Blaze Bayley is having a bit of a career renaissance. The former lead singer for Wolfsbane and, most notably Iron Maiden has always been a hard-working and prolific recording artist and touring act, but for some reason he last two albums, the first two thirds of a three-part trilogy, have captured the imagination of more and more metal music fans around the world, leading to greater sales and bigger, more enthusiastic audiences at his headlining shows.
His enthusiasm for his craft and his ebullient personality make Bayley instantly likeable, and his skill as a songwriter and singer is at the peak of its creative powers on the second, most recent part of the trilogy, the album Endure and Survive, which was released in early March. It followed on the heels of Infinite Entanglement, which came out in March of 2016, and will in turn be followed by a yet-untitled concluding chapter in March of 2018.
Pulling together a story that incorporates familiar literary themes explored in such diverse works as Pinocchio, The Wizard of Oz, I Robot, 2001 a Space Odyssey and even Alien, Bayley has constructed a story that is science fiction, but also deals with the essential question of what constitutes consciousness – what makes an individual human.
“It really does seem to be captivating people’s imagination. It’s the story of someone who does not know if he is human and has to decide for himself. His consciousness has been downloaded into a machine body without him knowing, without his permission. And eventually he discovers that he is not wearing a space suit surgically attached, but that he is a machine. But he has human consciousness – he thinks like a human, he feels like a human, but the question is do you need to be flesh and blood to be human. That’s the decision he has to make,” said Bayley, who is also creating a book and the narrative for a computer game featuring the same story line as the album trilogy.
“And that’s part one of the story, which I covered on last year’s album, Infinite Entanglement. Part two, Endure and Survive, came out in March and it picks up the story where the main character is ending this journey of 1,000 years and surviving attempts to obliterate and destroy him, because his mission is to kill each member of the sleeping crew on this long distance space mission. He is in this hypnotic, nightmare state when he does this and that’s where we are on Endure and Survive. It’s dark and scary in places. It’s also quite melancholy and many fans have said that it’s the best thing I have ever done.”
Bayley said while there are similar cultural and literary touchstones to the works mentioned above, much of his inspiration comes from following the scientific discoveries – both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial, which have always fascinated him.
“I have been very interested in the Honda ASIMO robot and the way that it looks, which is kind of human shaped. And with the NASA mission to Mars, there will need to be robots on that mission and they have to be the shape of human beings because they ship is going to be designed for humans. So you cannot have a cube-like robot or robots with lots of arms, you have to have a robot that is human shaped. I found that remarkable when they said that, but also very exciting,” he said.
“And of course you look at all the things we can do with CT scans and are able to identify and pinpoint parts of the brain and wiring things right into part of the brain to get bionic limbs to work. Even if you look at the greatest scientist of our age, Stephen Hawking, he uses a computer to communicate. I feel like I am so lucky to be living through a revolution in technology that I never thought I would see.
“And I think to reach out with my story to look at what is happening in the scientific community, the latest things in technology, the latest things with quantum physics, the discovery of the Higgs boson particle, it makes it very exciting and stimulating to try and imagine what it all could be in the future. But everything has to come back to the human experience. So how does all this discovery – how does the Higgs boson particle affect me as a human being? Those questions are very exciting for me.”
Bayley believes that at this stage of his career he has truly found his voice, both in the sense that he thinks his singing voice is more versatile than it’s ever been, but that he has also found his most authentic voice as a songwriter. With these revelations, Bayley is displaying a confidence as an artist that he has never experienced before, whether it was with his first band Wolfsbane, with Iron Maiden or his subsequent solo bands.
“I think I found my voice initially in Iron Maiden and now many years after, I feel now that I have control of that thing that I found in the late 1990s, which I didn’t have at the time. It was a little bit of luck in the results that I got but I was still was kind of searching and I knew I was capable of getting this particular sound but didn’t really know how or where at the time. But I believe now I am in a situation where I can say I want to put a particular texture on a specific word to make it feel a certain way. And I am very lucky that I now have the ability to do that. And I believe it comes from my time working with Steve Harris and writing and recording with Iron Maiden. It just took me a while to suss it out and have the confidence to trust my instincts,” he said, warming to the subject of his stint with Iron Maiden and working closely alongside the band’s co-founder, and primary creative force, bassist Harris.
“I do feel that Steve Harris was a mentor. And all of the things that I learned in Iron Maiden and the years since are a part of the songwriting for Endure and Survive. There are things that I have done for this record that I have been able to do and have the confidence to do because I have finally just laid it all out on the table as an artist. I learned in Iron Maiden that a great idea was a great idea, it didn’t matter where it came from or what it might sound like; if it’s great idea that’s what you’re going to use. So I followed that approach on Endure and Survive and it just turned out so well – unreally well, actually. I can’t believe the reactions I have got from my fans.”
Bayley was a member of Iron Maiden from 1994 to 1999. For a decade prior, he was a member of popular UK metal act Wolfsbane. Bayley was stepping into some big shoes, and arguably the biggest voice in heavy metal, taking over lead vocal duties from the man dubbed the Human Air Raid Siren, Bruce Dickinson. While not the original vocalist for Iron Maiden [Paul Di’Anno sang on the band’s first two albums] Dickenson was most identified with helping to elevate the band to the status as one of the biggest bands of any genre in the world throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.
Dickinson chose to go solo and the rest of Maiden carried on bringing Bayley into the fold, recording two albums with him, The X Factor in 1995 and Virtual XI three years later. It was not an easy transition for the band or Bayley, but they soldiered on, weathering some criticism from die-hard fans and music critics alike. So it is not surprising that not all of his memories of the time at the epicentre of the heavy metal scene are rosy.
“Some of it was diabolical and really painful. It was a huge legacy to live up to. It’s a huge thing when you look at Bruce Dickinson and think ‘well, that’s easy.’ Well, that’s because he works so hard to make it look effortless, because it’s a very, very tough job. You’re talking about the absolute top there and the pressure to be 100 per cent brilliant every night is phenomenal,” Bayley said.
“But the most difficult thing about my time in Iron Maiden was that the band was so big, there was hardly any chance to meet and interact with the fans so they could get to know me. I felt a bit disconnected from the audience I was singing to night after night. I was putting my heart and soul into songs that I loved, but never got to meet a lot of people who also loved those songs.”
Bayley said, from his point of view, the reunion with Dickinson in late 1999 came totally out of the blue and he is of the opinion that the idea came from the record label, not necessarily from within the band or from Dickinson’s camp.
“They saw a lot of other bands, like Black Sabbath, having reunions and said they wanted an Iron Maiden reunion to get some interest back from the media, to give them something to talk about. And I think the same thing happened to Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens with Judas Priest. They had a reunion and they wanted people to start talking about Judas Priest again and get people interested in what they were doing. For both Priest and Iron Maiden you could sit around for hours sipping a few drinks and wondering whether it was artistically merited or not at the time and it would be an interesting discussion,” he said.
“But it was ultimately a business deal. I had no idea. I was planning my third album with them and I was working on songs that I thought would be great with Steve Harris writing with me. So I guess I learned some hard lessons about the music business then, but I was really treated very kindly by everybody in the band. I have always been treated very, very kindly by Bruce Dickinson before, during and after my time with Iron Maiden. And I learned so much and gained so much confidence I can’t be happier with the opportunity I had in Iron Maiden. The reason the songs on Endure and Survive have turned out the way they have is the confidence that Iron Maiden gave me as an artist to follow my heart and my passion. And I finally learned, after all these years, not to second guess myself and worry about what people may think, and will they like it or not, or is it going to be commercial enough. None of those things are considerations. I do what I feel passionate about and I believe in my ideas.”
As his voiced has developed and improved over the years, Bayley believes it gives added depth to the older songs he sings in his set, be they from Wolfsbane, Iron Maiden or his earlier solo efforts.
“There’s a lot of depth in my voice that there never used to be, so now when I sing those songs there’s a different edge to them. It’s very nice to go back and revisit some of the older stuff with the voice that I have now,” he said, adding too that because of the success he has had in recent years, both with selling music and touring, he is finally able to bring over his long-time European-based band on foreign road trips, including the one that brings him to North American later in August. Previously, he would use pick-up bands in various markets that would back him in that territory. So one group of musicians would back him in South America, and another in the Far East.
“I am very, very excited to bring over the guys that do all my back now around Europe and I am able to use them exclusively around the world. They are a great band in their own right called Absolva. They did the last three albums with me and the last four tours with me over here, so I am very happy to bring the guys over to Canada and the USA. I had to do it the other way for economic reasons, because I am an independent operation. In the great scheme of things I don’t sell a lot of CDs or anything.
“But things have really picked up and may last album and this new one are doing well and the attendance at my live shows has really increased. People seem to be really taking notice of Blaze Bayley now a lot more in the years after I left Iron Maiden. So it’s a really good time for me and I am now able to take my own band with me everywhere and do exactly the same show as I do in Europe.”
Besides his show August Toronto on Aug. 19, Bayley will be in Montreal at the Piranha Bar on Aug. 16, at the Brass Monkey in Ottawa the next night and Aug. 18 in Quebec City at L’Anti. After Toronto Bayley heads to London for a show at the East Side Bar and Grill on Aug. 20 before heading back the USA. For all of his tour dates, as well as information about Endure and Survive, and the next part of the trilogy, which comes out in March 2018, visit www.blazebayley.net.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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