Release Date: Sep 4, 2015
Record label: BMG
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Heavy Metal
As strong as 2006’s A Matter of Life and Death and 2010’s The Final Frontier were, there was reason for concern that Iron Maiden were starting to bite off a little more than they could chew. For a band that excelled when their albums dynamically alternated between adventurous epic tracks and short, immediate headbangers, they were clearly slipping down a hole where their compositions kept getting longer and longer, testing the will of anyone who wants to listen to an album from start to finish. Which, let’s face it, is what the band and their traditionalist fans prefer in the first place.
Strap yourself in and say a quick prayer to Eddie as Maiden pull out all the stops – and Bruce gets epic on the piano. A new Iron Maiden album is always a big event, not least because the band have somehow sustained a startling level of popularity for the vast majority of their three decades. ADVERTISINGinRead invented by Teads What is less frequently acknowledged, however, is that since the return of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith for 2000’s Brave New World, Maiden have not only cemented their status as metal’s most revered band but, audaciously, built upon it, becoming ever more dominant and in-demand as a result.
Iron Maiden have always been a band to do things on a large scale. With every step they’ve taken on their 40 year long career, they’ve seemed to find a way to get bigger and, somehow, better. The only time they appeared to downsize a little was when Adrian Smith left the ranks shortly after Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son. At that point the band returned to its roots, adopted a far less polished sound for the next album No Prayer For The Dying, and subsequently toured smaller venues rather than huge arenas (and we’ll draw a veil over the Blaze years).
Review Summary: The beast still has your number.There was initially some speculation that 2010’s The Final Frontier would be Iron Maiden’s last record. Bassist and founding member Steve Harris had previously been quoted as saying that he imagined the band would release a total of fifteen studio albums, and choosing to give the fifteenth such an ominous title seemed to be a clear portent of the end. Thankfully, subsequent months brought an admission that the album’s title was “largely mischief” and that the British heavy metal legends definitely intended to be recording again.
“[i]When the world has fallen and you stand alone[/i]”, wails Bruce Dickinson staring into the apocalypse at the end of ‘The Great Unknown’. Governments will fall and the earth will swallow the sea, but Iron Maiden will somehow remain untempered, impermeable to the whims of fashion or outside influence. Well, sort of.It’s five years since ‘The Final Frontier’, an unprecedented interregnum caused by circumstances beyond anyone’s control.
To say that Iron Maiden's The Book of Souls was ardently anticipated would be a vast understatement. Though it was (mostly) finished in 2014, vocalist Bruce Dickinson's cancer diagnosis and treatment delayed its release until he was medically cleared. While 2006's A Matter of Life and Death and 2010's The Final Frontier showcased longer songs, Book of Souls is epic by comparison.
There comes a point in almost every august rock legend’s career that you might usefully call the The Acceptance of the Inevitable. It involves a tacit acknowledgment that your rtistic heyday is probably behind you, that your audience ultimately loves you for the music you made 30 or 40 or 50 years ago. Your new album may sell respectably, but it’s never going to dwarf the achievements of your past: fans may still queue up in their hundreds of thousands to buy tickets to see your gigs, but they’re doing so to hear the oldies played live.
'Book of Souls more like Book of Drunks.' Julien is reading over my shoulder as I put together my review of Iron Maiden's first release in five years. He's referring to the Iron Maiden listening party we had last weekend. A gathering which quickly descended into a melee of controlled substances and what, at that point, we thought was highbrow conversation.
There aren’t many metal bands with the legacy of Iron Maiden. The heavy metal legends released their 1980 debut at just the right time, capturing an existing audience reared on Sabbath, KISS and Priest, while subsequent releases caught the ears of a younger generation hungry for the thrill of fast riffs and dark imagery. From Maiden’s early punk-inspired days with original vocalist Paul Di’Anno, to the more ambitious and best-known Bruce Dickinson years, and even a short and unfortunate detour with vocalist Blaze Bayley in the late ’90s, their reach has remained not just intact, but continues far and wide.
Iron Maiden transcend their own music. The elaborate live productions, the ubiquitous merch, and the iconic visage of “Eddie” are as much a part of the Iron Maiden aesthetic as Steve Harris’ galloping bass lines and Bruce Dickinson’s scream. There is a culture to Iron Maiden fandom; the band is like a musical genre unto itself. The 2009 tour documentary Flight 666 puts this into perspective as the band takes its private jet plane to various exotic locales across the lower hemisphere.
Metal's most fanciful band has gilded its 16th LP with the usual tales of kings, battles and foolhardy missions to the sky — but while those topics might sound like old hat, the veteran Brits indulge their whims without ever getting tiresome. Their three guitarists wield an endless arsenal of galloping riffs and wild solos on the singalong-ready "The Red and the Black" and the urgent "Death or Glory." What's most impressive is how vocalist Bruce Dickinson, who recently survived a tongue-cancer scare, still sounds like a cross between an air-raid siren and Maria Callas. And tracks like the 18-minute closer, "Empire of the Clouds," ensure that these guys will never be short on ambition.
Double-albums can be an ambitious folly, especially in this zero-attention-span era, though in the case of the venerable Iron Maiden – whose fanbase is among the most loyal on the planet – they might just get away with the 92-minute running time of their 10th studio outing since 1980. But even if Maiden fans baulk at the endurance levels required by some of the songs here (two of which stretch to 13 and 18 minutes), it’s unlikely that the band themselves will give a toss. Like very few other metal bands, Metallica and possibly Rammstein being the only other examples that come to mind, Maiden are in a position where they can do exactly what they want.
The warmer months of 2015 were a metalhead’s dream, whether their chosen poison lies festering underground or comes plastered across billboards and magazine covers. The old gods in Slayer, Iron Maiden, and Motörhead all released new albums, as did younger, meaner bands like Tyranny, Demona, and Hope Drone. We’ve experienced loss — Cynic and Morbid Angel imploded, both Christopher Lee and Pagan Altar’s Terry Jones passed away — but promising new bands continue to sprout up like mushrooms.
The first listens to Iron Maiden's two-disc follow up to 2010's excellent (and not final) The Final Frontier, did not bode well. Page-long NDAs signed here, miscellaneous organs sold there — and the receipt, undercover of darkness, of an audio stream called nothing even faintly resembling The Book Of Souls, all suggested that Maiden wanted this one pretty heavily locked down until release date. Clearly they knew something but, rather disappointingly, the first impressions of the double album seemed so very uninspiring.
At a time when music consumption (or at least journalism about it) is focused on the fleeting sensations of streaming audio, a la carte downloads, and overnight sensations, the notion of Iron Maiden marking its 40th year with its first double-disc studio album seems quixotic, possibly reckless. Even for devoted followers, a 92-minute set dominated by long cuts — including the iconic metal band’s most expansive to date, the 18-minute Bruce Dickinson epic “Empire of the Clouds” — is a lot to ask. But to hell with expectations and conformity: “The Book of Souls” is a triumph, packed with instantly memorable songs and riffs, vocal heroics, triple-guitar fireworks, and vital, committed performances.
With three songs clocking in at more than 10 minutes -- one at a walloping 18 -- Iron Maiden’s double-disc The Book of Souls has all the makings of being an overblown slog. While it’s certainly outsized (and does crawl part way through disc two), the rock outfit’s 16th studio album is surprisingly engaging overall. That 18-minute track, “Empire of the Clouds,” is actually a highlight, retelling the tale of a 1930 crash of an R101 British airship in France.