After the ’90s disasters that Iron Maiden got themselves into with weak records all along these years, I grew discouraged and dropped them pretty much from my metal radar. But now, after some investigation into the 2000s records, the RMR crew decided to give this band another try.
Undoubtedly, The Book of Souls is typical Iron Maiden and it may turn out to be one of their better albums. But it also comes away with a twist.
The style is definitely slower and a little heavier. Are they getting older? A tad too much beer brewing or airplane flying in the five years since the last record came out? Well, hell’s bells, maybe so, but still this is Heavy Metal that many metalheads will crave.
And it is a double album too, and at 92 minutes of total Iron Maiden bliss also the longest they ever did. If that’s really to their advantage or not remains to be seen, though.
The theme of The Book of Souls steals somewhat shamelessly from the old Mayan culture that was bloody and full of … lost souls way back in time. Only, as nobody really knew them well (Hernán Cortés and his consorts killed them off really fast…), we only kind of know what really went down back in the Mayan heyday. But it’s nonetheless a great theme for a Maiden album and a great stage again for Eddie, our old and trusted friend.
The Book of Souls is at times erring into the murky waters that AC/DC or Krokus like to navigate in. In some parts, this here trademark Iron Maiden soundstage comes across to you like some fucking AC/DC track on the wrong album. And that doesn’t really speak in their favor.
However, The Book of Souls is still undeniably Iron Maiden.
Interestingly, they have two epic songs in there, one of them being 18 friggin’ minutes in length. And none of them tracks cruise less than 4 minutes along that massive timeline. That’s a good thing, by the way. Besides, I love it if bands don’t give a damn about the whacky opinions of consultants and just go for their music. But then again, these guys have nothing to prove anymore to anybody.
To top it, The Book of Souls taught Iron Maiden how to combine the slower parts of their tunes with the hard parts. In truth, this already kind of started back in the ’90s with some wooden attempts. Just check out The X Factor. But now they finally moved to the next stage.
And what about the highlights?
For those who have already read a few of RMR’s pieces, I am really not a big fan of intros. But here in If Eternity Should Fall, this is kind of an inverted role kind of thing. I felt like being in a parallel universe. Starting slow, getting more evil with time, really getting into the groove, and spitting me out with a vengeance.
But then, oh my.
I hear AC/DC traipsing by my back door demanding entry. The band indeed lost their thread for a short while. But after an errand into another territory, they come back quickly to their own turf. So, Speed of Light is safe in the bosom of Eddie, served with some spicy gusto. Even if – and I cannot resist – Brian Johnson would have interpreted this in on one of his albums, would you have gotten the difference? Haha, I think not. But still good – love ya, Iron Maiden.
So, let’s keep on deflowering the maidenhead a bit more with The Great Unknown. This one features an absolutely great double solo. AND it is superb and very steady Iron Maiden main staple. And they now officially beat Rime of an Ancient Mariner in Powerslave. Well not quite, just a tad smaller than the former.
The Red and The Black sports sublime and rock-solid Iron Maiden fare, down to Bruce Dickinson ooh-ing and aah-ing along in his well-known fashion. Nothing too sophisticated, but still special enough to stand apart from the other sinners in the Heavy Metal universe. This is your no-surprise mainstream song. But still good.
The remaining songs leading up to the epic Empire of Clouds are galloping along in best Maiden fashion. The most noteworthy is The Book of Souls – the title track – of again over 10 minutes in length. Yet, and let it be said. Sometimes I wish they would just have ditched the second disk. There’s not much there, and more often than not it pulls the pretty good quality of the first one down some.
Case in point, the danger with epically long tracks is that all of a sudden things can go astray. And after a long instrumental intro to Empire of the Clouds, you kind of ask yourself where this is all going. Its endless noodling and country fare quality will improve a bit once Bruce Dickinson kicks in and adds some vocal spice. But that’s about it.
In the end, The Book of Souls is a real rock solid Iron Maiden album, no doubt about it. And probably one of the best they did in the modern era. Yet it is far away from reaching the heights of The Number of the Beast or Seventh Son. The record tends to constantly overstay its welcome with endless meandering about the same soundscape and a scratchy, tinny production that often gave me pause.
Finally however, the piece is also rocky, fast, with loads of riffs and very strong solos. And then again, you’ll find ballads thrown in along the way, as good Heavy Metal pieces must. The whole shebang is perhaps a little less aggressive than former records used to be. It is also a kind of a concept album of a length unknown to date, complete with an epic experimental 18-minute concoction.
At the end of the day, The Book of Souls will undoubtedly resound with fans for years to come. Yet, even at 92 minutes of airtime, the RMR crew stayed kinda unmoved. The record’s a lengthy and often tasty feast of typical maiden fare, nothing more, nothing less. And that’s a pity because they could have done so much better. So, as it happens, this reviewer will not return to this record anytime soon. The review pipe with exciting metal beckons us instead.