Any Iron Maiden release is eagerly awaited by their throngs of fans world over and ‘The Book of Souls’ was no different. Coming of the back of ‘The Final Frontier’ where Maiden explored a more conceptualised direction rather than a full blooded New Wave of British Heavy Metal path, ‘The Book of Souls’ was awaited with bated breath by Iron Maiden faithful. The Final Frontier picked up from the commercially successful yet old school albums of ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, ‘Dance of Death’ and ‘A Brave New World’, yet there was something amiss and it seems to have been corrected in their latest release.
The album opens up with what could be a potential Maiden anthem. ‘If Eternity Should Fail’ opens with Bruce Dickinson’s eerie, spine chilling, yet powerful, operatic vocals backed by haunting tribalesque sounds. The slow opening breaks into a heavy riff that is quintessentially Maiden. The opening track has everything that we know them for; Dickinson’s vocals, Nicko McBrain’s tight drums, the trio of Murray, Janick Gers and Adrian Smith blooding heavy riffs and Steve Harris’ bass and lyrics. Shifting into their signature ‘galloping’ style, ‘Speed of Light’ is the closest that this album gets to ‘Flight of Icarus’ or ‘The Trooper’. The shortest song on the album, a tad under five minutes, it wouldn’t be amiss on any of the old or new albums, such is its versatility. If bringing the old and new together isn’t enough to satiate the casual fan, the third track, ‘The Great Unknown’ harkens back to the era of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and combines it magnificently with a ‘Dance of Death’ like opening and breaking into something straight out of ‘Brave New World’ yet packing its own unique punch with the trip of Smith, Murray and Gers putting together a bunch of riffs and solos that make a case for being their best work. What follows is one of the many epics on this album. Lasting almost a quarter of an hour, ‘The Red and the Black’ showcases Maiden and at times it feels like they’re showing off; complex sections, instrumental medleys and Dickinson’s soaring vocals pervade throughout the song and I’m sure it’s going to be on my playlist for a long time. ‘When the River Runs Deep’ brings the raw energy that most Maiden albums have (see; Powerslave, Wasted Years, The Wicker Man, you get the drift). The title track shows us just how underrated Janick Gers’ compositional talents are and how indispensable he is to the band. It brings together a slow build up, a fast tempo, quick solos and operatic vocals with mystical lyrics, all in all a true Maiden classic that may, like ‘Journeyman’ on Dance of Death, be forgotten due to the other tracks on the album. You’d be forgiven for wondering why ‘Wasted Years’ was being redone and put on the album till ‘Shadow of the Valley’ turns into a raw, powerful Maiden classic. It’s one for the stadium and it would be surprising if it doesn’t become a staple at their live sets. Preceding it though is ‘Death or Glory’ which might be the weakest track on the album and that too only because of its at times repetitive chorus lines. It still has elements of the old Iron Maiden though and that is always a positive. If that wasn’t enough, ‘Tears of a Clown’ is the band’s tribute to the globally loved Robin Williams, with the band members wondering, ‘How could he be so depressed when he always seemed so happy?’ Sticking with the melancholy tone of the second half, ‘Man of Sorrows’ might have seemed like the perfect end to an already lengthy album. But Dickinson rounds it off with an 18 minute epic, titled ‘Empire of the Clouds’. Recorded on a piano that he won at a charity event, Maiden’s lead vocalist spent months in a soundproof glass box recording what now the Irons’ longest song is. Starting with the a mellow piano introduction, accompanied with Dickinson’s operatic, haunting vocals it slowly moves into a heavier area, with McBrain’s drumming in the background blending in perfectly. 18 minutes pass by without you realising and it’s at the end you realise that all 6 have created a true masterpiece, one that could challenge Dream Theatre’s Octavarium, though they are vastly different epics.
A review of an Iron Maiden album invariably becomes a review of Maiden’s legacy. Coming off the back of what was a relatively disappointing, ‘Final Frontier’, ‘The Book of Souls’ recaptures what we would call the ‘essential Maiden’. Yet, they’ve shown us that they can still evolve, grow and sound even better than they have for the past 40 years. And we thought it couldn’t get better after ‘A Matter of Life and Death’. The Irons’ have scaled new heights with ‘The Book of Souls’ and I’m sure metal fans are hoping for a supporting tour to match the album.