Iron Maiden were the biggest Metal band in the world in 1986. Their reputation had been forged through tireless touring and prolific, high quality, very Metal albums. Having produced five studio albums in five years, and backing them all up with extensive world tours featuring massive live productions must have become tiring. While the band released Metal’s greatest double live album `Live After Death’ in 1985, no studio album was forthcoming that year. Was there a problem? Was Maiden tiring?
When `Somewhere In Time’ was finally released in September 1986, shock horror, Iron Maiden had done something different!
The cover art offered a clue. Eddie had sprouted wires, a bionic eye and a laser, and was standing as a gunslinger in a Blade Runner/Terminator sci-fi cityscape. While not a concept album, like 1988’s `Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’, a future shock/passage of time theme connects much of the album. The biggest change was the addition of synth bass and guitars, much to the consternation of long-time fans of the band. The synth sounds of the guitars and bass added to the cyborg feel, combining both the organic and the mechanical. Steve Harris’ bass doesn’t have quite the same gallop as on previous albums, but the minor change goes along with the band trying to do something a little different. And just because the guitars sounded a bit different didn’t mean Adrian Smith and Dave Murray had forgotten how to play them.
While the singles “Wasted Years” and “Stranger In A Strange Land” were highly successful, neither were instant classics like “Number Of The Beast” or “Run To The Hills”, but as a whole, this album is far more consistent than the previous three. There are no fillers, like “Back In The Village” or “Invaders”. “Two Minutes To Midnight”, from the `Powerslave’ album would have fitted perfectly on to `Somewhere In Time’, perhaps even hinting toward the direction of this album.
There are some great moments of pure Maiden on this album. Bruce Dickinson’s voice is allowed to really soar at times, like on “Sea Of Madness” and “The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner”. The latter also features a snare/kick drum pattern from Nicko McBrain to simulate the runner’s footsteps. “Wasted Years” is a song about not wasting opportunities and the brilliant descending scale riff is one of the best the band has ever recorded.
“Alexander The Great” is one of Iron Maiden’s greatest epics. It was also impossible to play live until recent years, because it has so many different guitar lines weaving in and out of each other. The lyrics are a dramatisation of Alexander The Great’s conquests, and like great Classical pieces, like “William Tell Overture” or “Hall Of The Mountain King”, the multi-faceted, layered music also tells the story. Despite Bruce Dickinson having a degree in history, “Alexander The Great” was written by Steve Harris.
Science Fiction influenced Metal albums are a dime a dozen now, but back when Iron Maiden released `Somewhere In Time’, it was innovative and more than a little surprising. Despite criticism levelled at the band back then, and in the years since, `Somewhere In Time’ has held up well. Even casual Maiden fans need to hear this album.