92 minutes is a long time and so is five years, so at least we have been given value for money with the long awaited new Iron Maiden album. And while ‘Book of Souls’ occasionally overstays its welcome, overall it is a very worthy addition to what is now a 16 album body of work.
This album opens with mid-paced dark rocker with ly If Eternity Should Fail followed immediately by the catchy single Speed of Light. This is an old Maiden trick – to have two memorable songs front-loaded, and we are definitely up and running by track three.
We are instantly aware that we are in Iron Maiden’s world. All of their talent is on display – from the intricate weaving guitars of Adrian, Dave and Gers, plus some keyboards, to Steve and Nicko’s sold backline rhythm section, and the still powerful vocals of Bruce Dickinson. The album was recorded before his throat cancer diagnosis, but not long before, so it is impressive to see how expressive and powerful he is throughout. In concert lately his famous range is perhaps slightly diminished, but it is not in evidence here, and let’s hope he remains in good health now that he has recovered from his illness and that we get a great tour next year.
The album dips slightly with The Great Unknown, before hitting full stride with new Steve Harris penned epic The Red and The Black. Not as literally historical as many of Steve’s pieces, this one refers to Mayan mythology, as do several other songs on the album. Musically as well as conceptually the song is also full of ideas, with the pace getting shifted up and down several times, and some of the dynamics and riffs reminding the listener of the band’s 1984 classic The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Bruce sings the hell out of it too.
The Mayan theme is most evident though in the impressive title track, one of at least four very long songs on the album. This one closes out disc one for those of you listening on CD, but GoldenPlec recommends popping in disc two immediately, as we get straight back in to the action with the almost punk-sounding Death or Glory.
This song also reminds us of the band’s links to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) as it thrashes through four minutes of high energy Maiden riffery with its story about dog-fighting airplanes – a typical Smith/Dickinson effort and one which will be great live.
Speaking of the song-writing duties, it is fairly evenly split over the five songwriters, albeit Harris a little less than usual and Dickinson a little more than usual. There are a couple of slightly weaker efforts, for example Man of Sorrows is somewhat Maiden-by-numbers. One does perhaps get the sense that in this 92 minute album there was a 70 minute classic waiting to burst out. But let’s not complain, and yes, Bruce’s epic 17 minute album-closer, Empire of the Clouds really does work, and is as good as any of the other big songs on the album, piano intro and all.
The production and sound of the album are crystal clear, with the complex song structures sometimes taking things somewhat in the direction of prog-rock. This is not unwelcome for many Maiden fans, and reminds the listener of what was arguably their strongest latter day album, 2006’s ‘A Matter of Life And Death’. They can still write short snappy numbers, but their biggest strength these days is the long epics, taking metal way beyond the simplicity of say, AC/DC, who continue to stick to the exact same formula. There’s nothing wrong with that either, but Maiden are in a different league from most other rock or metal bands, and if proof were needed, ‘Book of Souls’ does the job.