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IRON MAIDEN The Book Of Souls

By Jay Roberts, Massachusetts Contributor
Tuesday, September 8, 2015 @ 8:30 AM

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The Book Of Souls

Parlophone Records/Sanctuary/BMG - 2015

After a delay in order for singer Bruce Dickinson to battle tongue cancer, IRON MAIDEN has unleashed their 16th studio album, The Book Of Souls. I've seen near universal acclaim for the album and commentary that says it is one of the band's best ever recordings. And while I was hoping my take on the CD would be unique, I found it quite easy to agree with all that other positive acclaim. I had friends messaging me on social media telling me that they'd stopped listening to MAIDEN but they got this album and it was fantastic. I can hardly disagree with them. And even if it wasn't truly amongst the best of the band's catalog, it is certainly a strong return to form after the somewhat disappointing The Final Frontier.

The first double length studio album from the band comes in a regular and deluxe edition, but there are no bonus tracks, everyone gets the same track listing.

The album opens strongly with "If Eternity Should Fail". The track starts slowly and there is a noticeable deepening to the vocal textures from Dickinson, perhaps even a little bit more of a gruff tone as well. The song's tempo shifts to a faster and faster pace over the course of the song before ending with a spoken word verse where the use of layered vocals to give it a kind of dark and scary vibe.

The first song released off the album prior to its release was the rubber burning number "Speed Of Light", which was accompanied by a video game based video. Listening to the song on rather cheap computer speakers, I was troubled by the vocal sound. But listening to it on a better stereo system, the blame lies entirely on the computer speakers. The song definitely gets your blood pumping.

With five of the six members of the band getting at least a co-writing credit for the material (no Nicko McBrain song this time around), the Steve Harris track "The Red And The Black" was quite interesting. It has a bass intro and outro that grabs you as it establishes its rhythmic foundation. The first half of the song has a kind of spitfire vocal delivery with nary a breath taken between each lyrical verse. That style changes in the 2nd half to a more traditional vocal performance. One nitpick is that while I am normally a fan of the tapestry of sounds that the band weaves in their extended musical runs, I thought the one they did here went on a bit too long.

When the band just flat out rocks balls out, you get songs like "When The River Runs Deep" and "Death Or Glory". The latter track is the first of two songs that visit the topic of aviation on the album. "Death Or Glory" focuses on aerial combat. The other track with an aviation theme is the closing track, "Empire Of The Clouds". Bruce Dickinson wrote the entire 18 minute epic track and dare I say that the song features some of the most beautiful music the band has created. The piano and orchestration used at the beginning and ending of the song helps make the track sound that much more like a soundtrack/score to a film, a step beyond a standard track. It is breathtaking.

The album's title track closes the first disc and the intro initially reminded me of the song "When the Wild Wind Blows" from The Final Frontier. While that might be considered bad considering I wasn't thrilled with that disc, that song was actually quite fantastic.

On "The Great Unknown", the band features a more restrained opening before kicking up the speed factor. The lyrics are excellent and includes this passage: "Never ending desires of men / It'll never be the same or calm again / In a time of changing hearts / and great unknown / It'll be the damnation and end of us all". Powerful stuff to be sure.

And while the band's topics typically reach back into history, the Adrian Smith/Steve Harris composition "Tears Of A Clown" is dedicated to the late comedian Robin Williams. While I saw that bit of information in an article with Bruce Dickinson, anyone hearing the song and knowing the history behind Williams' death would pretty much know what the song was about. It is a touching song while a sad reminder at the same time.

While fans will have to wait until 2016 for a tour by the band, their appetite can be satiated by The Book Of Souls. It is an album that reaffirms, albeit unnecessarily, the band's stature as the finest of all working metal bands. What more needs be said?

4.8 Out Of 5.0

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