Iron Maiden transcend their own music. They are the true survival story of British heavy metal, now in their landmark fortieth year together. The elaborate live productions, the ubiquitous merchandise 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. At each show - many in isolated countries where the band rarely plays - thousands of fans donning Maiden shirts descend in a communal celebration of their favorite band. They shout the lyrics to each and every song, even if it’s not in their native language. Something about the escapist quality of Iron Maiden, the progressive arrangements and the epic storytelling, gives them a worldly, universal appeal, which in turn gives them the longevity to keep going. Their dedication to craft is rivaled only by their fans’ devotion, and the band, even as its core members approach their 60’s, works tirelessly to do good on that devotion, whether it be a tour through previously unvisited countries or a massive double album. Metalheads disagree on many things, but they all agree on one thing - no band personifies the genre more in all its absurdities and glories than Iron Maiden.
The band’s cartoonish image obscures the fact that these are deeply serious players with the compositional skills of classical musicians. The best Iron Maiden songs are long, but they are never dull. The band understand too much about melody, tempo and musical tension to be boring and this sixteenth studio album ‘The Book of Souls’ is beyond anything we could’ve expected from Iron Maiden this far into their career. It was certainly not done by halves, that's for sure! Billed as their lengthiest, most epic work to date and first ever studio double album, it’s a record that only Iron Maiden could get away with an hour and a half of wildly theatrical power metal. The Dickinson-penned opener ‘If Eternity Should Fail’, originally intended for his solo album, casually pushes eight minutes, moving from a hooky drop-D riff into bass-driven prog grooves. The chorus is pure fatalist Maiden: “Waiting in line for the end of your time/ If eternity should fail.” Having just beaten tongue cancer, Dickinson struggles to carry some melodies, but the rawness of his delivery and the unfiltered production give his vocals a specific catharsis that other, highly polished latter-era Maiden albums have lacked.
The first song to be released from the album, namely ‘The Speed of Light’ is the closest you’ll get to a ‘Trooper’ or ‘Aces High’ on ‘The Book of Souls’, as all 11 tracks brush the five-minute mark at least. But Maiden is a different beast now, and conceptual magnificence takes priority over instant gratification in 2015. ‘The Red and the Black’ represents this perfectly, clocking in at nearly a quarter hour. Written by Steve Harris, the legendary bassist manages to coat the listener’s ears with one of Iron Maiden’s richest soundscapes to date, sweetened by the breathtaking use of keyboards. ‘The Red and the Black’ is an unyielding riff and solo fest, even honing a gigantic section of Iron Maiden “WOAH’s”. ‘When the River Runs Deep’ breaks from the flow slightly by picking up the pace, while the album’s title track showcases the somewhat unsung compositional talents of guitarist Janick Gers. ‘Shadows of the Valley’ comes soon after, and it adds yet another Maiden epic to an album already packed to the barrel with gunpowder. It begins with a riff reminiscent of ‘Wasted Years’, but quickly breaks from further comparison with some unconventional guitar breaks and a super powered chorus from Mr. Dickinson that just begs to be sung by a stadium filled with Maiden fanatics.
If ‘The Book of Souls’ were to take its bow after ‘Tears of a Clown’, the band’s farewell to Robin Williams, and ‘The Man of Sorrows’, a piece filled with melancholy and soul, we’d all be left in a euphoric haze praising our metal heroes for yet another life affirming release. However, an extra 18 minutes is given to a little prog cut called ‘Empire of the Clouds’ written by Bruce Dickinson at the piano. And ladies and gentlemen, this is where ‘The Book of Souls’ goes from simply fantastic to an undeniable classic. Bruce begins the journey behind his piano with a light interlude of strings adding atmosphere and substance to the ethereal solemnity of Dickinson’s melody. Attempting to articulate the scope of this song feels like an injustice. Suffice to say this track alone is worth the price of the record and an experience any metal fan should welcome. Comparisons are already being drawn between this pièce-de-résistance and the band’s storied epic from 1984, ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’.
With ‘The Book of Souls’, Iron Maiden has further cemented its iconic status among the rock and metal community. This record is but another grand and fulfilling chapter in a legendary career that is distinguished by deft musicianship, intelligent lyrics and masterful songwriting. Kevin Shirley‘s production is understated yet flawlessly brilliant. Whether ‘The Book of Souls’ is the final chapter in Iron Maiden‘s impressive and historic catalogue of music remains to be seen, but it is certainly among its most memorable offerings since the band’s seminal 80’s works such as ‘Number of the Beast’ and ‘Powerslave’. Obviously Iron Maiden can’t continue forever but with the band continuing to write vital songs, and constantly looking for new avenues, bigger ideas - and planes there is, thankfully, life in the old beast yet. Long may it continue, because metal without Iron Maiden will be be a strange world indeed. And it's already evident that ‘The Book of Souls’ will be a hit with fans, with the album having reached Number 1 in a mere 24 countries around the world debuting at No. 2 on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart (dated Sept. 26). The recently announced live 2016 world tour to accompany the album is set to be nothing short of exceptional with the band expected to visit 35 countries flying over 55,000 miles across six of the seven continents, taking touring to a whole new level by using a Boeing 747-400 jumbo jet, which will be piloted by Bruce who is currently in training to qualify for his 747 license. First stop the USA. Can only be Iron Maiden can't it!! Can't wait....!!!!!!
1. If Eternity Should Fail (Dickinson) 8:28
2. Speed Of Light (Smith/ Dickinson) 5:01
3. The Great Unknown (Smith/ Harris) 6:37
4. The Red And The Black (Harris) 13:33
5. When The River Runs Deep (Smith/ Harris) 5:52
6. The Book Of Souls (Gers/ Harris) 10:27
7. Death Or Glory (Smith/ Dickinson) 5:13
8. Shadows Of The Valley (Gers/ Harris) 7:32
9. Tears Of A Clown (Smith/ Harris) 4:59
10. The Man Of Sorrows (Murray/ Harris) 6:28
11. Empire Of The Clouds (Dickinson) 18:01
Wrinkly The Silver