Artist: Bruce Dickinson
Album: Accident of Birth
Label: CMC International
How many instances can you think of where an artist left their established, secure place in the world and set off to prove that they could do it on their own just as well? I can only think of a handful, personally, and one of those artists is none other than Iron Maiden’s own Bruce Dickinson. While Dickinson had already released the solo album, Tattooed Millionaire (1990), during his time with Iron Maiden, he left the band to find his own sound in 1993 to pursue his own path. This resulted in a few self-searching albums before the release of the critically-acclaimed Accident of Birth in 1997, and what I believe was the beginning of his ‘real’ solo career before his return to Iron Maiden in 1999.
Listen along on Spotify, if you like:
So what can I say about Accident of Birth before I delve into it? The album has a few variations of the cover art, done by Iron Maiden’s former album artist, Derek Riggs, and the puppet came to be known as Edison, who was censored in North American markets – they thought him exploding out of a person’s stomach was too much to be handled for whatever reason.
I, for one, have loved this album for about as long as I’ve had even the remotest interest in metal. It’s one of the few albums I can name where my favorite track has changed as frequently as the weather. “Taking the Queen” remains one of my all-time favorite slower metal songs well over 15 years since my discovery of it, but my top songs have included, at various points in my life, “Darkside of Aquarius”, “Man of Sorrows”, “Accident of Birth”, and “Omega.”
The album opens with “Freak”, which is a great high-energy kickoff to the whole experience, and you can immediately see why Roy Z and Adrian Smith (guitars) were key ingredients to Dickinson’s solo work at this point. The riffing and solos are already astounding right off the bat, both stylish and heavy. Moving on to “Toltec 7 Arrival”, which is a short, mystical interlude with strange vocal sounds that seems to act as an intro to “Starchildren”, which has a deliciously heavy guitar intro that transforms into some gorgeous chugging riffs as Dickinson shows us that even when he’s not wailing at the top of his lungs, he’s still bloody fantastic.
“Taking the Queen” is, as I mentioned, a song that tickles everything I love about music, from its mystical and fantastical lyrics about love and death, to the gorgeous riff that holds throughout the track, to Dickinson’s evocative and emotional performance. The dynamics in this song are top-notch as well, progressing from gentle and ballad-esque to the passionate chorus that kicks up the power exactly the right amount. The song also has some gems hidden in it, including a bit of violin and cello, done by Silvia Tsai and Rebecca Yeh respectively.
The song transitions seamlessly into “Darkside of Aquarius”, that has two equally intriguing guitar parts that dance around each other before those chugging heavy riffs start, and Dickinson begins to sing about the four horsemen of the apocalypse and the Wheel of Dharma (a Buddhist symbol). The album then takes a turn when Dickinson reaches “From the starlit sky…”, whereafter the song takes a heavier turn and closes out with some casual soloing and Dickinson singing about moving the aforementioned Wheel of Dharma.
“The Road to Hell” is more of a feel-good heavy metal song, high energy, fun, and while perhaps less esoteric than the rest of the album, it’s in a good place to break up some of the heavier, thought-provoking songs and gives you a breather where you can just rock out a bit.
Heading into ballad territory is one of many of Dickinson’s Aleister Crowley -inspired songs, “Man of Sorrows.” The piano, as performed by Richard Baker, is lovely and the vocals show a tender side of Dickinson that fans may not have heard quite as often in Maiden. This track also has one of the nicest slow guitar solos – metal musicians shouldn’t be afraid to slow their solos down now and then, and this is a great example of that.
The heaviest track on the album is “Accident of Birth”, which is evident from the second it starts with the dark rhythmic intro. The lyrics have been rumored to have been about Dickinson himself, but regardless of the subject, Dickinson remains on point, belting out the heavy poetry. Following this is “The Magician”, another Crowley-themed song, which starts before the prior track had even ended. This is another great high-energy track, with some of the most fun lyrics to sing along with in the chorus.
I read somewhere that Dickinson had described “Welcome to the Pit”, simply, as a song about sex. That made a lot of sense afterwards, as the song has a heavy, seductive feel to it. “Omega” dances between ballad speed and some passionate Dickinson roars – a moderate pace, with beautiful lyrics and a seemingly apocalyptic vibe.
“Arc of Space” is the true ballad of the album, with slow, beautiful guitars that even managed to seduce my classic rocker father who is not into metal at all, and made him a fan of Smith and Roy Z. Dickinson shows the tender side of his voice, and you can’t deny his power, even in a gentle song like this. The strings (which are only present on three songs on the album) are perhaps most evident in this song and really add an extra level to its overall feeling. As well, I feel like there’s a hint of flamenco in some of the guitars, which on paper might seem out of place, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work really nicely.
I won’t bother to deal with the demo tracks from the extended edition of this song, but I will mention “Ghost of Cain” as well, a bonus song that may or may not be on your copy of the album, depending on when and where you got it. I’ve always really liked this song and wondered why it didn’t make the final cut on the original. It has everything the rest of the album has – fascinating lyrics, skillful guitar, Dickinson’s full-on sublime vocals. It fits perfectly with the rest of the album, so if you’re looking for this album, I’d recommend US/Japanese version that includes this track (or the 2-disc special edition, if that’s your thing).
This is, simply put, a fantastic album. For me growing up as a fantasy-obsessed kid, this was exactly the kind of music I had been looking for all my life. On the non-personal side of things, it’s undeniable that the quality of musicianship on this album is incredible and the songs are thought-provoking and gorgeously executed. I simply have no faults I can find in the album. It’s undeniable that this was the solo album where Dickinson truly found himself and his sound. If you’re a fan of Iron Maiden but you’ve missed out on this album, you should really correct that as soon as possible.
Rating: 10/10, 5 stars
2. Toltec 7 Arrival
4. Taking the Queen
5. Darkside of Aquarius
6. Road to Hell
7. Man of Sorrows
8. Accident of Birth
9. The Magician
10. Welcome to the Pit
12. Arc of Space