If Eternity Should Fail, at least we were able to hear The Book of Souls. Is it safe to say Iron Maiden made a second comeback with their 16th LP?
Again, I apologize for the long lapse in reviews. I had some personal issues, a move, and general writers block to attend to. However, this is a metal review, damnit! Ain’t nobody got time for excuses. So, let’s go!
Here we are, the peak of 2015’s metaldom. On one end, you have good Queensryche (and…well, Geoff Tate’s solo project) pumping out a new record, then you have Nile, Slayer, Motorhead, Soilwork, Ghost, even Coheed and Cambria — we can count them as metal, right? — upping the ante. Shit, even Disturbed decided they weren’t going to sit quietly while the cool kids got to play. The list goes on and on. So, what better way to kick off the fall season other than Iron Maiden’s double album machine, The Book Of Souls?
My expectations were strangely low for this record. Perhaps a result of Maiden’s irrelevant, lack of inspiration in their predecessor, The Final Frontier. Perhaps I was just pissed that Derek Riggs checked out of another Eddie opportunity. Whatever, it doesn’t matter. The first notes of, “If Eternity Should Fail,” grabbed that cynicism and castrated it.
Yep, sit on that metaphor for a minute. Oh, right, this isn’t a death metal review; my fault.
Initially, the band’s creativity returns with trademark energy and galloping riffs, all the while holding onto the darker, fuller sound of their post-Blaze era songwriting. There are even hints of Seventh Son keyboards, serving the sound tastefully without delving into cheese territory. You’d expect Steve Harris’ songwriting ability to falter, especially after the Maiden sound collage in The Final Frontier, but here, the structures, melodies, even the instrumentals, feel fresh and purposeful. I mean, each member — sans Niko McBrain — has multiple songwriting credits throughout the LP’s 11 monstrous tracks.
There’s no clever reason for this picture. Eddie is just fucking awesome.
To put this in perspective, Steve Harris rarely attributed more than a few tracks to other members throughout Maiden’s tenure. Such a melting pot of ideas breeds countless opportunities for failure. I’ll admit the variety of credits turned me off at first, especially the Janick Gers note attached to “Book of Souls.” Boy, was I wrong. The album flows with the gallop of Harris, punctuated by Dickinson’s typical lyrical expeditions. I say expeditions because, let’s face it, the guy cannot develop a typical verse/chorus/verse about cliche metal nonsense. He’s the fucking Air Siren! If he wants to talk about triplanes in “Death or Glory,” then he damn well please!
Some may call The Book of Souls a pointless cash grab, but there is no way, no way epics, “The Red and the Black,” and the double LP’s title track reflect an uninspired effort. Sure, it’s hard to believe, other than contractual reasons, that Iron Maiden needs a third guitarist — no disrespect to shredder, Janick Gers — but solos are half the makeup of Maiden’s general sound. So, to that, Reviews From the Other Side says, “The more, the merrier!”
Although the band’s songwriting takes a fresh breath in Book of Souls, there are moments of career-repetition scattered throughout the record, from copycat riffs to all-to-familiar song structures. Luckily, we don’t get another, “Blood Brothers,” clone. I’m looking at you, “No More Lies.” However, instead listeners suffer through a “Wasted Years” ripoff introduction riff in “Shadow of the Valley.” This is more of an annoyance than a crutch. What else can you expect from a band whose discography stretches over fifteen LP’s, not including EP’s or live recordings/bootlegs?
Also, as is the bane of most double albums — unless we’re talking The Wall or any given Who rock opera — The Book of Souls suffers from the scope of its vision. There are times, as in, “The Red and the Black,” where the need for epicness outweighs the will of short sighted listeners like myself. I’m all for an epic sound, but when every track goes for that giant sound, the overall feel of the album starts to feel overblown. Iron Maiden successfully blended epic structures in the past, but practiced restraint, confining those over-the-top tracks into a section of the album. Here, the band pushes extended running time over the cliff.
That said, each member contributes their talents with technical, musical prowess. What else could you expect from these guys? They’ve experienced the ups and downs of metaldom. Shit, the band went through a mid-career lapse in musical inspiration, thanks in part to the Air Siren and Adrian Smith’s departure. Yet, they bounced back, not once, but twice. The Book of Souls places the spotlight on each member’s contribution, serving as more of a historical insight to Maiden’s discography than as a progression. To that, I’ll say it again. Lean in close so you can see the screen.
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