By Fraser Bryce
We are living in an age where the true musical greats are disappearing. We’ve lost B.B. King, Black Sabbath are breaking up and Keith Richards looks more and more like a scrotum dressed as a pirate with each passing day. And, for a brief few months earlier this year, it looked like we’d lose Iron Maiden as well.
To give a bit of my history with Iron Maiden: when my dad played me ‘Two Minutes to Midnight’ ten years ago, it changed my life. To this day, that opening guitar riff gives me chills. Since that day I’ve followed them with near fanatical devotion, buying basically any old shite they slapped their name on – that being said, the beer is fantastic – and travelling great distances to see them live. And when Bruce Dickinson announced he had tongue cancer earlier this year, it broke me. I was an inconsolable wreck. A world without Iron Maiden is not a world I want to imagine, but I imagine it to be a dull, lifeless place with a disappointing lack of twin guitars.
But, thankfully, Bruce recovered. Which meant the album would be released. And it’s a behemoth. Clocking in at just over 90 minutes spread across two CDs – or 3 records – it’s the most ambitious album the band have ever attempted and, seeing as we’re talking about Iron Maiden here, that’s quite impressive. The opening song ‘If Eternity Should Fail’ begins with synthesisers and pan flutes. So far, so good. This intro gives way to one of the best songs Maiden have written in recent years. It’s all here: epic, galloping riffs; machine gun drumming; twin guitar solos; and a frighteningly impressive vocal performance from Bruce. And that’s just the first song.
Shorter, NWOBHM rockers like ‘Speed of Light’ –THAT COWBELL THOUGH – and the menacing ‘The Great Unknown’ are spaced apart by sprawling epics such as the mammoth ‘The Red And The Black’, which sounds quite a bit like ‘Rime Of The Ancient Mariner’ from 1984’s ‘Powerslave’, but that is the exact opposite of a problem. The title track begins with flamenco guitar, before going into a lurching guitar riff.
‘Death Or Glory’ is an anthem destined to be a high point of the band’s set and, while ‘Shadow Of The Valley’ sounds exactly like ‘Wasted Years’, it’s classic Maiden through and through. ‘Tears Of A Clown’ and ‘The Man Of Sorrows’ let the album down a little, but the closing 18 minute epic ‘Empire Of The Clouds’- featuring Bruce Dickinson on piano – is unlike anything the band have done before, genuinely thrilling to listen to.
All in all, The Book of Souls is an absolute triumph, not least for Bruce, who gives his best performance in yonks. I could talk for days about the musicianship on this album, about the overwhelming quality of the songs, about just how fucking epic this album is, but I’m rapidly running out of room. So what I will say is this: 35 years into their career, Iron Maiden are still the best band on this planet. Long may they continue.
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