Friday, August 28, 2015

Iron Maiden : " The Book of Souls"

Iron Maiden is right behind Black Sabbath when it comes being one of  the most revered classic metal bands  of all  time. This is for good reason as they have they have maintained tons of integrity over the years even if they did break down and use keyboards and made the poor choice of trying to replace Bruce with Blaze, line up changes and tweaks to nuances in there sound aside , in the bigger picture of their legacy, they have never really whored themselves out by appearing on American Idol sadly something Rob Halford can not say. So for me the bar is held really high when it comes to this band, and if you have any questions as to my devotion to the band all I need say is I have the " Number of the Beast" album cover tattooed on my left forearm ...what do you got ? So I have been upping the Irons since 1984.

Going into this album the trepidation I had in regards to how it would uphold their legacy was due to the Dickinson's much publicized battle with throat caner and how that effect his voice. Then there was the cowbell infected lead single off the album "Speed of Light" that might have quelled my fears of will Bruce still have it and replaced them with will this album be filled with cheesy rock n roll? Once I got past  the synths the band once claimed they would never use which open the new album and focused in on Bruce flexing his invincible Iron pipes, I was able to breath easy at the very Maiden gallop  of "If Eternity Should Fall".  The the first thing that came to mind is musically the song would not be out of place on "Somewhere in Time".  A common theme with this song and many other is the tendency to sprawl out and leave a labyrinth of  guitar harmonies , solos and progged out bridges. When it comes to Iron Maiden I am more than ok with that. You know how thrilled  I am about the rock n roll cowbell that leads off "Speed of Light" , which doesn't feature the band's best lyrics, but I would not go as far as to say they are just punching the clock.

After the single comes "the Great Unknown" where you might begin to notice the band is utilizing a broader scope of guitar sounds. Embracing a darker melodic sensibility recalling the moodier moments from "Fear of the Dark"before bring down a more satisfying chug. It also is worth mentioning that given their ages we might need to accept the fact  this could very well be the last studio album . By the time I got to the bass chords that lead into "the Red and the Black" showing  even Steve Harris was willing experiment tonally, I became willing to accept this album as a fitting swan song. I would rather this be the end than for them to put about two or three embarrasing album like Paul McCartney keeps insisting on. "The Red and the Black" finds the band  galloping into the kinds of riffs and melodies that power metal bands have been biting off of for years. It reminds me of "Alexander the Great". There are some choruses of woah woahs , before wandering off into another proggy solo section where the reaffirm that they put the epic in metal.

With the more rock feel to the riff  leading into "When the River Runs Deep".Bruce drops down into his huskier "The Evil That Men Do" mid-range. Aside from "Speed of Light" this is the only other song that doesn't reach as deep into their well of inspiration.  But even Maiden just dialing it in is better than the collective whole of  Swedish metal has been able to accomplish. The title track closes the first part of the album, for people who still buy albums this is being sold as a double album. The title track is one of the album's heavier songs with a creeping riff that is darker than much of their more recent material. This is also one of the album's heavier songs.  The tight riffing forms a pretty good groove thanks to Nicko's solid playing. Bruce proves he can still hit the notes in his chest register without sound too strained. They know how to pull off the ten minute song, because it wasn't until the seven minute mark that I checked to see how far into it I was. They do not achieve the rapid fire attack that a song like "Aces High" has but inject a fair amount of energy into " Death or Glory". Lyrically though it does give the battle field perspective that "Aces high" and " the Trooper " explore.

There is no way you can honestly deny the likeness the opening riff to "Shadows of the Valley" has with "Wasted Years". They make you forget this by jerking you back into the classic gallop."Tears of a Clown" is not a Smokey Robinson cover, but a mid paced  galloping ode to a clown that stays the same. Don't let the Juggaloos get wind of this. Around the four minute mark this is the most straight forward song in fact the more syncopated riff reminds me a little of White Snake. This is one of the rare albums where the guitar solos actually add to it. The theme of sadness continues with "The Man of Sorrows". This one has more of an arena rock power ballad quality until it speeds up at the two minute mark. Its also the first place I notice effects on Bruce's voice smoothing out a few notes. But the song is well written and holds up to their post-Fear of the Dark work which is all I expect from them and so far they have already given moments that have made me happily surprised.

The album closes with the longest song the band has written "Empire of the Clouds" which is ambitious for many reasons. Bruce handles the piano parts. He is no Rick Wakeman or even Tori Amos, but it works for what they are ding which is layering a string section over it. This is their "Bohemian Rhapsody" as starts as dramatic ballad with folk inflections. The guitar chord don't power in until the four minute mark. While it's very different for Iron Maiden it still bears many of  trademark Maiden intervals both vocally and from the guitar voicings. It has a narrative that is about another odyssey not unlike "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner". The guitar line comes in at the eight minute mark is a little too happy for me. The pay off when they start rocking back into it at the 13 minute mark isn't a big as that on "Rhyme" . It's proggier and not bad by any means.

Have they done better ? Yes, is this on the level of the albums that came before "Fear of the Dark"? No the bar is incredibly high for these guys. But they never outright miss the mark, some moments are just more inspired than others and truth be told the least impressive song on the album is the single below. I'll give this one a 9.5 and see how it grows on me. I'm not going to tell you to round it up because unless you too have an Iron Maiden tattoo, then I question if you are as devoted to the band as I am.


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