The singer was the “traitor”: 30 years of ‘Fear of the Dark’, the album that almost ended Iron Maiden | icon

They were painting coarse for Iron Maiden in the early nineties. The emblem band heavy metal Briton had just gone through a memorable decade, with a handful of records that acquired classic status as soon as they were released and the noise of millions of enthusiastic fans overcoming the notable media and advertising silence, when not censorship, especially by those who saw them as some dangerous satanists. The genre, however, was losing commercial momentum in the face of the advance of alternative sounds within rock, specifically the grungyin total control of the scene after the publication of never mindby Nirvana, in September 1991.

The group founded by bassist Steve Harris in 1975 sought to correct the first significant setback of his career, the album No prayer for the dying (1990), which did not convince critics or followers, and to do so he had to solve what seemed like squaring the circle: adapt to the times while staying true to his principles. It was not the first time that Iron Maiden had gone through this gap, since Harris had already stood firm and challenged his compatriots who advised him to ride the wave of the punk in the late seventies, following the success of the Sex Pistols and The Clash. But, on this occasion, the voices that accused him of being too “conservative” in music came from home. The differences with the singer Bruce Dickinson, charismatic front man of the band from The Number of the Beast (1982), were becoming more and more evident in interviews and in artistic results.

Dickinson, loose verse

In 1990, Dickinson himself had already briefly parted ways with the band to release a solo album, Tattooed Millionairewith a sound far removed from the Iron Maiden field, while publicly proclaiming his admiration for the latest works by artists such as Alice in Chains or Sting, representations of a “real” and “sincere” spirit that he said he wanted to orient himself to.

The Iron Maiden in 1981, before Bruce Dickinson arrived. They were, from left to right: Clive Burr, Dave Murray, Paul Di’Anno, Adrian Smith, and Steve Harris.Paul Natkin (Getty Images)

Pivoting on that creative difference of opinion, on May 12, 1992, Iron Maiden released Fear of the Dark, his ninth studio album, which turns 30. The album featured several major lineup changes. The first thing that jumped out at you was that its cover, for the first time, was not done by Derek Riggs, the illustrator who created the group’s famous mascot, Eddie. Instead, the band opted for a drawing by Melvin Grant (who would collaborate often since then) that transformed Iron Maiden’s signature character into some kind of vampiric creature, crouched in a tree against the background of a full moon. , in an attempt to “update Eddie to the nineties,” as manager Rod Smallwood confessed to biographer Mick Wall in the book Iron Maiden: Run to the Hills (1998).

Another important change took place within the line-up: guitarist Adrian Smith, present since the second album, left the band and was replaced by Janick Gers, a musician friend of Dickinson’s who had played on his solo album. Rebalancing powers, Steve Harris (bassist and founder) took on the role of producer, as he would continue to do ever since.

The album was a best-seller, reaching number 1 in the UK for the third time for Iron Maiden (they had already done so with The Number of the Beast and, in 1988, with Seventh son of a seventh son), although critics were somewhat less enthusiastic, considering it a slight but insufficient improvement. “Despite its iconic theme song and a handful of inspired moments, Fear of the Dark It is one of the weakest albums in the incredible first stage of Iron Maiden”, says, consulted by ICON, the music journalist Joe Daly, a contributor to specialized magazines such as metal hammer either classic-rock. “They are to be congratulated for being open to changing with the times, but they made the wrong changes. They seemed to want to jump from their typical themes of battles and fantasy to lyrics with a social discourse, such as anti-war Afraid to shoot strangers [inspirada en la recién acaecida Guerra del Golfo] and comments on the AIDS epidemic [Fear is the key] or the hooliganism in football [Weekend warriors]”.

Janick Gers and Bruce Dickinson during Iron Maiden's controversial 1993 tour.
Janick Gers and Bruce Dickinson during Iron Maiden’s controversial 1993 tour.Mick Hutson (Redferns)

“In previous albums we used to hide ideas through allegorical concepts, the use of mythology or legends, as a way to mask our true personal feelings. This time, we have shown them and given our music a new dimension”, proudly declared Steve Harris to the French magazine Hard Force Magazine. Dickinson didn’t see it that way. Despite his important authorial contributions to Fear of the Dark (topics like wasting love either be quick or be deadboth signed with his colleague Gers, would not have been out of tune in Tattooed Millionaire), precisely accused Harris of using fantastic imagery to repress his emotions. In an anthological interview with the British rock media Kerrang!, the singer charged against the subtle style of the compositions of Harris: “At first, this whole allegorical thing was very intriguing, but why does not say what he means? If it had been up to me, Maiden would always have expressed a lot more feelings and opinions.” The interview would be one of the last that Dickinson would give as the band’s vocalist at that stage, which he put an end to in August 1993.

