It’s been five long years since metal giants Iron Maiden have graced us with new music. The generally well received The Final Frontier came out in 2010 and saw Maiden pick up their first Grammy award. Since their return to dominance in 2000 with the Brave New World album, the band has seen their popularity soar to unprecedented heights in the United States. They’ve always been massive around the world, but for whatever reason, they struggled to break through to the mainstream in America. That is no longer the case, as each of their post-2000 records have seen them grow their base here as well as the rest of the world. After what has seemed like an eternity, The Book of Souls is complete and I’ve been fortunate enough to hear it prior to it’s September 4th release date.
The album has many vintage Maiden moments, but also shows that the band continues to grow. That’s a trend that has really been going on since The X Factor. Rather than solely be a metal band, they’ve pushed forward to new heights and have reached into progressive rock elements for the past twenty years. This has allowed the band to remain relevant and remain the most dominant live metal outfit in the world. Let’s dive into this latest gem, which is sure to grow into another must have for their rabid fan base.
Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls
1. If Eternity Should Fail
The album starts off triumphantly, almost as if to announce their return proudly. If you had doubts about whether Bruce Dickinson’s voice has held up, those doubts are quickly erased during the intro. The classic Maiden gallop finally kicks in and instantly the song becomes pure Iron Maiden. If I had one complaint about this album’s predecessor, it’s that there wasn’t enough of that iconic Iron Maiden aggression. Midway through the song, you get a heavy dose of Steve Harris and company in an instrumental piece that is reminiscent of the Killers era. This, however, has something that that era did not have: Bruce Dickinson, ladies and gentlemen.
2. Speed of Light
This is the only single so far to be released from the album. At first listen, like I have for the past four Maiden records, I thought the single was kind of “meh”. Also, like I have for the past four albums, that song has began to grow on me. The track kicks off with one of Bruce’s well known screams before jumping into a song that feels like it could have been included on 2010’s The Final Frontier album. It has the same vibe as El Dorado but let’s Dickinson show off his pipes on the chorus, similar to the way he did on The Talisman. The thing that it has most going for it, though, is that guitar hook. I’ve been humming it for the past two weeks.
3. The Great Unknown
The song starts out with the kind of slow intro that we’ve become accustomed to for the past twenty years. The guitars really add a nice layer of crunch to it during the verses before making way for another soaring Dickinson led chorus. The three headed monster on guitar of Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and Janick Gers ferociously own this song before pulling off for the same outro that started the song. This staple of modern Maiden works flawlessly on this track.
4. The Red and the Black
This song has a real neat intro before kicking into the first true epic of the record. The track has a very Somewhere in Time era meets The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg vibe going on. Maybe Maiden fanatics wouldn’t think that would work, but it does. It doesn’t stay there, either. The song grows and grows, weaving through time changes and master musicianship as it builds to its peak. Most importantly, though, this song is complete with many of the famous Iron Maiden “whoa-oh-whoa” chorus types that will undoubtedly make for a fantastic live experience. Now, will they be willing to play this 13+ minute behemoth live? We will have to wait and see!
5. When the River Runs Deep
The fifth track on the record doesn’t waste any time. There is no slow intro, actually quite the opposite. This song punches you right out of the gate and quite possibly could be another single from the album. The tempo that it is played at reminds you of tracks from their self titled debut album, but the music itself sounds very modern and relevant. This song should/could get serious airplay on radio if it’s released as a single.
6. The Book of Souls
The album’s title track begins with an acoustic intro, which was unheard of until 2003’s Dance of Death album. When the song really kicks in, you immediately become aware of the underrated drumming of Nicko McBrain. He can tend to get overshadowed by the Steve Harris gallop and the three headed guitar attack, let alone the soaring vocals of Dickinson. Is this Where Eagles Dare? No, it’s not, but Nicko’s fat drum beat is very present and keeps this song together. Really, you could say that about most of their songs, we just tend to take it for granted and don’t always appreciate it like we ought to. Then, out of nowhere, the song goes full steam ahead with Powerslave era ferociousness. This could be another option for the band to perform live. It’s long, but aren’t they all, really? For a long time, Maiden fanatics have been calling for a return of that Maiden aggression. Well, here you go!
7. Death or Glory
There are portions of this record, musically, that show the band at their most Paul Di’Anno era tempo since Bruce joined the band. With Dickinson’s vocals soaring behind this hard hitting music, it really makes you wonder how much better those first two records could have been. That’s not a shot at Di’Anno, but Bruce once again shows why he is simply the best in the business. There is no other metal vocalist that does what he does, quite like he does it. This song could also have been the lead single to the record. In recent years, with the band’s progressive push, there have been a lot of fans calling for some shorter, heavy hitting tracks to balance out the epics. This song does that and could quite easily wind up as one of those modern “classics“.
8. Shadows of the Valley
This song begins with a very Wasted Years type of introduction. The lyrics even include a nod to another Somewhere in Time track. Like the classic era Maiden songs do, this one has you bopping your head and pumping your fists in the air. Perhaps, you’re even playing air guitar or air drums. If you’re expecting this album to drop off, it isn’t going to happen. The guitarists trade solos before another verse and ending with an even better “oh-oh-oh” piece than on The Red and the Black. Combine that with it’s much shorter time, that perhaps gives this one an advantage to being played live.
9. Tears of a Clown
A few days ago, we learned that this song was a tribute to the late Robin Williams. While I don’t understand why or how that situation came to be, this song nobly attempts to take you into that mindset. Not necessarily the mindset of taking your life, but the mindset of being alone while among a crowd. As fitting as the tribute to him is, the most important thing is the song is a fantastic piece of musicianship. You can feel the heart that was put into this one, especially. This could be yet another live option for the Book of Souls World Tour.
10. The Man of Sorrows
Similar to the first track, this song begins with Bruce just showing off his God given skills. It builds into one of those songs that fits their post-reunion albums. It follows a tried and true formula, changes time, and features multiple guitar solos. If that doesn’t say Iron Maiden, I’m not sure what does.
11. Empire of the Clouds
Ever since this record was announced, I’ve been impatiently waiting to hear this 18 minute closer to the album. It’s been labeled as a Bruce Dickinson masterpiece. Let me tell you, it DOESN’T disappoint. The first few minutes of the song are a nice melody on the piano, played by Bruce! Who knew?!?! After a military march type drum intro, the vocals come in, still over top of his piano piece. This album shows Maiden at a place that they’ve not been before. This is so important for a band like them, to still make inspired and relevant music. Like they’ve done time and time again (Rime of the Ancient Mariner; When the Wild Wind Blows; Alexander the Great; etc.) the band tells a story. As the listener, you’d think that 18 minutes would be overkill and that you’d lose interest in the “story”. Well, I’m here to tell you that you don’t. The band weaves in between pieces of music that make up this song in a way that has you thinking about everything except how long the track is. Like the record as a whole, this track captures the entire band as one cohesive unit that’s on the same page. There have been moments on the more recent albums, that don’t leave you with that “one unit” vibe. It’s great to see that the six piece truly saved the best for last. Masterpiece might be an understatement.
Support real music, America, and pick up a copy of The Book of Souls on September 4th across the United States.