We have all spent this weekend getting to grips with Iron Maiden’s new album. It might be a different story in two years’ time, but here is what Christer thinks about it right now.
This is the longest gap between records in the history of the band. This is their return to Paris and the studio where they recorded Brave New World in late 1999. This is the album that was made while cancer was growing in the singer’s throat. There is no denying that The Book Of Souls is one of the most unique albums Iron Maiden ever made, even without taking the actual content into consideration.
So how does it sound?
Bruce Dickinson delivers the opening number, which sounds suspiciously like something he would co-write with a certain Roy Z. The track was indeed written for a potential future solo album and then intercepted by Maiden. If Eternity Should Fail is easily Maiden’s most epic opener since Sign Of The Cross back in the 1990s, and the most sinister one since Moonchild in the 1980s. Good start!
Speed Of Light acts a bit like earlier Maiden singles (Flight Of Icarus, Wasted Years) in that it benefits significantly from its place in the running order, following the dark opener and leading into the album highlight The Great Unknown, which boasts one of the band’s most glorious choruses. Adrian Smith surely kept his promise of focusing on shorter songs for this album, and variety is a keyword here.
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The first question mark of the album is Steve Harris’ epic The Red And The Black. This is one of his custom Celtic-tinged self-indulgences, written for the woa-woa-woa singalongs of South America, one of which has been featured on every album since The Clansman appeared in 1998. The chord progressions are the same as always, but the groove and some of the melodies in this one make it worthwhile.
However, there is no reason why this song should be as long as Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. And it’s a bit embarrasing how Harris rips off Howard Shore’s Lorien music from The Lord Of The Rings for the track’s intro and coda. Once upon a time, Harris could give us musical and lyrical takes on movies we hadn’t seen (Children Of The Damned, Where Eagles Dare), but come on, ripping off music from The Lord Of The Rings…?
When it comes to ripping off, Maiden sure recycle their own previous work in various places on this record. The most glaring example is Janick Gers’ music for Shadows Of The Valley, which rehashes the intro from Wasted Years and the chorus from The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg, with other bits and pieces of earlier tracks thrown in. There were signs of this on Maiden’s previous album The Final Frontier (2010), and it is more prominent this time.
Even Gers’ and Harris’ title track seems uncanny at certain points, but that song is strong enough to rise above it. A highlight of the album, and surely a song that will work extremely well on stage.
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On the other hand, the band do present music here that is different from any earlier efforts. Tears Of A Clown, lyrically based on the tragic fate of comedian Robin Williams, is a haunting and beautiful mid-tempo rocker which would sit quite easily on solo albums by either Dickinson, Smith or Harris. And then there is the album’s pièce de résistance, Dickinson’s operatic tale of the doomed airship R101, Empire Of The Clouds. Words can’t really do it justice. Much has been made of the fact that it clocks in at 18 minutes, but it doesn’t feel that long. It seems to rush by. Like an airship in the sky.
What can I say? Iron Maiden are Iron Maiden. They sound like they want to sound. But the record is not without surprises, the Dickinson entries and Tears Of A Clown being chief among these. Some fans will bemoan the fact that producer Kevin Shirley can’t make them sound and write like it’s 1984, but come on. What Maiden deliver with their 16th studio album, in their 40th year of existence, is beyond what anyone could have hoped for back in the late 1990s.
Have we been spoiled?
Are Maiden a rare breed?
Do we want more?
They must never stop.
For all of the arguable faults with this record, there are also many things to admire. Number one, the fact that a band in their late 50s sound like half that age and have a surplus of good ideas. Number two, the fact that the lead singer completely owns almost all of the 90 minutes of music. Number three, the fact that Shirley does the job required in communicating the eccentric wills and won’ts of the band to the public.
Brave New World (2000) and Dance Of Death (2003) might have sharper individual tunes, but The Book Of Souls is cohesive to a degree that only A Matter Of Life And Death (2006) has been thus far in Maiden’s post-2000 era. There is an iron will behind this, a band that refuses to die, and the future will undoubtedly sing their praise.
Christer’s verdict: 4/6