(2015) Iron Maiden: The Book of Souls

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Artist: Iron Maiden
Album: The Book of Souls
Released: 4.09.2015
Label: Parlophone, Sanctuary Copywrites/BMG

 

Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls

Ah, my first album review of my first love. If you’ve read any of my personal stuff by this point, you’ve probably figured out that Iron Maiden was the band that got me into metal. I’ve had reasonably high hopes for The Book of Souls, which came out on September 4th, 2015, but I admit that my hopes weren’t too high; as much as I love Maiden, I haven’t truly loved an album of theirs since Brave New World. I enjoyed Dance of Death, and I think “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg” from A Matter of Life and Death is one of their best songs in years. I didn’t get too into The Final Frontier though – nothing on that album broke through an 8/10 for me. So with the first release, “Speed of Light,” off to a good start, I had hopes that The Book of Souls would at least get as high on my list as Dance of Death did. And if not, let’s be honest, Bruce Dickinson (vocals) had cancer of the instrument at this point, so if he’s not up to standard I think we can excuse it. Also, before I get into the music – how cool is it that the album’s digipak looks like a book?

Listen along if you like:

DISC ONE

1. If Eternity Should Fail
The first track, “If Eternity Should Fail,” already had my hopes up. I dig the eerie ambient start and the echoes that follow Bruce’s voice, as well as the sort of Aztec/Mayan sound (perhaps the latter, if we’re looking at the album art). I really appreciate that the intro bit was both more interesting and far shorter than “Satellite 15” that precedes “The Final Frontier” on the album of the same name, comparing just over a minute and a half in this song to the four minutes “Satellite 15” took up. The track as a whole is a strong start to the album, and I particularly dig the solos that start around 5:00 minutes – very classic Maiden.
9/10

2. Speed of Light

Slide into the second track with a proper oldschool rock n’ roll intro! “The Speed of Light” is kind of the standard Maiden first-release song, like “The Final Frontier” or “Different World” or “Wildest Dreams.” They’re good, catchy songs, easy for radio play, but not earth-shattering.
9/10

I will say that the music video is pretty fuckin’ cool too, which you can check out here:


3. The Great Unknown

You start to get a hint of Bruce’s vocal age in “The Great Unknown.” The song is pretty good as a standard Maiden track, but during the high parts, you start to get the feeling of Bruce’s gonads screaming for mercy. He’s still getting where he needs to go, but the strain on the journey is far more intense than it used to be. The track itself is quite fine but the vocals become somewhat distracting at times. I am a fan of the slow-start Maiden dynamic though, as well as the rhythm.
7/10

4. The Red and the Black

“The Red and the Black” has a good old-fashioned galloping rhythm, just like you remember from the 80s. It also has good chants in a very “Wickerman” style and the riff in the middle reminds me very strongly of “Montségur” as well. Perhaps it’s not their most original song since I can hear so many elements from older tracks in it, but it’s a nice blend and works pretty well. I actually didn’t realize how long this song was at first, which is a good thing, seeing as how I didn’t get bored of it. It’s the first of three tracks that clock in at over 10 minutes on this album.
9/10

5. When the River Runs Deep
Following that, I totally dig the riffing and solos in “Where the River Runs Deep” but vocally the song isn’t as interesting as some of the others. This is a good example of a song where Bruce doesn’t need to stretch himself to his limits to still sing well. He’s got a great voice, even if he’s not the air raid siren he once was. This song is pretty chill, so on one hand, it’s nice that Bruce isn’t overdoing it, but on the other hand, they could’ve been a bit bolder in the melodies.
8/10

6. The Book of Souls
The title track has a really awesome rhythm (again) that brings us back to that Mayan sound, which makes a good connection between the first track and the end of the first disc. It also brings me back to Powerslave a bit, which is never a bad thing. This is the third-longest track on the album at nearly ten and a half minutes. It’s at this point that I finally gave in completely and admitted to myself that Bruce just really can’t do what he once did, because the high vocals are reeeeally pushing the limit at times. Nevertheless, it still proves to be a pretty good song. I really dig the solos around the halfway mark. Even if the vocals falter on this track, the music holds it up quite nicely.
8.5/10

