“The Book of Souls” is, as expected, one of the more anticipated albums of this year. Given singer Bruce Dickinson‘s medical scare the future of the album, tour, the band, and, of course, himself were in doubt; after a full recovery it seems Iron Maiden have too found a new lease of life in “The Book of Souls”. Maiden releases tend to be anticipated well, and the vast majority of them are generally solid examples of decent melody and guitar wizardry. Not without their critics, nor without the odd stale track, yet every Maiden release gets the masses chomping at the bit for another dose of epic, galloping rhythms and blistering triple-harmony guitar solos. It’s a formula that, even if it’s not great, is still pretty good.
From the start of opener ‘If Eternity Should Fall’ and the single ‘Speed of Light’ it appears that Bruce is struggling with some notes. It’s not surprising, and none should criticise him too lightly, but curiously, as the album develops his voice seem to regain its composure and stability. Though his voice is, of course, ageing he is utilising his strongest components more effectively; his power and control are still astonishing and although the pitch is petering on its high-tops, he is still an incredibly talented vocalist and, as aforementioned, the high notes become clearer and crisper as the album goes on.
Several songs on the album actually sound straight out of the 2000s era, and even some of the ’90s. The reemergence of more ‘highland folk’ guitar melodies brings about memories of ‘Sign of the Cross’ and ‘The Clansman’ (the most recent era without Bruce). Despite the criticism of Dickinson‘s vocals earlier on, the title track actually demonstrates not only how he has altered his vocals, but also utilises his strengths well. Dickinson also hits the high notes remarkably well here.
The guitar work is, unsurprisingly, brilliant. It’s almost worthless saying it as it’ll just be a copy and paste of every Maiden album since Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith came back into the fold. The partnership between Smith and fellow six-stringers Dave Murray and Janick Gers, the fluidity of their guitar solos and the near hidden intricacy, is astonishing. Few bands can cram in three guitarists of such proficiency and not only get away with it, but succeed with astounding results. The rhythm section is as always an immovable object in this terrain, providing a solid back-line upon which the guitarists are free the express themselves. Without bassist Steve Harris and drummer Nicko McBrain there would not be an Iron Maiden, not least to the same pedigree they are now.
Now, a lot of criticism can be made about the length of albums, yet “The Book of Souls” does not feel like the 92-minute album it is; the 10+ minute songs do not feel that long. It’s remarkable but even when you feel as though you’re hearing the same melody over and over again, you’re not bored, and the time just flows by incredibly quickly. The 18-minute closer ‘Empire of the Clouds’ is not the huge explosive finale one would expect, but rather a gentle ballad. It does feature a gloriously brilliant middle section, however, sandwiched in between very emotive piano passages with Bruce singing and tinkling the ivories. As previously mentioned, it flows ridiculously well, the middle section sounds like repetition but is in fact gentle progression that carries you through for over six minutes. Long songs are likely what break up the album nicely; without the stop-start journey, and a composition by capable musicians, it doesn’t feel over-inflated but nigh upon perfect.
“The Book of Souls” is remarkably strong, and despite how long the band have been around they can still produce not just ‘a few good songs’, but rather almost a whole 92-minute album of sheer brilliance. Perhaps if it was cut down it could be even better but there is nothing on here that you could immediately cut off. Iron Maiden are still fantastic, and “The Book of Souls” is remarkable.