Sound — 9
Iron Maiden formed in 1975 by bassist, Steve Harris, who is also the only remaining founding member. The lineup has been fairly consistent, however, for the last 16 years when Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith (both previous members) rejoined the band. Iron Maiden has been one of the most well-known and talked about metal bands in the world, and has survived a changing metal community for multiple decades. "The Book of Souls" is the band's sixteenth studio album - and is technically a double album, with an approximate runtime of 92 minutes with 11 tracks. The band's longest studio recorded song of their career, "Empire of the Clouds," is on the album and clocks in at over 18 minutes. The first single from the album, "Speed of Light," was released in mid-August. The album was produced by Kevin Shirley, with Steve Harris acting as co-producer.
The album opens up strong with "If Eternity Should Fail," which has a very space rock/prog vibe going on in the intro, and immediately gets the lyrics involved with the album's "theme" of souls and mortality. Bruce Dickinson does some soaring vocals on this one, as well as some spoken word, and even gets a touch on the growly side. Musically, you see the band mostly going with classic heavy metal galloping. "Speed of Light" opens up with a riff that almost has a blues thing going on, and goes from there into some fairly aggressive music for the Iron Maiden of recent years. "The Great Unknown" opens up with some solid heavy metal interplay between guitars and bass and some very narrative lyrics. "The Red and the Black" opens up with a bass riff, sounding almost like some Spanish guitar. The guitars come in with the drums and immediately goes into some gallops, with the lead guitar coming in with a brisk melody and vocals close behind. The lead part on "The Red and the Black" is very hummable, often harmonized with the lead vocals. "When the River Runs Deep" definitely has a live feel to it, with the riffing sounding raw and powerful, with Steve Harris and Nicko McBrain (drums) definitely being the MVPs on this track. The title track, "The Book of Souls," opens up with a little acoustic lick that is repeated several times. The electric guitars and drums come in around the 1 minute mark, and they bring a lot of groove with them - the overall feel of the track is pretty sick. The track is over 10 minutes, but it stays engaging enough that it doesn't feel like 10 minutes. The guitar solos on "The Book of Souls" are a pretty awesome mix of feel and technical prowess.
"Death or Glory" starts disc 2 and opens up with a "Taps" reminiscent drum part, accompanied by some tri-guitar riffing. This is one of the shorter tracks on the album at just 5 1/2 minutes, but it is very catchy with a good hook in the chorus. "Shadows of the Valley" has some staccato vocals accompanied by guitar that builds up to a cool little peak, then the song picks up some momentum. "Tears of a Clown" is written about Robin Williams, and is a tearjerker about playing the part as the clown when you feel like anything but inside your own mind and in your own perception. "The Man of Sorrows" makes good use of the multi-guitar setup, with a lead melody layered over an arpeggio. The vocals come in and it almost feels like a vocal solo track - this track is good proof of Bruce's continued skill as a vocalist despite his age. The track slowly picks up additional instrumentation and changes gear a few times but still feels like a slow swampy metal track to me. It definitely works and acts as a good change of pace for the album. I enjoyed the solo for "The Man of Sorrows" quite a bit. The album closes out with the track "Empire of the Clouds," which as I mentioned earlier is the band's longest track at over 18 minutes long. It opens with piano played by Bruce Dickinson. There is some interesting instrumentation going on with what sounds like a string quartet, and some very minimal percussion during the opening movement. The song definitely goes in some different directions throughout the 18 minutes, almost like a little concept album in and of itself. Some of my absolute favorite guitar work on the album is in this track, but just for a few fleeting pieces/melodies.
Lyrics — 8
Bruce Dickinson is definitely a master at his craft. If you do the math he's 57 years old and has been providing vocals in bands longer than I have actually been alive on this earth. When you think about the scope of that, you definitely gotta respect Bruce for his skill and craft, and realize that he has maintained his vocal chops for coming up on 40 years. Can you hear the age in his voice? Sure, but only in a way that adds character, and not yet in a way that really detracts from his performance. The lyrics on the album definitely stay focused on death, the soul, and mortality, with a little bit of Mayan imagery mixed in. As a sample of the lyrics, though, I want to share some lyrics from the song dedicated to Robin Williams, "Tears of a Clown": "All alone in a crowded room/ He tries to force a smile/ The smile it beamed or so it seemed/ But never reached the eyes, disguise/ Masquerading as the funny man do they despise/ The false smile maketh of the man/ Glass empty or half full/ Try to make some sense or sorrows drown/ All looks well on the outside/ Underneath the solemn truth/ There's something that inside has died/ Tomorrow comes tomorrow goes/ But the cloud remains the same/ Wonder why he's feeling down/ Tears of a clown."
Overall Impression — 8
This isn't the album I was expecting from Iron Maiden at this stage, but I definitely appreciate it. It has a slightly more "prog" feel to it that reminds me a little of the band's first few releases, but with the added element of the space rock/metal that has become part of their sound in just the last few albums. I find myself listening intently to Steve Harris' bass playing, and I do believe I'm gonna have to string up a bass with some flats and work on some flat picking. Bruce Dickinson is insanely impressive at his age, and Janick, Adrian and Dave aren't slouches either. I enjoyed the album from start to finish. My favorite tracks would have to be "Empire of the Clouds," "Tears of a Clown," "If Eternity Should Fail" and "The Red and the Black."