With last week’s official announcement of the upcoming Iron Maiden studio album, we want to go all nerdy and share our thoughts on the details provided so far.
Even though everyone knew that Maiden had recorded a new album in late 2014, and that it would be out at some point in late 2015, we got completely blindsided by the announcement that it will be out as soon as September 4.
With Bruce Dickinson thankfully being given the all-clear in May, the band announced that touring would not happen until 2016. Not much later it was revealed that Steve Harris’ British Lion will tour the UK in July and August, and that seemed very much to wrap up Maiden news pre-vacation.
And then, The Book Of Souls.
Maiden Revelations have been going for almost three years, but we have never had the joy of covering the release of a new Iron Maiden studio album. Needless to say, we can’t wait to nerd out about the details of last week’s announcements. Guest writer Adam Hansen, the fan club forum’s very own Drumhedd, joins in speculating about everything from artwork to writing credits.
Read on, and feel free to give your opinion in comments!
First impressions are important. How do we feel about the new Eddie and the overall style of the album cover?
Adam: Notice Eddie’s appearance: the haggard, wrinkled face (ok, more so than usual), the white hair, the dangling earlobes, the slightly faded glow in his eyes … he looks ANCIENT. It’s as if this saga between him and the listener is finally coming to a close. Here he is in all his ugly glory: nothing more, nothing less – staring you down as if to say “try me”.
While the lack of depth or background to the album cover has certainly raised a few eyebrows, I think it suits Eddie quite well! With a couple of exceptions, he’s always been up against some cluttered, colorful landscape. In addition, his pose is reminiscent of the debut album cover all the way back in 1980. It’s as if things are finally coming full circle for the rotting old chap 35 years later.
Christer: The original logo is back, almost. At least the pointed letters are back, but there’s a new layer of outline that still makes it look weird. It kind of suits the tribal voodoo-ish style of the new Mark Wilkinson Eddie, the meaning of which we probably can’t tell until hearing the album, and it’s the closest we’ll ever get to another Derek Riggs album cover. As a digital era thumbnail it will probably work better than the classic covers.
It’s another “something of something”, Maiden have done a few.
Adam: In my opinion, this is the most exciting album title Maiden have had in years. Why? Because it’s so open to interpretation! The Final Frontier? Space. A Matter Of Life And Death? War. Dance Of Death? Death and war. Not since Brave New World have we had a title that conjures up such vivid imagery while still maintaining ambiguity in the subject matter.
Christer: The title somehow feels more like a Bruce Dickinson solo album than a Maiden album. Might be because of Book Of Thel and Tyranny Of Souls, I guess… But this is a good one. And it lends itself very nicely to packaging, something the DeLuxe Edition with hardback book proves just fine. You know you’ll pay for it:
Christer: Obviously, much is made of the fact that this is Maiden’s first ever double studio album. The band considered turning Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son into a double album, but were reportedly talked out of it by manager Smallwood, no doubt due to cost concerns.
But the thing about double albums is that we’re talking about two different beasts in the 1980s and now. A double vinyl album back then could easily fit on one CD. On the other hand, The X Factor would have been a double album in the days of vinyl. A double CD album however … Well, longer doesn’t equal better, so the band have to really make it worth the length. As much as the prospect of 92 minutes of new Maiden music makes me drool, it takes a lot to stretch true greatness over all of that running time.
SONG TITLES AND WRITING CREDITS!
This is the really interesting part.
Adam: I think the obvious one here is Empire Of The Clouds. An EIGHTEEN-MINUTE MAIDEN TRACK? Written by the one and only Air Raid Siren? Bruce is obviously capable of composing epics, but the last time he wrote a significantly long Maiden tune on his own was Powerslave’s title track! This song is one big question mark, and I think it will really be the most anticipated piece on the record for hardcore Maiden fans.
Tears Of A Clown and The Man of Sorrows threw me off, the latter because it’s the title of a Bruce Dickinson song and the former because it’s the title of a Smokey Robinson (!) song. Not that this means either tune will be bad, it’s just difficult to distance the titles from the melodies already attached to them before we have the album to listen to! Hopefully the subject matter is fairly well thought-out and mature; otherwise I could see either of these falling a bit flat. It’s likely that one of these will be the ballad of the record.
Once again we see the classic Smith/Dickinson combo at work – will this album give us another Flight Of Icarus or 2 Minutes To Midnight? Fans of shorter songs will be glad to see that four of the album’s eleven tracks are under 6 minutes long, all of which involve Adrian Smith. Hopefully these will provide some balance to the epic, sprawling compositions that make up the rest of the album.
Christer: Bizarrely, this is the third time Maiden recycle a Dickinson title, following The Wicker Man and The Alchemist. I have to agree with Adam that the two titles that threw him off don’t sit too well with me either. Mostly because I think some of the other titles are among Maiden’s strongest in a very long time.
If Eternity Should Fail is a fantastic opening title, and The Red And The Black always seemed destined for a Maiden album. On the other hand, as many as 7 of the album’s 11 lyrics are written by Harris, so I just hope he has been in Paschendale mode and not leaning too tiredly on the repeat button. It certainly looks like Smith is taking responsibility for bringing some shorter and more immediate rockers to the table, which he has hinted at earlier. It also looks like Dickinson is taking a huge responsibility in writing the album opener and album closer all by himself.
