Iron Maiden – “The Book of Souls” (2015) Album Review Iron Maiden – “The Book of Souls” (2015) Album Review
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For more than 30 years, the british rock pioneers in Iron Maiden have dominated the heavy metal scene, selling over 85 million records worldwide;... Iron Maiden – “The Book of Souls” (2015) Album Review

For more than 30 years, the british rock pioneers in Iron Maiden have dominated the heavy metal scene, selling over 85 million records worldwide; more than any other new wave metal band to come out of the 1980’s. In addition to that, they’ve also never really declined in popularity, with only 2 albums not being able to obtain a gold certification. Not many artists can claim to have been as consistently successful over multiple decades as these guys. As a matter of fact, they’re even more of a household name now than they were back then. They’ve survived so many line-up changes, it can be hard to fully grasp their longevity and long-standing fan base. But here they are, still kicking and screaming, ready with their 16th studio album; the first double-disc in the band’s discography, and also their longest effort to date, clocking in at just over 92 minutes.

“The Book of Souls” is the title of this magnum-size project, which sees the band going bigger and more progressive than ever before. At its core, the music still sounds very much like what you would expect from Iron Maiden. Lots of harmonious guitar inter-weavings, galloping bass lines, intricate solos and rat-a-tat drumming. But there is also a slightly more experimental feel to some of the songs on here. The compositions are a little more daring in places, sort of like on “The Final Frontier”, but with a bit more bite to the instrumentation. The opening track “If Eternity Should Fail” is a prime example of that, starting off with an eerie and slow synth-line that repeats itself, while the echoed vocals of frontman Bruce Dickinson resonate loud and clearly like a pastor preaching in a church. It may be a little too unnecessarily long in parts, but it still provides more than enough high-octane energy and tight interplay to send off the album with an explosive bang.

We then get thrown right into the lead single “Speed of Light”, which I personally found to be the weakest of the 11 cuts. The lyrics are too cheesy, Dickinson’s voice has a hard time keeping up the pace, and although the main riff is really solid, I just can’t help but feel that there are so many better and more musically interesting songs that would’ve made a bigger splash on radio stations. Like the following track, “The Great Unknown”, which has so much more to offer in terms of sheer excitement and musicianship. It’s got a great hook, Dickinson’s voice is devilish, and the drum-work is particularly notable here. Even “Death or Glory”, which is another forgettable safe-zone venture, seems to have more of a punch to the way it hits you. But in all honesty, the alternative that it brings to the table is just as familiar in shape and structure. In a way I can understand the single choice, though, since most of the other songs are simply too long for mainstream radio.

You would think the lengthier tracks would be overly bloated and aimless, but that is not the case at all. Quite the opposite, actually. The best arrangements on this beast are by far those that exceed the 8 minute mark. “The Red and the Black” is our first real taste of that, leading off with a morbidly thick bass-line by Steve Harris, playing parallel to a Mexican strum-pattern on the guitar. Bruce is really on top of his game here, and I love the whoa-whoa chorus, which makes it perfect for crowd participation. The title track likewise has a cool spanish vibe going on with its quiet, acoustic intro, which transitions nicely into a doomsday-like cocktail of guitar thunder and typhoon drumming. But the real show-stealer is the epic 18-minute album closer “Empire of the Clouds”, which is destined to become a Maiden classic. Dickinson wrote this song entirely by himself on a piano in the studio, and you can tell he put all his energy into making it as good as it could possibly be. The melody has an almost mythical, fairy-tale like quality to it, and the string section that goes on top has a very sensual, celtic folk sensibility. and despite how much time it takes up, it never becomes dull or frustrating to listen to. There’s always something going on, and it is undoubtedly one of the most grand and ambitious endeavours the band has ever crafted. It really is that good.

As a whole, “The Book of Souls” is as endearing and visceral as anything Iron Maiden has ever done. It also has a great live feel to it, due to the fact that all band members were playing together in the same space during recording + it was captured on analog tape. It is, however, a very progressive journey, so if you prefer the shorter and more condensed solution, this might not be the album for you. It’s a bit slow and less immediate compared to their early material, but it’s nice to see them change things up and evolve, instead of rehashing the same old formula over and over again. It’s playful and vast in scope, Dickinson still got the vocal chops, and there is plenty of guitar candy to please longtime fans of the band. Not every track hits equally hard, especially not the shorter cuts. But there is far more to love than hate about this album, with the positives outweighing the negatives considerably. This isn’t exactly a renaissance, but it’s by all means the most focused and well-rounded collection of jams the guys have mustered since the late 1980’s.

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Mathias Folsted Film/Music/TV critic, columnist, and news-writer

An aspiring filmmaker, film critic and YouTuber. Previous experience include extensive work for the largest danish film site, www.filmz.dk, where I served as junior editor, film critic, columnist, and news writer. Also a graduate from the European Film College, I've been a lover of motion pictures for as long as I can remember. My criticism is always honest, but above all emotional.

