Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls

Iron MaidenThere is a tendency among fans of great bands to live in the hope that the object of their affection will somehow recapture whatever it was that made them great, so making comparisons with a band’s peak period is inevitable, and, as such, totally unfair. Music is very contextual and lets face it, it’s not 1985 anymore, so even if they released Seventh Beast of a Powerslave in Time, it just wouldn’t be the same. That said, after a five year break, Iron Maiden have “come back” with a very strong album, and in terms of quality, in terms of Maidenness and potential future classics, it doesn’t get much better than this.

There is air of excitement about The Book of Souls, possibly down to the live element of the recording process at their “special” Guillaume Tell Studios, Paris, or possibly as a result of the on running theme of death, both on the record in the numerous references to the Mayan belief that souls live on after death; and off the record; Steve Harris having suffered two significant losses, while Bruce Dickinson discovered a lump that would turn out to be a tumour. With Steve contributing a little less than normal, albeit in stirring fashion on the likes of ‘Tears of a Clown’, Bruce was involved extensively with songs on subjects as diverse as the 1930 R101 airship crash, ‘Empire of the Clouds’, and stories of WWI triplanes on Death or Glory’. Throw in further contributions from the three guitarists and you’ve got a monster of an album, 92 minutes all told, packed with epic tunes.

‘If Eternity Should Fail’ gets things underway with an atmospheric spaghetti western style opening, but then the riff kicks in with that dum dada dum bass line and it’s pure Maiden heaven. ‘Speed of Light’, the first single, follows with a real old school hard rock feel to it and suddenly the Irons are sounding as fresh as ever.

There are more atmospherics on ‘The Great Unknown’, with its unhurried riffs and air of drama; it’s good intense stuff and is a formula that is put to good effect elsewhere, the epic ‘Book of Souls’ being not dissimilar in structure. In fact Maiden have a number of instrumentally complex tracks weighing in on the lengthy side on offer here. At times it does border on the indulgent, three guitar solos where one might do, but I guess they’re working on the premise that what Maiden fans need is more Maiden, nowhere more so than on ‘The Red and the Black’. Here a familiar riff bounces along atop a rumbling bass line like a derailed locomotive to a chant of “whoa o oh oh oh” and a never-ending instrumental break brings the song to a massive thirteen and a half minutes; and it’s not even the longest track on the album!

It’s not all epic bombast mind, some of the most effective tracks being the shortest; the lyrically reflective ‘When the River Runs Deep’ is classic hard rock, as is the frantic ‘Death or Glory’, which has instant classic written all over it; while ‘Tears of a Clown’, reportedly inspired by the Suicide of Robin Williams, is a slower, more thoughtful, measured rocker and one of Steve Harris’ finest moments.

You don’t get to this stage of your career without a bit of recycling going on though, the intro to ‘Shadows of the Valley’ sounding very much like ‘Wasted Years’; and haven’t we heard those ‘woah oh oh’s somewhere before? Even so, the gargantuan eighteen minutes (yes EIGHTEEN!) of ‘Empire of the Clouds’ is all new territory, with Bruce going all Axl at the piano; still it’s a fine melody and is a grandiose finale to a grandiose record.

So basically we have got as much Iron Maiden as you could possibly squeeze into a double album, ok, so it’s overly long, very overblown and more than a little over the top, but there is plenty of extremely strong material to get your teeth into, die-hard fan or otherwise. It would be a fine swan song to the band’s career, should they decide to call it a day, or it could even mark the start of an exciting new phase of creativity. I can’t help but wonder how they’d sound if Rick Rubin were to get hold of them and strip them back to basics, maybe then it would sound like 1985 again.


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