IRON MAIDEN's The Book Of Souls Track-By-Track - "An Enormous Artistic Endeavour"

August 30, 2015, 8 years ago

Mark Gromen


IRON MAIDEN's The Book Of Souls Track-By-Track - "An Enormous Artistic Endeavour"

Easily the year’s most anticipated album along with the new Slayer, British heavy metal powerhouse Iron Maiden roar back back with their first album in five years (since 2010’s The Final Frontier) and BraveWords has a complete run-down of this massive opus and the band’s first true double album! Let’s up the irons with scribe Mark Gromen’s take on The Book Of Souls, which is due out via Parlophone Records (Sanctuary Copyrights/BMG in the US and Warner in Canada) on September 4th.

What year is it anyway, with British contemporaries Saxon, Motörhead and Iron Maiden releasing strong new albums within weeks of one another. At just over 92 minutes, Iron Maiden offer fans eleven new songs, for the first time on a studio platter, housed within a pair of CDs. Half a decade in the making, not that they've been sitting idle, Eddie's thrilling his third generation of fans. Might not mean much in a streaming, digital world, but much like vinyl, the lead and closing tracks on each disc hold a special position. Overall, the star of the show is singer Bruce Dickinson, all the more amazing that he'd be diagnosed and treated for cancer after laying down these tracks. Comparisons to the back catalog? Most notably Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, for its willingness to expand sonic horizons and tear down preconceived notions as to what is Iron Maiden.

Disc 1

'If Eternity Should Fail' - A lone, awkward keyboard note, like the bleat of a wounded animal, or a shofar/conk shell tribal call, in search of a response, opens. An unaccompanied Dickinson answers, before the band logs on. Mid-tempo for its 8:28, it ends with acoustic guitar and echoing, spoken voiceover from Necropolis, the harvester of the soul.

'Speed Of Light' - A fun, throwback, complete with opening cow bell. It provides a slight boost in tempo. If you haven't seen the visual homage to coin-op games/arcades, check out the video. 

'The Great Unknown' - Plenty of ear candy! A majestic piece that begins slowly, features some aggressive guitars and ends in a wash of keyboards and the unmistakable vocal tones of Mr. Dickinson. 

'The Red And The Black' - Not the Blue Öyster Cult tune. The first half of its 13:38 is built around the Maiden bass gallop, although it begins as a solitary acoustic, before adopting a Native Peoples' tom tom melody and "whoa whoa" gang backing vocals. Bruce soars, singing the titular phrase repeatedly, over top the recurrent rhythm. The later half turns almost completely instrumental, guitars clearly being the driving force and vocals only returning in the final minute, although acoustic guitar, completely with audible slide on the strings, is the last thing heard. Epic, catchy and sure to be a live favorite, as much for the sing-along early nature, as the extended guitar jam.

'When The River Runs Deep' - Musically, arousing gallop, start to finish. Seems sort of autobiographical, regarding the the current status of the band. Check out these lyrics: "With nothing to hide, going nowhere. Take our chances and stand by their side...Is this the last together, maybe this time now. We're standing together and we're holding the line here. There's nothing we can do, just sit here and wait. The die is cast and it's deciding our fate." There's also a reference to no crying because someone is dying. All the more prophetic, given the singer's diagnosis.

 'The Book Of Souls' - The 10:29 title cut closes the first CD with heavy reliance on synthesizer undercurrent. Haunting acoustic/key intro to a heavy plodding march. Drums/cymbals to the fore throughout. The bridge sees the guitar cut loose, enlivening the final third. Ends much as it began, just acoustic guitar and sporadic keys.

Disc 2

'Death Or Glory' - Shortest tune (a second under five minutes) it's about World War I dogfighting tri-planes, with veiled reference to Red Baron. Captures much of that vitality, a true, all out metal number.

'Shadows Of The Valley' - With Halloween movie theme meets 'Deja Vu' intro, the lyrics are an adaptation of the 23rd Psalm (Thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...). More gang "whoa whoa" vocals.

 'Tears Of A Clown' - Inspired by depression and ultimate suicide of late comedian Robin Williams: "Maybe it's all for the best, lay his weary head to rest." 

'The Man Of Sorrows' - Ironic title, given the subject matter of the previous tune. Nicko's ride cymbal cuts through the slow to mid-paced track, complete with several changes and proggy synth underpinning.

'Empire Of The Clouds' - At 18 minutes, it's longer than the the original four-song Maiden Japan EP! Features mournful violin Dickinson on piano to start. Yes, the same guy who, on their Behind The Iron Curtain video, famously told the misguided 1984 ex-communist bloc fan, "You can't play heavy metal on a synthesizer!" My how times and metal (bands) have changed. Military cadence snare joins the fray. Long stretches are instrumental. Tale of the ill fated British air ship (zeppelin) R101, that crashed in France (Oct 5, 1930) on its maiden (pun intended) voyage, killing the UK airship program and 48 passengers onboard, a greater toll than the more (in)famous Hindenburg, seven years later.

Although could have done with one more rouser, in the final half hour triple play, an enormous artistic (and undoubtedly destined to be a commercially successful) endeavour.

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