Album reviewsMusic

Iron Maiden: The Book of Souls – Album Review

7 September, 2015 — by Matt Owen0

Reviewing a new album, The Book of Souls, from the Greatest Heavy Metal Band In The World™ is always a task. Partly because I have so much in-built bias, but partly because Iron Maiden releases are more than just albums. They are events. And it’s genuinely hard to admit it when an event isn’t as much fun as you’d expected.

Luckily, this is Maiden’s finest release in many years.

"and I'm going to knock this through and put in a kitchen island"
“…and I’m going to knock this through and put in a kitchen island”

In the recent(ish) past, Maiden have enjoyed somewhat mixed fortunes. They’ve hung on to that ‘Greatest Ever’ title largely on the strength of their truly (and often literally) incendiary live shows, but while they’ve continued to enjoy sales in the Gold range, their output in the 2000s has been a mixed bag. Kevin Shirley’s somewhat flat production can be blamed for some of this, but it’s also hard to escape the feeling that Maiden have been treading a certain amount of water. A muddled, flat sound and a lack of the energy that made mid-period Maiden so genuinely thrilling.

It’s trite to say this is a return to form, but this is a fine album that makes the most of the band’s heritage without resting on it’s laurels. The intro synths on opener ‘If Eternity Should Fail’ are cheesy as all hell, but have a tiny touch of Powerslave’s Egyptian mystery to them and set the tone for the massive eight-minute plus track that’s about to assault us.

‘Single Speed of Light’ is a galloping bit of fun, with some upbeat twin guitar work and a catchy, bouncy chorus that carries the listener through time and space. Time travel is a theme here. Lyrically we leap from era to era, not only of world history, but also of the band themselves. The title track manages to fuse touches of 2000’s Brave New World album with the stripped-back classic British rock that last reared it’s head way back on 91’s No Prayer for the Dying.

The epic (there are a lot of epics on The Book of Souls including Empire of Clouds, Maiden’s longest ever song at almost 19 minutes) ‘Red and the Black’ also digs deeply, pulling out the trademark woah-oh-oh singalong chants as it switches pace rapidly, shoving a whole album’s worth of riffs into a superb 13 minute package.

Maiden seem to have rediscovered the sense of genuine joy that make their live shows so thrilling. It’s impossible not to grin when you’re dealing with a 15-riff-fest, yelling the words “death or glory” at the top of your lungs and waiting for the 32nd-note gallops to coalesce into a fantastic twin harmony solo, but somehow this had seemed missing from the band’s recent releases. They were in danger of becoming pompous, but here they’re in on the fun again, and it’s a revelation (excuse the pun that only fans will get).

There’s some genuine electricity running underneath those guitar lines. Dave and Adrian manage their methodical/mercurial duel with aplomb, and even the much-maligned Janick displays some nuanced playing that fits more comfortably in with the riffs than many of his past efforts.

The songwriting is strong and complex, with several obvious influences from Dickinson’s solo work, but a newfound sense of balance, mixing old and new elements more evenly and effectively than ever before, although lyrically this often sails into silly waters. Fans have come to expect songs about band member’s hobbies from time to time (Take a bow ‘Flash of the Blade’) but while closing track ‘Empire of the Clouds’ is a truly magnificent slice of rock opera, it’s marred by the bizarre shadow of Top Gear, a middle-aged dad’s geeky love of machinery intruding on what could be an effective tribute.

bookofsouls_bruce dickinson
Yes, I’d love this guy to be the pilot next time I go on holiday.

With that said, it’s nice to see such a well-balanced album. ‘Tears of a Clown’ is slightly maudlin, but musically it’s hard to fault and this makes up for the soppier moments across the entire double album.

Overall it’s the sound of a band that are both perfectly comfortable with their interests, but also of one pushing their musical envelope into strange new places. There’s a lovely dash of piratical piano and violin towards the end that makes you want to run around on a poop-deck with a sabre in hand. It’s boys own adventure, but it’s perfectly executed, doesn’t take itself overly-seriously and, let’s face it, it means there’s another tour coming soon.

It’s a damn good Maiden album. Not their greatest, but a perfect blend of old and new that cements their place at the top of the Metal tree (and it’s somehow convinced Tesco to start selling double-vinyl again, which makes it worth 20 quid of anyone’s money).

Check out all the latest music releases in our new album reviews section, including this old men of rock round-up.

Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls

Leave a Reply