Five years. Five long years between albums. That’s a mighty long time, especially when it’s IRON MAIDEN we’re talking about, a band who usually delivers tenfold, both on the record and in concert. As soon as the initial announcements came out about the impending MAIDEN opus The Book of Souls (September 4, BMG) I started hopping up and down like a kid on Christmas Eve. And after making a deal with the Dark Lord Satan Himself I was blessed with the finished product a few weeks ago. I am only writing now because this record has knocked me on my ass, and every time I put it on I find something else to love about it.
Clocking in at 92 minutes The Book of Souls is IRON MAIDEN’S first studio double album, and quite frankly it couldn’t have come at a better time in the band’s career. Gone is the overindulgent experimentation of the last CD and in its place is the band we all grew up loving. Big, powerful, masterful hooks sung with gusto by the incomparable Bruce Dickinson, with explosive guitar riffs and solos courtesy of three-headed monster Adrian Smith, Dave Murray, and Janick Gers. Drummer Nicko McBrain brings the beatdown every chance he gets while bassist/resident maniac Steve Harris once again is the glue holding it all together. Can you tell how fucking happy I am with this record already??
“If Eternity Should Fail” kicks things off in classic IRON MAIDEN fashion, and that coupled with first single “Speed of Light” serves to say, “We’re back, BITCHES!!” in the most massive of ways. Other songs like “The Great Unknown” and “The Red and the Black” show the band letting it all hang out and never once sounding contrived or forced. The latter is over thirteen minutes long but it wraps you up and you’re actually shocked that it comes to an end so quickly. That’s how it feels, anyway. Plus, the underlying synth adds to the atmosphere. Guitar acrobatics abound on “When the River Runs Deep’” which is definitely a favorite. Between that and Bruce sounding incredible, this needs to be a live staple moving forward.
Title track “The Book of Souls” takes us on a rollercoaster journey the likes of which I haven’t seen/heard in a long time, while “Death or Glory” is ass-kickin’ MAIDEN at its finest. “Shadows of the Valley” was another winner right away, having this very fluid and somewhat familiar guitar line at the start that gives way to a bombastic metal song destined to be blared in many a stereo this fall. And yet ANOTHER one that drew me in right away was the number based on the depression and suicide of the late Robin Williams, “Tears of a Clown”. This song is very much driven by Harris and McBrain working in tandem to drive the machine and is equal parts melancholic and stirring. “The Man of Sorrows” has some beautiful guitar work all across it, with gorgeous texture and layers, and of course, Bruce Dickinson in fine form throughout.
Which brings us to one of the album’s most talked-about tracks: the 18-minute closer “Empire of the Clouds”. Talk about going for broke. Bruce Dickinson composed this one on piano and it was actually never intended to be an IRON MAIDEN song. I’m sure glad it did, though. Inspired by the R101 Airship Disaster of 1930 which crashed and killed 48 of 54 passengers, the song takes us on a historic journey and Dickinson’s piano is at the very forefront leading the way until the seven-minute mark when first Nicko and then the guitar trio and Harris begin adding their deft touches making it feel larger than life. At the ten-minute mark comes a furious guitar solo that gives way to a quick-tempo instrumental break. A few minutes later Dickinson is back with authority and the music changes AGAIN. Magnum opus simply can’t do this track justice. You feel everything, the rise, the fall, and the aftermath of the doomed airship crashing. It takes a special type of band to convey such things and IRON MAIDEN show once again that they do it better than anyone else.
At the end of the day all I can do is be floored, completely floored by what this band has accomplished with The Book of Souls. This is the album we’ve been wanting for almost a decade now…THIS is IRON MAIDEN doing what they do best. Welcome back, fellas. And thank the Gods Bruce has a clean bill of health after his cancer treatment, because the world needs to experience these songs live as soon as they can fuel up Ed Force One!!
STANDOUT TRACKS: ALL OF THEM