Despite its title track, which remains a fan favorite, Iron Maiden’s Fear of the Dark, which was released on May 11, 1992, showcased a band in serious need of a creative boost. The second album since the departure of co-founding guitarist Adrian Smith (who returned in 1999), Fear of the Dark lacked the artistic spark Smith and Dave Murray created as twin guitar heroes.

Smith's replacement, Janick Gers -- who remained in the band even after Smith’s return -- was flashy on his own, but didn’t gel as well with Murray and primary songwriter Steve Harris wasn’t at the top of his game. Fear of the Dark clocks in at almost an hour and features a variety of songwriting, but the diversity doesn’t make for as coherent or enjoyable a listening experience as anything before it despite solid songs like “The Fugitive” and “Chains of Misery.”

Of course, to say that a Maiden album doesn’t live up to past Maiden records is holding it to extremely high standards. Just about everything Maiden recorded up until Fear of the Dark was top-notch, although 1990's No Prayer for the Dying was released to mixed reviews. It was only after Dickinson left following Fear of the Dark that the band created a couple of badly produced, cringe-inducing efforts with short-lived singer Blaze Bailey.

But back to Fear of the Dark. After opening with the firefight-on-horseback volleys of “Be Quick or Be Dead,” the band launches into the slower, bluesy “From Here to Eternity,” which is (hopefully) the closest they’ll ever get to sounding like AC/DC. Then, there’s the brooding epic “Afraid to Shoot Strangers,” which starts with an elegiac arpeggio and abruptly shifts into a blend of orchestral arrangements and complex guitar licks, and the cinematic “Childhood’s End.” Maiden even present their first lighter-raising ballad on “Wasting Love,” but it lacks the emotional poignancy to be touching and it’s missing the force to be kinetic. It just kind of sits there.

Once again, Martin Birch marched in to produce the album, which was tracked at bassist Steve Harris home in Essex, England. Only this time, instead of renting the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, as Maiden had for No Prayer for the Dying, the band built a studio right on Harris’ property. They recorded there until hooking up with Kevin Shirley in Paris for their excellent 2000 reunion album Brave New World.

While Dickinson has denied that he was feeling wanderlust while working on Fear of the Dark, he left the band right after touring for the album to focus on his solo career (only to return in 1999). Fear of the Dark entered the UK chart at No. 1 and hit No. 12 in the U.S., but it didn’t stand the test of time. Aside from the title track, “Afraid to Shoot Strangers” was the only song Iron Maiden played live after 1993.

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