At this point, the most troublesome thing about covering new music from Iron Maiden deals with the fact that, clear to their most ardent fans, the band does not really write with immediacy as a primary goal; they haven’t done so in many years. Such a thing is not particularly well-suited for the way music is generally consumed, digested and voided in 2015, which is, to put it equally summarily, quickly with a capital QUICKLY!
Here we are, seven days after the landing of The Book of Souls and already we’ve seen the full spectrum of opinions from experts and neophytes alike, across essentially every online platform. Hell, the sun didn’t even set on the album’s release date and people were already ranking the record amongst the band’s full catalog. Really? After less than a 24hr kinship? It’s this sort of “ready, fire, aim” mentality that inspires people to tune out of social media on Iron Maiden Day because many of us simply want to… You know, listen.
Nevertheless, we’ve become a hair-trigger culture bent on not only having our cake and eating it too, but getting that cake delivered in under 30 minutes. Not even a band as recognized and celebrated as Iron Maiden is exempt from the chop, chomp and chuck mentality of today’s music consumer, and perhaps they shouldn’t be. Patience really is only for those who wait.
But it’s almost as if the band came into this record with a grinning awareness of all of this and chose to address the current mindset in the most fittingly cheeky, Iron Maidenish way possible: Give the people (fans and opponents alike) EVERYthing they want, and deliver it at an extravagant “Victorian banquet fit for a King” sort of level. You want some Iron Maiden to talk about? WE’LL BLOODY WELL GIVE YOU IRON FECKEN MAIDEN UP THE WAZOO.
Albums getting too long? WHAM: Ninety three minutes of purple-nurpling for all the non-believers.
Want epics? There’s three of ‘em here that create a 43-minute album all on their own, with enough melodic leads to choke a horse that inexplicably eats melodic leads instead of oats. (P.S. Hail Yngwie Malmsteed.)
Like Maiden with a shade more darkness? The deliciously morbid closing minute of “If Eternity Should Fail” is grimmer than Headline News on the top of every hour… Almost.
Prefer things a bit more upbeat? Four bouncy numbers that emphasize the band’s ability to hook with a swinging chorus get thrown in as well.
And “Empire of the Clouds,” the band’s longest conclusion to date, serves as a most fitting end to this ridiculously gluttonous feast because it gives fans the sort of swirling, epic finale they love, but it does so in a way that’s fairly atypical to the Iron Maiden standard, thanks to fact that it’s primarily built around Bruce Dickinson’s rudimentary (albeit catchy) piano skills.
By the time the final note lands, it feels a bit like that terminal wafer-thin mint dropped on Monsieur Creosote’s tongue…
Eddie alla Carbonara® hanging from the rafters.
How the metal community at large chooses to react to all of this – all ninety three minutes of it – mostly depends on which group of three you happen to fall into: 1) The unabashedly uninterested, 2) The fans, or 3) The super-fans.
The Book of Souls for Those Who Oppose Iron Maiden
Maiden has been sporting a fairly impenetrable design for the last 20 years. The songs are long and exceedingly melodramatic, and the band remains (thankfully) stubborn about infusing any sort of modernization beyond the elements that have always cemented their trademark sound. Outside of the smidgeon of novelty by way of Bruce’s fingers tickling the ivories and some bits of lofty orchestration, The Book of Souls does little to change this. In fact, all the factors that drive opponents up a tree are pushed to the Nth degree with this record. As such, if you go into The Book of Souls as a non-believer, these songs will do absolutely nothing to sway your stubborn mindset. However, your discomfort in seeing so many people excited about this release is duly noted, and we’re all very impressed with how cleverly you’ve managed to let everyone know how little this all means to you.
The Book of Souls for Fans of Iron Maiden
For a fan of Iron Maiden, the thought of complaining about an Iron Maiden album sounding like Iron Maiden seems absurd, and it is. The Book of Souls, by the very definition of being a 93 minute album, delivers an excess of essential Iron Maiden elements. Bruce continues to wisely emphasize the lower register and sounds absolutely fantastic, which is fortunate, given all the catchy choruses and Kevin Shirley’s tendency to push his voice higher than everything else in the overall mix. Steve’s exuberant, rumbling four-stringing delivers a wealth of the record’s overall heft; leads mingle, dash or lift you into the clouds at basically every turn; and one need only close their eyes and a vision of Nicko’s familiar, open-mouthed grin will quickly appear as he gingerly peppers those cymbals from beginning to end. It’s all here in the instinctively mid-paced, “Melodic-er Than Thou” model that’s been dominating the modern era of the band, and how you choose to react to it depends on just how much of that “old Maiden magic” is still left pumping in your veins.
