Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls

So it’s a big release day today. There are three albums I want to share with you, but I only have room to review one. What to do, what to do. Because of Iron Maiden’s long history and hall of fame career, I decided to share with you all my thoughts of their latest album “The Book of Souls” first.

As touched upon in my single review for the track “Speed of Light,” Iron Maiden has been busy lately. After four years, the group was able to write, record, and release what is assumed to be their last addition to their lengthy discography and to the heavy metal genre. Being a fan of their hit albums like “The Number of the Beast” and “Powerslave,” I was anticipating a nostalgic album that would touch upon the sound of their greatest hits. Having heard their prior album “The Final Frontier,” it’s safe to say that “The Book of Souls” is a continuation of a more evolved sound, instead a sound that isn’t afraid to explore beyond the boundaries set by other heavy metal bands.

iron maiden live
Photo by The Guardian

With 11 songs that span over an hour and a half, “The Book of Souls” provides every type of influence, technique, and equipment used in rock and metal music. The length is very daunting, considering the attention needed to accurately give my take of this album. It seems with each Iron Maiden release the length of each album gets longer and longer, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. There are numerous songs on this album that don’t necessarily need to be monumental. For instance, “The Red and the Black” spans over 13 minutes long, but could easily be shortened to six or seven minutes long if the band reduced the amount of solos, tempo changes, and reprises within the song. To think this isn’t even the longest song on the album is amazing, dwarfed by the 18 minute epic “Empire of the Clouds.” To me, it got to a point when the song became boring and I was waiting for it to end. I personally feel Iron Maiden is best represented in their shorter songs, and without most of the fluff (but not all of it).

If you’re someone who wants their solos plenteous and bountiful, then the time length shouldn’t be an issue. There is certainly many moments of metal riffs, effect-ridden solos, and guitar dueling, way too many to count. “When The River Runs Deep” feels like an instrumental with all different guitars chiming in, but definitely contains that classic Dickinson vocals in the beginning and end. The deep and powerful rhythm section of the band is easily my favorite aspect of any Iron Maiden album, considering one can easily hear all the current bands that were influenced by the likes of guitarists Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and Janick Gers. Those galloping strums reminiscent of the charging war horses are so quintessential, so undeniably Iron Maiden, that I’d be completely surprised if any rock music fan didn’t feel anything when hearing those notes. If it weren’t for these guys, bands like Coheed and Cambria, Avenged Sevenfold, Antrhax, Nightwish, and numerous more would not exist today. Basically, every metal band today wouldn’t exist without Iron Maiden’s iconic guitar work. So thank you Dave, Adrian, and Janick; You three absolutely shine in this album.

As the listener is drawn into the guitars and vocals, one cannot fall on deaf ears to the amazing rhythm section, consisting of drummer Nicko McBrain and bassist Steve Harris. The bass rhythm on each track is more present than on most rock and metal albums, usually accompanying the guitar with a complementing groove. There are times, though, when the bass is dominant, and in those moments does the rhythm section shine. In the meantime, a steady 4/4 beat by the drummer is continuously disrupted by time signature and drastic tempo changes. Continual fills add character to each song, a much needed addition to relatively simple rhythm guitar. The power of the album is increased with these two, yet will sadly go unnoticed by most listeners.

With all the great heavy moments contained in “The Book of Souls,” one cannot ignore all the softer moments in the album that stand out significantly. The album starts off with sound effects, keyboards and Dickinson’s lone voice in “If Eternity Should Fail,” and closes with an acoustic arrangement with an extremely creepy sound-manipulated monologue. The intros of “The Red and the Black” and the title track use an acoustic bass and acoustic guitar, respectively. Even the final track “Empire of the Clouds” begins with Dickinson playing the pianos, and even includes the incorporation of string instruments. Much of the epic is slower paced, a much different approach to a final track than any of their prior albums. The use of piano also instills a sense of peril and hopelessness, perfectly fitting the subject matter of a plane crash. These slower moments help to change the pace of the album, which are necessary considering the long, heavy album.

To think of all that Bruce Dickinson has gone through, only to shine on this album is completely amazing. He hasn’t lost anything in his voice after his cancer scare, and could arguably be better than in his previous album. With such an iconic voice, it’s difficult to criticize it. The quality is just as inspiring, a voice that always give me goosebumps when I hear. Dickinson’s songwriting style uses the same influences as prior material, particularly historical and current events, life and death. One particularly moving track is “Tears of a Clown,” which is inspired by the death of comedian Robin Williams. It is always amazing to see what inspiration hits Dickinson, and I feel the content on this album will leave Iron Maiden fans happy.

iron maiden
Photo by Iron Maiden

Overall, “The Book of Souls” is a great album. With a little bit of an evolved sound, Iron Maiden is starting to drift towards uncharted waters, but the bulk of the sound is easily classified as heavy metal. For fans of bands like them or bands that have been inspired by them, I recommend you all pick up your own copy of “The Book of Souls.” You can support Iron Maiden by checking out their website, or by following them on Facebook and Twitter for band news. Big fans of them should prepare themselves for a massive world tour in support of this album, one that could perhaps be their last. So if they do hit anywhere near San Diego, I may just have to go see them myself.

Check out the official music video for the song “Speed of Light”: