Label: Warner Music
Before I get started I want to thank Warner Music here in Finland for graciously sending me a promo copy of Book of Souls for review. I really appreciate the fact they thought me worthy enough to review such an important music release and for sending me the deluxe version of the album for review. Thank you for the show of good faith.
So here it is. Five long years since the last release from Iron Maiden. Whether you are the most loyal Maiden fan on the planet or the band’s most ardent hater, when Iron Maiden release a new album EVERYONE knows about it in some form or another. The fact the metal community takes such notice and even news outlets from outside the metal genre give reports about the release can only mean good things for the metal community as a whole.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em the metal world would be nowhere near where it is today without this band.
So, with that being said the band has delivered their 16th studio album, ‘The Book of Souls’ and like the band’s reputation the album is VERY robust in just terms of play time, clocking in at 92 minutes and having the band’s longest song in its history, ‘Empire of the Clouds’ which comes in a little over 18 minutes.
So before we get too far into this review I think it is first best to dissect the band’s different eras, the band’s diverse fan base and the diverse expectations people have when it comes to Iron Maiden. The band has so many facets to its history, members and musical styles that I think these factors have to be discussed in order to give a fair and accurate review of ‘The Book of Souls’. I feel this release, more than any other, since the return of Bruce and Adrian encompasses all aspects of the bands career in varying degrees.
So to be as brief and simple as possible the Eras of Maiden and how I define them are, The Di’anno Era 80’-81, The Zeitgeist Era ’82-’89, The Troubled Era ’90-93’, The Blaze Era ’94-’99 and finally The Rebirth Era ’99-Present. These eras are important because it is what many fans will compare the band to…especially the Zeitgeist Era.
The Di’anno era of course represents the time Paul Di’anno was with the band and the sound the band had at that time. A bit more of a raw sound and a punk rock style due to Di’anno’s vocals. Also regarded by some to be the best time for the band.
The Zeitgeist Era, which is the era the band rose to the fame in and what it is known for today, Bruce Dickinson joins the band, had their classic line-up, was the time period when metal music in general was the way of the world and basically the time when the band captured magic in a bottle. This, more than any other era, is what many fans casual or hardcore will associate with Iron Maiden and for better or worse, the standard many people still expect the band to be. Admittedly, there is a part of me that does this as well. By definition Zeitgeist means, (spirit of the age or spirit of the time) is the intellectual fashion or dominant school of thought that typifies and influences the culture of a particular period in time. Also, for the philosophical types out there, some believe that once a Zeitgeist era has passed it can never be recaptured again like it once was.
The Troubled Era is the time period when Bruce was becoming disgruntled in the band, Adrian left and there was also a
decline in the both the band’s popularity and the popularity of metal in general. This was also the time period many consider the band released some albums that were not up to standards compared to the bands previous releases. Ultimately Bruce left the band for a solo career in 1993.
The Blaze Era is the time period Blaze Bailey entered the band as lead vocalist and recorded two albums, The X-Factor and Virtual XI. This is also the era that fans were the most divided against each other and in the opinion of whether Blaze made a good fit for Maiden. It also marked the time most critics were the harshest on Maiden and the new singer. For the record, I felt ‘X-Factor’ was one of the best Maiden albums while being both something new but also still classic Maiden. While Blaze didn’t have the vocal range of Bruce he wasn’t a shit singer and didn’t deserve some of the backlash of so called ‘tolerant’ metal fans.
The Rebirth Era, basically the era we are in today and the era from Brave New World forward. Bruce and Adrian return to the band in 1999 after much dissention from fans and them screaming to bring back Bruce and the desire for the band to return form, basically wanting to bring the band back to Zeitgeist Era days. However, as many have found out, the Rebirth Era wasn’t the rebirth many thought it would be in 1999 but something completely different. People who thought the band would return to the sound the band had in the 80’s were sorely mistaken as they found out Bruce had all new ideas he wanted to explore upon his return to Maiden and this was also the main cause he left the band in ’93 because he wasn’t allowed to explore these ideas like he wished. So when Bruce came back, Harris gave him the ALL GO to write however he wished and it is this legacy we are still in today. Some people have whole heartedly embraced it and accepted the band has changed, while others still criticize the band for not releasing ‘Powerslave the Revenge of the Seventh Son’, while yet others are somewhere in the middle.
So how does all this play into ‘The Book of Souls’? A lot actually because the band itself is always trying to be Iron Maiden while also trying not to be an Iron Maiden tribute band. Since the Rebirth Era this has proved to be an enigma for the fans who have both tried to embrace the band’s new sound while also hoping that each new release somehow captures something from the Zeitgeist Era. This is how I am going to write this review as I am a fan that has come from the 80’s initially and went through the various eras since then and will offer criticisms and praise of this current release based on that viewpoint.
Am I fan who think Iron Maiden needs to be the same band that it was in 1984? No I am not. Am I fan who thought the return of Bruce and Adrian would bring back the pure 80’s era type band? No I am not. Am I fan that hoped the band would have at least some form of their old selves to some degree…yes I am. Do I think the band has accomplished this…up until ‘The Book of Souls’, the answer was a NO. Do I think ‘The Book of Souls’ FULLY accomplished this…yes and no.
