Thursday, March 31, 2016

Blaze Bayley - Infinite Entanglement

Iron Maiden has launched quite a few solo careers with varying degrees of success. Bruce Dickinson spent a few albums finding his sound before putting out two classic albums that rank alongside some of Maiden's best. On the opposite side of the spectrum you have Paul DiAnno, whose own greatest hits album last year was 90% songs from his brief stint fronting Iron Maiden. Somewhere in the middle is Steve Harris' British Lion, which sounds less like a classic Steve Harris album and more like an average rock band that happens to feature Steve Harris, almost like he did it as a favor to a friend.

And then we have Blaze Bayley, the replacement singer who fronted Iron Maiden at the low point of their popularity and sang on two of their most polarizing albums (though I'll defend The X Factor 'til my dying breath.) And while Blaze can't boast any single album to rival Accident of Birth or The Chemical Wedding, he's has a solid solid run of five albums, peaking with The Man Who Would Not Die and Promise and Terror. Then there's The King of Metal, which is the saddest kind of album you can come across: deeply personal at a dark time in his life, clearly an intended magnum opus, but bland as hell in execution.

So where does that put his latest effort, a sci-fi concept album called Infinite Entanglement?


Well, here's the good news. From the two pre-release singles, Solar Wind and Human, I could tell Blaze was playing to his strengths again.  This time around he's teamed up with musicians from Manchester based band Absolva, and the instrumentation is a bit simplified compared to his last two good albums, but no less effective. The vocal melodies and especially the choruses are immediately catchy. And while Blaze's vocals are starting to show their age, he uses his range smartly and doesn't embarrass himself trying to hit notes he can't anymore. Infinite Entanglement also features a few guest performances, including some touching guitar-work from Thomas Zwijsen of Nylon Maiden fame.

The highlights include pre-release single Solar Wind, melancholy closer A Work of Anger, mid-paced rocker Stars are Burning, which features the most infectious chorus on the album, and Independence, which is the closest thing to an epic on an album where no song breaks the 6 minute mark. A few tracks have a Virtual XI feel to them without repeating the blunders of that album. While I can't point to a single song to surpass any of Blaze's best work with Iron Maiden, I also can't point to a single weak track anywhere on Infinite Entanglement. The spoken word segments that appear as intros or short tracks throughout the album are unintrusive and add a bit of atmosphere to the record. Unlike on Blind Guardian's Nightfall in Middle Earth or Iced Earth's Framing Armageddon, there's never the feeling that they meddle with the pace. I'd compare them more to the Sun Tzu quotes sprinkled throughout Sabaton's The Art of War.

Overall, Infinite Entanglement is a worthy addition to Blaze's catalogue, falling just a fraction below The Man Who Would Not Die and Promise and Terror. More importantly, it's a major rebound from The King of Metal and his collaboration with John Steel. I doubt Blaze will ever be able to match Bruce Dickinson's creative peaks, solo or in Maiden, but his latest effort proves that his discography is a strong lesson in perseverance and how to avoid becoming a has-been.

Final Verdict: 4/5







As a side note, it's interesting how "solo artist" is first and foremost a marketing label. Bruce Dickinson originally wanted to call his band Skunkworks (which would later become the title of his third album) but was pressured by his label to be a "solo act" despite keeping a more consistent lineup of talented musicians than bands like Iced Earth and Megadeth.


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