Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls
Wed, 14 Oct 2015 18:36:14 +0000
Lady Obscure Music Magazine is known for bringing attention to cult or “ obscure” bands the underground prog and power metal scene. Now, a band like Iron Maiden, arguably the BIGGEST metal band in the world, hardly fits the bill as being “obscure”, but how many times does one get a chance to review a new Iron Maiden album? I have managed to steer clear of every online review of the album, but I have read plenty of comments and opinions from the Iron Maiden fanboys who will love anything the band releases without even hearing it to the people who feel that Maiden’s best days are behind them. Therefore, I have decided to take on the monumental task of reviewing the sixteenth studio opus from the Maiden gentlemen titled The Book of Souls. My first problem was deciding how to tackle a double album that clocks in at a whopping 92 minutes. Do I do the typical “track by track” review or maybe do something a little different? Well, since this is Iron Maiden I dissect the album into different categories, beginning with:
Production: Long time producer Kevin Shirley is one again behind the board for Book of Souls, sonically it’s not much different from the last several albums (Dance of Death, A Matter of Life and Death, and Final Frontier). The songs were written and recorded “live in the studio” for a “live effect”. Depending on who you ask, this is either a good thing or a bad thing. For those who are unhappy with Shirley’s production, you should probably get over it. The band and Shirley have been working together since Brave New World and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. There are even those out there who are crying out for the return of Martin Birch, the longtime Maiden producer from their classic albums from the 1980’s. Here is a newsflash for all of you, even if the band decided to bring Birch back into the fold, the result of any studio work would not sound like these classic albums and that is because Maiden is not the same band that recorded Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, Powerslave, and Somewhere In Time, besides, the man retired in 1992 after producing the Fear of the Dark album so let the man retire in peace. Personally, I feel the production can sound flat at times and aside from the 18 minute opus Empire of the Clouds, with it’s use of symphonic and cinematic elements, the album lacks depth and dynamics.
Artwork: The band and it’s longtime “mascot” Eddie the Head who has graced every Iron Maiden album cover since the bands inception are forever linked together. You can’t think of Iron Maiden without thinking of Eddie. Originally created by artist Derek Riggs, who created the iconic album covers we all know and love, ending with No Prayer For The Dying. Ever since, Maiden has hired several different artists to create their album covers, most with disastrous results and none of which have come close to capturing Riggs unique style and classic Eddie. The album cover for The Book of Souls was created by U.K. illustrator Mark Wilkinson and features Eddie as a Mayan warrior. The album cover is rather plain and the artwork within the cd booklet is much more detailed and interesting with Mayan Eddie holding a bloody heart. I will say that Wilkinson’s Eddie comes closest to capture Riggs’ Eddie, the album cover doesn’t come close to Riggs best work, but it is a welcome change from the less than stellar artwork from Dance of Death, A Matter of Life and Death, and the disastrous “Predator Space” Eddie from The Final Frontier
The Voice: The absolute highlight of The Book of Souls is of course the voice of Iron Maiden, the Air Raid Siren Bruce Dickinson. As per usual Dickinson delivers an incredible dramatic and powerful performance even though some of the vocal melodies are s little bland at times. Most impressive is that Dickinson’s voice is this strong after over 30 years of rigorous touring. Make no mistake, Dickinson is STILL at the top of his game
The Songs: In listening to an album that is 92 minutes in length it can be a daunting process, especially when reviewing an album for Lady Obscure. I found myself being far more intrigued by the verses within most of the albums songs and disappointed when the choruses just didn’t measure up in most cases. The basis of a song should be the slow build to an epic crescendo, which should be reached during the chorus. I wish that Shirley and bassist Steve Harris had worked on making the choruses “pop” with harmony vocals and bigger melodies (Red and The Black and Death Or Glory are two prime examples of this). The band chooses to “re-visit” their classic songs like on Shadow of the Valley with its guitar nod to Wasted Years (off of Somewhere In Time). The weakest track here is Speed of Light, which is also the first single from the album. Nothing special here, just your usual fast paced Maiden tune in the same way that El Dorado was off of Final Frontier. My favorite song on the album is Tears of A Clown, which was dedicated to and inspired by the late Robin Williams. From the riff, the groove, to the conviction in Dickinson’s vocals and the chorus, everything works here. The standout track is the 18-minute opus and Dickinson penned, Empire of the Clouds, featuring Bruce on piano. This song has everything a Maiden fan could want, brilliant melodies, dramatic powerful vocals, plenty of twists and turns and even epic symphonic and cinematic orchestrations layered in for good measure. I just wish the band had taken the same approach on a majority of the rest of the album as they did on this song.
Legacy: In the grand career of Iron Maiden where does The Book of Souls rank? Certainly the album doesn’t come close to the bands classic 80’s era which ended with Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. It also doesn’t best 1992’s Fear of the Dark album. Is it the best album since the Bruce Dickinson “comeback” album Brave New World? That seems to be the general consensus and one that I can totally agree with. The bottom line is that Maiden has had an incredible run with some incredible classic albums. But instead of resting on their laurels, Iron Maiden continues to create new music and reach for new levels of creativity. With The Book of Souls some of it works, some of it doesn’t but overall it’s impressive that a band that has been around for 4 decades still has the ability to create compelling and fresh new music. My opinion may not be popular with the Maiden fanboys who will call The Book of Souls “perfect”, “masterpiece”, and “album of the year” material. Is The Book of Souls a very good album? Yes, absolutely it is. Is it album of the year contender in this reviewers eyes? Not even close, and that is okay. I’m sure Iron Maiden isn’t concerned about my opinion. They will carry on, sell a lot of albums, the tour will pack arenas and stadiums around the world, as they always have, as one of the best heavy metal bands of all time.