VERSUS: Cold Lake vs. Virtual XI
Welcome to Versus. The series where we look at two albums in metal history, and compare them to each other, and see which one was the better record.
In this edition of Versus, we are diving back into the records that weren't as popular with the fanbase. Both band's are legends in the metal world. With classic releases and leaving legacies of their own with their influential records and sound. But we aren't talking about the good records today. We are talking about two records that, per sites like Metal Archives and Metal Storm, have cited by the fans as the band's least popular releases. So, I will assess these releases and see if these records are really as bad as the fans say they are. Let's ring the bell on this matchup in this battle I'm calling "The Better of Two Evils: Fans Edition"
Our first contender is Celtic Frost with their infamous 1988 fourth album Cold Lake. The album sounds more along the lines of the glam metal sound popular of the 1980's with bands like Poison and Mötley Crüe, a far departure from the gothic and thrash metal sound from the band's previous three releases. The band was actually resurrected after vocalist Tom G. Warrior decided to end the band after the "One in Their Pride" tour. After being convinced by Oliver Amberg, who would join the band as their new guitarist, the band would be revived and would hop into the studio. With Amberg leading the sound of the band due to Warrior's lack of interest in the band and direction, the album received huge backlash from the fanbase and critics, along with the band themselves not reprinting or re-releasing the record since the release of the record. Making it a collector's item for fans of the band. Let's dive into the cold waters of Cold Lake and see if this record lives up to its infamous legacy.
After the intro, which has a 80's strip club, almost hip-hop style drum beat, the album kicks off with "Seduce Me Tonight". I like the bass playing prominent in the mix and the opening riff is very classic glam metal sounding. Then the vocals kick in, and it is.....interesting. Warrior's vocals DO NOT fit this style of music. At some points, it almost sounds like he's doing a weird Bob Dylan like singing/talking/mumbling style on the track. I like the tempo change into the guitar solo, and is a decent guitar solo by Amberg, and it feels like the song just ends abruptly. Which shows this isn't starting this record on the best footing. The following track "Petty Obsession", with Warrior's opening, almost lackluster ugh in the opening sums up his motivation and performance on the record vocally. His vocals are almost phoned in or lacking of any energy, like he's just doing this so he can hurry up and go home after it's done. Musically, the track sounds very generic. Almost sounding like if it was a royalty free feel to the song, with some elements being good like the guitar solo and riff between the verses.
Then comes "(Once) They Were Eagles". This song is actually a good track and is the heaviest track on the album so far. The opening drum fill and riff sound promising, leaning more towards the thrash metal sound and not the glam metal we've heard so far. Although a little overkill on the wailing notes at certain points of the guitar solo, the solo is still good and a standout track. Definitely a heavier song and the closest to the band's original thrash roots on an album that isn't that thrash sounding to begin with.
"Cherry Orchards" has a nice opening guitar riff, kind of reminding me of a vibe similar to "2 Minutes To Midnight" by Iron Maiden in a sound-alike feel to it. With a nice opening and thumping bass with building drums behind it, it is off to a good start. But the Dylan-like vocals of Warrior returns on the track, which sort of taints the track. Although the female vocals on the song gives off a unique and gothic-like feel to the song, which is a nice addition. Not a bad song overall, but I feel Warrior's vocal delivery kind of becomes distracting, especially over the glam metal sound of this record.
With "Juices Like Wine", starting off with a nice classic heavy metal sounding opening riff with drum strikes, the song is high energy and driving. The song is very thrash influenced and has a nice opening riff with faster paced lead guitars behind the double bass in the drums. A pretty decent riff and overall pretty good song, another standout track. Songs like "Little Velvet" brings the gothic female vocals back in certain parts and is definitely Warrior belting out a cleaner vocal performance on the song. "Blood On Kisses" has a great double bass opening with a simple riff, little more heavier sound with a nice guitar solo near the end of the song. "Downtown Hanoi" and "Dance Sleazy" bring a little more thrash and drive with the songs. The riffs are a little faster and drums are higher and punchy in the mix, but again Warrior's voice just doesn't match the energy of the songs which sometimes hurts the songs themselves. The album's closer "Roses Without Thorns" has a good opening riff and nice palm muted riff with little peaks and valleys of lead guitar highs. A nice, heavy closing track closing out the most infamous record in the band's discography.
Their opponents, is Iron Maiden with their eleventh album, 1998's Virtual XI. The band's last album with former Wolfsbane singer Blaze Bayley on vocals. Cited by fans as a lackluster record with not a lot of memorable songs or hooks, along with a lack of energy in the production. The album is considered one of the weaker albums in the band's discography, along with the previous release, 1995's The X Factor. It is also one of the lowest charting releases for the band. Is this the worst Iron Maiden record? The lowest of the low in the band's storied history? Why don't we break this record down and see if this record is really the band's worst record.
