IRON MAIDEN – The Book Of Souls

432425When I was a kid, Iron Maiden single-handed (well, almost anyway) brought heavy metal (back) into my life. I grew up in the 70’s and Sweet and Kiss were my Gods. Until one day when my best friend brought The Ramones into my life and I discovered The Clash. Still listened to Sweet and Kiss, though. That friend brought The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix into my life a little later on, but Ramones, Clash, Sweet and Kiss were all still present. Fast forward a year or so to 1982 and another friend came knocking on my door with Iron Maiden’s The Number Of The Beast under his arm. This, he said, was best shit ever and turn off that damn Stones record because I needed to listen to his album. Now! Apparently, side two was a bit cooler than side one on that LP, so we started with that. “Woe to you O earth and sea…” – Bang! That was it. It took only seconds of the opening riff of the album’s title track to make me realise that he was right – this really was the shit. With Kiss’ 1982 album Creatures Of The Night that came out a bit later on, I had become a metal head and from there it wasn’t a far fetch to pick up stuff like Judas Priest, Saxon, Accept and other heavy metal bands. Stones, Beatles, Ramones and Clash was held back for a few years when I went on my metal quest, but today I love all mentioned bands and Sweet and Kiss are my all time favourites. But Maiden did leave their mark on me and since that day I have loved them dearly. The following records Piece Of Mind (1983) and Powerslave (1984) are masterpieces to me and  Live After Death (1985) is an amazing live record. Somewhere In Time (1986) was a bit of a disappointment at the time, although it has grown on me since and Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son (1988) is also a masterpiece for me. But unfortunately, the Maiden I love ended there. 1990’s No Prayer For The Dying is plain awful and 1992’s Fear Of The Dark only has a few tracks that reminds me of the great band that Iron Maiden once were. But before things got better, they became worse – and then some! Bruce Dickinson left the band and was replaced by Blaze Bayley (ex Wolfsbane), an ok singer, but one that never came close to Dickinson’s vocal range – Blaze has never been and still isn’t a great singer. Why he became Maiden’s new singer is still beyond me. But the fact that the two Bayley-fronted records, The X-Factor (1995) and Virtual IX (1998) were total crap wasn’t only Bayley’s fault, the songs are just plain bad and the production on both records are horrendous.

When Bruce Dickinson’s solo career didn’t exactly make him play arenas and Maiden were on an all time low, the reunion between Dickinson plus guitarist Adrian Smith and Iron Maiden was a no-brainer and when the band went out on their 1999 reunion tour, Iron Maiden were bigger than ever. Just a year later and Maiden had released their reunion album, Brave New World, an album that was a bit too long, had too many songs on it, some of them plain fillers and that’s why that album is somewhat uneven. That said, there are lots of really killer songs there. The follow-up Dance Of Death (2003) wasn’t really bad, but unfortunately too forgettable. To this day, I can’t remember one single song from that record, but every time I play it – which doesn’t happen very often, I must confess – I always think it’s a decent record. A Matter Of Life And Death (2006) is their most progressive and in-depth record to date. At first I didn’t like it at all, but it has grown on me shitloads and now I hold it as one their finest moments ever – easily in par with their golden years. Too bad that its follow-up The Final Frontier (reviewed here) wasn’t even close to its predecessor’s qualities and I still think it’s the Dickinson fronted Maiden’s weakest effort except for No Prayer For The Dying. So, I’m not sure if I had any expectations on this record or not, but Maiden is now a legendary band and they are just as big as bands such as Rolling Stones, U2 and Bruce Springsteen so every time they release anything new, it’s pretty damn interesting.