11392901_10155580751510276_6936271461885986015_nDISC 2

1. Death or Glory
At this point we cross into the second half of the album. The first track, “Death or Glory,” got my feet tapping right away, with a really oldschool Maiden feel, somewhat reminiscent of the Killers era. Since the subject matter is World War I triplanes, it could be a spiritual successor to “Aces High,” especially since it carries a similar energy. Maiden’s got a bit of a problem these days with having a lot of repetitiveness in their choruses, but in this one it only lasts for a moment at the end, and not long enough to cause a major issue. The C-part isn’t especially strong in this one, but it still hits me in the spot that made me like Maiden in the first place.
8/10

2. Shadows of the Valley
“Shadows of the Valley”’s music immediately reminds me of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, which has always been one of my favorite Maiden albums. The track is upbeat and has a pretty good feel, but not much of a hook to it, which is a shame because it has a lot of potential. I would call this a standard good Maiden song – vocals aren’t pushed too far, riffs are strong, but doesn’t quite have enough to bring me back again and again.
7/10

3. Tears of a Clown
“Tears of a Clown” is a similarly okay song musically, but really shines in its lyrics, as it was dedicated to the late Robin Williams and touches on the subject of depression in comedians, and having to put on a happy face in front of the crowds when you’re not happy. This song sticks out a bit from the rest of the songs lyrically, but I think functions as an interesting experiment in a different singing style for Bruce, because he’s singing far more deeply for far longer than normal. Musically, the song is a bit more relaxed than the rest too, with less exciting riffs and solos. I’m having trouble deciding if the lyrics are enough to make this a good song or if it’s simply an okay song.
7/10

4. The Man of Sorrows
When I saw the title of this song, I got my hopes up for some sort of sequel or parallel track to “Man of Sorrows” from Bruce’s solo album, Accident of Birth. Immediately, the vibe is fairly reminiscent, though the beginning is a bit dull, to tell the truth. This might be the weakest song on the album, musically, as nothing especially interesting happens in it for the first two minutes, and even once things kick up a notch, it’s not spectacular. Somehow I get into the groove of it far better by allowing it to sink into the background than listening to it actively. In the end, it doesn’t hold a torch to “Man of Sorrows.”
6/10

5. Empire of the Clouds
The album finishes with a new ballad and Maiden’s longest track to date, “Empire of the Clouds,” which tells the story of the crash of the British airship R101. This song took a few listens and further understanding before I really “got it.” On first listen I wasn’t impressed by it much at all. However, there was a rather eerie quality to it (it affected me the same way as “Estranged” by Guns N’ Roses or “Space Dye Vest” by Dream Theater) that started to catch my ear, so I began to wonder what inspired Bruce Dickinson to write such a long song. I highly recommend having a look at the 10-minute-long documentary on R101 on YouTube to get a bit more insight into this song because it certainly added a lot. The lyrics became poetic and the music became haunting and tragic. Though it’s certainly not as epic a track as “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was, it is a great ballad and a pretty nice way to close out a long album like this, and we do still get a nice, chill solo around the 10-minute mark. It may not appeal to everyone but I’d still be willing to call it a masterpiece, and the best closer they’ve written since “The Thin Line Between Love and Hate” from Brave New World.
9.5/10

So how did my first love hold up against the other great albums of the year? Well, I hate to admit it, but while there are some really nice and powerful tracks on The Book of Souls, I’ve realized that sadly, I’m going to have to learn to let go of Bruce Dickinson someday. It’s sucks because the lyrical quality and riffs remain up to standard. Alas, none of these epic singers last forever and Bruce has held onto his quality longer than most of them. I’d even go so far as to argue that either his voice or the production around it on this album is better than it was in The Final Frontier. As I said in the beginning, it’s amazing that he did this well with his cancer, so it’s excusable, but we can’t expect him to last forever. There’s a lot of great material on The Book of Souls and not one awful track, so ultimately I’ll call this a good Maiden album, but not a great one.

Rating: 8/10, 4 stars

Track list:
Disc 1
1. If Eternity Should Fail
2. Speed of Light
3. The Great Unknown
4. The Red and the Black
5. When the River Runs Deep
6. The Book of Souls

Disc 2
1. Death or Glory
2. Shadows of the Valley
3. Tears of a Clown
4. The Man of Sorrows
5. Empire of the Clouds

Text: Amy Wiseman

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