It’s been a long wait, but Iron Maiden are finally ready to unleash their Sixteenth studio album on the world. Book of Souls is the first Maiden record since 2010’s The Final Frontier and fans are chomping at the bit to get a taste of this double disc behemoth. Like Judas Priest with Redeemer of Souls, it’s expected that this album is Maiden back on form and ready to enthral fans with a resurging comeback. We know Maiden have the 747 jumbo jet ready for a tour that’ll visit 35 countries – but does the music stand up to all the fanfare and hype?
Yes, yes it does. Opening with ‘Eternity Should Fall’, there’s a real sense Maiden have gone back to their golden age to pull out their core sound and lather it up with some modernisations. It’s a safe opening and it only gets better from here. ‘Speed of Light’ and ‘The Great Unknown’ follow and both increase the nostalgia, as well as faith in this new record. Fast, fun and full of catchy guitar hooks. ‘The Red and Black’ is a culmination of the best parts from the openers as it delivers the full frontal Maiden sing along we’ve (me) been waiting for. This track is solely written by Steve Harris and it’s a bit of a marathon at thirteen minutes, but who am I to question it? No-one, that’s who! Good work Steve, we’ll share a Trooper.
‘When the River Runs’ continues the up-tempo feel and even ups the guitars and pace. This will be a little beauty played live, with it’s pure head banging built riffs and crashing drums. Maiden at their finest. The record’s title track starts with a more sombre tone before a punishing riff breaks through, casting you back to the Powerslave era for a healthy mix of intimidation and awe. In the song’s first half, the extended chorus seems to dominate a little bit too much and does not provide a catalyst for fans to really rally behind, but half way through the anty is upped and Maiden plough through with ferocity as the second half becomes dominated with power riffs, electrifying solos and all round epicness[ . Well done sirs – fills the 10 minutes nicely.
Ballad time? Not on your life as ‘Death or Glory’ opens with everything you could ever want, expect or ask from a Maiden tune. It’s almost like every song sees them get stronger and stronger on Book of Souls and the excitement of Speed of Light’s classic era sound becomes slightly faded as better and better tunes are propelled forward, Death or Glory has everything for everyone. Love it – no more reviewing, time to re-listen. “Like a monkey climbing out of hell”? Ok, Maiden \,,/.
‘Shadows of the Valley’, and I apologise for doing this tune by tune – but how often do you get a new Maiden album to praise? Every five years or so? Yeah, exactly – keep reading. Shadows is probably the first dip in quality, but that’s due to the repetitive style and it lacks the bite of the previous few tunes. I wonder if Maiden thought the same because the next song, ‘Tears of a Clown’ changes things completely and offers more of a nineties-era rock anthem. Thoughtful, hooky, fun and a re-affirmance that Book of Souls is probably the most exciting Maiden album in a very long time.
It all culminates with the reflective ‘The Man of Sorrows’ and the much talked about, eighteen minute ‘Empire of the Clouds’. Both display a mesh of classic Maiden styles and deliveries, but continuing the unique themes that have steadily built up over this record. Maiden are taking stock. Lyrically, they’re looking around them at what’s come before and what the future could hold and musically is no different. Songs about everything from the dawn of creation to historical incidents are baked by a collage of previous Maiden styles all collected under an umbrella that makes Book of Souls distinctive and full.
This is an Iron Maiden album in every way, not merely a carrier for a few treats. Double albums are not easy to pull off and even when they’re done well, they can struggle to keep the listener engaged right to the end. That is fortunately not the case on Book of Souls. While some songs, like this review, could have benefited from some trimming – everything works and as the final notes of Empire of the Clouds come to a close, you sit back and truly recognize the colossal achievement this record is. This is an album Iron Maiden fans and band alike can forever be proud of.