Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls (BMG)Thursday, 17th September 2015
Responsible from bringing heavy metal to arena sell out heights worldwide in the 1980’s, Iron Maiden have weathered changing musical trends and singer defections, expanding to a three guitar lineup since the Dickinson/Brave New World reunion. Keyboard pundits weigh in to stirring degrees on whether recent, more progressive oriented efforts like Dance of Death or The Final Frontier hold a candle to the first seven studio records (two different eras indeed), but this writer chooses to assess the latest studio album The Book of Souls on its own merits, as classics like The Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son can’t be touched.
With 11 songs taking up two discs, the sextet smartly choose to keep each record from maxing out time constraints – at 50 minutes and 42 minutes, the listener can absorb the material without feeling fatigued. Immediately noticeable is cancer survivor Bruce Dickinson’s performance – on a songwriting and vocal level the man can deliver as if still channeling his youthful charisma and bravado. Opener “If Eternity Should Fail” has the mid-tempo gallop and upper register melodies during the chorus, while the intro and outro moments give the 8 minute plus arrangement that theatrical quality. “Speed of Light” follows, probably the most commercial track on display, excellent thoughtful soloing and a bluesy main riff hammer this cut home as a probable set list staple.
Bassist Steve Harris contributes one of the epics in “The Red and the Black”, at 13:33 evoking a lot of “Alexander the Great”/“Rime of the Ancient Mariner” feelings, Dickinson keeping in time with the Smith/Gers/Murray layered chord choices – definitely a favorite based on the ‘woo-oh’ background vocals and the prolonged instrumental sections that give Iron Maiden life because of their respect for metal. Disc two fluctuates between the immediacy of “Death or Glory”, the “Wasted Years” like opening sequence for the energetic “Shadow of the Valley”, and the ultimate, almost 18 minute closer “Empire of the Clouds” – featuring piano, a lyrical ride through the skies, and slower, progressive instrumental moments that are almost doomy before the uplifting sections flow gallantly as Nicko McBrain challenges himself during the fill work.
If pickiness has to be there, this journalist would love to see the band crank out another shorter anthem stunner or two a la “Flight of Icarus”, the aforementioned “Wasted Years”, or even “Fear of the Dark” – but Iron Maiden is going to do what they desire, and they’ve earned the right as such. Great artwork throughout makes this a necessary physical purchase beyond the music – and fortunately, The Book of Souls is Maiden’s best studio record in well over 15 years. Eddie and the boys up the irons again!