So what is lurking behind the bland and dull album cover, then? Well, opener “If Eternity Should Fail” sound really astonishing from go and I’m getting a bit of a Somewhere In Time vibe. The song is more on the epic side and the melodies are really catchy, but very Maiden. But for the first time ever, Bruce Dickinson’s voice comes across a bit strained at times. Also, the spoken word outro doesn’t add anything to the song, it’s just annoying. First single “Speed Of Light” has one thing in common with all the first singles from Maiden’s albums after the reunion – it’s weak. But the interesting thing with this tune is that Maiden goes Guns N’ Roses on us. It has a sleazy arrangement and the guitars sound really dirty, but the galloping bass and the drums are all Maiden. The verses are pretty good and promise a lot, but it’s a promise the chorus can’t keep, I’m afraid. Mediocre song. “The Great Unknown” is a bit of a grower, classic Maiden, but it takes a while to get into. But when it sticks, the song is great. The atmospheric intro plus the break with only keyboards, bass and hi-hat is killer! “The Red And The Black” with its 13 minutes remind me of “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner”, but with a bit too much of a sing-along “whoa, whooa, whooa” vocals. The song also has a break that almost border to pop and AOR. It’s relatively short, though. It’s a good song, but it’s a bit too long and actually get a bit dull towards the end.  “When The River Runs Deep” sounds like classic Maiden all the way, but the song doesn’t really go anywhere. The only song on this double album effort with a skip button alert. CD 1 closes with the title track and it is one of the best tracks off this album. It’s heavy, dark, atmospheric and very, very Iron Maiden. Still, there are some arrangements that bring my thoughts to Dickinson’s solo stuff, which is not a bad thing. CD 2 starts with “Death Or Glory”, a straight forward classic Maiden rocker – no fuss, it just hit right on the target – bullseye! I love it! “Shadows Of The Valley” is another classic Maiden metal meltdown. It reminds me of the Powerslave album, but with keyboards – awesome! “Tears Of A Clown” is another one that has a lot of Bruce Dickinson solo over it. It’s a bit more laid back, kind of ballad-like but still every bit a metal tune. The melody is very addictive and catchy as Hell. “The Man Of Sorrows” – Bruce Dickinson actually have a solo track with that name minus the “the” – is a real metal ballad, though. The melody sticks like glue to the brain and come across as one of the album’s finest moments. But it is the closing track “Empire Of The Clouds” that is the talk of the record. A monumental, epic 18-minute musical credited to Bruce Dickinson – who for the first time in Iron Maiden’s history plays the piano. The song starts out real slow, like a big ballad, but with a catchy beat it turns into a classic Maiden twin guitar thing. They speed the song up after a while, but all of a sudden we get a progressive passage that sounds like a new song within the song. If not done right, a thing like this could be pretentious and over blown out of proportion, but luckily, this is done right. Fact is, this is mighty impressive and a masterpiece and this huge song make “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” sound like a Ramones song in comparison – fantastic!

I’m really happy to state that Maiden with this record has released not only the best album since the Dickinson / Smith reunion, but their finest album since Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son and it feels like everything they set out to do with The Final Frontier and failed, they have succeeded with now. Yes, this album is a grower so don’t panic if it doesn’t click right away – give it some time, because there are lots of music to digest here. The shortest tune here is five minutes long and beside the 18-minute opus there is a 13-minute, a 10-minute and a 8-minute songs to name but a few. But Maiden brings that home this time and every listen is more enjoyable than the last which makes me wonder how high I will rate this record in a few months or so. The only thing I’m not really comfortable with here is Kevin Shirley’s production. Don’t get me wrong, I dig Shirley and he’s great with bands such as Black Country Communion, Journey, Europe and Joe Bonamassa, but I just don’t think he’s right for Maiden. Martin Birch (Deep Purple, Black Sabbath) was perfect for Maiden. Shirley’s sound is a bit too dry and doesn’t give Maiden the right dynamics. Oh well, this album is good enough to make Shirley’s production secondary. I really don’t think any Maiden fan will be disappointed by this one. It’s worth every penny.

8/10

Tracklist:

Disc 1:
1. If Eternity Should Fail
2. Speed Of Light
3. The Great Unknown
4. The Red And The Black
5. When The River Runs Deep
6. The Book Of Souls
Disc 2:
1. Death Or Glory
2. Shadows Of The Valley
3. Tears Of A Clown
4. The Man Of Sorrows
5. Empire Of The Clouds

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