Words: Jessica Howkins
After what feels like a lifetime, despite only being five years, British heavy metal legends IRON MAIDEN have released their sixteenth studio album, The Book of Souls.
Opening with If Eternity Should Fail, IRON MAIDEN throw us into an eerie, atmospheric intro. The echoing vocals from Bruce Dickinson excite the beginning of the journey the band are about to take us on. The opening track progresses through the eras, displaying almost Rime of the Ancient Mariner sounds from bassist Steve Harris, creating that moment all fans have been waiting for. Storming through the 8 and a half minute track, it certainly sets in the anticipation to listen to the rest of the album.
There is one thing for sure though, Bruce Dickinson may have endured cancer of the throat before the records release but he has certainly not lost that beauty and power to his voice that makes him IRON MAIDEN’s most favoured vocalist.
Second in is the first single from The Book of Souls, Speed of Light. The track in itself had mixed views but it is without a doubt an exciting move, it’s fast, it’s catchy and it’s 100% MAIDEN. Listening to the album for the first time, Speed of Light is definitely a comfort to all fans out there who are itching to belt out their own vocals to the newest IRON MAIDEN material.
With the Great Unknown leads us further in, the atmosphere that was created at the beginning of the album floats back in, leaving a moment of uncertainty as to what will be expected. It proves to be a deal of greatness, it delivers a story effortlessly. This continues straight into a near 14 minute epic, The Red and The Black.
Yet again with a gorgeous intro, all breaks loose and we are introduced into IRON MAIDEN creating a classic anthemic track. From start to finish, the progression from all of the past eras is stunning and done flawlessly. It is exhilarating to listen to and is possibly one of the most fantastic tracks Steve Harris has written to date. It is stuffed with everything that has been done before by the band, from the rhythms and riffs neatly tied together and the “woah-oh’s” that hit a soft spot, however, it is done so differently and so if this isn’t a fan favourite then it will be a surprise.
After the stunning epic that was The Red and the Black, When the River Runs Deep creeps in and shows us that IRON MAIDEN will still try a few new nice bits and pieces and still be able give what is wanted. It is effortlessly executed and has the riffs that would make even Eddie grin with approval.
Stunning and fuelled with emotional power, The Book of Souls title track seeps in like a cold wind before erupting into greatness. Just over ten minutes long, it is common to have lengthy MAIDEN tracks but this one in particular strikes a certain chord in a person. It flows through the veins and gives off a certain darkness to the music, almost creating a powerful feeling to whoever is listening.
Closing The Book of Souls with that chilling feel it opened with, Death or Glory races in. There are no stop signs for this track, it’s fast, furious and gives a fighting chance in the run for a fan favourite. It is also the track that shows the power that was not lost in the vocals of Bruce Dickinson and despite being a faster paced track than its predecessors, it complements the flow of the album incredibly well.
Shadow of the Valley immediately shows similarities between tracks Paschendale and Isle of Avalon with its use of riffs, progressing from verse into chorus and the style of Bruce Dickinson’s vocals. The transition into each section of this track are done smoothly and without a flaw. Despite this, this is probably the least stand-out track from the British legends, nonetheless still a remarkable creation.
Tears of a Clown edges in with yet again a feel that IRON MAIDEN have decided to spice things up and it has worked brilliantly in their favour with this track. It might not be the most powerful on the album in terms of instrumentation but it is stripped down brilliantly to deliver the lyrical content, the story, to its finest. It has a stunning emotional grasp even when the solo’s kick in. As said, it may be a stripped down track for the band but that solo, it moves you and it just tugs at whatever is inside of you, it grasps at every straw it can and it doesn’t let go.
Tears of a Clown allows the mood to be set for the fantastic intro into The Man of Sorrows. It is soft, gentle and you know that yet again, it will most certainly be another fan favourite. It is mixed with again, a ton of emotion but also with experimentation done right. The Book of Souls at this point shows exactly why IRON MAIDEN are one of the greatest heavy metal bands in the world, The Man of Sorrows just cements it even more. It might be the penultimate on the album but it is perfectly placed before the bands final track.
The Man of Sorrows was a perfect introduction into IRON MAIDEN’s final track, Empire of the Clouds, the longest in the bands career since Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Opening with Bruce Dickinson giving his enchanting piano skills and having the echo of the guitars follow suit. Orchestral and beautifully crafted, it brings a tear to the eye. As the drum rolls of Nicko McBrain bring in the soft waves of Bruce Dickinson’s vocals, it shows even early on that this is IRON MAIDEN at their finest, showing that they have crafted their musical skills perfectly and into a gem that is Empire of the Clouds.
The solos and riffs that follow suit from Janick Gers, Dave Murray and Adrian Smith only offer more beauty to the track. It is 18 minutes of sheer beauty and nothing less. From start to finish your attention is grabbed, your eyes are watering and you are left feeling captured, tranced by what IRON MAIDEN have created.
The Book of Souls went through its hardships to be created and whilst there are always the classics out there and whilst IRON MAIDEN have always had the ability to touch so many people around the world, this album just captures emotion so perfectly. THIS is the album that will have such an impact on listeners in terms of finding your soft spot and having IRON MAIDEN enter it and having them soothe it.
The Book of Souls might have made everyone wait for five long years but those five years of needing more was worth it and what the IRON MAIDEN have created this time round, it is sensational and a masterpiece. This album displays the band at their peak and only proves the saying that beauty grows with age.
Iron Maiden, The Book of Souls is available now via Parlophone Records and Sanctuary Records.