Iron Maiden: The story of Fear Of The Dark and Bruce Dickinson’s departure
“He’s fucking leaving the band, you dipshit! Course he has! He’s said, ‘Fuck you, I’m off!’ If that ain’t shitting on you then what the fuck is?”
Iron Maiden might have ended the ’80s on a high, but within a few short years Nicko McBrain would be sitting in a German bar at 2am, ranting to Kerrang! about whether their departing vocalist had “shat” on his soon to be erstwhile bandmates.
But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves…
Following their Donington performance in 1988, Iron Maiden finished up their Seventh Tour Of A Seventh Tour in December and then took a year-long break before embarking on their next album. During this time both Adrian Smith and Bruce Dickinson started their own solo projects. When they did reconvene to begin work on No Prayer For The Dying, the guitarist disagreed with the more stripped-down and direct musical direction. He ended up exiting the band during pre-production, and Janick Gers – who had played with Bruce on his solo album – was brought in as a replacement.
“[Adrian] always had a burning desire to do a solo album, and when he did it I think it showed that maybe he wasn’t as content being in Maiden as he thought he was,” Steve told us after No Prayer For The Dying was finally released.
Adrian was missed by many, yet the band claimed Janick had brought a new energy and sense of enthusiasm into the band.
When K! caught up with them on tour in Rome, Dave Murray said of the previous UK leg: “It was great, especially with Janick, as he’s brought a really superb spirit into the band… Janick’s got so much energy it rubs off. Before this tour I got into the habit of training and going swimming. Previously my idea of a workout was a jog down the pub. I’ve just felt that I needed to move around more now that there’s more interaction between the four of us out front.”
Steve Harris’ view on Bruce’s solo sojourn was that he could do what he wanted as long as it didn’t affect the band. As a matter of fact Maiden scored a nice little bonus out of Bruce’s project in the shape of their first (and only) UK Number One single, Bring Your Daughter… To The Slaughter – a song Bruce had originally written and recorded for the soundtrack to 1989 horror film A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, a project which then expanded into his whole Tattooed Millionaire solo album.
“Bruce played me the song and I said, ‘You bastard, it’s a fucking great song! We could do a fucking great version of that!’” laughed Steve.
Despite that chart-topper, No Prayer For The Dying was far from a classic Maiden album, the band’s shift towards writing more political songs the only memorable takeaway from a set that never fires up long enough to truly capture the listener’s imagination.
Its follow-up, Fear Of The Dark, probably doesn’t top many fans’ all-time charts either – despite the huge, chant-along title-track, which became an instant classic, and the band unshackling themselves from some of its predecessor’s self-imposed limitations. The 1992 set also yielded the band their third Number One album in the UK, which was no mean feat considering that at that point Nirvana’s Nevermind was the biggest-selling album in the world and grunge was in the process of completely reshaping the rock landscape.
‘What do you think of all those Seattle bands?’ we asked Bruce on the band’s first proper tour of South America.
“Queensrÿche, Heart… it must be something about the weather up there,” he joked, before more seriously naming Soundgarden as his pick of the bunch. “Some of the Seattle stuff is good, some of it is bollocks. It’s actually what the English bands should be doing because all they’ve done is nicked from Sabbath and recycled English rock,” he continued.
Maiden might have hit Number One in the UK and were making fresh inroads in Latin America, but in the U.S. their popularity was starting to sag in the new musical climate.
“You reach a point where you have only one option if you want to get bigger. You have to go away and make a radio record – but we refused,” Bruce opined. “Metallica [who had recently released The Black Album] might now sell five million records where they once sold a million. But those extra four million people are not the same rabid fans who followed the band and bought their first albums.”
On the surface, then, Bruce and the band seemed bullish and the Fear Of The Dark campaign was reasonably successful. Off the back of its release, they headlined Donington again, as well as Monsters Of Rock shows around Europe, but the cracks that had been steadily growing beneath the facade suddenly split wide open. Bruce soon informed the rest of the band that he was leaving, although they still had one last tour to do together – leading to Nicko’s 2am rant and a very awkward five months on the road.
“I think I’ve been creatively sleepwalking for the last five years,” said Bruce of his decision. “The rest of the band and all the fans love being locked in the straight, narrow direction that is Maiden, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I kept trying to deviate from the rut, saying, ‘Look what’s up here guys!’ I just ended up drained. I realised I was trying to drag this huge thing somewhere it didn’t want to go.”
He claimed that the tour itself was “very strange” but also a “really enjoyable experience”.
Nicko had a different view however, telling K!: “To me this is still a Fear Of The Dark tour. It’s not a ‘Farewell to Bruce’ tour. It’s got fuck all to do with that. I can’t wait to get to the end of this tour and find a new singer.”
The hunt was on, but Bruce Dickinson would leave some incredibly large boots to fill…
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