Iron Maiden/ The Book Of Souls (BMG, 2015)
Maiden's first studio album in five years is also their first double album of new material. Thirty-five years after their debut album and they are still pushing things to the limit, albeit more in terms of song lengths and ambition than in sheer velocity. These songs are all long and complex, with multiple time changes, peaks and valleys. Clocking in at 92 minutes and some change, this double album flies in the face of the ADD, short attention span of this era and makes me smile because of it.
Like their two previous studio albums, this album is not brickwalled in the mastering department. You have to play it a bit louder than you would a normal CD, but the music sounds bigger and warmer because of it. It's like playing a record or cassette, even when you crank them things sound real, not like bass drums going off like cannons or everything sounding loud and flat because everything has been pushed to the reds. Dynamics have always played a part in Maiden's sound, and after a detour into brickwalling with 2003's Dance Of Death the band learned their lesson and went against the brickwall mastering before it was trendy. The guitars are big and crunchy while retaining their warmth. The drums don't sound like cannons, and the bass doesn't sound like it is trying to force air out of your speakers at all costs.
Opener If Eternity Should Fail starts out slow but quickly builds up and gets up and goes before shifting back to mid-tempo again. Speed Of Light is the lead single off of the album, an upbeat, short and catchy song. The Red And The Black is one of the hardest grooving Maiden songs since Flight Of Icarus. Songs like this show why the band's choice to expand to three guitar players when Adrian Smith returned in 1999 works. Twin harmonies can happen while another guitar and the bass crunch away at the bottom end. While any band with two guitar players can do this in the studio Maiden can pull this off live. When The River Runs Deep is a jam, with the tempo shifting into fourth gear. My favorite era of the band is the first five studio albums and I would love to hear them jam more like this. Your mileage may vary.
Death Or Glory features razor sharp riffing and Dickinson's layered vocal harmonies, which have been scaled back on recent albums. Tears Of A Clown is another winner, the closest thing to a love letter to Led Zeppelin that the band has ever done. The start stop in the chorus are the closest thing that I have heard to Zeppelin in ages. The end of The Man Of Sorrows is fascinating, with textures and atmosphere unlike anything that the band has ever attempted before. Empire Of The Clouds is either ridiculous or awesome depending on where you stand. Pianos, orchestration, endless shifts and clocking in at 18:01, this is dense and takes multiple listen to digest.
This album is Maiden fully indulging their Prog Rock fantasies, even more so than on Seventh Son of A Seventh Son. They have proven that they can make songs that fill up an entire side of an album, so the only other challenge left for them would be to go in the completely opposite direction and do an entire album of four minute songs. Just my two cents.
In any case, The Book Of Souls is the direction for the next two or so years as this album and tour cycles it's way around the globe. Iron Maiden have become The Rolling Stones of Heavy Metal and are unstoppable at this point in time. Even cancer can't beat Iron Maiden. \m/
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4 out of 5.
The OCD zone- This is the part where I go into details about packaging. I am a physical media dinosaur and am proud of it. I opted for the standard consumer edition CD, which came in a standard jewel case with a hinge tray for both CDs. The booklet is fat and features several illustrations and complete lyrics. The Deluxe Edition came as a book, and the triple vinyl boasts more artwork as well. I wanted something that fit on my CD shelf. I am happy with the version that I bought, as jewel cases seem to have become an endangered species.