"The Final Frontier", a record most would think that it was the culmination of Iron Maiden's progressive era. How wrong we all were on that note.
Entering "The Book of Souls", a massive double album that would have been released earlier this year, but because of the news about Bruce's cancer tumours it got delayed, just to be sure that Bruce would be completely healthy and ready for another world tour. And even if this album was recorded before they discovered the tumours, it still feels awesome that Bruce sings with the same power, emotion and passion like he always has. It also feels good, but not at least surprising, that the rest of the band performs like they do, like true professionals. Steve Harris' exciting bass lines are loud and clear, just like it should be in a Maiden record, Nico McBrain's drumming never misses a beat, and all of the three guitarists share the workload equally in a record that is loaded with fantastic riffs and solos. The performance is just as you would expect, flawless.
Despite being a whole 16 minutes longer than its predecessor "The Final Frontier", I find "The Book of Souls" and its 92 minutes of playtime is a little easier to swallow down. Because even if the album should obviously be counted as a full on progressive record, with 3 out of the 11 songs going over the 10 minute mark, it has more of the old Maiden in it than what "The Final Frontier" had. I hear a little bit of "Seventh Son of A Seventh Son" here, and I hear a little "Powerslave" there, which does make me smile. It definitely feels like they want too keep evolving their sound, but uses influences from the past in doing so, which is kind of cool.
Just like in "The Final Frontier", it is the shorter and more simplistic songs that are the odd ones out in this record, mostly because they cannot hold up against the shear quality the epics contain, but that certainly does not mean that they outright suck. The first single, "Speed of Light", is up there with "The Wicker Man" as the best first single made by the band since the return of Bruce with its epic chorus and amazing bridge riff, one of the best riffs in the whole album. Then we have "Tears of A Clown", a nice homage to the comedian Robin Williams, whom took his own life over a year ago, but the song itself is kind of meh. A soft melody that you can easily listen too, but it is not something you would be amazed by. And while I do like "Death Or Glory" for bringing some good variety to the album with its fast pace, I cannot let go that the build up is more or less stolen from Black Sabbath's "Never Say Die". Cannot be unheard of, but it is still a great song that gives the second disc a running start. Another stolen bit, if you could say that since they stole it from themselves, is the opening part of "Shadows of The Valley". It is awfully similar to the opening part of "Wasted Years". The rest of the track has nothing to do with the song though, so it is all good (although they do mention "Sea of Madness", another track from my favourite Maiden record, "Somewhere In Time").
Besides these "low" points, "The Book of Souls" holds an amazingly high standard throughout all of the 92 minutes, which is mighty impressive since most bands who tries to make a double album falls through and are forced to fit in some fillers. And while some might find the long length of the songs and the piled up Iron Maiden cliches to be boring, I do not, since there is no other band like them. Not before, not today, and I doubt in the future either.
Judging the two discs individually, I would say that the first disc is the better one, just because it is more cohesive in its sound, while the second disc does not only lack the same quality as disc one, but also feels a little more torn apart in its sense of direction. But the biggest reason to why I enjoy disc one more is that it contains three of the strongest songs of the whole album. The opener "If Eternity Should Fail" has one of the mightiest intros I have ever heard of, and it is backed up with a nice catchy chorus and great playful ending. The title track shows just how good the band is at capturing a civilization into a heavy metal track, making this track the perfect representation for the Mayans.
But the absolute highlight of the album is without a shadow of a doubt "The Red And The Black". When I listened to this album the first time, together with a bunch of other Maiden fans in a listening party, it was obvious that this track was the most popular one, and I totally get why. From the devilish bass intro and the mesmerizing riffs, to the constant tempo changes and the seemingly endless solos, this track is one of the absolute best tracks the band has ever created. But the thing that really takes it up to that Maiden level is the sing along parts, that are very simplistic, but do it together with a group of people (being 10 or 10 000, doesn't matter) and it can shake the Earth. Despite its length of 13 minutes, it should have a rightful place in the set list of the coming tour, and could become a modern "Fear of The Dark".
The first disc is certainly favorable, but the second one has its greats moments as well, especially the most anticipated track of them all. Clocking in at 18 minutes and 1 second, "Empire of The Clouds" is the longest Maiden song ever created, and together with "If Eternity Should Fail", it is the first Maiden track since "Bring Your Daughter... To The Slaughter" that is entirely written by Dickinson. I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed at it when I first heard it, but it has grown immensely on me. This song, like most great epics, is a grower and demands great focus and patience, with its slow and delicate opening (in which Bruce plays the piano!) that eventually gathers momentum the further it goes, only to end in another piano part. A truly stunning ending to an amazing double record.
We all have to realize that no matter how good the band is, and no matter how long they will go on for, Iron Maiden will never create another album as awesome like "Powerslave", "Somewhere In Time" or "Seventh Son...", so you just have to accept it. Once you do, it becomes perfectly clear that "The Book of Souls" is a fucking incredible record that just goes to show how good the band really is. Despite its length and despite it being a double album, it flies by extremely fast when listening through it, just because everything in it is so well done, so thought out, and so god damn orgasmic. This is definitely my favourite Maiden record from the 21st century, and it just makes me so excited for the upcoming tour, and to see what the band can produce in the future. I am still waiting for that full on concept album, do I dare to hope that it will become the band's next album project? I sure hope though that it does not take another five years for it to emerge, but if it holds the same quality as "The Book of Souls", then I will not mind at all. Up the Irons!
Songs worthy of recognition: The Red And The Black, If Eternity Should Fail, The Book of Souls, Death Or Glory, Empire of The Clouds
Rating: 9,5/10 Great Unknowns