Bruce: The only credibility problem I've had in the past has been with the press, and what the fuck do they know?
Metal Hammer: At this moment in time it feels like very little. Sitting in the hallowed inner sanctum of Sanctuary Management, flanked by valuable sporting memorabilia (signed Muhammad Ali piccies? You got 'em) and enough gold and platinum Iron Maiden discs to keep a small country's economy ticking over 'til the millennium, and facing a deceptively gregarious Bruce Dickinson in the process of going off on a, if truth be know, justifiable rant about the British music press, I do indeed feel like I know very little. About anything.
Bruce: I could get bitter and twisted about that because when the press goes off on one of their 'you're musically incorrect' or 'you're politically incorrect', or 'you're not cool cos you don't wear the right trousers', or whatever the fuck they want to do, it's frustrating to me as an artist that my stuff doesn't get a fair hearing or that kids don't realise it's out, yet I still sell a very respectable number of records in the UK, often far more than bands who get front covers. So I'd have every right to be pissed off, but it's a waste of energy quite frankly, energy that I could be putting into touring and making another record. I've no time to be pissed off. I should be but I'm afraid I can't get that annoyed about it.
Metal Hammer: That's good because I would hate to be on the receiving end if he was. And to be fair, Bruce is in very good spirits today, brimming with a heady mixture of pride, enthusiasm and excited anticipation for the release of his new album 'Chemical Wedding', a record he's convinced will do the business in every conceivable sense. But for the moment we've hit upon one of the singer's pet hates, and he's giving it some with both barrels.
Bruce: I have a sense of regret that in the country that invented heavy fucking metal there is none. The press, I think, have to take a huge amount of responsibility for that, because they largely participate in its demise by knocking it and taking the piss out of it. There are certain things that go beyond being cool and trendy - things that are universal and things that are just good, in every area of music. There's enough crap released every week that if people want to indulge in slagging something off, cos that's what makes them feel good, they can go and kick people that don't even need to be kicked because bad stuff just gets forgotten about by kids. Good stuff doesn't, and it keeps on coming back and it keeps coming through. And that's my attitude.
Metal Hammer: Let's take a step back at this juncture. The reason the Hammer has been invited for this little tete-a-tete with Bruce is to talk about the release of 'Chemical Wedding'. Fortunately, this is a subject he's equally happy waxing loquaciously about.
Bruce: Oh, it's very, very heavy indeed! In terms of sound, it's quite the heaviest album I've ever done. In some ways the heart and soul of this album is in the '70s, but its body and bollocks is in year 2000. In terms of where its heart's at, it fits somewhere between the first Sabbath album and (Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow's) 'Stargazer'. Where the rest of it's at is right now,.
Metal Hammer: Indeed. And, of course, there's also the matter of 'Chemical Wedding' being that most maligned of artistic endeavour: the concept album. Originally, Bruce sat down to write an album on the subject of alchemy only to find that three songs in he'd run out of steam and inspiration. However, whereas some bands have been known to think nothing of this and carry on stretching said exhausted concept to its wafer-thin breaking point, Bruce did some research and came up with renowned 18th century poet, artist and loon William Blake.
Bruce: Blake invented a complete mythology, a complete universe, a complete system of gods and angels that was astonishing. He would read some big philosophers like Paracelsus, people who were basically alchemists, and Blake would pick that up and use it. Actually, he used to call some of his poems songs so some of them were lyrics; the two were kind of interchangeable. A lot of Blake's stuff is quite musical, there's a rhythm to it that you can sing, and there's this huge vein of imagery. There's a human being, there's a soul behind the song - that's what makes concept albums to me quite often two-dimensional. So, after two or three songs and realising that this concept wasn't working out, I started reading Blake and I suddenly went, 'Wow! There's a whole universe, a soul-driven universe through which I can view this whole subject of alchemy.' And when you do that, the whole thing just becomes a bottomless bucket... It's like having a bucket of stars in your hand instead of a bucket of sand...
The album's concept is quite simple. It's about the universe, and it's about the poetry of good and evil and how you can't have one without the other, and how all of us have within us everything it takes to be God.
Metal Hammer: Quite. And while 'Chemical Wedding' is certainly the most contemporary-sounding record Bruce has come up with in recent years, there's still plenty of nods to the old school.
