Sound — 8
We couldn't just let it end, could we? It's strange to think that one day, Iron Maiden will release their last record, will play their last show. But it is not this day! I don't think a full encapsulation of this global phenomenon could ever be committed to disc anyway, but The Final Frontier' has only the grandeur of your average Maiden release, though that is not to be underestimated. The cartoony artwork could hardly have been further removed from that of the dark, dramatic and aptly named A Matter Of Life And Death' opus of four years ago, and on the whole there is an air of positivity about the package.
It's not often that Iron Maiden open an album without letting a riff or three out from the starting blocks, but something tells me this is the first and last time we'll kick off with an Adrian Smith home demo. Satellite 15' is atmospheric, intense and absolutely one of the biggest curveballs they've ever thrown, and for every problem with the unpolished mix, there's a reason to love the uncompromising drum machines and desperate melody. Once the intro is over and done with, it's Maiden being Maiden for an hour-and-a-bit. Lovely! All the expected conventions are ticked off promptly, including those of the last two albums long excursions through ideas as they come and, for all the developments in progginess, highlights in the form of vocal hooks and lead breaks.
Two top-quality singles are thrown in the bag early, and from there that bag goes relatively unmixed. Coming Home' is a great Children Of The Damned' style singalong, and The Alchemist' is actually the closest to the Di'Anno sound they've come in many years, but the lengthier songs predominate. A couple of them ebb without flow at times, Isle Of Avalon' being a quite brilliant exception, but this album is refreshing indeed.
Hats off, once again, to Mr. Adrian Smith for his contributions to proceedings not to take away from Dave Murray or Janick Gers, but the man can't half solo! He tends to dominate the solo sections, but Isle Of Avalon' boasts the best guitar work (best everything, in fact) overall, with tasteful modal playing. When The Wild Wind Blows', one of the initial fan favourites following the album's leak, comes with a mental image of 40,000 fans screaming their lungs out, so if we're remembering albums for their flagship guitar leads, The Final Frontier' has a solid place in the history books.
Lyrics — 9
It is only before you look at the lyrics that you might think that this album is without drama. The topics of religion and war make welcome returns, yet the overbearing themes are of solitude and homesickness. You can feel the decades worth of touring experience, though it's fed through a theatrical Maiden/space mission funnel. The title track, though, is worryingly self-referential given its dying thoughts' perspective: I surely will burn, like Icarus before me, There isn't much time, must say my last rites...while the ostensible story is of an astronaut, these allusions are cruel, if not indicative of anything.
Other lyrical high points include El Dorado', a suitably menacing characterisation of bankers, and When The Wild Wind Blows', which is about nuclear holocaust but somehow ends with something even more tragic. It is, then, chiefly the music that keeps things upbeat. Tell you what though, that Bruce Dickinson is sounding pretty good! While his vocal power has taken a mild battering since the glory days, his timbre is as good as it's been in years and all ten tracks benefit from it with at least one big juicy wail.
Overall Impression — 9
Would this have been the perfect send-off? Not quite, but it's a fine way to reach the 15-album landmark and another testimonial to the strength of this band post-reunion. It's also testimony to their capability to write more than the hits' that everyone's favourite song is different. The Final Frontier' has not shattered the Earth with either innovation or emotion, but any Maiden fan - big or small, young or old should leave content, well fed by this chapter of what is hopefully a story that shan't end for many years to come.