Before you even sit down to listen to Iron Maiden’s epic new monstrosity- The Book of Souls, there is something you need to know right up front, it is not for the casual music fan or faint of heart. At a staggering 92 minutes in length, spread over two glorious discs, The Book of Souls requires the same commitment as the average motion picture and is just as grandiose in scale.
Their 16th studio album, The Book of Souls is about Maya culture, but is not a concept album and marks several firsts for the band. It is their first double length studio album, the first since Powerslave to feature two songs written entirely by Bruce Dickinson and is the band’s first studio album not on EMI.
The album was produced by long-time collaborator Kevin Shirley at Guillaume Tell Studios in Paris for new label Sanctuary Records and debuted at #1 in 24 countries, which given the current state of music, is an astonishing feat for any band of any genre in this day and age.
Maiden have always been a band that sets the bar extremely high for themselves by consistently putting out such a superior product and just when you think they can’t possibly surpass themselves, they somehow do and The Book of Souls continues that bold tradition.
Considering vocalist Bruce Dickinson’s recent scare with throat cancer and a golf ball sized tumor on the back of his tongue, it’s a miracle the album happened at all and is far too massive to dissect track by track, so let’s just focus on the real highlights and the individual performances shall we.
The musicians in Iron Maiden have always been that rare breed that are the exception to the rule and rather than slowing over the years, the triple guitar assault of Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers is more lethal than ever, as are the trademark galloping basslines of founder Steve Harris and never one to take a back seat, the precision drumming of Nicko McBrain takes center stage, driving the entire project forward into musical utopia.
Anchoring it all down as always is the man, the myth, the legend, the one and only Mr. Bruce Dickinson. Who despite having throat surgery during the recording process sounds better than ever, his quasi-operatic tenor voice aging with time like a fine wine, his stunning vibrato bolder and crisper than ever before.
Then of course there’s what matters most, the songs. And the songs on The Book of Souls are not only the band’s most ambitious and melodic to date, they are some of the best in their entire catalog and when you’re talking about a catalog as prestigious and expansive as Iron Maiden’s, that’s saying on hell of a lot.
Highlights of disc one include lead single “Speed of Light.” It’s lyrics, musical vision and mesmerizing video pick up right where The Final Frontier left off and then there’s “The Red and the Black,” an epic behemoth that clocks in at a whopping 13:33 and has a very strong “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” vibe to it.
Stand out tracks on disc two include the Robin Williams inspired “Tears of A Clown,” the revamped “Wasted Years” feel to the riff in “Shadows of the Valley” and Bruce Dickinson’s piano laced piece de resistance “Empire of the Clouds,” an epic 18 minute beast about an R101 airship tragedy that just begs to be played at an opera house with a full orchestra and choir, the incomparable Mr. Dickinson serving as musical director and maestro.
Here’s the bottom line. Few bands can continue to confound expectation and still have every single release greeted with such reverence like Iron Maiden and The Book of Souls is a gleaming example why that is, a monumental achievement that will reaffirm their position in an ever changing musical landscape.