Symbolic of the times, a good portion of the record has a surprisingly dark flavor, not just in the music – the bleak closing to “If Eternity Should Fail,” the whole of “The Great Unknown” and “The Man of Sorrows” (the beginning of which has a nice Mercyful Fate/“Melissa” touch) – but within the overall lyrical content as well. In this regard, the closest resemblance probably falls to 2006’s A Matter of Life and Death.
But the addition of the four livelier, infectious numbers really helps to lift the mood, even if the prevailing story arc remains fairly grim. The already unveiled “Speed of Light” aside, “When the River Runs Deep,” “Death or Glory” and “Shadows of the Valley” all have more pep in their step, and if you don’t eventually find yourself singing some of these choruses out of the blue, particularly the monkey business inside “Death or Glory,” the sun may have finally set on your 35 year Maiden vacay. Fold up those tiny drink umbrellas and don’t let the door hit ye where the Good Lard split ye.
The epics are superb. As I mentioned, “Empire of the Clouds” travels new ground, but the fantastic title track and “The Red and the Black” both do a wonderful job of exaggerating the swell & ebb that’s typical of contemporary classic Maiden yarns such as “Dream of Mirrors,” “Paschendale” and “When the Wild Wind Blows.” Bruce’s vocals are dramatic to the point of popping buttons, melodic lead play goes balls-deep, and those sweeping keys swirl in just the right amount of added texture to the backdrop to make these shoe-ins for theatrical crowd-rousers from the stage.
No doubt, many of the more casual (and not-so-casual) Maiden fans will bark about the production that continues to soften the riff. Additionally, editing the length of essentially every song is an obvious target, particularly considering the fact that the overall pace rarely breaks beyond a slow-to-mid-paced trot.
The Book of Souls for Iron Maiden Diehards
The dreaded diehards…
Whenever someone mentions the name “Iron Maiden,” we do our best to remind everyone within earshot (and screenshot) that they’re undoubtedly the best band on the planet. And they are, based simply on the fact that they continue to create compelling heavy metal better than any other band that’s been in the game as long as they have. Hell, they do it better than most bands more than half their age. Yeah, we’re those kind of fanatics.
We’re the ones who have a hundred different stories about how Iron Maiden changed our lives for the better, and we never grow tired of telling those stories — eye-rolls be damned. The simple fact that we still get to hear new music from these dudes after 35 long years is something we enjoy celebrating at the top of our lungs, and we really don’t care if that enthusiasm clouds our judgement at times.
Our passion and devotion go well beyond simply buying the albums. We do whatever it takes to see the band play as often as humanly possible, because we really don’t know when it’ll all come to an end. We live in fear of the mere thought of The End.
Diehards understand that the full significance of this band is fully realized only after seeing them play, and as close to the stage as is financially feasible. Once you’ve experienced the true spectacle in the arena – the mingling of like-minded nutters, the absurd scope of the merchandise, the level of civilized and uncivilized celebration from all ages and all walks of life, and the way the whole “substance of Iron Maiden” gets delivered from the stage – that’s when it truly begins to imprint on a person’s DNA. And the longer you’ve been trekking that path, the deeper the etching carves into the crux of “you.”
For us, unless the band releases an album featuring Rod Smallwood reading Atlas Shrugged through a kazoo (and to be honest, some diehards might even find merit there), we will find things to LOVE about new Iron Maiden material.
Fortunately, The Book of Souls, once again, throws down the goods. A flood of goods. The sort of goods that sustain the faith and unquestionably deliver that comforting blanket we’ve grown so used to wrapping ourselves in when we need an escape. Sure, the band’s methods and how it’s delivered are brazenly familiar, but we really wouldn’t have it any other way.
The diehard hears the delicate lead interplay around 4:45 into “Shadows of the Valley” and how emotional the song becomes once those “oh-oh-oohs” hit toward the close and can’t help but get excited about experiencing it with his or her friends amidst a sea of fanatics.
We understand that Iron Maiden is a gift, and we fully intend to celebrate that reward to the absolute bitter end.
The diehard will love The Book of Souls and cannot wait to hear what’s next.