When it comes to singles the cat is out of the bag anyway, and a Smith number it will be, unless Maiden change their mind at the very last second just to throw people off. But I hope they do proper B-sides this time, and live tracks from the Maiden England tour is the obvious way to go, since there was never a live album. Give us proper Kevin Shirley-mixed recordings of The Prisoner, Afraid To Shoot Strangers, Phantom Of The Opera and Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son!
METHOD OF WRITING AND RECORDING!
The band wrote much of the material in the studio, and rehearsed and recorded it “straight away”, as Harris commented.
Adam: Overall, it’s worth noting that there are no songs credited to more than two songwriters. The last time this happened was on 1992’s Fear Of The Dark. Even though the songs were written in the studio and recorded “while they were still fresh”, ideally this focused songwriting approach means that the tunes will still be very cohesive and well thought-out.
Obviously, there was a proliferation of material, and it was all good enough to make the cut, as Bruce stated in the press release. The last time Maiden made a statement like this was in response to playing all of AMOLAD live in 2006 – it was so good, they couldn’t leave anything out! It seems as though the band is even more confident than usual in this new material, which bodes well for the consistency and thematic content of the album.
Christer: It’s been five years since the last record, which is the longest gap between albums in Maiden’s career. This should mean that they had a massive amount of ideas going into the writing of this record. Dickinson hasn’t made a solo album in a decade either, which might explain that 18-minute album closer… What I’m hoping for is a record (a double CD record, no less) that has a surplus of exciting ideas, something I can’t say about The Final Frontier.
Some fans will be dismayed to see Harris brag about the “live feel” of the recordings in the press release. For many, this is the bone of contention when it comes to post-2000 Maiden productions, the fact that the band chief insists on their studio records sounding as live as possible. To be honest, I’ve never understood Harris’ take on this. When the band are in the studio he claims that as few takes as possible gives the recording a live feel. How then about the 23rd concert on a tour? Has the band lost its live feel by then? This has never made any sense to me, but I have faith that the great Kevin Shirley will do the best work possible on these recordings, within the limited scope that Harris’ dogma provides.
TOURING AND SETLIST!
Maiden will be on the road in 2016.
Adam: A 92-minute album would just about fill an entire Maiden show! It’s highly doubtful they will choose to play the whole record live, unless they did something unprecedented and played two sets without an opening act. While this would certainly fulfill the wildest fantasies of many fans, it seems unlikely that the band would want to mess with the formula they have: 13-14 tunes and a three-song encore totaling around two hours’ show time.
What will be interesting is which songs they choose: is there going to be room in a Maiden set for an 18-minute epic without sacrificing another song or two? Given the fact that the past few years have relied heavily on 80s “hits”, is there still room for a couple of good deep cuts alongside a sizeable amount of new material? Hopefully the song selection and tour makes the live show just every bit as potent and memorable as the album is going to be.
Christer: The tour will begin “early next year”, according to the press release. If so, it’s a pretty safe bet that Asia and South America will be on the schedule, isn’t it? After that, it’s more than likely that a 2016 North American tour is in the cards, as this was apparently the original plan for the summer of 2015, before Bruce got ill. Personally, I think it would be fine if Maiden gave Europe a pass until 2017, as three years away might have rebuilt a little hunger and hype, particularly if the new album is great and does brilliant business.
I admit that I have become a bit cynical about Maiden’s live shows in the wake of the Maiden England tour. While very good, it stopped short of being truly great, almost like the band were happy to not go that extra mile. So my guess for the next tour is the usual rig dressed in voodoo materials, and a setlist consisting of loads of new tracks and your usual Troopers and Fear Of The Darks. No deep cuts, no surprises. Those days are gone, I’m afraid.
WHAT TO EXPECT?
When it all comes down to it…
Adam: The big reason why so many Maiden and metal fans are excited is that we really don’t know what to expect! The length of the record, collaboration between band members, artwork, recording location and ambiguity in the themes of the album are all fueling speculation as to exactly what this latest evolution of Maiden’s sound will bring.
We know they have preferred to write in the studio and record quickly, as they have done since 2003’s Dance Of Death. This is just about the only constant between The Book Of Souls and the other reunion-era albums. For that reason, we can expect an evolutionary step beyond The Final Frontier, but exactly where The Book Of Souls will take us is a bit hard to say. It’s going to be an epic adventure – the kind of experience that only a new Iron Maiden album can bring.
Christer: For me, everything after The Final Frontier will be considered a bonus. By this point, we have no right to expect new Maiden records, so we should enjoy this one as a rare gift. What I hope for is a more cohesive and enthusiastic album than the last one, one that brims with ideas and energy. Hell, I’m even gonna say that I expect it, because it would seem pointless for Maiden to make new music at all if they weren’t gonna be 100% into creating something that would be worthy as their swan song.
What do you expect from The Book Of Souls, folks?