This ‘Iron Maiden’ article was written by Josh Hummerston, a GIGsoup contributor
Sixteen albums into a lengthy and prosperous career it may be sensible to assume that like many bands of Iron Maiden’s caliber, that they may have become troublingly complacent churning out bleak replicas of a much revered yet dated back-catalogue, all in the name of earning a quick buck. With ‘The Book of Soul’s’ however, it becomes pleasantly apparent that the veteran metallers relay no intention of treading the same territory twice, as they eagerly explore an array of musical avenues that allow for a diverse and ever expanding sound.
The speckling of progressive elements amongst eighteen minute long epic ballads evidences the bands defiance in the wake of purists who condemn diversification or expansion of their sound, confidently displaying Iron Maiden’s commendable determination to further a musical evolution that has underscored them as the British pioneering heroes of metal throughout their forty years career.
Despite an inclination to push musical boundaries, the band haven’t forgotten their roots. On first track ‘If Eternity Shall Fail’ they proficiently parade a refreshingly invigorated classic Maiden rendition that offers all the galloping guitars and seamless musicianship that has become synonymous with the band. ‘The Red and Black’ unveils Iron Maiden’s nod to their NWOBHM (New wave of British Heavy Metal) roots as the guitar led melodies and powerful vocals take centre stage. This track particularly highlights the remarkable capabilities of guitar wielding trio Adrian Smith, Dave Murray and Jannick Gers. Amongst a plethora of forgettable albums and less traditional Maiden sounds, it’s easy to understate the importance and enduring significance of the group to generations of rock and metal guitarists around the world. In one later section of the song, guitar’s weave in and out harmoniously amongst one another, showcasing the spectacular and nuanced stylizations of each individual guitarist, whilst still not detracting anything from the composition. The song as well as much of the album may on the surface feel overindulgent at first, as thundering verses and catchy choruses soon give way to five minute long instrumental sections that meander through a series of time changes and alternating tempos. Fortunately Iron Maiden possess a rare talent to keep every second of every song technically mesmerizing, ensuring that the listener is not only entertained but constantly guessing what’s coming next. The masterful drumming of Nicko Mcbrain and steady backbeat provided by bassist Steve Harris ultimately compliment the guitarists’ technicality and make for intriguing and intricate compositions. Again, a likeness to the archetypal Iron Maiden sound of the eighties arises, but fortunately it upholds a renewed and authentic delivery, instead of an old and tired formula.
Lush texturing as well as precise and intricate song structuring throughout help to generate an album that conveys immense depth and displays a capacity to explore an array of different sounds and instrumentation that ultimately lends to a truly exciting and joyously unpredictable listen. ‘The Great Unknown’ is reminiscent of 1992’s ‘Fear of the Dark’ and opens with similarly tentative and soft guitar that inevitably builds up to a crashing crescendo amongst orchestration and enigmatic vocals. In the face of Bruce Dickinson’s recent encounter with tongue cancer earlier on in the year, the album seems to have suffered nought, as his theatrical vocal stylings come to almighty fruition and remain as potent and commanding as ever. Dickinson displays his consistently impressive vocal acrobatics as he bellows ‘Death or Glory’ on the track of the same name, ideally conceptualizing Iron Maiden’s unrelenting mission to conquer the world of heavy metal. Again, at times, some of the lyrical content of the album may sound insistently outlandish, but at the same time eccentricity and musical flamboyancy are how Maiden earned their namesake. Lyrics such as “I AM THE NCEROPOLIS” may on paper, appear absurd and quite frankly unintentionally amusing, but in actual implementation, Iron Maiden take such ludicrousness in their stride, furthering their already incomprehensible charm.
The closing track ‘Empire of the Clouds’ ,lasts an imposing 18 minutes, showcasing the bands admirable attitude in writing music for the sake of the music itself, resisting the temptation to write several smaller ‘crowd pleasers’ that would otherwise make for a more accessible and easier listen. The track itself is a piano led ballad that details the collision of the R101 airship during its maiden voyage overseas in 1930. The track, written solely by Dickinson ambles gracefully into a more laidback but nevertheless Iron Maiden sounding epic, encapsulating the versatility of the band as a whole as piano plays off against soaring guitars and crashing drums.
With an enduring interest to test the limits of their writing capabilities, Iron Maiden may have just created their most recent masterpiece. The album itself lasts over ninety minutes and explores various textures, dynamics and sounds whilst at the same time nods back to their NWOBHM roots, inciting a gloriously indulgent and gratifying listen. With this year marking the fortieth anniversary of Iron Maiden It may be tempting to assume that the best is behind them and that they may never be able to ascertain the same musical magnitude that they once possessed. Whilst the assumption may ring true for many bands, Iron Maiden have managed to produce the quintessential classic metal album of recent times in what many may consider to be their twilight years. Once again, Iron Maiden have inevitably proven themselves as the undisputable heroes and saviours of British Heavy metal … again.
‘The Book of Souls’ is out now on Parlophone Records