The band who would be god...
Genre: Heavy metal
I hold here in my hand a perfectly legally acquired copy of Iron Maiden's "The Final Frontier", which I preordered on the Internet. It was released in Scandinavia on the Friday the 13th of August, while other parts of the world will have to wait till the 16th of August. Given this fact, I'd like to warn readers that this review will contain spoilers; it's also going to be quite lengthy compared to my other reviews... sorry about that.
Let me got one thing straight first. I am a big Iron Maiden fan; they are my favorite band of all time. They got me into music and I owe a lot of my good experiences in life to this band. They are basically gods in my world (more so when I was a teen, of course), but even gods can fail, and Maiden have showed this with "Fear of the Dark" and "Virtual XI" - so, is this a divine fiasco or a godlike triumph?
The first part of the opening track "Satellite 15 ... The Final Frontier" is a dark but epic instrumental section which has an almost industrial quality to it - that's certainly something I've never heard from Maiden before. While I find this opening section, which I guess is "Satellite 15" very interesting, I think that the song proper "The Final Frontier" is a somewhat lackluster and ordinary hard rock song whose most interesting aspect is the sci-fi theme.
"El Dorado" is a track the keeps growing on me - since I've already reviewed the "El Dorado" single, I'll just refer to reader to that review, which can be found here: http://www.metalmusicarchives.com/iron-maiden--review.aspx?id=217662
The next track "Mother of Mercy" is a midtempo melodic, but not out of the ordinary, track whose chorus is nonetheless catchy, thanks to Bruce Dickinson's extraordinary vocals.
"Coming Home" has an absolutely brilliant opening with some dark melancholic guitar harmonies and changing time signatures. Then it morphs into a a power ballad of sorts; and this power ballad works quite well, mostly because of the catchy vocal lines and the bridge and outro which repeat the guitar patterns from the introduction.
"The Alchemist" is an uptempo track along the lines of "Man on the Edge" or "Be Quick or Be Dead", and this track has everything I love in Iron Maiden's music: galloping bass and guitars, catchy and epic vocal lines, and twin lead guitars galore.
I expected this album to continue in the progressive vein of "A Matter of Life and Death", and which "Brave New World" and "Dance of Death" had been building towards; and in the first five tracks these expectations were not met, but the last five tracks are much more progressive without losing their metal edge.
Clocking in at 9:06 minutes, "Isle of Avalon" is the first really epic track on the album, as it slowly builds up over a couple of verses carried by a pulsating bass and hi-hat and atmospheric guitars. After a 2:40 minutes build up, it explodes into an energetic song with plenty of interesting vocal lines, guitar solos and odd time signatures here and there, and at times it reminds me of Dream Theater and Fates Warning.
"Starblind" starts out with a Genesis-meets-Police-esque intro which is followed by the main riff which is strangely kind of hardrock yet quirky. The track oscilates between straight metal/hard rock sections and less straight parts. While most of the meters are in 4/4, McBrain's changing between straight rock drums and less conventional patterns create this interesting rhythmic tension - there is also a 7/8 section with a really nice melancholic guitar melody on top of it two thirds into the song, before the melodic intro is resumed briefly and another verse is initiated after that.
"The Talisman" is another track whose opening reminds me of the likes of 70s Genesis, and clocking in at 9:03, this is another epic track, which makes use of mostly straight metal riffage and Dickinson-style captivating vocals as well as the occasional burst of galloping guitars and guitar melodies. I really like how the band manages to take relatively simple rock and metal riffage and make something big out of it in this song, which works much better than "The Final Frontier".
"The Man Who Would Be King" starts out with a ballady melodic opening and then builds into a "Thin Line Between Love And Hate"-like track which contains several elements from the Iron Maiden bag of tricks - most excitingly is the sudden change into an almost funky alt. metal-like part at 3:58. Again, this song starts out with some simple rock riffage and then builds into something big and epic the way that only Maiden can do it.
For some reason some of the vocal lines of "When the Wild Win Blows" remind me of some of Nik Kershaw's songs [this is not an insult... I like Nik Kershaw], and it works! There are several changes in this track, some abrupt, some in the form of breakdowns, and some through buildups. But that's what you'd expect from an Iron Maiden track which clocks in at around 11 minutes.
So, fiasco or triumph? Well, I must admit that the first tracks from this album that were released - "El Dorado" and "The New Frontier" had me a bit worried, and I will also admit that my first reaction after having heard the whole album was "Phew!". I think it is the least strong album by Maiden since Bruce's return because of the first couple of tracks, but I really like how the band pursues the more progressive style of "A Matter of Life and Death" on the last five tracks or six tracks. This definitely is not a fiasco, and "The Final Frontier" is a fine album and an effort that Maiden can be proud of.
And a note on Dickinson's voice: there are those who have complained that his voice and his singing is weak on this album - that's not true; Dickinson's performance on this album is just as strong as on the previous three ones, and there are instances here where it is his vocal lines and unique voice that serve to carry the track, or parts of the track, in question.
And a note on Eddie: what the hell did they do to poor old Eddie? The new Alien Eddie is hideous! I want the old Eddie back! Fortunately, this is secondary to the music, but still... ;-)
This album didn't click with me right away, like "A Matter of Life and Death" did, but give it some time to grow on me. For the time being, I'll give it four stars.
I'd recommend this album to fans of Maiden's post-2000 style. Fans of older Maiden might want to skip the first couple of tracks, but they're certain to love "The Alchemist".