Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls (PLG) 2015
The release of a new Maiden record is always sure to stop the music world on its tracks. After the band announced that this was to be their first studio double record in 40 years and ever since singer Bruce Dickinson’s recent health struggles came to public knowledge, expectations for this record immediately went through the roof.
Meeting those expectations, as The Book of Souls starts, Maiden made sure every listener feels like they’re not opening just another book, but a new revised chapter on the bible of how to do a flawless heavy metal record. Opener “If Eternity Should Fail” begins in strange fashion with a Mexican-themed melody, but as it ends later with an eerie acoustic passage, after a remarkable eight-minute heavy metal voyage, you will probably think that this might be, undoubtedly, one of Maiden’s best album openers ever.
As the book continues unraveling, “Speed of Light”, driven by Adrian Smith’s hard rocking riffs, “The Great Unknown” and “When the River Runs Deep” all bear a distinct “Fear of the Dark” meets “Dance of Death” feel, with Bruce screaming again like it’s ‘92 and some stellar solo trading performances from all three guitarists. However, the main highlights of disc one are the 13-minute epic “The Red And the Black” and “The Book of Souls”. The first one marks a trip onto progressive heights through several “Rime” reminiscent riffs, “Wicker Man” styled crowd chant parts and various tempo shifts, while the second starts off with an imposing riff, setting up a middle eastern tone upon which Dickinson’s vocals unravel in majestic fashion. Its mid section builds up later onto an impressive frenzy, making you remember at times of the old “Losfer Words” instrumental.
The album’s second chapter begins then with “Death or Glory”. Its catchy main riff, galloping pace and resounding epic chorus section make it the track closest to the energetic levels of their ‘80s material, and for that matter, “Shadows of the Valley” will also remind you of a huge past Maiden classic of the “Cyborg” era, with plenty of dual guitar based riffs being played upon Harris’ signature driving bass. The third song, the hard rockingRobin Williams-inspired “Tears of a Clown”, acts not only as a fitting tribute to the comedian, but also as a warning about hidden depression and the perils of emotional duality in life, and as the book draws nearer to its close, the Dave Murray penned “Man of Sorrows” sees Maiden, perhaps strangely enough, combining an early Scorpions vibe in its intro with a Yes-inspired finale, turning it into one of the most unusual numbers they’ve ever recorded.
But if one is to talk about crossing through uncharted musical territories, album finisher “Empire of the Clouds” sees Maiden boldly go where they’ve never gone before. Its 18 minute journey represents the crowning achievement of Bruce Dickinson as a writer and portrays the story of the 1930 R101 Zeppelin disaster, beginning with a never before heard (on a Maiden record) orchestral section describing the planning stages of its voyage. The full band joins in later during the ship’s take off and full flight, before a terrifying piano section marks its impending doom and aftermath. After listening to it, it’s safe to say that after 31 years Maiden have finally written another grand epic able to compete with Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Simply put, The Books of Souls is one of Maiden’s finest and most solid records. We can clearly say that this is the strongest record ever done by Maiden’s three-guitar line up in the 16 years ever since Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith returned to the band. One hopes that this is isn’t their last, but if that was to be the case, it would also the highest possible note on which to end a career. Nothing short of amazing. Period.