Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Time (1986)

iron maiden somewhere in time

Article by David Rosales.

Released after Iron Maiden’s golden era, Somewhere in Time is touted by fans of heavy and power metal as a crown jewel of the band, exemplifying perfected expression and streamlined efficiency. This is not immediately convincing for metal hessians. Rightly so as the music became more sterile, hence, less credible. There is definitely a sense of “upgradedness” in both the production and the choice of stylistic voicings, allowing an inclusion of 80s pop coloration into the palette. This unclear, semi-sellout move demanded accountability, while at the same time the band boasted of accumulated experience fructifying the transformation, masterfully avoiding the typical degeneration that could be expected after the climax and summary of their original sound in 1985’s Live After Death.

Although the album is not part of what we consider the underground of metal, it is not without its redeeming qualities. The contributions individual instruments make to the whole are more focused than ever before or after. This goes for the voice as an instrument as well. As paradoxical as it may seem, this evidently more mainstream album depends less on the vocal theatrics of Bruce Dickinson than the prior ones. Iron Maiden’s characteristic guitar mannerisms are focused into themes rather than riffs, which were never strong in Iron Maiden’s work.

This purposeful though perhaps unnecessary trade off had game-changing consequences. Chord-and-melody composition is easier to control than more counterpoint-oriented methods. This may have been a prudent measure to ensure the stability of exploitable components in the music. The drums are understated but tastefully functional, providing basic needs while staying aloof from immature bragging. The creative, moving bass of Steve Harris is still the heart of the music and never tires; the whole of the instrumentation seems to have been wound around it so that the rhythms, hooks, and simple but iconic melodic harmonizations strengthened at the same time as the foundations  narrowed.

On the down side, Somewhere in Time lacks the depth of expression we find in Angel Witch‘s eponymous LP, whose technical variability, use of silence and phrasal darkness with a solid backbone is approached by Iron Maiden only in certain moments, e.g. “Where Eagles Dare” and “Phantom of the Opera”. Following this lead, we seem to not only discover the weaknesses of Somewhere in Time alone but of the band’s overall songwriting. Maiden never found themselves at home in their earlier period characterized by a certain proximity to the raw, doomy NWOBHM sound. At first appears to reveal a weakness is in reality a deliberate move by self-aware artists playing to their strengths and discarding the areas where they lagged behind their peers.

What stares us in the face is an album that appeals to musicians and writers of music in particular. The timing for phrasings for maximum effect, subtle use of harmony to emphasize switches and transitions, percussive perfection, and an all-round superlative competence in musicianship in the service of a final product gives us Iron Maiden’s most professional contribution to the metal canon. The issue of intentionality nonetheless remains a crucial aspect for those of us looking beyond the dopamine kick that results from unprocessed impressions that activate the amygdala. In this case, Iron Maiden proved unable to adequately impart the gravitas of authentic metal strongly enough even though the lyrical themes make that a necessity. Almost every mainstream metal album can be accused of this by no means insignificant blunder. Despite that, Somewhere in Time is somewhat counter-intuitively, a gem hidden in the mainstream.

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34 thoughts on “Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Time (1986)”

  1. canadaspaceman says:

    As a teenager, I was disappointed with Iron Maiden’s Somewhere in Time album. It had a few immediate grabbers, like “Wasted Years” and “Deja-Vu”.
    “Deja-Vu” was awesome, it felt like they were re-visiting the same feeling/atmosphere captured with the song “Still Life” (Piece of Mind album).

    Most of Somewhere in Time I confuse with the next LP, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. All that synth mixed with metal…. i definitely did NOT want to hear that back then.
    I was on the fence if keyboards were cool or not, when used by bands like Deep Purple, Rainbow, Dio, etc.

    I used to replay the audio tape I made of the “Maiden Poland 1984 documentary” off MuchMusic, and for years be amazed how nobody else remembered or cared the total about-face they later pulled.

    Polish musician tells Bruce Dickinson he wants to combine synths with metal.
    ” Naw, you can’t play heavy metal with synthesizers”
    ” yeah? I want ! ”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubO3FchTKl8

  2. trystero says:

    Not without its redeeming qualities? Lacks the depth of expression in Angel Witch? This is probably their best album. Its mainstream-ness should not be assessed from a point of view post-extreme metal. Nor should its intentionality detract from its depth of expression, which is at best only partially predicated on intentionality.

    Is this really a more mainstream offering than say, Number of the Beast?

    1. Go back and listen to Killers.

    2. ssszzzzmmm says:

      I agree with most of what you say. NotB is a more obvious effort to reach a wider audience compared to what preceded it.

    3. fenrir says:

      Angel Witch, 1980, underground british heavy metal.
      The same as Iron Maiden before ‘The Number of the Beast’.
      In general, Angel Witch > Iron Maiden.

      1. ssszzzzmmm says:

        Killers is more underground than the Angel Witch debut which already added more poppy elements compared to their demos.

        1. fenrir says:

          True. But the darkness is there. You can feel it even with the added poppisms.
          And that art cover! incredibly suggestive…

          But the way to go with Angel Witch for a hessian is definitely the demos, as you say.

          1. You need to pick up Sinister History or the recent, definitive 2x CD Sanctuary reissue that sounds great (better than the original LP).

