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HMS Music Spotlight

The greatest band from the NWOBHM returns with their much anticipated 16th studio recording, proving the band can still create an epic sounding metal album. Of course I am talking about the one and only Iron Maiden and much news surround the band this time around. We recently learned of singer Bruce Dickinson’s battle with cancer; surviving his ordeal and recuperating nicely at this point. Not to mention the recent news of embarking on another momentous world tour that will take them to 6 continents in a customized Boeing 747 piloted by none other than Bruce himself!

So how’s that for a man who just went toe to toe with the dreaded disease and lived to sing another day! I think this proves that Maiden is all about being epic and let’s face it – The Book of Souls runs the full gamut of life, death and tragedy! In other words, the album is a giant leap into a musical world that may astound the ears of many.

But what you get here is not the Maiden of old, so let’s be perfectly clear about that. Sure there are glimpses of the classic era sound in a few of the tracks, but the bulk of it remains introspective and more on the progressive side. Now some fans may groan about the continual direction of the band and if you’re not willing to sit through the 90 plus minute runtime, then you might as well give up now. But for those (like me) who adore this band, I suggest giving this new release plenty of attention, since its chalk full of magnificent moments – and plenty of variety to boot!

To start out with, lead single “The Speed of Light” is catchy as hell and ultimately sounds like an extension of “Can I Play with Madness” from Seventh Son. I certainly felt it took me back to the late 80’s and it might give disgruntled fans a chance to perk up their ears and take notice. I do however think the band made their first faux pas here by not allowing this to be the lead off track. Instead they chose “If Eternity Should Fail” as the opening number and it’s a tad long and doesn’t quite get the blood pumping as it probably should have for an opening number.

The familiar sounds of Steve Harris’s flawless bass playing opens “The Great Unknown”, signalling a return to 90’s era Maiden in terms of pacing and tone. The track won’t win over fans holding out for faster 80’s material, but it does provide these ears with a bevy of harmonious sounds and tasteful riffs. Now the next track is the first of a handful of compositions that push the ten minute barrier and “The Red and the Black” is a song I really enjoyed. It certainly feels like a track that could have been on Brave New World (sounding a bit like Wicker Man) and it never bores me nor does it feel like a strain on my ears; in an odd way I didn’t want it to end.

The band picks up the pace on “When the River Runs Deep”, getting back to a shorter and catchy little ditty that works for me. There’s no qualm here though, especially since the moody opening of the title track “The Book of Souls” hits hard and forces the listener to pay close attention to the lyrics. Bruce displays some ominous sounding vocals and much of it reminds me of the material found on Brave New World and Dance of Death. The track is a lengthy one, but it really hits its stride around the six minute mark, making way for a meaty solo or two. This is a sure winner for me and I am looking forward to hearing this song in a live setting.

Iron Maiden
The Book of Souls
Written by: Kenneth Gallant
9 out of 10

At this point we have digested about fifty six minutes of music and there’s still another five tracks to get to! Again, this might be an exhausting listening experience to some, but for me I was spellbound to hear it all! In fact “Death or Glory” gets the blood pumping again, as does “Shadows of the Valley”; which displays some morbid lyrical content ALA Dance of Dance. If you are also wondering what references the band use here, just think about the biblical quotation psalm 23:4 and you will get my meaning. This is followed by another somber subject matter inspired for “Tears of a Clown”, which is said to be about the death of Robin Williams. Not much more needs to be said about this number.

The remaining two tracks are a mixed bag for me. First let me say that “Man of Sorrows” is a downbeat mixture of A Matter of Life and Death and The Final Frontier. Certainly not a bad track and obviously this has more in common with Maiden’s current frame of mind as songwriters. This quickly gives way to probably the longest song Maiden has ever written and without question this is going to be the most controversial song with many fans too. Clocking in at almost twenty minutes in length, “Empire of the Clouds” is meant to be a sprawling epic, complete with orchestral arrangements and neoclassical metal approach – allowing Murray, Gers and Smith to really stretch their progressive leanings. I think it might take the listener a few times to really get into this song, but you could compare this to Rime of the Ancient Mariner in some ways for sheer length and tonal qualities.

On a whole though, double albums can be a tricky affair, especially if the material lacks the inspirational spirt to carry them through. Book of Souls is not the case here and ultimately it will make Maiden fans run the gamut of many emotions, good or bad and definitely will continue to divide the camps wanting the classic era sound to return, and to those who enjoy the progressive approach to their song writing. I am firmly in the camp of the later and enjoy what the band is writing and can’t wait to see this new beast unleashed on the next colossal tour.

Kenneth Gallant, HMS

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