“Fuck him, let’s find another singer!”

that interview in Kerrang! it did not stand out only for Dickinson’s statements. The report, made when the singer had already publicly announced that he would leave Iron Maiden at the end of the tour in which they were immersed, was the one that best reflected the bad atmosphere and tensions between the members of the group at the time. Both Harris and the drummer, Nicko McBrain, accused the vocalist of a lack of commitment for performing at a weak level in the concerts that they still had booked and made their outrage that Dickinson had already spread that he was leaving, something that transformed the presentations of Fear of the Dark on a farewell tour.

Some of the press even pointed out that it was a calculated move to encourage disappointing ticket sales. But the one who threw the darts the hardest was, without a doubt, McBrain. “Fuck him, let’s find another singer! My father, may he rest in peace, told me one day that if someone shits on McBrain’s name, it would be his first and last time,” he declared, a phrase that led journalist Jason Arnopp to question whether Dickinson was “shitting on Iron Maiden.” “He’s quit the fucking gang, if that’s not shitting on you, then what the fuck is he?” he retorted.

The front man tried to avoid controversy by assuring that, in order to obtain these statements, the journalist from Kerrang! had gotten McBrain drunk, who at another point in the interview ventured that Dickinson had been visiting Los Angeles and some sycophantic “fucking wankers” had convinced him to “leave those bastards [Iron Maiden]”. “Journalists… everyone knows what they are like! They are always stalking the band to find any conflict between us. Sadly for them, our relationship has always been very good,” Dickinson said months later to Hard Rock Magazineonly to change his mind years later and confess to the biographer Mick Wall the “bad vibes” then existing on stage.

Bruce Dickinson, from Iron Maiden, in Madrid in June 2019.
Bruce Dickinson, from Iron Maiden, in Madrid in June 2019.Carlos Alvarez (Getty Images)

The double world tour that followed the release of Fear of the Dark passed without many more shocks, except for the prohibition of his concert in Chile (after the Church pressured the government alluding to the satanic references in his lyrics) and that, according to what Harris also told Kerrang!, a Spanish fan offered to “kill” the “traitor Bruce” as he passed through the peninsula. Between 1992 and 1993, the band gave 112 concerts around the world.

stage slaves

The group’s concert rhythm was, in fact, another source of friction. Iron Maiden reached its record, in this sense, on the album tour Powerslave (1984), which between August 9, 1984 and July 5, 1985 had 187 dates: an average of nearly four concerts a week for practically a year in Europe, America, Japan and Australia. “Some nights in the last stage I thought: why is this so similar to slave labor?” Dickinson said. “What they needed was a two-year break to rest and recharge their batteries,” says journalist and critic Joe Daly. Beyond the attempts to reinvent the group and his frustrations with the results, which the singer also expressed on account of Fear of the Dark, Daly believes that “changing the formula” was something unnecessary: ​​“The Iron Maiden of the eighties had a tour like no other band in the history of rock or metal, with an unparalleled number of classic albums in just eight years. They established themselves as the dominant metal band of their day, staying true to their ethos and sound even as trends changed.”

Neither Iron Maiden nor Bruce Dickinson had much luck in their separate ways. Although Dickinson hooked up with another ex-Maiden, Adrian Smith, even that failed to garner much mainstream interest in his solo project. The British band, for its part, signed singer Blaze Bailey, who sang on two of their most unpopular and less commercially successful albums (albeit with some supporters among their fans), and ended up firing him after having to cancel concerts due to his voice problems, derived from being forced to sing out of his natural register and not having time to recover.

To the ecstasy of the fans, the warring parties made peace very opportunely in 1999 and, incidentally, brought Smith back, keeping his replacement Janick Gers and forming with Dave Murray the three-guitar lineup that has characterized the band ever since. sound of Iron Maiden, which inaugurated a new era with the acclaimed Brave New World (2001). Unlike in Fear of the Dark, where they did not share any credit, four of the ten compositions on that album were collaborations between Dickinson and Harris. “They re-emerged as one of the most vital voices in metal, which is no small feat considering the number of bands and sub-genres that have sprung up in the last 20 years,” Joe Daly believes. “The fact that Maiden keeps putting out albums like The Book Of Souls [2015] Y senjutsu [2021] shows that they are one of the most important groups not only in the heavybut of modern music.

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