Album Review: Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls

Veteran NWOBHM-ers prove that they’re still alive and kicking, but need a better editor. reviews

TBOS500

★★★☆☆

Iron Maiden are a band who command the utmost respect for their contribution to heavy metal and British musical heritage as a whole, their numerous seminal studio (and live) albums, and their resilience to changes within and without the music industry, not to mention their increasing age. Powerslave, The Number of the Beast and Piece of Mind sit among the great albums of the 1980s. The Book Of Souls has already topped charts across Europe, and looks to be continuing the band’s globetrotting success, but for possibly the first time in their career, the band have released an album that really shows their age.

First off, it is sensible to be forever wary of what is probably the least successful phenomenon in popular music: the double album. At best, a double album contains too much material to form a cohesive listening experience; at worst, half of the songs should have been binned in pre-production. The Book Of Souls isn’t quite that flabby, but there is certainly ample opportunity here for the band to have been more frugal with their arrangements. An unnecessary amount of this album is acoustic sections, spoken word, and truly awful MIDI strings and horns: things most people go to Dimmu Borgir for, not Iron Maiden. These make up only part of the excessive 92-minutes runtime, though: the rest is made up from the three songs that clock in at over 10 minutes, with change.

‘The Red And The Black’, at 13:34, is as dull as the Stendhal novel of the same name, though the band has not followed through on anything as complex as its socio-political subject matter. ‘Empire Of The Clouds’, the album’s closer and newly-ordained ‘Longest Iron Maiden Song’ at a Wakeman-esque 18:01, actually starts with piano, and eventually develops into quite stirring piece; unfortunately it never quite escapes the melodrama that makes it sound like a song that didn’t quite make it into the final cut of Les Misérables. The title track, at a restrained 10:28, is the best of the bunch, maybe even a classic-in-waiting with its titanic main riff, but is still bookended by a couple of minutes’ worth of acoustic fiddling that should have seen more of the cutting-room floor.

The rule for The Book Of Souls does indeed seem to be that the shorter the song, the better. Though they sit slightly incongruously among the epic progsterpieces, ‘When The River Runs Deep’, ‘Death Or Glory’ and ‘Speed Of Light’ are textbook classic Maiden, and are all the better for it. ‘Tears Of A Clown’ suffers only from the humorously bad strings behind its chorus, and ‘The Great Unknown’, at only 6:38, is epic enough to be the grand centrepiece of a different album that was not dominated by other, longer songs.

Despite the gaping chasms here between the songs that sound like ‘Maiden Doing Maiden’ and those that sound like ‘Maiden Doing Yes’, there are a few uniting factors. Firstly, in contrast to the terribly flat sound of the band’s previous effort, The Final Frontier, the production on The Book Of Souls is excellent. There has obviously been a deliberate effort to capture the character of the band’s best studio work of the 1980s, particularly in the wide, roomy sound of Nicko’s drums and the warm, layered rhythm guitars, mixed characteristically low, as well as Harris’ impressively audible bass.

Unfortunately, the second uniting factor of this LP’s track listing is the evident ageing of Bruce’s voice: his newfound difficulty in reaching the upper registers for which he has been so legendary is evident on every track, particularly the chorus of ‘Speed Of Light’, where it begins to grate. The fruits of the periods the band spent without Bruce show that a future without him may not be viable, and so Maiden fans around the world can only wait with bated breath to see when the behemoth will finally come to a halt. Hopefully they will be treated to a slightly more concise album before Eddie has to hang up his costumes.

6 comments

  1. 24 Sep ’15 at 6:14 pm

    Robert Ryan IV

    I thought the album was awesome and I don’t mind the cover art at all anyways i love iron maiden and I hope to see them in Texas or Louisiana in 2016 world tour!up the irons!

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  2. worst review ever. Only because i believe he is wrong. One of the mostpowerful maiden albums to date.

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  3. Yeah, that’s garbage buddy. I give your review 1 star. Yeah a few songs are a bit “meh” to fill the double album up, but the opening song is awesome, and Empire of the Clouds, what an epic masterpiece, will go down in history as Maidens “Stairway to Heaven” song I think.

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  4. The reviewer has the right to his own opinion, I just hope he doesn’t get paid for it. This album grows on you with every listen, it isn`t instantly gratifying for the most part which is my guess that the reviewer tends to usually listen to. I like the road Maiden has traveled as I get older and I find myself listening to the post reunion albums (except The Final Frontier) almost exclusively and the songwriting on Book of Souls is the best they have ever done. I do have to agree with the reviewer on the subject of Bruce`s voice but the reviewer fails to mention that Bruce recorded all of his vocals with throat cancer. If the Book of Souls is Maidens swan song they certainly will have ended with a triumphant effort that puts the last album to shame. The reviewer complains about the editing but fails to mention the songs that he thinks should have been eliminated while complaining about the acoustic parts, did he forget what band the review was about? Maiden has become a progressive metal band as their last five albums show, in my opinion they just do it better on Book of Souls with Empire of the Clouds being the best of the superb lot. I don`t want to see Maiden touring into their 70`s ( I seen the Rolling Stones this year ) but if they can keep recording this kind of quality material they will always have a solid fan base as the chart success of Book of Souls indicates.

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    • Drew
      Followed Maiden since 81 and must say I love this album, just what a Maiden album should be. Book of souls is epic just as it should be and the tracks as a whole are all good and will please
      Maiden fans all over the world.

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  5. This doesn’t know shitttt ….. The tracks he claims are typical classic maiden are the worst on the album…. Speed of light being the worst….. This is….. By far the best Maiden album since Brave New World….. And Bruce’s aging voice ? Try cancer dumb arse…. The album was made before he went in for treatment as he didn’t know if he would be able to sing again afterwards….. He and all the band did a great freaking job….. I’d put this album against any of their others….. Also just wanted to throw in that Speed of Light sounds like a reject from Final Frontier… Not an overwhelming album…. But Book of Souls ? Absolutely amazing…. Don’t think this review was written by someone that knew what he was talking about…. On any level

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