You have probably heard the saying “opinions are like butt-holes, everyone has one”. That is pretty much my feeling towards critics, be it music, film or book. Even though I have dabbled in said line of writing and this post could be construed a critic of Iron Maidens new album, I still think that the only opinion of a piece of art should be yours, so don’t listen to a critic unless they have paid for the coffee first. Listen to what your heart tells you about what you are observing. Here endeth the lesson.. now on to the good stuff.
**This post is kind of long.. if you are short on time or no real interest in Iron Maiden, you can skip to the end for a TL:DR version of my review 🙂 **
Having said the above I have been blown away by the near unanimous favourable reviews of this album by the press in the lead up to this weeks release. One couldn’t help but get swept up in the buzz that this could be the album that define the band in their fourth great great age!
I haven’t been this excited about an Iron Maiden album in I don’t know how long. If I am honest I was getting a bit bored of the over long tracks that were filling Maidens recent albums. . To me Iron Maiden weren’t a Prog Metal band, they were my go to “bang your head” band. Tracks that last 9 minutes in 13/8 don’t really work for head-banging in general. Iron Maiden were a big part of my musical growing up. Memories linked my youth to the band. My only pilgrimage to the UK’s Heavy Metal holy ground Donington was the year that Iron Maiden headlined in 1992 which lead to the Live at Doninigton album and DVD. It was a classic year, I went by myself, I had to be there that badly; I just didn’t care it was MAIDEN!
I had forgotten the general rule of being an artist though. Artists should be allowed and should be encouraged to develop, and without development, they stagnate and they die. When artists die.. They generally don’t produce new work, which would have been a bloody shame seeing as The Book of Souls is a work of ART!!
When you sit back and think that this band has released 16 albums in 35 years and toured the world so many times they now have their own Jumbo Jet because, well, it’s just cheaper that way. The band really had nothing left to prove, in an age when bands of their ilk are just plodding along on the nostalgia tours, throwing out the odd throwaway album when they feel like it. The Book of Souls makes Iron Maiden look like a band who are just starting out and actually HAVE something to prove, it’s like they are about to lose the world if this album doesn’t sell. Have no fear boys, if this doesn’t go to number 1, I’ll do a Paddy Ashdown and eat my hat.
When I first hit play the first track “If Eternity Should Fail” just creeps to an open, it harkens back to a Powerslave feel without feeling dated. Once the band kicks in, its classic Maiden. Bombastic, Bass thumping, a Guitar attack that you know will see the stage erupt when it is probably played as the bands opening number on tour. It has that feel about it. The question on my mind before this albums release was “Would Dickinson’s voice really be as powerful as it always has been considering the Cancer?” The answer?
Enough said on that point.
The next track, “Speed of Light” was the lead track from the album to be released before the albums and the video that accompanied the track caused more of a stir than the track did.
The video is an Iron Maiden fans wet dream. If you are an Iron Maiden fan who also happens to be a Gamer then Hells Teeth you’re multi orgasmic by the time this 5 minute epic is over!! The downside though for me was, the video hides a brilliant Iron Maiden track. The glitz and shoot em up video kind of detracts from the Human Air Raid Siren, yet when you take the video away and place the track back on the album, if you are anything like me the first time I listened to it, I was fist pumping the air thanking Eddie that Bruce still had despite the Cancer… and with reassurances that things are back to normal after the fact, things can only look more positive for the tour that is coming in 2016.
Track 4 on the album is the first of 3 10+ minute epic tracks, The Red and The Black lands at 13.33 and starts off with a Spanish infused guitar that lulls you in before the Mosh-Fest takes you away again. Remember when I said earlier that you could Headbang to Iron Maiden style Prog… I was proved wrong by this track.. it demand that you move your head and strike the air guitar pose. Unsurprisingly, this has a catchy audience participation parts infused throughout the track, Woah Woah Woah…. It is classic Steve Harris. He know what the audience want. He knows that they want to be involved, he has looked forward to the live shows and knows that when this track is played live, it may be 13 and half minutes on the CD, but live it will be played quicker and the Audience participation will raise the roof once Bruce Dickinson gets his hands on them.
The albums title track “The Book of Souls” is for me, the first real dip into this albums attempt at Prog. Strange as that may seem as it is the last track on the first disc. It isn’t because it’s a long track nor the most technically difficult from a performance point, it just has that “feel” to it. Go back (if you can) to the first time you heard “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” from Powerslave and remember how epic that track felt not sounded, but felt. This for me tells the story of this albums Eddie, the Mayan Beast (my term).
I think each album has at least one track that conveys his story, some more than one, like Seventh Son, the album, was concept so it was all about him. This is just a personal philosophy that I have developed over far to much time spent looking at album covers in shops when I was younger and CD sleeves when I was older kicking myself for not buying more vinyl and a better stereo when I could.
Disc 2 kicks off with the belter “Death or Glory” which really is a battle cry to the troops. It’s becoming a cliché in this post, but again.. classic Maiden. They know what the fans want. They aren’t resting on laurels from the past, it is all fresh and very new, old fans will love the nods to the past and new fans will love that it sounds so modern and up to date.
Seeing as this post has become slightly predictable now, I am just going to skip to the end of the album and mention the last track on the album as that is truly the Iron Maiden.. I don’t have a word.. epic, classic has been used to often in this piece. Iron Maiden have never done anything to this scale before. In an interview with Metal Hammer Magazine Steve Harris had this to say about the writing of “Empire of the Clouds”
“He had all these bits and pieces on the piano, like a mad professor,” Steve recalls, visibly amused by the memory. “I said, ‘One day it’ll be like Monty Python; I’ll come in and you’ll be sitting at the piano with nothing on, looking over your shoulder like a madman…’ Ha ha! I’m glad that didn’t happen! But when we were recording it, we had a few moments when we were looking at each other thinking, ‘What the hell’s gonna happen next?’ But that just added to it. I actually said to him, ‘Fuck me, you’ve outdone me, you bugger! This is an absolute masterpiece…’ and it is. Empire… is almost a rock opera… it reminds me of a West End musical. But better. Ha ha ha!”
Metal Hammer – Iron Maiden – Why Heaven Can Wait For Metals Greatest Band
I think masterpiece is exactly the right word. Perfect. I really have no idea if the band would attempt to play this live, knowing the sphericals on them I wouldn’t put it past them, they would do it just to prove it could be done and an audience would allow it!
For the first time in many years a heavy band has me excited again. Even the reformed Black Sabbath didn’t do this for me when they released 13. A band I had all but resigned to “I’ll listen to the new stuff eventually” have now persuaded me to go back and listen again to all the albums I may have given short shrift to and give them another shot and see if maybe I was too quick to dismiss them. We shall see.
I understand that this post is probably not going to be to everyone’s taste who would normally visit this blog, but this album has had a bit of an effect on me that no other album has had in some time. It has given me a reason to listen to music again for pleasure and not just as a distraction from depression or anxiety. it is such a relief to be able to enjoy music again for the sake of music and not to hide within it. To revel, to dance and to sing and not to shy away from the world again. If one album can do that, then I guess, shouting from the rooftops once in a while isn’t too bad.
For those at the top who skipped to the bottom:
It’s an amazing album… a real return to form.. go out and buy it now.
Until next time… Up the Irons!!!