'The Book Of Souls'
Release Date: 4th September 2015
They say that the only certainties in life are death and taxes but I'd like to add Iron Maiden to that list because the longest period between Maiden albums ever will be over on Friday and what they have done with 'The Book Of Souls' is excel themselves.
This is without a doubt the most anticipated album of the year, possibly even of the decade so far, and with Maiden the expectation level is always ridiculously high anyway but the greatest Heavy Metal band in the world have created a true epic here, a slab of real molten Metal, forged in an east-end furnace and bursting with the burning ambition that made Iron Maiden what they are, thirty-five years after the release of their first ever album, a release that had a major impact on my life. 'The Book Of Souls' is currently having a similar impact.
Every release since the debut (this is Maiden's sixteenth studio album) has had a major impact because this is no ordinary band. They always were a cut above the rest, they always were very, very special and they always delivered a unique quality to the fans. With Maiden there was never any bullshit. It was always for real and they have consistently over the last thirty-five years been the very best they can be and the very best there is. Nobody else in Heavy Metal (or any other musical genre for that matter) is on their level.
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So after the longest wait ever for a new Maiden album, we get the longest Maiden album ever, the first ever double studio album, the longest Maiden song ever, the third longest Maiden song ever ('The Red And The Black' is one second shorter than 'The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner') and the fifth longest Maiden song ever. That's three songs clocking in at a total of over forty-two minutes.
Just think about that for a minute - 'The Book Of Souls' contains three songs that clock in at over forty-two minutes. I really don't need to elaborate on that as it's a fact that speaks for itself.
There are eleven songs in total over the two discs and it's a total of ninety-two minutes in length, released in several different versions and formats and it's a ridiculously difficult album to get your head around. I mean that in a good way of course. I've been listening solidly for six days now, day and night on loop, and I'm still not completely there with it. It's rich, it's complex and in places, it's a total and utter mindfuck, which means it is a creation that is, quite simply put, a masterpiece.
There are many aspects that make 'The Book Of Souls' a masterpiece and there are two major ones that immediately stood out.
First of all, Iron Maiden have really utilised the three guitar sound here, probably for the first time ever and what an incredible difference it has made. I'm a massive fan of the four post Bruce reunion albums (one of them is actually my favourite Maiden album of all time) but I always thought they were not making the most of having three guitars in the line-up. This time I think they have really nailed a proper three guitar sound and that is evident in the fact that after looping the album for so long now, I am still hearing fresh nuances every single listen.
Secondly, this is beyond a doubt the best bass sound ever from Steve Harris. It's deeper and richer than ever before and it works better than it ever did before.
Each of the eleven songs is an epic in its own right, but some songs are more epic than others, for example, "epic" does not do 'Empire Of The Clouds' proper justice. This track is like a mini album on it's own and in fact, in the old vinyl days, it would have taken up one side of a whole album but it's not the length that is important here, it's the sheer quality, as it is with the whole album. Maiden seem to have invented brand new levels of "epic". They've raised the bar substantially.
"'We're down lads!' came the cry, bow plunging from the sky
Three thousand horses silent as the ship began to die
The flares to guide her path ignited at the last
The empire of the clouds, just ashes in our past
Just ashes at the last..."
Bruce plays grand piano on 'Empire Of The Clouds' - another first for Maiden - and the song tells the story of the R101 Airship disaster in 1930 in France and it's a story that will grip you and captivate you. The R101 was the world's largest aircraft at the time and the disaster effectively ended British Airship production in that era. Funnily enough, the world's current largest aircraft is the Airship hybrid, the Airlander, which Bruce Dickinson is a partner of. It is scheduled to make it's maiden voyage in the coming months.
Musically, 'Empire...' is a sonic hybrid of cultivated sounds that pull at all your senses and emotions and leave you gasping for breath as this incredible musical journey takes you far away. It's an ambitious song like no other before it and I doubt if any other band could have pulled it off.
And like 'The Red And The Black', the complexities in the song are something to behold. Both tracks contain many different shades of dark and light and Maiden's songwriting has clearly reached a new plateau. There are tiny hints of past glories, for example, 'Speed Of Light' reminds me of 'Sun And Steel' from 'Piece Of Mind' ever so slightly, but they haven't just gone and pushed out an Acme bog standard Iron Maiden album here - they've taken everything one step further and if anyone ever thought that this band were approaching the end, 'The Book Of Souls' will prove them totally wrong.
Now regular Maiden producer Kevin "Caveman" Shirley was once again at the helm for this album and he's most definitely got the best out of the band again. The album is crammed full of little surprises, an acoustic intro or ending here, an unexpected time change there and a spoken outro at the end of 'If Eternity Should Fail' amongst other treats here and there.
"Good day, my name is Necropolis
I am formed of the dead
I am the harvester of soul metal
And I suck the lives from around my bed
My own two sons I gave them breath
And I filled their living corpses with my bile
What humanity I knew I have long forgotten
For me eternity is nothing
But a short while"
We're going to have to wait until forthcoming interviews to find out who Necropolis is because Google searches reveal only that Necropolis ("city of the dead") is a large ancient cemetery with elaborate tomb monuments and linguistically, the word is derived from Ancient Greek.
