Here it is - my marathon song by song review of the new Iron maiden album. It's an album that will require many full listens to fully absorb its nuances and high and lows. This review is based on three full listens to each song and my impressions as the song plays and afterwards and a rating out of 10 for each song.
If Eternity Should Fail
I've tried hard to get into this song but I just can't really get into it. It has the typical latter day Maiden gallop that old men like Maiden seem to love. Bruce sounds quite good but I just don't think the song is really melodic enough. The chorus doesn't seem to sound that great at all. The repetition is not what bothers me it's more that the melody is a bit boring. The best part of the song is from the five minute mark onwards where a very nice melodic section starts before that average chorus takes us home. The ending speech is quite dramatic and nice though. I wonder who it is? I am gonna keep trying with this song but the fairly slow tempo doesn't excite. It sounds like a Final Frontier b-side to me. 6.5/10
Speed of Light
The lead single which hugely disappointed me on first listen has started to grow on me. I still definitely don't love it but at least it has a little energy. Although the chorus sees Bruce straining quite badly at times when he sings the word "stars" but I guess the band are happy with that. It doesn't sound that bad but you can tell he's really trying hard. The sound on the guitars is far too raw on this track and seems even rougher than the other tracks like they accidentally on purpose made this lead single much rougher sounding. The song has traits of Maiden singles of the past. The little guitar melody that rears it's head fairly often pre-chorus is a nice classic touch. The lead work is fluid and nice but sounds far too raw and under produced. Again done on purpose no doubt. An OK song that's slowly showing more of it's energy and potential though it will never be a world beater. 7/10
The Great Unknown
As usual a quiet start to a latter day Maiden tune and Bruce weaving a web of mystery about the "Great Unknown" as the song saunters on moodily before a slow regular grinding riff builds into the body of the song. The pre-chorus verses see Bruce struggling a bit but the melody is quite cool. The chorus however leaves me struggling quite a bit. The melody is OK but it sounds quite familiar to other recent material and sounds recycled. The solos from the middle of the fourth minute onwards are really rather cool before the song settles back into the moody start. This song needs to grow on me as at the moment I just can't get a feel for it. There's a good song in there somewhere but it's not hitting me in the face as of yet. 7/10
The Red and The Black
Another mid paced latter day Maiden riff. Something like Rime but pretty much but the melody is Celtic in feel that Mr Harris likes to use a lot with Bruce following that melody with his vocal lines. This is a Harris trademark and I actually really like that although again Bruce is singing at pretty much the top of his range. It sounds like a very difficult song to sing indeed. The famous Woooahhhs soon appear and you can tell this song will almost certainly played live. The song continues with Bruce singing in line with the guitar melody whilst the mid paced backing continues behind and the wooahhs return. At the five minute mark a lovely melody appears and takes the song in a more melodic direction and we get the first time the chorus is sung and it's a really cool one indeed. People will be loving this live no doubt. They will be humming and woooahing the parts that don't even have vocal woooahhhs no doubt! The second longest song on the album continues with tasty lead breaks and builds more melodic passages as it reaches it's galloping climax and a final woaahhh section to keep the punters happy. A great and emotionally melodic track and one of Steve Harris's best epics ever! 10/10
When The River Runs Deep
The song starts off quite melodic but then the reasonably energetic verse takes the song in a slightly different direction than you'd expect. Not too bad but not something very catchy either and Bruce shows that familiar strain here and there at the end of some lines. The chorus sort of appears without much fanfare but the last note is nicely stretched out by Bruce. The song has good energy and the album is in need of energy for sure but is this really a good song? I am not so sure. It's ok and has some decent melody in some of the guitar parts but the vocal melody doesn't sound that exciting. The solo passages are what make the song intriguing and melodic to me. Usually I look at the vocal to provide with that melodic twist that makes a song great but in this song it's the other way. A decent song but I need to play it more to see if it catches my ears any more. 7.5/10
The Book of Souls
The title track starts off with an acoustic slightly hispanic guitar melody with a single tone classical melody before a middle eastern sounding slow riff suddenly erupts out of the speakers and Bruce sings very powerfully it must be said. Nice keyboard accompaniment which adds atmosphere and a mystical feel to what is no doubt a mystical subject matter.The chorus is sung pretty slowly but it is indeed a great one with a magical and epic melody. This is one time when a fast chorus would have been out of place with the song's atmospheric build. The song reminds me of Dance of Death material quite a lot. It has that similar melodic feel although it has a flavour of its own as well no doubt. The song goes into the awesome mid section at 5.50 precisely with that great galloping feel reminiscent of 80s energetic Maiden. The solo sounds rather raw that follows before Bruce helps carry the song onwards with an awesome guitar following vocal melody. This song is sure to be a live favourite should they decide to tackle it live. Everyone will love the slow build to the rousing and glorious end. 9.5/10
Death or Glory.
