|Studio album by Iron Maiden|
|Released||23 March 1998|
|Recorded||Barnyard Studios, Essex, England, 1997 – February 1998|
CMC / BMG (US)
|Producer||Steve Harris, Nigel Green|
|Iron Maiden studio albums chronology|
|Singles from Virtual XI|
Virtual XI (pronounced: Virtual Eleven) is the eleventh studio album by English heavy metal band Iron Maiden, released on 23 March 1998. It was the second and final Iron Maiden album recorded with vocalist Blaze Bayley and last as a five-piece.
Virtual XI's title is tied in with two extra-musical events: the release of the band's computer game, Ed Hunter, and the fact that the 1998 FIFA World Cup would be taking place in June of that year. Harris explains, "We figure our fans are pretty much the same as we are, with pretty much the same interests, so we thought, 'It's World Cup year in '98. Let's get the football involved in the new album.' And we were already working on a computer game at that time, so we thought, 'Well, let's bring that element into things, too.'" Prior to the album's release, the band organised a publicity tour in which they held football matches across Europe with "guest musicians and pro-footballers from the UK."
While most of the artwork in the album's booklet was taken from the Ed Hunter game, the cover was created by Melvyn Grant. According to Grant, he was asked to design something related to virtual reality, but was later asked to alter the artwork by adding a football game, the band then having decided to link the release with the World Cup. This was also the first album to feature the band's new alternate logo, with the extended ends of the "R", "M", and both "N's" removed. This variant would be used on all future studio albums, live albums (with the exception of Flight 666 and Maiden England '88), and singles up until The Final Frontier. However The Book of Souls, the band's 16th studio album, features the original logo on its cover.
For this album some keyboard parts were performed by band founder/bassist Steve Harris whereas on previous albums all the keyboard parts had been handled by Harris' bass technician, Michael Kenney.
As with their previous world tour, several US shows on the Virtual XI World Tour had to be cancelled as Bayley had vocal issues, although the official reason was instead that he was suffering from a severe allergic reaction to pollen.
This would be the second and final studio album to feature Blaze Bayley. In February 1999, the band had announced that Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith, who left in 1993 and 1990 respectively, would be returning to the line-up and Bayley was asked to leave the group.
Stylistically, Bayley states that Virtual XI "was a more upbeat album [in comparison to its predecessor], because we'd survived the 'X-Factour'... we were a band and, I felt, we were on our way." According to Harris, "Futureal," whose lyrics were written by Bayley, is "about being locked up in virtual reality," and describes it as "a quite straightforward rocker but done Maiden style." The album's second single, manager Rod Smallwood claims that he "had a bit of a battle with Steve" over releasing "Futureal" instead of "The Angel and the Gambler" as the album's lead single, but "Steve put his foot down." According to Harris, "The Angel and the Gambler" "is the story of these two characters, one guy who's been a bit of a rogue, a fly by night, and an angel who gets sent down to try and put him right – except he isn't having it."
Of the album's remaining songs, "Lightning Strikes Twice" is, according to Harris, "a never say never-type song... It's a very positive, hopeful song which you can read in lots of different ways." "The Clansman" was inspired by the film Braveheart which Harris states is "about what it's like to belong to a community that you try and build up and then you have to fight to stop having it taken away from you." Speaking about "When Two Worlds Collide," Harris says that "Lyrically, I think Blaze was trying to write about the different sort of worlds he's lived in and maybe about how his world has had to change and adapt to the world of being Iron Maiden's singer." "The Educated Fool" is, according to Harris, about "growing older and everyone expecting you to be wiser but how somehow the older you get and the more you know, the less you have the answers for any of it." "Don't Look to the Eyes of a Stranger" is inspired by Steve Harris' observation, from a parent's point of view, that "every stranger is a possible threat," while "Como Estais Amigos" is a tribute to the soldiers on both sides in the Falklands War.
After Bruce Dickinson rejoined the band, Iron Maiden continued to play both "Futureal" and "The Clansman" in concert. While "Futureal" was only performed live in 1999, "The Clansman" appeared in the group's setlists until 2003. Live versions of both songs with Dickinson on vocals can be found on "The Wicker Man" single and the Rock in Rio album respectively, while that same live version of "The Clansman" was later re-released on Iron Maiden's 2011 compilation CD From Fear to Eternity.
Virtual XI was met with mixed reviews from critics. AllMusic commented that "on the surface, there's nothing terribly wrong with the record, as it delivers all the crunching riffs and demonic horror of their best records. The problem is that there's nothing memorable about the hooks, riffs, or songs, and there's little visceral energy to the music or production. As a result, it sounds lifeless to all but the most devoted fan." They also stated that Blaze Bayley is "a competent but faceless vocalist."
Sputnikmusic were more positive towards the album, claiming that it "has a few gems, such as 'Futureal', 'The Clansman', and 'Como Estais Amigos'", but is "very repetitive, and listening to it takes a lot of patience."
|1.||"Futureal"||Steve Harris, Blaze Bayley||3:00|
|2.||"The Angel and the Gambler"||Harris||9:51|
|3.||"Lightning Strikes Twice"||Dave Murray, Harris||4:49|
|5.||"When Two Worlds Collide"||Murray, Bayley, Harris||6:13|
|6.||"The Educated Fool"||Harris||6:46|
|7.||"Don't Look to the Eyes of a Stranger"||Harris||8:11|
|8.||"Como Estais Amigos"||Janick Gers, Bayley||5:26|
Production and performance credits are adapted from the album liner notes.
- Iron Maiden
- Steve Harris – bass guitar, producer, mixing, keyboards on "The Clansman", "Angel and the Gambler" and "Don't Look to the Eyes of a Stranger"
- Blaze Bayley – lead vocals
- Dave Murray – guitars
- Janick Gers – guitars
- Nicko McBrain – drums
- Additional musicians
- Michael Kenney – keyboards on all tracks except "The Clansman", "Angel and the Gambler" and "Don't Look to the Eyes of a Stranger"
- Nigel Green – producer, engineer, mixing
- Mick McKenna – assistant engineer
- Simon Heyworth – mastering
- Melvyn Grant – sleeve illustration
- Synthetic Dimensions – sleeve design, 3D imagery
- Simon Fowler – photography
- George Chin – photography
- Ross Halfin – photography
- Rod Smallwood – management
- Merck Mercuriadis – management
- Andy Taylor – management
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