All too often, the case with new albums from ageing rock bands demonstrates solid proof of age, as well as a dramatic need to slow down, unplug the electric guitars and discard the spandex trousers of yesteryear. Especially when tying in with their titanic fortieth anniversary of existence.
Fortunately, this is far from the case with Iron Maiden’s new album, ‘The Book of Souls’, which marks the band’s sixteenth studio album. Clocking in at 92 minutes-long, with just 11 tracks, this is also the debut double-album to join Iron Maiden’s extensive back-catalogue. Not forgetting the fact that this is the only record to feature two songs credited solely to frontman Bruce Dickinson, having recently undergone treatment to remove a cancerous tumour from his throat – thus explaining the gap between the release of the band’s former album; 2010’s ‘The Final Frontier’.
Exceeding expectations that have been knocked by some of Maiden’s ageing contemporaries in recent years, the album is certainly the outfit’s finest since 2000’s ‘Brave New World’. In fairness, we have heard the duelling solos, galloping Guitar riffs and Dickinson’s operatic Rock vocals all before, in that sense there’s nothing particularly new in form of style (but that’s no bad omen). Upon ‘The Book of Souls’ the band do, however, sound tighter than ever, offering a raw atmosphere that makes the album sound as though it was almost written in order to be played live. The album does also offer one real surprise: the record’s finale – an eighteen minute epic written by Dickinson that features the frontman’s Pianist skills, for the very first time, as well as marking as the band’s longest track to date (beating ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ from 1984’s ‘Powerslave’).
Elsewhere, an ominous introduction (‘If Eternity Should Fail’) reminds the listener of Dickinson’s dramatic vocals, following the five-year recording break, soon followed by an explosive soundscape of calamitous Guitars and fierce percussion, a sound that very few bands with an average age of 59 can manage to produce and recreate in a live setting. Also showcasing Iron Maiden’s majestic return to form, ‘The Red and The Black’ features an incredible interlude that’s just one of the album’s air-guitar friendly moments, harking back to classics including ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’, unsurprising given that it’s the only cut that’s solely written by founding member Steve Harris, rather uncharacteristically for an Iron Maiden album.
The album’s most memorable climax, however, comes with the album’s title-track, incorporating duelling Guitars that build throughout and sound unbelievably fresh as well as enthrallingly spectacular. Meanwhile, ‘Shadows of the Valley’ is so stooped in the band’s peak song writing formula, the intro sounds as though the track is about to burst into a re-working of classic single ‘Wasted Years.’
Although all approaching British retirement age, Iron Maiden’s ‘The Book of Souls’ is an album that provides a triumphant return, making the wait more than worthwhile, as well as reminding us that Iron Maiden are still the Britain’s strongest Metal Band. It’s already evident that ‘The Book of Souls’ will be a hit with fans, and the yet-to-be announced live show to accompany is set to be nothing short of exceptional.
Words: Jonathan Hatchman