    4. David Rosales says:

      I like how obvious it is that you never finish reading articles.
      Not only in this case and especially when you do not agree with statements early in the articles.

  3. Anthony says:

    I like this album quite a bit, especially compared to some of the stinkers on Number of the Beast (Gangland, Total Eclipse, Invaders) and Powerslave (Back in the Village and those two songs in a row about fucking fencing), but HOLY FUCK Heaven Can Wait has to be the worst Iron Maiden song from back when they were good. That song in particular exemplifies why I’ll always like Angel Witch, Satan, and Priest way more than Maiden. That chorus can go suck a dick.

    1. Iron Maiden shit out some stinkers for sure. Priest did even more. Unleashed in the East is considered the overall best Priest LP for good reason.

      1. Anthony says:

        Priest were incredibly consistent up through and including Stained Class. Every album is good from beginning to end, and they seem to have put a lot of work into making the songs flow together like a journey. Even the softer stuff like “Last Rose of Summer” and “Epitaph” works well because of the songs that come before and after.

        Hell Bent for Leather is when they started to go commercial, though there aren’t any real stink-bombs on that one either. British Steel drops off massively in the second half, and even the good songs are disappointingly simple compared to something like “Run of the Mill” or “White Heat Red Hot.” That pattern holds for most of their ’80s stuff: quality openers followed by a lot of boredom, and even the good stuff isn’t much compared to the best of their ’70s output.

        Painkiller is probably the best comeback album in metal history though.

        1. Belano says:

          I’m not sure to describe both songs as “stink-bombs”, but I think “Evening Star” and “Take On The World” are pretty bad. The chorus on both songs are too cheesy for my taste, and also the second one has always sounded to me a little to similar to “We Will Rock You”.

        2. Poser Patrol says:

          You honestly think Rocka Rolla is good? Please explain.

    2. Poser Patrol says:

      I’ll always like Angel Witch, Satan, and Priest way more than Maiden.

      Agreed.

      Maiden had a good run in the 80s but most of those albums were padded out with less than stellar songs. The same could be said of Priest’s 80s output except they had even more filler. However Priest reached heights in their late 70s output that hasn’t been equaled in heavy metal before or since. And Painkiller was awesome too.

      Angel Witch and Satan are harder to compare as they don’t have the same volume of releases, but both of their debuts and comebacks outclass Maiden easily.

      1. The last Satan album was a Megadeth and Mercyful Fate rehash.

        1. Poser Patrol says:

          Atom by Atom was garbage, yes. My post was confusingly worded but I was only referencing Satan’s debut and comeback, ie Court in the Act and Life Sentence.

  4. Ludvig B.B (vOddy) says:

    Iron Maiden has some great songs, on some less than great albums.

    Ever since I’ve started listening more to whole albums and less to individual songs, I’ve listened to “Piece of Mind” less and less, the only Iron Maiden album that I own.
    “Where Eagles Dare” and “The Trooper” are two great tracks, but then there are some rather dull stinkers.
    I know that I can download before I buy, and I probably will with Iron Maiden’s other albums eventually, but I am slow about trying new music.

  5. McDonald's AIDS says:

    The best death metal and black metal > other metal regardless of genre

    1. David Rosales says:

      I agree.

    2. Anthony says:

      I’d rather listen to Iron Maiden than the majority of black or death metal that’s come out post-96 (I’m looking at you, Blaspherian and Dead Congregation), and I’m not even that big of an Iron Maiden fan.

      1. McDonald's AIDS says:

        Same here.

  6. Matt Risnes says:

    Every single Iron Maiden album is akin to dumping a 5 gallon pail of Stacy Keach’s diarrhea in your ears. Who likes this lame, galloping, soaring melody vocal line swill?

    1. hypocrite says:

      I do and apparently the author of this article does as well. That’s two against one.

      1. Matt Risnes says:

        2 against one, so that makes you guys right. I guess people who like Drake are right cause there’s more of them then us metal heads. All I’m saying is Iron Maiden stinks like chipotle farts.

        1. hypocrite says:

          You’re pretty bad at trolling.

          1. Matt Risnes says:

            You’re still replying, aren’t you?

            1. hypocrite says:

              No you’re mistaken

    2. Anthony says:

      …says that man who will probably “grow out” of metal within five years. I’ve met your type before, though I’d love to be proven wrong.

      1. Matt Risnes says:

        I saw and hated Maiden on their Fear of the Dark tour with COC and Testament in 92 and was already listening to metal pretty much exclusively for 4 years or so by then and now a year shy of 40 I still love the music and go to shows regularly. But yeah, maybe another 5 years and I’ll grow out of it. I mean, you have met my type (which you surmised from one troll comment) before.

        1. Ludvig B.B (vOddy) says:

          Unlike you, I like some Iron Maiden.
          But the quality of logic being thrown at you is shit, and I sympathize with you having to endure that.

        2. ssszzzzmmm says:

          You saw them at their worst period (bar the Blaze years).

        3. Twisted Frank says:

          Fear of the Dark was ok. I seen them the previous tour (1990 or 91) and they were just as good as when they toured in the 1980s, so how could they have changed so much in 2 years? Maybe you just weren’t in the mood ?

  7. ssszzzzmmm says:

    I wish there was a professional recording of this show btw. They have released 10 DVDs in the last 10 years but there is none from the SiT tour.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDuNbmZ2vv4

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