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.