BLAZE BAYLEY - WAR WITHIN ME
Updated: Apr 27, 2021
OLD ROCKERS REALLY DO NOT DIE
It is hard not to like Blaze Bayley. After failing to hit it big with lower league Wolfsbane (who tried to gain traction at a time when classic metal was not only waning, but being laughed at by children and critics alike) he famously joined Iron Maiden replacing the effervescent Bruce Dickinson. By the time Bayley inherited the mic in one of the biggest metal bands in history, however, the rot had already started to take hold not only in Maiden but across the metal scene which was in the convulsions of an existential crisis caused by the emergence of grunge and Britpop. Commercial free-fall, stylistic redundancy, and plummeting demand forced many bands - who all too often had relied on passé turgidity for a safe mediocre career - into early retirement, disbandment, or desperate reinvention. Checked shirts took over from leather, mops succeeded split-ended mullets. Plucky as he was taking the stage with global rock giants, the two albums Maiden released during Bayley's tenure as frontman have been almost universally lambasted. Some of the criticism is unfair on Bayley who joined a band that refused to adjust their sound to accommodate a new singer with a sonorously lower pitch than Dickinson's 'air raid siren' while Bayley co-wrote arguably the best songs on those releases. Moreover, Bayley has been through the mill personally: a serious motorcycle crash, let go by Maiden, the tragic passing of his wife, and a post-Maiden solo career that has seen more changes in band personnel than a specious call centre. Despite the tribulations, however, Bayley seems to have retained a likeable affability and an endearing doggedness that you cannot help but respect. It has also inspired Bayley's narrative of personal survivalism and defiant never-say-die themes throughout his solo work which are again emblazoned here.
War Within Me is immediately evocative of Blaze-era Maiden but with frantic fretwork reminiscent of Megadeth and an unrepentant foot-on-monitor NWOBHM attitude. It is faster and more urgent than Maiden and every notch as melodic. A magnificent opening salvo, then, but thenceforth the quality just does not abate. 303, despite the Victor comic WW2 theme, is seminally triumphal with a soaring hookline and it is up there with the best of the genre. It just keeps coming, too. You might think Warrior is going to be a gloom-laced outtake piece from The X Factor album but it instead blows up into a strident, inflated chorus and cartwheeling guitar work while the self-explanatory Pull Yourself Up slows the pace down but is a rousing earworm and a paean to Bayley’s leitmotif of personal endurance.
At this point, a record is often prone to a lull but this, thankfully, does not occur. Melodic treats are packed in with immensely catchy tunes like stand-out examples 18 Flights and The Unstoppable Stephen Hawking. The inventive soloing is ascendant and the buoyant energy is unwavering. Bayley sounds up for it and then some. His stentorian low register is at home here where he has turned out arguably the most commanding and confident performance of his career to date. While he has perhaps been played out of position both in Maiden and occasionally in his solo work, here he belts out chorus after triumphal chorus with ease. Mention should also be made of the guitar work that shines splendidly with flawless riff work, bridges, addictive hook lines, and hanger-sized solos.
Only a churl or a boorish poseur would refuse to salute the sheer passion and boyish energy radiating from War Within Me and its brazen disregard for anything even loosely related to trendiness. There is rampant exuberance and wide-eyed enthusiasm running throughout these ten triumphal tracks of vintage rock metal. It sounds like that natural, unforced chemistry when a long-in-the-tooth band rediscover the magic elixir of their youth that made them join a rock band in the first place. The band play not only like they are enjoying themselves but also as if they are galvanized by not deferring to the judgement of others. In fact, can you imagine the result if some of this vim had been imbued into the The X Factor and Virtual IX albums? If you like your metal vintage and your denim and leather is worn unironically and unapologetically then this will shuffle your pack. As for Bayley himself, it has been a wayward career but this is demonstrable proof of a genuine rock metal singer.