amazing. Having Adrian Smith was huge. His slinky, creeping bluesy feel contrasts Roy Z's shredding every bit as perfectly as he contrasts Dave Murray's bubbly legato leads. The rhythm section is also amazing: heavy, tight as balls bassist and an amazing single pedal drummer. That drum solo in Book of Thel is soooo tasteful.

Bottom line this record is downright inspiring on several levels and holds up against Maiden record/heck any metal record ever made. It is a shame that this band will probably never get together to do a mini tour or even a few shows. I reckon I'd travel many miles to see this.

atanamar said...

Excellent review.

I always try to convince myself that Accident of Birth is my favorite solo Bruce album, but the second half just doesn't rule as much as the first half. It ends up seeming unbalanced.

The Chemical Wedding is more consistent. The William Blake themes give it an amazing mystique. I also picked this album up when I was in college. I remember making the trip to Tower Records to get it on the day it came out. Good memories...

Eric said...

Agree on the choice, too: the songs are not only killer in themselves, but among the best moments of Scream for Me Brazil.

Seth said...

@SaucyJ I agree. Smith and Roy Z play really well together. The harmonies at the end of "The Tower" are very tight. I've never been totally sure if that is the two of them together or one guitarist over-dubbing. It is perfect.

atanamar said...

It's entirely possible I'd sacrifice a body part to see Bruce play solo stuff live. I'd take any generation of his band. As much as I love Adrian Smith and Roy Z, I'm kind of partial to the Skunkworks/Alex Dickson era stuff in terms of live vibe. Alive At The Marquee is fucking incredible.