Released Via Parlophone Records
Genre: Heavy Metal/NWOBHM
1. If Eternity Should Fail
2. Speed Of Light
3. The Great Unknown
4. The Red And Black
5. When The River Runs Deep
6. The Book Of Souls
7. Death Or Glory
8. Shadows Of The Valley
9. Tears Of A Clown
10. The Man Of Sorrows
11. Empire Of The Clouds
Any time that a band of the highest tier of the Metal hierarchy releases a new album it's an event. A milestone of the year in question. An occasion that is heralded under the banners of expectation and nervous worry. Will the band release a dud? Can they still have the old magic after such a storied career? Bands such as Black Sabbath, Metallica, Judas Priest, Slayer, Megadeth and Slipknot have all come under the scrutiny of these questions. For the last while, I've been hearing all the same questions and getting all those same thoughts in regards to this year's big one. It's arguable that Iron Maiden are the biggest Metal band on the face of the Earth. Shout Metallica all you like, but Iron Maiden have never lost the faith of Metal fans, nor done anything to deserve such. This band has easily been the most constant force in this genre's arsenal.
It's no small point to add that 'The Book Of Souls' is, in fact, a double album. This only adds extra pressure onto the release. A band releasing a double-album so long into a career? One may think it to be madness, or note that a band like Maiden would have more to lose than other bands if they fucked it up. Risky business?
Not a damn chance. Constantly these days you hear the phrase "Don't believe the hype!". In the case of 'The Book Of Souls', you'd better believe it!
The record starts with 'If Eternity Should Fail', which sees a minute and a half of a lone woodwind instrument playing a haunting tune as Bruce Dickinson shows off his eternally impressive pipes. When the song starts properly, we get a treat of mid-paced Maiden in full swing. Complete with a catchy, sing-along chorus, constant hooks and a galloping riff. It's what Maiden fans love and it's done well within the structure of an epic and ominous song. Guitar solos fly from Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers and already you feel relief that Iron Maiden have returned with not a note to waste.
Next up is the first single, 'Speed Of Light'. Very much classic Maiden in structure, immediacy and tone. It screams "Live favourite" at the top of its voice and has the quality to substantiate its own boldness. 'The Great Unknown' sees the frontman deliver a narrative introduction that recalls the eeriness of 'Dance Of Death', and he does so with vigour. Rest assured, Bruce's voice has lost none of its power. However simple it may sound, Nicko McBrain's drumming seems to hold all the elements of Iron Maiden's efforts together at the seams. It's perhaps the simplicity that is most endearing about Nicko's drumming, considering the usual kind of competitiveness you find in the fields of technicality and speed these days.
'The Red And The Black' is one of three songs that comes in at over ten minutes in length. Whilst the band are no strangers to long songs, one could be forgiven for imagining that delivering such long songs yet again risks pushing their luck. However, the track is so immersive and enjoyable that any criticisms would be little more than nit-picking for the sake of it. Hearing the guitar and the singing utilizing the same melody in unison is a high point during which you cannot help but grin as you realise that Maiden still have the ability to make your fist go high. Even the lengthy instrumental section keeps you at attention due to the sheer skill of the musicians involved.
This is truly an album that carries itself onwards and upwards towards more and more climaxes. 'Tears Of A Clown', which was reportedly written about the late comedian and actor Robin Williams, is a moving number that carries all the Maiden hallmarks and proves yet again that the band can write great songs that are lower key, offering up a different kind of energy to what the classic Maiden fan may be used to.
That said, it is the mighty closer 'Empire Of The Clouds' that delivers what may well be the most expertly written and performed song of this band's illustrious career. It is also the longest (Yes, longer than 'Rime Of The Ancient Mariner'!). Entirely written by Bruce Dickinson; this epic, piano-led track tells of the tragedy of the R101 Airship crash in 1930. It does this with arguably some of the most inherently human lyrics that the band have published since 'Paschendale' from 'Dance Of Death'. There is no better way to describe the song than by mirroring Steve Harris' own comments; that it is a masterpiece. Remember the Nightwish track 'The Greatest Show On Earth' that ended their 'Endless Forms Most Beautiful' album earlier this year? 'Empire Of The Clouds' seems like the result of Iron Maiden telling Nightwish to step back whilst they top it.
If one were to ask where this album sits in terms of the Iron Maiden discography, I would say that in sound and writing style it is a cross breed between 'Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son' and the more recent 'Dance Of Death'. It is most certainly the best record that this band has released in the 21st Century, which is still saying something. Best Maiden album? That subject itself will be debated until the end of days.
Album of the year? Unless Zeus, Thor, Lucifer and Anubis form a supernatural metal band to crush all others, you can bet that it is.
Eddie would probably beat the shit out of those guys anyway!