The Book of Souls by Iron Maiden: Back in The Saddle!
Iron Maiden was the first metal band that I have heard, and from that moment on I was enchanted. Enchanted by metal, by the vast divergence of its many genres, by the power of the music and by its varying nature. Many years had passed since that moment, and while Iron Maiden isn’t among my favorite metal bands anymore one thing stayed the same. They are the band that I maximally respect and one of the few bands for which I know that I’ll listen to until I die. And a couple of weeks ago new Maiden’s album has released, a massive 2 disc, one and a half hour long offering that is their longest record to date and first double disc album released by the icons of heavy metal (if we don’t count many live records). So, is it good?
For the start, let’s get one thing straight. This isn’t comeback to their glory days, to the music that was and probably still is the pinnacle of classic heavy metal. This beast is something completely different, a new take on the proven and efficient formula that made them one of the biggest names in the heavy metal of all time. After a rather disappointing The Final Frontier, The Book of Souls is a pleasant surprise that shows how the Old Ones still know to play. The album kicks in with an unorthodox If Eternity Should Fall a song that was planned for the new Dickinson’s solo record. You can hear how the song it’s not something you would expect from Maiden, but nevertheless it’s solid and a good choice for the album opener.
Then, all of a sudden you get transferred back in the 80’s with the Speed of Light, which has that glam rock taste of mainstream cheesiness that’s somehow actually good and very listenable. Production is supreme, I mean, after all this is an Iron Maiden album and from them you always expect the perfect sound quality with all of the instruments masterfully blended in order to make a mixture that’s tasty, but not overproduced. Vocal work of Dickinson is not something you’ll be admiring to, but bear in mind that he’s almost 60 years old and that he was diagnosed with throat cancer shortly after the recording of this album (don’t worry, he came victorious out of that fight). After all, Bruce is best during live shows so wait to hear him live before you start to make statements about the quality of his singing.
The album is divided between the shorter songs that sound more powerful and catchy and a couple of longer musical journeys that show how the quality of the long melodies songwriting has evolved since the relatively bleak The Final Frontier. The best of these epic journeys is probably The Red and The Black, a song full of tempo changes, virtuoso solos and overwhelming melodies. The last song on the album Empire of The Clouds have probably the longest, most epic and masterfully crafted lyrics that Dickinson wrote to this day, it’s a shame that the music isn’t on the same level, making the song one of those “almost but not quite” moments when you can see the potential but are disappointed by the actual delivery. And the title song is just too stretched out; it has some excellent parts (especially in the final third of the song) but the rest is just subpar, at least for Maiden standards. It would be better if they have shortened it because you’ll need to be 5 minutes long in it ‘till you see the quality and epicness.
Another low point of the album is rather dull The Man of Sorrows, classic example of a filler song. The Tears of A Clown is a beautiful tribute to the late Robin Williams, may he rest in peace. Another hit is Death or Glory, a classic Maiden song that will get you back to the glory days of the first couple of albums. Or the Shadows of The Valley, a real anthem with a fast tempo, NWOBHM™ melodies and solos and, of course, an epic chorus.
In the end, I can say that The Book of Souls is the best Maiden album since Brave New World. It has some filler songs, maybe it’s a bit (or a couple of bits) too long, but when you listen to it a couple of times you’ll realize that the hour and a half you just spent listening to it is a quality spent time. And then you play it again, and again (but this time without the couple of songs on the list).
Up The Irons and All Hail Eddie!