CMC International did provide a needed service by allowing metal bands past their prime an opportunity to release records. Most of these bands sold records, but in considerably smaller numbers than they did at the height of their career. For fans and the bands alike, CMC International's very presence was welcome, since it was likely that these bands -- including Iron Maiden -- wouldn't have had a chance to record otherwise. Unfortunately, that didn't necessarily mean that the bands needed to be recorded at this time. Take, for instance, Iron Maiden. After touring for over 20 years, the band had perfected their style, but all the surprise had been stripped from their sound. Furthermore, charismatic lead vocalist Bruce Dickinson had been replaced by Blaze Bayley, a competent but faceless vocalist, which only emphasized the fact that a band that defined a genre had become generic themselves. Nowhere is that more apparent than on Virtual XI, their second album for CMC. 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. And even those fans, pleased as they may be to have a new Maiden album, will admit that the group sounds tired.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
feat: Steve Harris