IRON MAIDEN — The Book Of Souls (review)

IRON MAIDEN — The Book Of Souls album cover Album · 2015 · Heavy Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
As the heavy metal universe which i opine to have begun around 1970 is well into it’s fifth decade as it has expanded from the initial big bang to a vast array of styles that continues to branch out and ever further expand, it is no longer sufficient for one to claim they are a metalhead for these days you have to broaden that statement to include which particular branches of metal you prefer. In my opinion IRON MAIDEN has somehow become the default setting and unofficial mascot of the entire metal universe for i have yet to meet any serious heavy metal fan whether they are into doom, death, black or simply old school classic metal that doesn’t have a liking for a few classic MAIDEN albums. From their humble beginnings they were cranking out kick ass material that married all the best elements of heavy music and fast forward to 2015 to their 16th full studio release BOOK OF SOULS and this band that refuses to slow down releases another top notch high quality album that i find to be their best since their classic heyday period ending with “7th Son Of A 7th Son.” While other bands that began in the 70s have mostly called it a day or are impudent shriveled foreskins in relation to their glory days, IRON MAIDEN surprises us with a sprawling double album that not only takes cues from every trick in the IRON MAIDEN playbook but expands those signature sounds and ushers them into 21st century relevance like few classic bands have. No viagra needed.

I have to admit that i have always seen MAIDEN in a sort of brotherly competition with the other NWOBHM heavyweight Judas Priest, but while Priest has been consistent in delivering albums that have many good tracks i more often than not find there to be a bit of filler that either should have been reworked or weeded out altogether not to mention they fail miserably when incorporating progressive ideas into the mix such as on “Nostradamus”. MAIDEN on the other hand pretty much delivers on the goods with only the Blaze Bailey years being an aberrant twofer punch for albums that failed to present the high quality of musicianship and songwriting that we have become accustomed to. This brotherly competition between MAIDEN and Priest seems even more glaring as both bands released in the last couple of years albums with the “SOULS” in the title. It seems these two bands have reached a similar musical crossroads in their respective careers as Judas Priest seemed to revel in celebrating their entire canon of trademark sounds on their 2014 album “Redeemer of Souls” while a year later IRON MAIDEN manages to do the same by not only incorporating the various aspects of their past but sprinkles them with 21st century pixie dust and offers an album that is yet another milepost in the metal history books.

The album starts off with the classic “7th Son” type synthesized ambience (which is prevalent throughout the album) while Bruce Dickinson displays his mostly unaccompanied vocals that don’t seem to have changed one bit since he first hit the scene with “The Number Of The Beast.” With an ambience and metal performance that sounds a bit like “The Clairvoyant” from the “7th Son” album, it is clear that MAIDEN is back with a vengeance and with this album they can indeed revisit the past and one up the whole thing with their usual expected philosophical lyrics in top notch form along with the mandatory gallops, chord progressions and excellently executed metal delivery. This classic era lineup proves they have the chemistry that passes the test of time and their chops are immune to the corrosive properties that several decades more often than not erodes. After the super strong opener “If Eternity Should Fail” brings us back to their past and proves to us they still have that special musical mojo in play, the semi-progressive 8:28 track takes a turn with a strong percussive outburst and a little interlude that adds new musical twists and turns before resolving itself with the familiar established repeated chorus backed up by the addictive triple guitar harmonic assault of the three guitarists Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers. The track ends with an unaccompanied acoustic guitar with a highly processed spoken lyrics that add a bizarre outro. MAIDEN IS BACK!!!! This is for real :P

After the initial shock and awe sinks in, the band deliver their most retro of all tracks with “Speed Of Light” that would easily have fit in on the early Dickinson year albums such as “The Number Of The Beast” or “Piece Of Mind.” The catchy 80s classic metal verse / chorus / bridge formula offers few surprises but does once again cement the fact that MAIDEN can easily match the best of their glory days and then some. The track ends very much like the style heard in “Run To The Hills” where the band finds a way to masterfully milk every last note and cadence until it is perfectly sacrificed to the silence that separates the tracks. “Speed Of Light” is also the first official single and one of the absolute coolest videos i’ve ever seen showing Eddie evolve throughout the history of video games. Simply brilliant. The album is now firmly established with a somewhat retro feel that liberally borrows from their entire discography. As we get to the third track “The Great Unknown” we are once again treated to the classic song structures that include all those addictive ingredients: metal gallops, wailing melodic vocals, pummeling bass and drums, alternating softer and heavier passages etc.

But then beginning with “The Red And The Black” we get a strange new style of guitar playing as an intro before breaking into a riff that reminds me a bit of cross between “Flight Of Icarus” and the chugging of “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” with excellent alternating sections of Bruce’s vocals and a background chorus whipping out the “oh-oh-oh’s.” This track has lots of cool twists and turns but unfortunately the multi-minute soloing at the end is one of the few aspects of this entire album that wears thin on repeated listens. It’s the kind of stuff that makes for a great live setting but when listening repeatedly in an album format seems to irritate me even though i love soloing in general.

As the album continues there are more references to previous past glories such as “When The River Runs Deep” with a riff that sounds like “Be Quick Or Be Dead,” parts of the title track borrow from “Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra),” “Shadows Of Glory” starts out suspiciously like “Wasted Years” with that high guitar string riffage, “The Man Of Sorrows” vaguely reminds of “To Tame A Land” at times etc. but the album stays very consistent in delivering high quality riffing, bass abuse and lyrical content. While it may be true that perhaps Bruce Dickinson doesn’t quite have the range he used to, the fact that the band has opted for a drop D tuning keeps him firmly in command of the range of the musical progressions that we expect. There’s even an 18:01 musical behemoth that sees Bruce Dickinson playing piano and despite this first for the band in both the choice of piano and longest track ever, this still rings of a classic MAIDEN track melodically, rhythmically and in lyrical content. They seem to be unable to bugger up a song no matter how many new elements they throw out and to think that most of this album was created spontaneously in the studio with only a mere scaffolding of ideas at the work table.

So all in all, i love this album and have not been this excited about an IRON MAIDEN album since at least “Brave New World.” Not that the others in between were bad by any means but they were not nearly as consistent as this one and haven’t demanded repeated listens like this one has whispered in my ear. Like most of MAIDEN albums BOOK OF SOULS has the hooks that instantly grab me and the subtleties keep me coming back for more. This album cries out to me to be yet another classic that successfully reflects past glories and also establishes a relevant future but also casts a shadow of doubt upon the future of the band. With Bruce Dickinson’s cancerous tumor rearing its ugly head which delayed the album’s release it seems as if it could have possibly been the impetus for a creative spree that would be the perfect album to end a long career on. While i hope this not to be the case, a part of me fears it to be true. If this indeed turns out to be the last offering from one of the best bands in history then it would be the a pleasant note to end upon for they have set the bar pretty high here and what i fear more than the band calling it a day would possibly be a string of inferior albums that tarnish the greatness of the past. A near perfect album for me with only few minor blemishes. Yes, it borrows liberally from the past and is not an album that invents a new style of metal, but with a past so wonderful to meld together i really can’t complain one bit when it’s put together so very well. For me this is another classic album. Pretty damn good accomplishment for their only double studio album. MAIDEN!!!!!
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