Album Review: The Book of Souls by Iron Maiden
Posted by RiffRaff
If there’s a single band that personifies heavy metal more than Iron Maiden, fill me in. Metallica? Lars is a dweeb who sues his fans… and Lulu and angry saints. Slayer? They have become caricatures of themselves. Black Sabbath? Sharon Osborne and 1984-1990 happened. Judas Priest? Close, but lack that little something special. No, there isn’t a band out there that can out metal Iron Maiden and after 30 years of inhabiting the embodiment of heavy metal they still continue to be metal as fuck. For example, while recording The Book of Souls, the bands 16th studio album, Bruce Dickinson was suffering from a cancer on his tongue he reportedly got from kissing his wife in an Australian manner one too many times. He went on to record his parts on the record with golf ball sized tumors in his tongue and throat. He then kicked that cancer’s ass. Metal as fuck? I think so.
Because he wasn’t singing when he was at 100%, while still excellent, you can hear that Bruce is really pushing himself. That imperfection is what makes Iron Maiden so perfect and so metal. What is at the core of ‘having a metal state of mind’ more so than determination? Even when lambasted for records like No Prayer for the Dying and Virtual XI Steve Harris and Co. kept their cool, improved themselves, and kept on delivering countless amazing shows and a stack of great songs and albums. With a string of albums that were pretty damn good but not up to the exceedingly high Iron Maiden standards, the English gents, determined as ever, rise to the challenge and attempt to deliver their biggest album to date.
Unfortunately, The Book of Souls isn’t quite up there with classics like Seventh Son, Number of the Beast, Powerslave, or Somewhere in Time. But if someone told me that they get on with the new record more than Piece of Mind or Brave New World I wouldn’t be able to find any objection to that. In fact, The Book of Souls is easily their best record since the reunion on Brave New World and equally as good, if not slightly better.
Composed of just over an hour and a half of music, The Book of Souls, is a marathon of a record. Jam packed with every element that one would love about Iron Maiden there is something of note here to appease even the most jaded of Iron Maiden fans. Being the best album opener since ‘The Wicker Man’, ‘If Eternity Should Fail’ hearkens cheesy 80s synths while Bruce croons about souls before dropping into a classic Iron Maiden gallop complete with Steve Harris’ punchy bass and a triumphant chorus. Huge solo sections packed with a triple attack of guitars complete this one as your standard (and by standard, I mean outstanding) Iron Maiden tune and can easily see them opening every show on their tour with it.
Speaking of songs that will translate well live, there are quite a few of them on here. ‘Death or Glory’ and ‘Shadows of the Valley’ are corkers with huge guitars and singalong style choruses that finally click unlike their attempts on ‘El Dorado’ or ‘Different World’. Fans of Somewhere in Time will particularly love these songs as well as ‘When the River Runs Deep’ as they carry that same, upbeat, bright feel. Lead single, complete with amazing video, ‘Speed of Light’ is a driving tune that reminds me of their punkier days crossed with the rock focused sound of Fear of the Dark.
‘The Great Unknown’ and the dedicated to Robin Williams ‘Tears of a Clown’ are a pair solid standard post-reunion, mid tempo tunes. Good, but I wouldn’t complain if they were cut, particularly the former. The same could be said could be said for the ballad ‘The Man of Sorrows’. Decent song, but really hurts the pacing, especially when you factor the next three songs I’m going to talk about.
When Iron Maiden said they were going big for this record, they weren’t kidding. Three ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’-sized epics ranging from ten to eighteen minutes are included on the album, and one of them even reaches the phenomenal heights of Coleridge inspired beast (maybe surpassing, time will tell). First up there’s ‘The Red and The Black’. While exploding into a cyclone of groovy riffs and rapid fire vocals not unlike the famous rime, it doesn’t quite reach the same levels. What it does have is some always inspiring ‘whoooaaaahhhooaooaoawhooaoaooao’ sections and interesting progression. We also get to hear a good long section of the now classic triple attack of Smith, Murray, and Gurs going batshit crazy taking turns trying to outwail each other; an easy high point of the album.
The next big song is the title track. After a Flamenco-ish acoustic intro the very underrated ‘Mother Russia’ came right to my mind with its stiff, heavy marching riff, but this time Aztec inspired. This is a headbanger as Iron Maiden have ever written and ‘Arry really shines. The chorus is memorable and even more are the leads. Fun song, but I think it could have been edited a couple of minutes and have had even more of an impact.
Third is the holy shit song of The Book of Souls. While solid, the songs on the album tended to be rather predictable, especially for Iron Maiden fanatics like myself. Closing things off is song about the R101 airship crash in 1929, ‘Empire of the Clouds’. I’m going out on a limb and assuming that it’s common knowledge that Bruce Dickinson is a flight enthusiast. Here he really puts his passion of soaring in the clouds to music. Starting as a ballad complete with Bruce playing piano the song builds and builds. Violins, marching drums, bells; it all just continues to rise and rise into the atmosphere as Bruce recounts the story of the tragic voyage. And then, when it hits mach speeds, fuckin’ A man, chills man. Chills. Then, it grows even bigger as horns, grandiose solos, turbulent prog jams, and soaring vocals take the passing souls to their final destination. As the landing gear kicks in and the song winds down I dare you to try to find a dry eye in the house. It’s been decades since Maiden have written a song this good and it pleases me greatly that the old dogs can still learn some new tricks.
So, while a tad too long and in need of editing here and there as well a bit predictable, The Book of Souls is a triumphant Iron Maiden album. They once again prove why they are my all time favorite band, the most loved band in all of heavy metal, and that they can still kick ass even as they gracefully age. This record gives me the hope that they still have one more absolute classic record in them as they nearly reached it here. Maiden fans will definitely be pleased regardless of what side of the camp they’re on. There’s a bit of something for all. Highly recommended. Peace Love, and UP THE IRONS!!!!! 4.75
P.S. Definitely get the Collector’s Edition of the record if not just for the larger size artwork. I’m a huge fan of Derek Rigg’s Eddies (I even have one embedded into a large portion my skin), but this guy Mark Wilkinson, has drawn some the best non-Riggs artwork yet.