Enlarge Could he have improved The X Factor and Virtual XI?

Dream Theater Singer James LaBrie Says He Passed on Auditioning for Iron Maiden

  • Axl Rosenberg

So it’s 1993, you’re Iron Maiden, and your much-beloved singer, Bruce Dickinson, has just left the band. What do you do, other than fall to your knees and pray he comes back some day? Short of maybe Rob Halford or Ronnie James Dio, it’s hard to envision the fans embracing any new singer with open arms. In the words of Doc McGhee, “I don’t say to them, ‘You know something? We’re gonna find a better lead singer and we’re gonna go on and fuck him.’ I go, ‘You’re fucked.’”

Maiden, of course, did soldier on without Dickinson, producing two albums, The X Factor and Virtual XI, with Blaze Bayley on vocals. The albums were not well received, and Dickinson did eventually return to the fold, as he was always fated to do.

Would those records have been better served by having Dream Theater’s James LaBrie singing on ’em instead? Apparently, there’s some alternate reality in which we’d have found out. LaBrie tells The Metal Voice

“[A]t the time, we were being looked at to be managed by Iron Maiden’s management. And so, [Maiden’s manager] Rod Smallwood, at the time, we were playing darts, and he took me aside and he said, ‘What do you think about…?’

“You’ve gotta remember — I was in a very bizarre situation. Dream Theater, we had already recorded [1992’s] Images and Words, we were looking for management, we were getting ready to try and set up a tour and get out there. And I remember him saying to me — he takes me aside, and the rest of the guys in Dream Theater were there too, playing darts, because we were looking at him for management. And he says, ‘I just wanna throw something at you.’ And he had his assistant with him, too — Merck [Mercuriadis] — at the time. And they were both standing there. They were going, ‘What do you think about being the singer with Iron Maiden?’ And I said, ‘What? What are we talking about here? I’m confused. Are you not here for the reason that you might start managing Dream Theater? Or are you here to get me to become…?’ And I had already recorded the [Dream Theater] album. Can you imagine how bizarre that was?

“Anyways, so I just said, ‘No. No way. You know what? I’m gonna tell you the reasons why I’m not going to do this.’ And they said, ‘What’s that?’ And I said, ‘One: Dream Theater. That’s it. Period.’ And I said, ‘But if I need to go any further with this, way back when I was 22 years old, I sang for a band called Coney Hatch for a year. And I walked [in as the replacement for] another singer [named] Carl Dixon,’ and I said, ‘and basically what I felt like was a glorified jukebox.’ And I said, ‘Because I came into the band, I was able to sing all that stuff no problem — no problem — but there was never that ‘This is me. And this is what I created.’ It was about, ‘Are you looking at me for who and what I am?’ I don’t think so. And I don’t think you ever will.

“Bruce and I have mutual respect for one another. We’ve met several times. We’ve done several shows. I remember doing the BBC show with him. And there was that mutual respect between the two of us. And I remember just thinking, ‘I’m not gonna get out there and be singing Maiden every night — even though I think they’re a great band, and Bruce is a great singer. No, thank you.’ I need to create something that I can say, ‘No, this is what I created from the beginning.’ And we all know, okay, I wasn’t on the first [Dream Theater] album, When Dream and Day Unite.”

We’ll never know for sure, but I suspect that if LaBrie had become the new singer for Iron Maiden in 1994, everything still would have played out exactly the same way. Speaking as someone who finds LaBrie annoying, MAYBE Dream Theater would have ended up with someone less-grating, but maybe not. Nothing was gonna make the two X albums any better, though, and the new dude was always gonna need something Piece of Mind-level awesome to have any chance whatsoever of winning over the fans. So. Yeah.

(Also, I think Maiden having a Canadian singer is like hiring a Canadian actor to play James Bond, but maybe that’s just me.)

You can listen to the LaBrie interview below, as well as audio of Dream Theater covering Number of the Beast, so you know what it might’ve sounded like had LaBrie joined Iron Maiden.

Dream Theater’s new album, A View From the Top of the World, is out today. Maiden released a new album, Senjutsu, was released last month, and garnered the group their highest U.S. chart position to date.


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