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Navigate The Seas Of An Air Raid Siren

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Last Updated on 10:36 AM by Nikos Nakos

The world of heavy metal has been graced by many iconic figures, but few have left such an indelible mark as the enigmatic frontman of the legendary Iron Maiden band Mr.Bruce Dickinson. With a solo career spanning over three decades and a testament to his artistic versatility as well as an unwavering commitment to pushing the boundaries of his art, he returns to our country after 22 years with ”The Mandarake Project” to remind us of all the reasons why we loved him away from the Iron Maiden.

His personal inspiration has always been an exciting journey of creative exploration and musical evolution. Outside of Iron Maiden we met a man with multiple interests and pursuits, hence a rich background. From the raw energy of his debut album to the progressive and introspective nature of his later works, each release has showcased his remarkable ability to reinvent himself, always keeping his fans on their toes. In light of this, we decided to take a brief look back and reference his personal musical legacy.

One of the characteristics of his musical personal journey is his willingness to experiment with different musical styles. So when in 1989 he was asked to do a song for the fifth Nightmare On Elm Street film, Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter featured future Maiden guitarist Jannick Gers, bassist Andy Carr and Fabio Del Rio on drums. The ensemble soon re-entered the studio with longtime Maiden and Deep Purple producer Martin Birch. The subsequent result was “Tattooed Millionaire”. A departure from the traditional Iron Maiden sound, incorporating hard rock, blues, and even funk elements. It was also his 1st musical attempt if we consider that from 1987 to 1990 Bruce Dickinson appears as Bruce Dickinson only through the 2 editions of his books “The Adventures Of Lord Iffy Boatrace” and “The Missionary Position” which for some reason, probably due to the cartoonish covers and the fact that, being hard to find and out of print, they were not read by the would-be historians of his career, they were passed on to the general public as… children’s books!

In “Balls To Picasso”, after 12 years of successes, awards, albums that went down in history and his name in gold letters in Maiden’s history, we find him delving into the realm of progressive rock, with complex arrangements and a more introspective lyrical approach. Typical examples are “Tears Of The Dragon” and “Change Of Heart” where his ability as a songwriter to combine technical proficiency with emotional storytelling is evident.Of course, it would be impossible for the album not to include Maiden references (“Gods Of War”) even though Bruce didn’t want the games of fate to be avoided. Indeed at that time, almost 30 years ago, the multi-talented performer from the East Midlands had visited our country solo for the first time in an acoustic set for the needs of a celebratory event that a select few were lucky enough to enjoy. In fact, at that time, almost 30 years ago, the multi-talented performer became one of the few musicians to play in the city of Sarajevo while it was under siege during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia (the “Scream For Me Sarajevo” documentary and compilation album was the result and accolade of that brave visit at the time).

On 1995’s “Skunkworks”, Air Raid Siren explored industrial and electronic influences, creating a unique soundscape that was far removed from their previous works. It is certainly his most controversial solo album as it is probably his least metallic album ever released but it is a much more natural continuation of its predecessor than he is often credited with. There’s less distortion and the compositions are less dense, but ultimately it’s full of fresh, classy songwriting performed with a degree of spontaneity and freedom that’s quite hard to find in metal releases. Obviously the album was doomed to be a commercial failure, as both the metal elitists saw it as a betrayal and the timing of its release was at a time when the grunge phenomenon was monopolizing the music industry’s attention. Another sign that may have played a role was that Castle Records may have been partly to blame there, as they refused to release the album under the Skunkworks name. Ultimately, the lack of commercial success for “Skunkworks” is somewhat easy to explain, but much harder to understand. Of course, it’s not as overwhelming as, say, “The Chemical Wedding”, but it may be Dickinson’s most interesting solo release from an objective musical perspective.

This bland taste that “Skunkworks” left in the wider world unwittingly created space for one of the most recognizable metal albums of the 90s. “Accident Of Birth”, which marked a return to a more traditional heavy metal sound. Many have argued that it was the depression Dickinson faced as a result of not succeeding commercially in his previous solo efforts and simply not being happy with himself. If you asked me personally, I would say that the addition of Adrian Smith was the career rouille he needed. Bruce on this release hadn’t sung and expressed himself like this since “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son”. A truly dark album that you can feel the emotion throughout. Compositions of epic songs and their manic execution as well as incredible moments of serenity through exquisite ballads are some of the marks this titanic release has left us with . Of course the Maiden element returns but how could it be otherwise as the songs are signed by Dickinson/Smith?

With the help and guidance of producer, composer and guitarist Roy Z, and the rekindling of his musical relationship with Adrian Smith, Dickinson returned to his sound in 1997. Refreshed now, he led a year later straight into the creation of what in retrospect must be considered his ultimate solo work, “The Chemical Wedding”. An artistic triumph of heavy metal, Dickinson’s greatest achievement outside of Maiden. On an album where Dickinson/Smith co-wrote “The Killing Floor” and “Machine Men” (“Return Of The King” was only used as a bonus track) the sound of the album “drains” the listener. With heavier riffs, smarter lyrics, solos much more complex, everyone involved much more passionate about what they were doing and a voice that is simply magical on an album that is one of the most exciting albums that Brasidas would ever make in his bachelor musical life. His creative rise here easily takes us back to the 80s where he similarly weaves songs around an idea on his masterpiece “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son”. This time the lyrics are inspired by the life and art of poet and painter William Blake and “The Four And Twenty Elders Casting Their Crowns Before The Divine Throne”.

The lyrical coherence and musical composition of the album is indeed comparable only to “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son” and possibly “Piece Of Mind”, works whose imprint is timelessly evident. Dickinson’s musical return to heavy metal, his rediscovery of his artistic identity, would eventually lead him back to Iron Maiden in triumphant fashion. The return of his beloved band to top form would come at the price of losing the normal activity of a creative force that had carved its own place at the heart of his devotion. The 1999 live album “Scream For Me Brazil” was perhaps the only vivid example of his take-off in comparison to his solo career of the past as the 1995 live album “Alive In Studio A” found him searching for how to win the battle with time for what life had finally reserved for him, but 1998 was the end of an era.

2005’s “Tyranny Of Souls” saw the singer explore darker themes and more introspective lyrical content, while maintaining the technical prowess and musical complexity that had become a hallmark of his solo work. Being the third installment of his metal trilogy, after “Accident of Birth” and “The Chemical Wedding” there was much debate among fans as to whether it would be as good as those. Musically, Bruce is his same solid self and delivers another great performance (Roy Z is close behind) with a lot of emotion hitting high notes without screaming as is his usual style despite the lack of epic songs found on his predecessor. On a song level, there is nothing here that is even vaguely bad. His pure heavy metal, full of triumphant anthems, great solos and heavy perhaps modern riffs (a bit reminiscent of Zakk Wylde) gives us an enjoyable and well-crafted album, with stunning production full of catchy addictive melodies.

In conclusion, Bruce Dickinson’s solo discography is a testament to the enduring legacy of one of heavy metal’s most iconic figures. From the raw energy of his debut to the progressive and introspective nature of his later works, each album has showcased his remarkable versatility, technical prowess and unwavering commitment to pushing the boundaries of his craft. Dickinson’s solo career has been a sonic odyssey, a journey of creative exploration that has left an indelible mark on the world of heavy metal music to the present day where “The Mandrake Project” makes its entrance into our memories.

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