The mid-90s was a turbulent time for Iron Maiden. Bruce Dickinson quit the band in 1993, bowing out with the spectacular Raising Hell TV special, which ended with stage magician Simon Drake shoving the singer into an actual iron maiden torture device before a giant Eddie rocked up to remove Bruce’s bloody head.
The Bruce-less Maiden’s next move was to poach singer Blaze Bayley from British rock hotshots Wolfsbane. It was a controversial decision, not least from certain sectors of the press who had shifted their attentions to the grunge movement and were sniffy about the chances of Maiden surviving without Dickinson. Still, Blaze had at least one person rooting for him: Bruce himself.
“When Blaze got the job, I was, like, ‘Wow, I hope this works out,’” Dickinson told Classic Rock in 2017. “I thought it would probably be more difficult than he could imagine, even thought he was having a great time. And look, if Iron Maiden offered you the job, you’re not going to turn it down, are you?”
Barbs flew in the press between Dickinson and his ex-bandmates after the singer’s departure, with Maiden bassist Steve Harris accusing his former colleague of being “fucking awful” at some shows on their farewell tour. There could easily have been weirdness between Bruce and successor too. Instead the former sent the latter a present to congratulate him on getting the job, albeit an unusual one: a pair of yellow house bricks
“I saw an interview with him, and there was a line at the end where he said, ‘I feel like Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz,’” said Bruce. “I thought, ‘That’s really sweet – I know exactly how you feel.’ So I painted up two bricks and sent them to him.”
Dickinson said that he admired Bayley for taking what was always going to be a tough job. “Absolutely. Hats off. Full-on respect to him for that. His voice is very different to mine. And there was a point where he got the job where I thought, ‘How the hell is he going to manage to do those songs? Maybe they just won't do them. It's gonna to be hard.’
“I said to someone at the time, ‘Why don't they really do something off-the-wall and really outrageous. Get a woman! There's some of these female Finnish vocalists kicking around, and they've got the most outrageous voices! Do something to really, really knock people's socks off.’ But I'd have been fucked then. I'd never have come back.”
Of course he did come back in 1999, replacing his own replacement. Today the Blaze era remains a divisive moment in Maiden’s history. For many, the two albums he recorded with the band, 1995’s The X-Factor and 1998’s Virtual XI, are the weakest of their career. For others, they’re the ultimate underdog records by a band fighting for their survival. And what does Bruce Dickinson think? He’s barely heard them.
“No. It was all a little bit fraught. The only time I’ve actually listened to the albums was when Steve said, 'We need to go and record one of these songs.' I thought, ‘Oh, how does it go then? I'd better go and have a listen to it.’”