It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since Iron Maiden’s last album, “The Final Frontier”, was released. As if to make up for lost time, the boys have released their first studio double album, called “The Book of Souls”. Much noise was made in advance about the length of the songs, with three songs crossing the ten minute mark, and “Empire of the Clouds” reaching the 18 minute mark, making it the longest Maiden song ever. But does that translate to good songs?
Iron Maiden has always been influenced by the progressive bands of the ’70s, mostly their penchant for long, complicated songs. For better and for worse, this aspect has dominated Maiden’s music going as far back as 1996’s “X-Factor”, and on “The Book of Souls”, it has reached its pinnacle. Lots of reviews are throwing around the word “progressive” when talking about this album, but progressive means more than long songs; it’s about taking your music to different places, which this album doesn’t really do that much. The songs on “The Book of Souls” are firmly in the post “Brave New World” mold, with a few exceptions like “Empire of the Clouds” and its use of piano. But the songwriting is top notch, probably the best they’ve ever had in quite a while. Guitarist Adrian Smith and singer Bruce Dickinson have been more involved in the songwriting than they’ve been in a long time, and it’s entirely possible that this diluting of founding member Steve Harris’s contributions (whose songwriting has become quite predictable on recent albums) has helped to give this album a breath of fresh air.
There’s none of the raw energy of early classics like “The Trooper” or “Run to the Hills”, but it’s unfair to expect 50 year old men to have the same rage they had in their 20’s. But the sophistication they gained elevates the songs to a new level. It’s a complex record that needs multiple listenings before forming an opinion; I still discover new things on every play, and my appreciation of it grows. The shorter, faster paced songs like the first single “Speed of Light”, “Death or Glory” or “Tears of a Clown” (dedicated to Robin Williams) offer a welcome shot of adrenaline amidst these long epic songs (it’s no surprise that Adrian Smith was involved with all three), and provoke the question of whether or not the album would have been even better with a little more editing to keep the lengths in check. But when the songwriting’s this good, a song never feels too long. This album doesn’t stand up to their early classics, but it is definitely their best album of this century. Dim the lights, sit down in your favourite chair, open a bottle of Trooper and crank it up. Up the Irons!
Jean-Frederic Vachon runs the not-miss music blog Diary of a Music Addict.