It’s been five years since Iron Maiden blessed us with The Final Frontier, so the anticipation for their newest masterpiece The Book of Souls had been building up to a fever pitch with no less than Lady Gaga tweeting that she was up at 5 a.m. to purchase the album. But the gap between releases was only part of what had fans so excited. This album is also the longest Maiden release in their career, clocking in at a mammoth 92 min., spread out over two CDs. Without going into a full song by song review of the album, here are the highlights:
The title track “The Book of Souls” is an outstanding tune that will pleasantly remind a lot of Maiden fans of 1984’s “Powerslave” both musically and lyrically. Where this song has the elder beat is with its elegant intro and catchy bridge. Also, as with many of the songs on this album, the longer length gives the band time to explore musical ideas that might have been deemed excessive in earlier days.
“The Red and the Black” begins with a signature bass solo from Steve Harris before launching into hard, rolling riff which singer Bruce Dickinson peppers with a rapid fire cadence. Again, longtime fans may be reminded of older Maiden songs like “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” or “Alexander The Great.”
“When The River Runs Deep” and “Man of Sorrows” are tracks that best highlight the guitar work of Adrian Smith and Dave Murray respectively, though they also demonstrate the soul weakness of this album: none of the songs appear to be collaborations between all three of Maiden’s guitarists (Janick Gers being the third). As a result, the intricate three guitar interplay that has been present on some of the more recent releases seems to be missing. On the flip side, there is also less homogenization of the songs as they all have their own distinct personality.
The album closes with two very interesting tracks. The first is “Tears Of A Clown,” a touching tribute to Robin Williams and his struggle with depression. It’s a somber topic that is treated with respect and dignity that gives the song a hallowed feeling. The closing track, “Empire of the Clouds,” is an 18 min. epic about the R101, the legendary British Airship that crashed in 1929. Beginning with Bruce singing and playing piano with a violin accompaniment, this song has the majesty of a royal opera all in itself. As the narrative turns towards the tragedy of the airship crashing amidst snowy mountains the songs transforms into a faster, anthemic instrumental piece that could easily be a movie soundtrack.
While not a concept album in the classic sense, there is a definite thematic tie between all the songs. Each one touches on some aspect of man’s mortality. It’s easy to see how Bruce Dickinson’s recent battle against cancer may have inspired this overarching theme. As a result, the album has a sense of gravitas that previous releases have been lacking. Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain called this album one of their best, and it’s easy to see why. With its symphonic overtures, sweeping scope, and amazing solos The Book of Souls harkens back to the best Maiden albums of the past while making good use of the band’s more recent forays into more melodic metal. That they are able to produce such an amazing album after all these years is simply incredible.
Long Live the Irons!
The Book of Souls is available for purchase now from your favorite music retailer.