  • Gave up on Iron Maiden after A Matter of Life and Death. Loved their “comeback” album, Brave New World, but Dance of Death was fucking garbage and AMoLaD wasn’t much better. Never even bothered listening to The Final Frontier.

    Anyway, still a fan of the group overall. Not a huge fan, as I think their discography has more misses than hits, but when they hit, they hit fucking hard.

    My top 5 Iron Maiden albums…

    1. The Number of the Beast
    2. Powerslave
    3. Brave New World
    4. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
    5. Piece of Mind

  • Mathias

    Some of the cuts on here might surprise you, like “Empire of the Clouds”, “The Red and the Black”, “The Book of Souls” and “Tears of A Clown”.

    Personally, these are my top 5 Iron Maiden releases:

    1. Powerslave
    2. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
    3. Killers
    4. The Number of the Beast
    5. Piece of Mind

    I gotta say, the new album might be in my top 7 though. Still have to let it sink in for a moment.

  • Based on your review it sounds like it might be similar in sound to some of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and Powerslave, so I may give it a shot. Been awhile since I’ve listened to them now so could be a breath of fresh air.

  • Mathias

    Well, I think it’s good. It’s not on par with those albums, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad at all. It’s more like “The Final Frontier”, but better songs, I feel like. Although some of the songs do harken back to the late 1980’s Iron Maiden. Let me know what you think, once you get a chance to hear the whole thing.

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  • Stalkeye

    Only song I really like from IM is

  • Good song, but you still crazy man. =)

  • Stalkeye

    Nah, I just know what gels. (0=

  • So, the lengthier tracks are better this time around? As an avid lover of their classic albums, the few recent ones have felt really bloated at times.

  • And if I’d pick my favorite albums, it’s a pretty easy pick – my Top 7 is the first seven albums(not in any particular order):

    – Iron Maiden (1980)
    – Killers (1981)
    – The Number of the Beast (1982)
    – Piece of Mind (1983)
    – Powerslave (1984)
    – Somewhere in Time (1986)
    – Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)

  • I don’t like the first two as I can’t get behind non-Bruce Dickinson Iron Maiden. It just doesn’t feel right.

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    Looking forward to this! Nice review. Been a long time since some really good Maiden came out. Hops this is the album…

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    Agreed, and doesn’t sound as good

  • I dunno. There are some great fucking tracks on both of those. And Di’Anno still beats Blaze Bayley about 100-0.

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    My list would contain only the albums Bruce was a part of, because without Bruce, there is no Maiden! Sorta like Priest; without Halford, there is no Priest!
    1. Powerslave
    2. Piece Of Mind
    3. The Number Of The Beast
    4. Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son
    5. Caught Somewhere In Time
    6. No Prayer For The Dying
    7. Fear Of The Dark

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    But Dickenson beats them ALL!

  • Truth.

  • Instrumentally they’re fine, but I just can’t do it. Agreed about Di’Anno though. The first two albums are listenable at least, unlike the two with Bayley. Boring as fuck.

  • gorgarwilleatyou1

    Just put my order ! Love me some Maiden. I read on Blabbermouth Bruce is using a Jumbo Jet on the next tour twice the size of Ed Force One.

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    Maiden

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    Gel

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    You be like crazzzzzy foooooooool

  • Mathias

    Some of them could’ve been trimmed slightly, but a track like “Empire of the Clouds” never runs out of steam or creativity. One of the best Maiden songs I’ve heard in a long time!

  • Okay, cool.

  • gorgarwilleatyou1

    Poor Maggie can you imagine if they put a cover like that out these days there would be an uproar!

  • gorgarwilleatyou1

    Hey Mathias I don’t know how i missed it but just noticed you did a video review as well nice job keep up the good work! Good to hear you are a Killers fan (the first maiden album I bought) great songs on that unappreciated album loved that era ahh Genghis Khan, Drifter… now i need to dig it out.

  • Mathias

    Yeah, busy day! But I wanted to get all my thoughts out there. Thanks for the positive feedback!

  • Sagamanus

    Only Maiden album I’ve ever had was Powerslave. I think I stopped listening to the bands of that era after a point and only returned to them far later.

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    No kidding!

  • Stalkeye

    LOL actually, I never got to listen to many of IM’s songs. there were too many other bands that I was vested in. Well, there’s also that Trooper song. 😛

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    Just listened to the whole album, and I agree, very nice!

  • jim83

    Just listened to it for a second time.i don’t know, i just can’t get into it,it’s certainly better than the previous one but the songs are not very memorable,the production is kinda mediocre(where are you Martin Birch..) and just an overall meh.It is decent but nothing more to me.