A fairly speedy number with a decent galloping riff and Bruce's impassioned vocals telling a tale of battle and fighting your enemy till the last. A really nice pre-chorus leads to a fairly average chorus unfortunately. I mean it doesn't seem to carry a great melody or anything but it is memorable in the sense that the title is repeated until you get the message but not spine tingling or catchy really. An average number in my book although the music is pretty good but vocally the song doesn't seem to excite at all. A song called Death or Glory exists by Running Wild and it's miles better than this. 6.5/10
Shadows of the Valley
Can the start sound any more like Wasted Years? No, but then when that's over we are left with that familiar jig from recent Maiden albums. This song reminds me of Montsegur from Dance of Death. The chorus comes along and is easily one of the best on the album. In fact this could be the catchiest song on the album. There's some subtle keys in the background which add a nice dramatic feel. Bruce sounds a bit uncomfortable singing "Lies" though. That melodic motif that follows the chorus is really nice indeed and makes the song what it is. The album's best IMO. Should be a huge live favourite especially the awesome woooahhhs at the end. 9.5/10
Tears of a Clown
The song starts off slow and ponderous with heavy chords that somehow remind me of a swaggering Led Zeppelin riff. Not a regular Maiden influence it must be said. The opening verses are plaintive and very reflective of the solemn subject matter. Bruce sings in a comfortable voice and doesn't over reach his powers in this song and sounds all the better for it. The chorus soon arrives and it's quite a good one but it's reminiscent of some material from The Final Frontier or AMOLAD. The solo is slow and bluesy sounding with a raw feel to go with the general live production feel that the band has chosen. A decent song overall but nothing amazing. 7.5/10
The Man Of Sorrows
Another downbeat and sad song. What is it with these guys? Getting old and getting all misty eyed about their own mortality and writing sad slow songs about desperate sad lonely men. The song itself is seemingly written in parts. Starts off slow and just barely reached mid paced with a slow riffed section which is rather boring it must be said and even Bruce can't save it. The chorus is a little bit better with keys in the background that add emotion and "mood" to lend the song that melancholic feel. The lead solos are actually quite nice and melodic but do go quite a bit before that emotional chorus returns to take us home wards. Too downbeat and morose for me. 7/10
Empire of the Clouds
Seat belts signs on. This is gonna be a long one. Luckily the song is pretty damn amazing. It is a bit sad like the general theme of the previous songs but no doubt it is a masterpiece. It starts off typically slow and melancholic with audible classical instruments and a piano motif that is repeated later on in the song. Bruce makes his first appearance just after the 2 minute mark and starts spinning this historical yarn about some massive balloon or something and a man's ambitious plans. We reach midway through the fourth minute before and electric guitar plays the first slow riff accompaniment to the song.
Sure it's bloated as all hell but it sounds very cool and you can understand the need for length...just...though they are pushing it to the boundaries of course. If they play this live it will be amazing of course and what a feat of memory to play and sing it all.
At around the seven minute mark the song goes into a different melodic section with guitars taking over from the softer instruments with a proggier section and playing a catchy melody which sounds a bit like the Marseillese the French national anthem before things speed up considerably with the repetition of the riff but a bit faster before enter the mid paced and melodic riff section that I can imagine the fans woooahh wooahh-ing to if it's played live. The first solo of the song comes and goes but it's nothing special.
This extremely long musical mid section saunters way past the twelve minute mark before Bruce finally re-enters the fray with a straining vocal delivery although the melody is really catchy and awesome. Then follows more dramatic classical additions before Bruce once again recounts the flight of the balloon before the music takes a dramatic doomy turn as the balloon sinks from the skies and Bruce slowly ends the story before that nice melody from the beginning of the song resurfaces and the song ends as it began with sombre tones and delicate piano and a sad Bruce recounting the miserable end for this tale. A fine and amazing effort! 10/10
And there we have the new album by the heroes of British heavy metal. So much to absorb and digest. Definitely an interesting listen with many highs and quite a few lows as well but with so much music to sit through it will no doubt reveal more and more after repeated plays. The production on that album as usual remains a contentious issue but it is what the band wanted. Not perfect at all by today's standards but the band doesn't want that sound and we as fans have to accept the music as it's delivered. My overall rating for the album is a solid 8/10 with the chance of reaching a full point higher given further time. The album has four awesome tunes in The Book Of Souls, The Red and The Black, Shadows of the Valley and the awe inspiring Empire of the Clouds. Others may prefer different tracks but those are songs that move me the most at this point and almost make the price of admission worthwhile on their own. Maiden can still create magic but it's hard to do it in every song of course but I'm reasonably happy with this album despite obvious production flaws and average song writing drop offs. I'll be spinning this on a regular basis hoping for inspiration to rear its head in some of the lesser tracks and hopefully that will be the case. Hopefully I'll see them live on tour in 2016 and not for the last time either. Up The Irons!