Blaze Bayley, the stage name of Bayley Alexander Cooke, started out in the British band Wolfsbane before getting the unenviable job of replacing Iron Maiden’s frontman Bruce Dickinson in the 1994.
With Bayley as frontman, Iron Maiden released their tenth and eleventh full-length albums, The X-Factor in 1995 and Virtual XI in 1998. These album received a mixed reception and fans in general disliked Bayley, whose range is far more limited and lower than Dickinson’s. When the latter returned in 1999, Blaze Bayley was unceremoniously dropped. It’s a pity, because I like Blaze Bayley, I like his singing, and he seems like a charismatic frontman.
A closer listen to the album
In any event, Bayley took the opportunity to form a new band, named Blaze, with guitarists Steve Wray and John Slater, bassist Rob Naylor, and drummer Jeff Singer. Bayley had an interest in science-fiction and so their first album draws heavily on various sci-fi themes.
The album is great from start to finish, with only one song that is noticeably weaker than the rest. It sounds modern, with crisp, crunchy guitars and heavy drums; the overall approach to music is something you’d expect from classic British bands, like 1980s Iron Maiden or Saxon, perhaps a little faster, a little simpler, and definitely a bit heavier. Some have labelled it Power Metal or even Thrash, but it’s not quite as melodic or musically intricate as the former and not as fast or aggressive as the latter. Gamma Ray or Slayer this is not, but it’s definitely good, even catchy at times. The production is by Andy Sneap and he’s done an excellent job, as always.
The album consists of ten songs. In interviews, Blaze Bayley has said that the first three songs together tell the story of a man whose soul ends up inside a machine, where he becomes the titular “Silicon Messiah”. The songs also work just fine by themselves, though, so don’t feel obliged to play them in order.
The opening track, “Ghost in Machine” (4:20), serves as a perfect introduction to the album as a whole. It’s a mid-tempo song with a deep, driving riff created with simple power chords, and some excellent work on the drums by Jeff Singer. The heavier sound and chugging riff immediately sets the album apart from whatever Bayley did with Iron Maiden, even if the catchy chorus is an obvious throwback to an earlier era of heavy metal. The lyrics are also pretty good, with lines like “Question the validity of human mortality” and others making clear that one way for people to become immortal is to download their consciousness into a machine – a solid science-fiction trope.
The next song, “Evolution” (4:54), picks up where “Ghost in the Machine” left off. It starts with a suitably creepy guitar sound, as if we’ve just popped into the lab of a mad scientist. The lyrics refer to the “age of machines destined to rule all”: this is a future where machines have either replaced humans or, more likely given the preceding song, humans and machines have merged. And Bayley assumes, as many science-fiction authors do, that the machines will be logical and unemotional: “No need for doubt, no need for tears; no need for wealth, no need for sympathy.”
“Silicon Messiah” (5:11) has a driving tempo. The messiah from the title claims he is “evolved” from humans, and has arrived to take over control of the world. After all, he says, “Look what you’ve done to your world.” Maybe the Silicon Messiah developed from a human mind that had been downloaded into a machine, or maybe he was designed by a human. Either way, he assumes total control: “And without a sentiment, reshape your world.” This song also features what is probably my favourite line from the entire album: “Computing your future so therefore I am.”
After the opening trilogy of songs, “Born as a Stranger” (5:52) is a fast-paced track. At first blush, it seems to be about being an outsider, someone who doesn’t seem to fit the world that they were born into. But there’s also the hint of something darker: “The danger of freedom is just letting them see that you are not bound by their morality.” A reference to “errors that lie in their grave” hint that the song is perhaps about genetic manipulation (and experiments gone wrong), and how genetically-engineered people might have a hard time fitting in with the rest of humanity.
With “The Hunger” (7:05), the album slows down, and it reminded me a bit of older Black Sabbath songs. It’s a slow grind, but it builds well, and is perhaps one of the more artistically accomplished pieces on the album even if it’s not the most memorable, if that makes any sense. Like “Born as a Stranger”, it’s about being an outsider, with Bayley crooning the memorable line: “I live at right angles to the people that I meet.” The “Hunger” of the title refers to the narrator’s desire to be a part of the world that seems to be out of reach.
“The Brave” (4:03) is another uptempo track. Like “The Hunger”, there’s no overt science-fiction element to this song. It’s a fairly straightforward crowd pleaser, with lyrics that emphasize that you shouldn’t be scared to take changes. After all: “Fortune favours the brave.” It’s certainly not the best track on the album, but it gets the blood pumping, which is what it’s there for.
“Identity” (5:25) is about losing your identity, as the result of “something” taking over, with references to mind control or brainwashing: “Ideas that I take for granted, are they just the seeds that some one else has planted, right inside of me?” The lyrics of this song are inspired: “I’m feeling all the wrong things, I have become my own shadow.” Musically, the song is disjointed, with faster and slower parts, as well as some staccato drumming, but it still all comes together to form a coherent song. Like “The Hunger”, it’s an ambitious track, and the band demonstrates that they are in total control of their material here.
Like the first three songs, the final three songs on the album tell a single, if perhaps a bit more loosely connected, story that seems to be based on the movie Gattaca (1997). They tell the story of a man who wants to become an astronaut and finally makes it to space, where he is overwhelmed by what he sees.
“Reach for the Horizon” (4:30) starts out a bit bluesy, but whenever it seems to get going, it slips into a weird, staccato chorus that I’m not sure works quite as it should. It’s definitely not the best song on the album, but it certainly qualifies as an interesting, if not-quite-unsuccessful experiment on an album that features one solid track after another. As far as content is concerned, the song is about striving to fulfill your dreams: in this case, travelling to outer space. Thematically, then, it’s sort of similar to “The Brave”.
With “The Launch” (2:53), Bayley hews close to the uptemp rockers that he did with Iron Maiden, most notably “Futureal” and “Man on the Edge”: pay special attention to the “gallopping” main riff. But “The Launch” is a little simpler and a little faster, with a very catchy chorus that’s undoubtedly a crowd pleaser during concerts. It follows directly from the previous song: the narrator has succeeded at becoming an astronaut and is now inside a rocket that is launched into space: “He is strapped in for the ride of his life.”
“Stare at the Sun” (7:48) is intended to be the album’s epic, and it’s a fitting track to close the album on. It starts off with a single guitar and some other subtle instrumentation, before building steadily to a quicker pace. Bayley refers to the “world of madness”, “lightyears away”, that he once called home. But now he’s in space, staring at the sun, “Infinity consuming me.” The song can be interpreted as the narrator losing track of time, but it’s also possible to take the lyrics a bit more literally: he’s somehow lost in space and sure to die here.
In 2002, Blaze released their second album. Tenth Dimension is a concept album that is similar in style and content to Silicon Messiah. It’s perhaps a bit more aggressive, a bit faster, and a bit more melodiuous than Messiah, while at the same time a little less ambitious as far as structure and themes are concerned. If you like Silicon Messiah you’ll almost certainly like the follow-up, too. Some of the band members left in 2003 and something vital, in my opinion, was lost, even though the later albums are still good overall. Blaze Bayley is worth your time and attention.