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Iron Maiden

Dance of Death (Columbia)

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Dance of Death is Iron Maiden's second album with returned frontman Bruce Dickinson, and much of its best material stands up to comparisons with the band's late-'80s classics. The title track, in particular, is tremendous -- more than eight minutes long, without a single wasted note. It's not the only marathon workout either: Four of the album's 11 tracks exceed seven minutes.

The production is rawer than on previous Maiden discs: The record begins with a 1-2-3-4 countoff that launches the single "Wildest Dreams." A short, punchy, hard rocker, it's actually one of the record's weaker tracks, compared to the prog-metal epics found elsewhere. Still, it's well played and properly anthemic. Everything here is. Dickinson's vocals are at full strength. The triple-guitar front line (Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and Jannick Gers) rips into the material with shocking energy. Steve Harris's bass, long the lead voice on Maiden discs, is actually somewhat muted here; he's loosening his grip on the proceedings, and the resultant sense of freedom is refreshing. Dance of Death isn't an attempt to get on the charts; it's a gift to Iron Maiden's longtime fans, and a damn welcome one.

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