Bruce: Yeah, and unashamedly so because they're great! And also because there are very few bands using those influences, either at all or in an interesting or innovative way. That's the thing, because it's when you use something like that in an innovative way that you see the idea in a fresh light. It's like seeing it for the first time. If you take albums that are classics, the reason they are classics is because they're universal. In 20 year's time they'll still be classics. There's an element of this album that's universal. If you can isolate that somehow, and see it from a different thing...
Metal Hammer: Hang on a minute there, fella - that's a pretty bold claim, isn't it?
Bruce: No, it's not! I work on the principal that 99 per cent of everything is shit. Everything, including me. In fact, probably 99.9 per cent of me is shit. But if that 0.1 per cent is actually on the money, then you're doing better than the rest of the 99.9 per cent, and that's the bit people tune in to.
You could actually build a career on that 0.1 per cent. But occasionally you get breakthroughs, and when you do get a breakthrough it's so manifest that everybody wakes up.
Metal Hammer: Which leads us into Bruce's relationship with the press. I put it to him that the British metal scene has become more interested in fashion than musical integrity.
Bruce: Yes, it's solid fashion and it makes me puke! Fashion is utter bollocks. It's what's destroyed anything of value. Fashion is just an empty fucking vampire that feeds on the little bits of genius of people who actually invent something. Fashion just takes it, recycles it and churns it out as plastic. It's completely empty, fashion.
Metal Hammer: And also very selective. Take Slayer, for example. They've been knocking around for years, have stuck to their guns, have changed little artistically in the last decade and are applauded for it. Bruce, on the other hand, is pilloried.
Bruce: Oh well, tough shit. I took great delight in reading about William Blake cos he was totally uncool in his life. They used to do the equivalent of artistic compilation LPs and he was never on a single one. They snubbed him, they left him out, and you know what? Ninety per cent of the artists of his day have been completely forgotten.
Metal Hammer: It sounds like you're actually revelling in this outside position.
Bruce: Always have done. All the artists I admire, they're the same. Page and Plant are terminally cool, Deep Purple are presented as being a bunch of old codgers - what crap! Purple are still playing just as good as they were when they first kicked off, if not better. But the world will never know that cos they aren't wearing the right kind of trousers!
Metal Hammer: Okay, so the devil's advocate in me thinks, why bother then? Bruce's career has already reached the sort of heights that would give most of today's bands acute vertigo. Why struggle to get back there?
Bruce: Bollocks! No, I'm making great records, better than I've made in a long time. At a time when the whole world is starting to turn a corner in terms of metal I've done two of the best metal records I've ever made and I'm not hanging up my leathers any time soon, thank you very much.
Metal Hammer: But surely getting back to the top can't be a motivating force anymore?
Bruce: Of course it fucking is!
Metal Hammer: But you've already been there and gave it up!
Bruce: I don't give a shit! I want to go back there again on my terms! I'm realistic about it, but at the same time I don't see why I couldn't have a gold album in the States. We sold 100,000 albums of 'Accident of Birth' in the States and it's still selling. That's one-fifth of the way towards a gold album. If we double that on this album we'll be half-way towards a gold album, and the next one... It comes to a point in the States where you achieve, like a bloody atom bomb, a critical mass and the thing just goes. And if we get the right tour in the States, there'll be some shit that hits the fan because this is a fearsome fucking band onstage.
Metal Hammer: And you know what? it's great to hear somebody so enthusiastic, so flagrantly flying in the face of accepted fashions and trends and genuinely standing up for what they believe in. I put it to Bruce that he sounds like he's into this as much as he ever was.
Bruce: Probably more so. This album has given me this serious, all signals are green, let's go for it and I'm gonna have a blast! Unrepentant fun! And while the rest of the world is getting pissed to celebrate the year 2000 I'll be in a bunker making a fucking bastard of an album!
Metal Hammer: And as if to prove his dedication, his final words on the subject couldn't be more emphatic.
Bruce: As far as all this press is concerned, they're either gonna get it or they're not gonna get it, but 'Chemical Wedding' is such a good record that I refuse to lay down and go, 'Oh yes, please like it.' I'm saying that this is a brilliant fucking album, it's one of the best metal albums of the whole year and if you don't understand that you're fucking stupid. That's it.