Monday, September 21, 2015

Iron Maiden- The Book of Souls album review

 Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls
Iron Maiden
The Book of Souls
Rating: **** (4.25-4.30)

It was in April 1980 when British heavy metal band Iron Maiden unleashed their self-titled debut album. 35 years and several line-ups later, Iron Maiden are still together performing before their rabid fan base. In this year of 2015, Maiden have released their sixteenth album. The album, The Book of Souls, is their first since 2010’s The Final Frontier. Personally, I found The Final Frontier difficult to listen to: the album’s mixing was distracting, there was some filler and the album’s runtime of 76 minutes didn’t help either. When I first heard that Maiden were releasing their first two-disc studio album- with a runtime of 92 minutes, I was skeptical. However, I listened to the album on Spotify the day it was released and I have to admit I was impressed: The Book of Souls is a damn good album. While it is a long album, all of the album’s eleven tracks are worth listening to.

            The album’s opener, “If Eternity Should Fail,” begins with the sounds of synthesizers before the band gets down to business and up the irons. In this song, frontman Bruce Dickinson sings of humanity’s downfall in this heavy track. Dickinson’s voice may sound hoarse at first but throughout the album, Dickinson gives a solid performance. Even as he approaches his 60s, the man knows how to take care of voice.

After the opening track, it’s a whole musical journey with Maiden. With two discs, The Book of Souls is an album full of Maiden goodness. In some cases, casual music listeners may think that Iron Maiden are one of those bands that play songs that all sound the same. This isn’t the case with The Book of Souls, as it’s an album that has Maiden interpreting their sounds in many different ways. Also with a title like The Book of Souls, one could approach the album as an actual book of souls: the eleven songs could be thought of as chapters in a book, each with something different to offer.

For a few songs, it seems that Maiden are showing their influences. The Deep Purple-esque rocker “Speed of Light” and the progressive metal sounding title track are examples of this. The former is the lead single for the album while the latter features Yes-like acoustics at the beginning and the end of the song (similar to “Roundabout”). Head banging tunes come out of heavy duty “When the River Runs Deep” and the hard-hitting “Death or Glory.” While the band might be recognized as a heavy metal band, Iron Maiden can even pull off heart-felt ballads. “Tears of a Clown” is an example of this. According to Bruce Dickinson in an interview, the song was interestingly inspired by the suicide of comedian Robin Williams last year. The song is well written, with strong lyrics that wonder why someone so funny would succumb to depression.   

For a double album, there are quite a number of epics that go over ten minutes. Of them, “The Red and the Black” might be my personal favorite: it begins with a flamenco-like guitar solo before it becomes heavy. The songs has this “Rimes of the Ancient Mariner” feel and the “whoa” vocal chants are a nice touch. The album even ends with an epic- the 18-minute “Empire of the Clouds. With poetic lyrics and an orchestra playing in the background, it closes out the album perfectly. 

The Book of Souls is a great album from Iron Maiden. Ever since CDs kicked off, artists have been able to make albums that go over 50 minutes. Some are able to do this well while others could’ve cut a few songs off the final product. Even today, some artists will continue to release albums that have a runtime of an hour or more. Iron Maiden felt the material they were working on was so strong; they had to release it all on one album. Maiden really pulled this off, although it isn’t too surprising: all six members in Maiden are excellent musicians. For a band that’s been together for almost four decades, Iron Maiden still have it. Need proof? Just listen to The Book of Souls

Monday, September 14, 2015

Hollywood Vampires album review

 Hollywood Vampires - Hollywood Vampires
Hollywood Vampires
Hollywood Vampires
Rating: *** 1/2

In the 1970s, there was a group of rock stars that would hang out every once in a while, trying to out-drink each other. They called themselves the Hollywood Vampires. The drinking club consisted of rock legends such as Keith Moon, Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson and John Lennon The president of the group was shock rocker Alice Cooper. Nearly four decades later, Cooper is one of the few surviving members of the group. Now in 2015, Cooper and many of his musician friends such as Joe Perry, Dave Grohl, Paul McCartney, Brian Johnson, Slash, Joe Walsh and even actor Johnny Depp have teamed up to make a star-studded tribute album to the fallen Vampires, as well as other rock legends Cooper was friends with. The album, Hollywood Vampires, is a neat salute to his friends. While many of the songs on here are a little too faithful to the originals, Cooper and company have put a lot of work into this project.

            The album opens with a narration by the late Christopher Lee, which leads into an original song “Raise the Dead.” It’s a great rocking tune with pretty good lyrics. Alice’s vocals are pretty solid too. From there on until the end, the album is a classic rock musical journey. Now let’s face it: cover albums are not very original. Given how Alice is known for making great conceptual albums, the idea to cover his fallen friends’ songs is pretty damn clever. Cover tunes can be done in two different ways: you can play the song faithfully or you can give your own take on the song (ex. Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help From My Friends” or even X’s “Soul Kitchen”). For Hollywood Vampires, most of the songs follow along the lines of the former. Still, some of the covers here are worth listening to. “My Generation” follows the original but has this punk rock feel throughout while “Break On Through” has a cool twin lead guitar lick added to it.  However, the covers of John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” don’t offer anything new.

            Still, I can say I honestly like some of the covers here. Being a fan of Badfinger, the cover of “Come and Get It” featuring Alice and Paul McCartney (the song’s original writer) is good fun. While McCartney’s vocals do sound a little worn out, he gives a good performance of the song and it serves as a nice tribute to Pete Ham and Tom Evans (and even drummer Mike Gibbons). Alice’s take on T. Rex’s “Jeepster” is refreshing to hear and almost a different take on the song: the production on here is bigger and it’s played in a slightly different way. AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson shares lead vocals with Alice on “Whole Lotta Love” and “School’s Out/Another Brick in the Wall.” Both tracks are strong, the latter being a piece that Alice has played live in his recent shows. Hearing the two songs mesh together is nice. However, it’s the cover of the Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park” that I find to be the best of the covers. Why? It’s a completely different take on the song. While the original was a simple acoustic ditty, Alice and company have been able to transform it into a fast-paced modern sounding track. It really is impressive. The album ends with a comedic loungey number “Dead Drunk Friends.” It’s a great song and it’s very Alice: he takes a subject as dark as alcoholism and makes it humorous.”

            Hollywood Vampires is simply a fun album. In all honesty, we really didn’t need to hear these songs re-recorded and could’ve stuck with the originals. Still, you can’t help but applaud Alice and company for putting so much work into an album like this. From now until the end of the year, Alice will be performing shows as the Hollywood Vampires with Joe Perry and Johnny Depp in the band. Could this lead to a tour or even a second album? It seems unlikely, given how long it took for this album to come out. For now, we can enjoy this new album.