Sound — 10
I have always loved Iron Maiden's ability to create songs that take a few listens to appreciate. Songs that grow and continue to surprise after many listens. The Final Frontier is the band's crowning achievement in that regard. Not quite as crunchy and in your face as the last 3 albums. It incorporates the feel of SSOASS with the progressive compositions of AMOLAD. The synthesizers are back in full force, and the guitar work is very layered. Utilizing all 3 talented guitarists allows the band to blend perfectly harmonized melodies with "punch in the gut" all out shredding. And unlike past works where there were breaks between the two, here it is all layered over each other and the progressions are near seamless because of this ability to weave everything together. Rather than abrupt jumps, there is a slow grabbing of your attention by a layered riff that sweeps you into the next segment so elegantly. Overall, this is a highly eclectic album, and there is no single sound or style that dominates. With one caveat: almost every tune here utilizes an introduction of some sort, and the focus seems to be on beauty and mood, before it takes you away to something completely different.
Lyrics — 8
The lyrics are a bit up and down. For the most part they do a great job of story telling. But at times, I find they tend to meander, without fully getting to the point. I've often found that Iron Maiden lyrics are a bit enslaved to the song's theme or story. At times it leads to awkwardness, but over time, you appreciate the uniqueness of it. While I agree with many who have said that Bruce Dickinson has lost some punch, I believe that his stylings remain brilliant. He is not afraid to push the envelope despite his age, and some of his work on this album leaves me curious as to how he will ever replicate it live. I am left breathless just listening to "Mother of Mercy", and I can't imagine how he will find the air to sing this live. Otherwise, I think the band's age is a blessing in disguise, allowing Dickinson to concentrate more on style and substance as opposed to just belting out screams a la NOTB. It is also refreshing to see the band continue to include more personal messages and emotional tones as in "Coming Home".
Overall Impression — 10
30 years ago, I stopped at the local record store (kids, ask your parents what this is)on my way home from school. I saw a fearsome album cover with amazing artwork. The band was Iron Maiden. I dropped my remaining allowance on the counter and took this one home. After cleaning the dust off the needle and placing it on the vinyl, I was greeted by the ridiculously fast riffs of "Invaders". I was unmoved. Bear in mind, the typical metal of the time...AC/DC, Scorpions, Judas Priest, etc. "COTD" was cool with it's acoustic opening....so I kept listening. It was all interesting enough to keep me listening, but not quite grabbing me yet. At the very end, after listening to the longest song I'd ever heard, I found myself humming the "Hallowed" melody in my head. "What was that"? I put the needle back to the start of the song. It ends. I pick up the needle and put it back. Listen again. Holy Crap! "this is amazing" I think. For the next week, I rush home everyday to throw on my headphones and listen to the the entire album over and over. I discover Prisoner, 22 Acacia Avenue, Run to the Hills, etc. WIth each listen, I hear something new, something intriguing, and before long I'm thinking this is the most bad ass band EVER! It took me a little while to catch up to what these guys were doing that was so different for the time, yet incredibly tantalizing. I experienced this once again with Powerslave, and now with The Final Frontier. Your first listen will NOT do it justice. It is a complete "work of art" that will stand any test of time, and will continue to inspire musicians for decades. It is just not what you expect it to be, especially after the 1st couple of straightforward tracks. It seems to me that Iron Maiden have figured out that having 3 incrredibly talented guitarists lends itself to some experimental playing. To hear all 3 playing simultaneously, often in different time, and seemingly unconnected, is at first unnerving. Yet as you pull yourself away from it all, you realize that there is quilt of sorts being formed by these different pieces. There is an overriding ghost like melody that begins to take shape. Likewise the songs themselves at times seem to be in disheveled pieces, but they all ultimately come together to form something amazing. This is the beauty of Iron Maiden at their best. The songs grow on you incrementally. And it takes multiple listens to begin seeing the big picture. To compare it to any other Maiden album is a complete mistake. It is clearly Maiden, but it stands on its own. You have to see it that way in order to truly appreciate its brilliance. After all, why should Maiden copy early Maiden? Everyone else has already done that. In other regards, it's pretty classic Maiden. The way the songs create a certain mood, which can shift and flow with the story telling. In example, When the Wild Wind Blows has an upbeat, almost comical movement to it, all the while leading to a very dark message about Nuclear Proliferation. Upon researching, I learned that it is based on a 80's animated movie. An apparent art film of sorts which presents itself as a comedy, only to bring the viewer to a chilling, dark, and depressing end. This serves as an indication of the amount of thought that Iron Maiden put into their compositions. Each individual song has its own unique sound, feel, and rythym designed to bring the story to life. In my 40s now, I fully expect to be listening to this album 15 years from now and finding something new and intrigueing once again. It is classic.