Since the return of Bruce and Adrian my feelings on Iron Maiden releases have been bittersweet. While I have enjoyed all of them in some degree I still felt that they weren’t immersive like the older albums. And yes, while there was and is a part of me that wishes the band could recapture some of the glory of the 80’s I do understand the band can’t just live in that decade, see my definition of Zeitgeist above. So I completely understand the band wanting to move forward and try new things, the problem I had with many of the Rebirth Era albums was that some of the tunes were VERY proggy, just didn’t have catchy tunes or musically just seemed like the guys were just ‘jamming’. While all of the albums had some fantastic songs on them, there were many songs that just never did much to engage me. This was most true with the bands last album ‘The Final Frontier’ which I thought had some really great songs but many songs just were very 70’s prog type stuff or was unnecessarily long (I know complaining about a long Maiden song seems contradictory) and with music that didn’t seem to fit what the song originally started out as. So as a Maiden fan who came from an older era but realized the band was in a new era, I accepted what the band had become while inside I wished the band on some songs could just LET IT RIP, even if a song or two sounded 80’s, just tear that shit up on a few tracks.
So as ‘The Book of Souls’ released I made sure to keep my expectations reasonable, especially with an album that runs 92 minutes.
I have made sure to listen to the album at least twice so I could give what I hope is a fair and reasonable review. Upon listening to ‘The Book of Souls’ I have to say this to me is the most easily listenable album for me out of the Rebirth Era and also the one I think lightly goes back and captures some of the spirit of the albums from the Zeitgeist Era and even the Di’anno Era.
While ‘The Book of Souls’ is still most definitely a Rebirth Era Maiden album I think this is the album that will come closest to pleasing fans from the Zeitgeist Era. I say this because of several reasons.
First I think the production on this album is much cleaner than on previous releases which help when it comes to the leads and the solos on the album as they sound cleaner and have more clarity. The song composition themselves seems more uniform so you don’t have A LOT of songs that just go off in all kinds of musical directions but they seem more coherent overall, even the longer songs which always have a danger of losing the listener. Going back to the leads and solos on the album, they also seem more like the classic Maiden I know and there is one song that even starts off like Wasted Years…I am not saying that is a great thing but it still is something that goes back to that time.
Also interesting to note is that the song ‘When the River Runs Deep’ has a sound that goes back to the ‘Killers’ album and reminds me of the song Purgatory for some reason.
Also, the band seems to have incorporated more melodies and hooks overall in the music that helps give the songs more of an identity which I found very pleasing and more immersive. A big plus for me here.
Now I have seen many people complaining that the album has too many songs on it that are too long. I understand this criticism especially with some of the more current releases but for me ‘The Book of Souls’ doesn’t suffer from the songs being long, as musically most of them still stay within the same musical composition they start out with. A prime example is ‘The Red and the Black’ which I felt that everything in that song fit like it should, so it being a long song didn’t bother me and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Now that isn’t to say ‘The Book of Souls’ doesn’t suffer from having some songs go on too long, I just think on this album that most of them make more musical sense in their length. However I do think ‘Empire of the Clouds’, which many seem to really praise, is a bit overly long. While I do enjoy the song and find the piano in it a nice addition, it does go for about 5 minutes too long and it is probably the one song that sounds the most non-Maiden.
Lyrically speaking the band is still very much part of the Rebirth Era as the lyrics in the songs are much more robust and grandiose than many of the band’s earlier work. Though Maiden have always been a very lyrical and thinking band, in the Rebirth Era they really jam in a lot of lyrics and ‘The Book of Souls’ is no exception to this.
Vocally, Bruce still does an amazing job singing overall. Though I will admit there are some spots I think he is trying to sing TOO high and to me and most fans we aren’t going to hold it against the guy if he can’t hit those super high notes anymore. Bruce you have nothing to prove to us…because it is obvious you can still sing and you do a FANTATIC job on this album. There are just a few spots that it seems that he should have held back just a bit as I think it would have made the songs a lot stronger. Then again, I understand the man likes to push his boundaries and I respect that as well. Also, while I like the production on this album a lot I also think there are moments the producer pushes the vocals a little bit too far behind the wall of sound.
So how do I feel about ‘The Book of Souls’ overall? I have to say I really like it. I think overall I probably like it more than any of the Rebirth Era albums and definitely more the ‘The Final Frontier’. I also find it to be an album I can go back to over and over again and listen to and enjoy.
Does the album have some issues, for an old time fan like me? Sure. But as an old time fan I think ‘The Book of Souls’ captures the spirit of what the band used to be more than any of their current releases since Bruce and Adrian’s return and it also keeps the band current and able to explore new styles as well.
Nothing will replace ‘Powerslave’ for me but I think this album can be the ‘Powerslave’ for a newer generation of Maiden fans and for that alone I highly recommend ‘The Book of Souls’. While many fans still complain about Maiden not being the Maiden we grew up with there will be one day when the band is not here anymore and I think then we all will wish for the days Maiden was still around releasing album like ‘The Book of Souls’.