Opening the album is "Futureal". With a strong, opening driving bass from Steve Harris and a classic sounding guitar riff, a strong opening from Iron Maiden sonically. Bayley's vocals are just not as high energy in the verse section compared to Dickinson, before he starts to match the energy when the song picks up, starting to show his range at that point. The guitar solo is great and the legendary rhythm section of the band shines before Bayley leads the song into the chorus one last time before the song closes out. The following track, "The Angel and The Gambler", has a nice opening riff with the addition of synths. Which is a unique choice to add dimension to the track, but I feel like orchestra strings or choir might have been a better choice for that opening. I like the chugging riff throughout the verse section, definitely giving more of an upbeat feel to the song. The slowed down tempo change into the chorus is decent and the song's "bring it down" energy to the dueling guitar solos at the end of the song is a nice touch.
"Lightning Strikes Twice" let's the band hang back and let Bayley showcase his voice and his take on the theatrics. With the riff coming in and his aggression comes in, the song comes on strong before slowing back down to match the sorrowful opening guitar piece. The song's pace and energy gets more high-energy and driving at the halfway mark. The song just goes balls to the wall to the songs epic building vocal delivery by Bayley. "The Clansmen" opens with a similar, mournful guitar piece with atmospheric strings and pads to help build the opening. Harris' bass playing popping through the orchestra strings and guitar just sounds so good and sounds so Maiden. When Bayley's vocals kick in, with a soft, quiet talking section, then turning into a hard rock delivery with peaks and valleys in the lyrical delivery. The pacing speeds up with Harris' bass peaking through the guitar and keeping that rhythm driving along with drummer Nicko McBrain's in-the-pocket style of drumming.
"When Two Worlds Collide" starts with ringing guitar strings and speaker reverb effects while Bayley comes in soft-spoken in his vocals as his pitch and range start to rise with vigor and gusto. The song is very theatrical, almost musical like in his vocal performance, into a nice galloping guitar riff and pulsing drum section accenting his delivery. The following song "The Uneducated Fool" continues the same feel and energy of the previous song. Almost feeling like a continuation of the previous song, like a part two, but somehow not as strong as the previous track. "Don't Look To The Eyes of A Stranger" has nice accenting strings over the opening guitar, which I wish Iron Maiden would perform with a full orchestra. Just imagine how they would sound?! WHY HAS THIS NOT HAPPENED!!! Anyway, this is one of Bayley's best songs on the album in my opinion. His vocals are perfect and high energy, both matching the track and mixed well on this song. The album's closer "Como Estais Amigos" sets up a great building opening guitar and vocal harmony. The song becomes grander and more theatrical as the song continues and closes the album out on a strong note.
After listening to both of these records, which one of these releases is the better of the two? In my opinion, the winner is Iron Maiden with Virtual XI, and it's not even close. Virtual XI, I will agree is not their best album, personally I'm not a fan of Bayley-era Maiden, but at the end of the day, it still sounds like an Iron Maiden record. Musically, vocal performance and the musicianship, it is still Maiden. I also like elements the band infused in the record with a more upbeat tempo and the synths working at certain points of the album. With Cold Lake, this is not Celtic Frost. This just isn't the band we fell in love with. The feel and performance of the vocals shows that Warrior just wasn't digging it and it shows. The music can be forgettable and just doesn't stand out for anything good or memorable. Played against a mixed-bag of other 80's glam metal bands, it wouldn't stand out or people would be surprised to know that it was Celtic Frost. I can understand the fans and the band sweeping this record under the rug and never speaking of it.
Following the release of Cold Lake, Amberg was fired from the band. With the band returning to the band's trademark gothic-infused thrash sound with the follow up record, 1990's Vanity/Nemesis. The band would release one last record in 2006 with Monotheist. The band's doom-laden swansong received positive reviews among the fans and critics before the band broke up in 2008. Tom G. Warrior would go on to form another band, Triptykon. The band is still active, with the band sometimes performing Celtic Frost classics live.
Blaze Bayley would leave Iron Maiden in 1999 after it was announced that former vocalist Bruce Dickinson would be rejoining the band. The band's following record, 2000's Brave New World, showed a return to form and fans and critics cited new life in the band with the return of Dickinson on vocals as well as a live staple from the band with the song "The Wicker Man" as the album's lead single. The band would continue with this lineup and continue to tour and release albums with their most recent record, their seventeenth album Senjutsu, released in 2021.
Do you agree with my decision? Who do you think should have won this battle? Cast your vote on the poll below, leave your comments on our social media, and your suggestions who you think should step in the ring next. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this has been Versus.