The album itself is said to have a Mayan theme; this was quoted officially when referring to cover art creator Mark Wilkinson whose work was referred to as "Maya themed cover artwork".
But if we were to try and decipher the meanings behind every track on this album, we'd be here until after the 2016 world tour ends and that's one of the great delights of 'The Book Of Souls' - it's an album that will last you a very seriously long time.
One track that you won't need to spend much time working out is the moving 'Tears Of A Clown' which is dedicated to the, sadly, late Robin Williams. It's a story of a doomed man who is constantly playing the part of a much loved funny man while dying on the inside and privately struggling to keep it together and unfortunately we all know how it ended. This is a beautiful track, both musically and message wise and that riff will surprise you too.
"Who motivates the motivator?
Façade it has to go
He knows it sooner or later
Smile for the camera, all OK
But tomorrow is another day he must get through"
You've got two possible forthcoming singles in the shape of 'Death Or Glory' and 'When The River Runs Deep' as both have memorable hooks and the ten-and-a-half minute long title track is just something to behold. It's another tough one to get your head around and like the name Nicopolis, that riff with subtle keyboard backing sounds distinctly Ancient Egyptian to me but once again, that is all to be confirmed in forthcoming interviews.
There's some absolutely mind blowing soloing going on in 'The Book Of Souls' and some of the very best is on display in the title track. Some bands struggle to get three great guitar solos on an album. Maiden have done it on one track.
Also, Bruce is singing better than ever on this album; some of his vocal acrobatics are just insane really and I'd go as far as to say that his performance as a whole on 'The Book Of Souls' is a career high for him.
There's a broader split on the songwriting compared to previous Maiden albums with Steve Harris contributing to seven of the tracks, six of them being co-writes with other members and one sole composition ('The Red And The Black'). This is also the first time since 1984s 'Powerslave' album that an Iron Maiden studio album features two tracks written solely by Bruce Dickinson and they are the opening and closing tracks, 'If Eternity Should Fail' and 'Empire Of The Clouds' respectively.
There are also two Dickinson/Smith collaborations, 'Speed Of Light' and 'Death Or Glory' while Dave Murray gets a credit on 'The Man Of Sorrows' and Janick Gers is credited on the title track, as he was on 'Dance Of Death', and 'Shadows Of The Valley'. Adrian Smith is credited on five of the tracks.
It's hard to believe that a band that has been at the top for this long and has so many fabulous achievements under their belt can continue to still see off young pretenders to their throne by expanding their boundaries even further but that's the thing with Maiden - they've continuously surprised us throughout the years so there was no reason to think they wouldn't do that this time around.
"The rulers of planets and stars
The power of the kings, of traders and the wars
Planetary cycles and the phases of the moon
Is in the document a kingdom they will learn"
This is a watershed moment in Maiden's fabulous career and Bruce, having just had horrific chemotherapy treatment, is now learning to fly a 747 for the 2016 world tour, a venture that is clearly going to be the most ambitious world tour undertaken by any band, ever. It's anybody's guess what tracks they will choose from the new album to play live and what classics from the past they will mix them with but one thing is absolutely guaranteed - the 2016 world tour is already next year's "must-see" event.
I'm lucky enough to have been at nearly a half century of Iron Maiden concerts since my debut outing in 1980 and I still want more and very clearly, judging by this magnificent release so do the band. Bring it on!
And on a side note, Maiden have broken so much ground with touring this last few years, it wouldn't surprise me if they became the first ever band in history to play a gig on a different planet. Perhaps Bruce is planning it right now and will be flying the spacecraft himself...
1. If Eternity Should Fail (Dickinson) 8:28
2. Speed Of Light (Smith/Dickinson) 5:01
3. The Great Unknown (Smith/Harris) 6:37
4. The Red And The Black (Harris) 13:33
5. When The River Runs Deep (Smith/Harris) 5:52
6. The Book Of Souls (Gers/Harris) 10:27
7. Death Or Glory (Smith/Dickinson) 5:13
8. Shadows Of The Valley (Gers/Harris) 7:32
9. Tears Of A Clown (Smith/Harris) 4:59
10. The Man Of Sorrows (Murray/Harris) 6:28
11. Empire Of The Clouds (Dickinson) 18:01
2CD deluxe hardbound book limited edition
2CD standard edition
Triple heavyweight black vinyl
High res audio (24-bit Mastered for ITunes and non-Mastered for iTunes)
Standard res audio (16 bit/ 44.1 kHz)
Iron Maiden are:
Bruce Dickinson: Vocals
Steve Harris: Bass
Janick Gers: Guitar
Adrian Smith: Guitar
Dave Murray: Guitar
Nicko McBrain: Drums
Iron Maiden will tour the world in 2016 on Ed Force One again, only this time its a 747 which Bruce is learning to fly right now. Tour details available so far are right here.