Iron Maiden’s 16th studio album proves the British metal band is indestructible
Forty years and 16 studio albums: Iron Maiden is like molten lava, consuming everything in its course as it marches on forward with galloping guitars. Even cancer didn’t stop Bruce Dickinson’s deathly howl. Experiencing symptoms of tongue cancer — reportedly from not watching what he ate — Dickinson delayed going to a doctor till he had laid down all the vocal tracks for Maiden’s latest record The Book of Souls. Do the songs sound like they’re coming out of a promiscuous mouth? Possibly. Do they sound like someone with cancer is singing them? Forgetaboutit.
The Book of Souls comes four years after the last studio venture, The Final Frontier. Iron Maiden has been on a roll since Dickinson and guitar player Adrian Smith rejoined the band, going on to record A Brave New World. The Book… is the latest in a line of Maiden’s solid set of signature songs.
Though bassist Steve Harris has always been the dominant songwriting force, this record does see the band contributing a lot more. Dickinson gets sole writing credits on closing track Empire of the clouds.
The album kicks off with a somewhat slow start in If eternity should fail, before gradually turning into the traditional Maiden march replete with Dickinson’s quintessential holler and triple-guitar chug fest. The weakest track of the record is the one single Maiden released before the record, The speed of light. It might be sacrilege to call a Maiden song weak, but at number two the catchy number features a little too early in the record.
The great unknown is a throwback to Maiden’s A Matter of Life and Death (2006). Starting slow, it picks up pace to deliver the typical Maiden chorus belted out by Dickinson’s piercing pipes. Cancers around the world probably observed a moment of silence after hearing it.
The red and the black is one of the strongest tracks. When you think of Maiden, you think of the galloping, melodic guitar breaks and harmonies, and of course, the sing-alongs. The track offers all these, and more. After all, when you put on a Maiden record, you know what you want: unabashed vintage. If it ain’t broke…
The title track has some of the album’s heaviest and crunchiest riffs. It’s one of those tracks that make you want to bite Eddie’s head off, in a good way. In Death or Glory, Nicko’s swinging drums and Harris’ pounding bass lock together to make your bones tickle. Dickinson’s harrowing voice only makes it better. Shadows of the Valley might raise a few eyebrows for the intro riff being too similar to Wasted Years.
When the river runs deep is more Powerslave than any recent Maiden song. Up-tempo with a driving groove, it’s when the album enters into cruise control. Tears of a clown, another Harris composition, is understandably Dickinson’s favourite song to perform. His melodic wail has a bittersweet quality to it. Just as well, since the song is meant to be Maiden’s tribute to the late comedian Robin Williams.
An interesting aspect of the album is the two power ballads: The man of sorrows and the longest Maiden track to date, Empire of the clouds. While the former shows the band is willing to experiment, albeit only a little, the latter is a true magnum opus. Admittedly, it’s no The rime of the ancient mariner, but it takes the listener on an operatic metal journey with some brilliant fretwork.
The Book of Souls is Maiden’s lengthiest work to date. Some fans might argue there is a little more room for experimentation and evolution, but if you’re not looking for a 92-minute, cancer-killing record, you might as well run for the hills.
Aesha Munaf is a sub-editor at The Express Tribune’s Magazine desk.
She tweets @AeshaMunaf
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 4th, 2015.