Watching Iron Maiden live is to be swept along in an epic tide of sound. Anyone who has stood before their dramatic stage shows, the monumental figure of Eddie, and watched as Bruce Dickinson flies the flag, will acknowledge the glorious gauntlet that it is to run with Iron Maiden. And recorded, their albums are similarly demanding sagas, built on theatre and calls to arms. So it should come as no surprise that on their latest album, The Book Of Souls, Iron Maiden call upon their fans to join them for a legendary 92 minutes. Their first double album, The Book Of Souls features only eleven songs but indulges in track length, culminating in the metal opus Empire Of Clouds, their longest song to date at 18 minutes long.
This year sees the 40th anniversary of the band, and it would be understandable (but disappointing) to see Iron Maiden assume their place as a heritage act; ensconced in their vintage finery pandering to fans and either too timid or worn out to venture into new ground. But with The Book Of Souls Iron Maiden have done no such thing. In fact they have done nearly the exact opposite. Stirring up dissent at live shows with their refusal to play “the classics”, the band continue to forge on and evolve.
The Book Of Souls bears all the distinctive trademarks; modal chord progressions, battle cries and mystery, all topped with Dickinson’s unmistakeable vocal. Turning to the ancient Mayan civilisation’s beliefs around the immortality of the soul, The Book Of Souls touches on wide themes. From classic Maiden fare in the battle ready Death Or Glory to the apocalyptic If Eternity Should Fail. Dickinson’s fascination with aviation is no secret, at his epic contribution Empire Of Clouds was apparently inspired by the tragic 1930 R101 airship crash.
Embracing a more immediate approach to writing, a number of tracks for the album were written and recorded nearly simultaneously. And as such The Book Of Souls is perhaps the most collaborative effort from Iron Maiden with all members, except drummer Nicko McBrain, receiving writing credits. With less input from bassist Steve Harris than on previous releases, the more familiar The Red And The Black bears Harris’ stamp with chugging bass lines, anthemic calls and a driving pace. His Tears Of A Clown sits slightly apart in the album, a melancholic ode to comedian Robin Williams’ suicide, this one has less of a theatrical bent and an intricate guitar solo is distorted rather than ringing.
Though The Book Of Souls drives forward at a slightly more thoughtful pace than previous releases, this approach suits an album which commits to track lengths of ten minutes and more. There is also a rawness to the sound on this record, the production from long time collaborator Kevin Shirly is spot on as you would expect, but writing and recording on the fly seems to have brought out a fresh feel from Iron Maiden. Winding down on the dogged A Man Of Sorrows, a melodic track reminiscent of 70’s rock and metal with soaring guitar solos but with all the true Maiden tricksy key changes and switching paces. Final track Empire Of Clouds features, and revolves around, the first piano composition from Dickinson for Iron Maiden.
The Book Of Souls has the potential to frustrate fans, a far cry from iconic album and tracks. But those tracks have already been written. This album is unmistakably Iron Maiden, and is impressive in its undaunted energy and intention. Even if their thoughts are moving onto the legacy that will live on after their demise, The Book Of Souls takes its place proudly in the Iron Maiden canon.