This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Genre: Heavy Metal
Favorite Tracks: “If Eternity Should Fail”, “Speed of Light”, “The Great Unknown”, “Empire of the Clouds”
No one can dispute that Iron Maiden is past their prime. For most of the 80s and well into the 90s, metal fans were fascinated with Maiden’s epic guitar solos, power metal bellows, and the macabre theatrics of their amazing live shows. But as time went on, Maiden’s fame waned a bit and being a die hard became difficult. Gone were the days of NUMBER OF THE BEAST, PIECE OF MIND, POWERSLAVE, SOMEWHERE IN TIME, and SEVENTH SON. Poor Eddie was forced to grace the covers of unimaginative, trite garbage. Sure, the 2000s saw BRAVE NEW WORLD (mostly praised due to Bruce Dickinson taking back his spot as lead vocalist), and some even say parts of A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH were worthwhile ventures, but nothing came close to the noted classics. But in 2010, coming off of the heels of an Iron Maiden tour documentary, THE FINAL FRONTIER came out. Though not a particularly great album, original member and bass player Steve Harris punched up the bulk of the project with a ton of songwriting. Interestingly, most of the tracks gave the spotlight to other band mates, resulting in a prog rock feel with various styles at hand, while still keeping the traditional Maiden power metal flair. The band also had a home field advantage, finding themselves in the studio where they crafted all of their greatest hits. Flash forward to 2015; along with making a flop of a solo album, Harris loses a few loved ones, culling his involvement in the next record. With THE BOOK OF SOULS, their latest release, Maiden is forced to take a more collaborative approach in producing an album to satisfy the fans still picking scraps.
I won’t say the finished product is a bad effort. THE BOOK OF SOULS is by and large a typical Maiden release, and looks very much towards the glimmer that made FINAL FRONTIER exciting. The sad part is that the exciting portions are few and far between.
THE BOOK OF SOULS introduces interesting concepts. Want some evocative acoustic guitar and piano? Accessibly complex song structure? A track dedicated to the life and death of Robin Williams (aptly titled “Tears of a Clown”)? It’s there. The only thing is that the band covers most of it under all too familiar sounds. Despite the unusually long length of many tracks (this being their first double album), Maiden plays it completely safe with THE BOOK OF SOULS. More than a few chord progressions are practically lifted straight out of past records. This make sense, knowing that the band banked on a time crunch method which had same day writing, rehearsing, and recording sessions, hoping that this would jolt them into making hits. Thanks to this concept backfiring, even Adrian Smith’s and Janick Gers’ solos are reduced to boring recyclables, and the ones daring to show any sign of engaging progression or pizzazz are way too short to call home. Harris and Smith’s best work is on the track “The Great Unknown”, which has some very fun tempo shifts ebbing and flowing to culminate into a solid track. Sadly, it’s placed early in an album that spreads talent more thin as it goes on.
Dickinson’s vocals manage to soar through most of these tracks to an adequate degree, but in the small instances that they don’t, his age is made incredibly apparent. Sometimes effects cover this up, but the worst is on the track “The Red and the Black”, wherein he tries his best to keep up by synching with some quick guitar riffs, but resolutely fails. To be fair, most of the tracks accredited to him bookend the album and are the strongest. “If Eternity Should Fail” serves as an epic opener, and “Speed of Light”, released as a single a week or so ago and paired with a fantastic music video, is still menacing as hell. The most important Dickinson contribution, however, has to be the album’s closer. Based around an infamous British zeppelin disaster, “Empire of the Clouds” is the longest Maiden song to date. Clocking in at almost 20 minutes, the track features Dickinson on piano and a stellar vocal performance. A huge amount of prog influence is poured into this, with Gers and Smith rocking out beautifully to some emotive strings, but it’s clearly too little too late.
Maiden is beginning to transcend “generic”, nosediving into the realm of predictability. It’s hard to say whether Steve Harris or any other mix of band member participation would have saved THE BOOK OF SOULS, but it’s clearly evident that the band’s changes need to be even more drastic. A full upheaval into progressive rock would do Iron Maiden a whole lot of good.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend