The Book of Souls Review
Iron Maiden’s 16th studio album hit stores last week, so it seemed only natural that I would have to write a review of it, as I’ve done with all the other albums up to this point. To say something briefly about the album as a whole, I feel it’s a lot more accessible for those not familiar with Maiden than their last two albums. Even though it’s the band’s first double-CD release, the songs are of a much more manageable length than the prior Final Frontier (which has grown on me a lot since it first came out).
Let’s get on with the reviewing then…
If Eternity Should Fail: 4½/5 – Right out the gates, Iron Maiden kicks the album off with one of their epic-length tracks. There’s quite a few of them here, but this one has to be my absolute favourite. The intro is very stylish and sucks you in well. Once the actual song gets going it shows a lot more lyrical variety than, unfortunately, the rest of the album combined. It’s very powerful and Bruce lets it wail on this one. The finale gets a mixed reaction from me. Maiden tries to close the song off with a sinister narration but it’s so fucking cheesy I couldn’t really keep a straight face through it. It’s kind of appropriate, so I feel bad lobbing off half a point because of it, but it just sounds really silly after Bruce’s powerful vocals.
Speed of Light: 3/5 – People have no doubt seen the music video for this one already. Frankly, the video was much better than the song, but that’s not to say that Speed of Light is bad. It’s a rather run-of-the-mill metal anthem. It slightly reminds me of Bruce’s Skunkworks era but it’s just not as memorable, the chorus is particularly simplistic although Bruce’s wailing saves it a bit.
The Great Unknown: 4/5 – A really cool track where Bruce shows some lyrical variety with both wailing and quiet intro/outro section. I feel the tempo shifts nicely and the song has a lot of power to it. Maybe if the lyrics meshed together a bit better, I could give it a full 5, but it’s still an enjoyable song.
The Red and the Black: 2½/5 – “The clock is struck, the horse is lame” Oh dear… The Red and the Black epitomises what I feel is wrong with most of the epic-length tracks on this album. Musically it’s fantastic. There’s variety, the music is fresh and it just sounds awesome. The lyrics in the first half of the song, however, are awful. Bruce struggles to even keep up with the music. This is why Steve Harris really shouldn’t be allowed to write lyrics without input from either Smith or Dickinson, because the first half of this track nearly ruins it. If this track was an instrumental it would deserve a full 5.
When the River Runs Deep: 3½/5 – Another track with really cool riffs and a nice flow. It’s really only a little bit better than Speed of Light but in all the right places. The lyrics are kind of simplistic but the tempo shifts and Bruce’s mix of vocal styles makes this a really nice listen.
The Book of Souls: 2½/5 – The Book of Souls is maybe moderately better than The Red and the Black in that Bruce really tries his hardest to make the lyrics sound good. However, the first half of the song is ruined by a grindingly slow tempo. Again, the song picks up amazingly at the half-way point. The instrumentation in the first half isn’t anything special from Maiden though which is honestly a bit disappointing.
Death Or Glory: 4/5 – “Turn like the devil, shoot straight from the sun, climb like a monkey, out of Hell where I belong”. ‘Nuff said. Maiden uses possibly the weirdest simile in another song about the brutality of combat. The song has an excellent flow and power. If the song was a little more musically diverse it would deserve a full 5, but it’s just a really fun number to listen to.
Shadow of the Valley: 4/5 – Maiden takes a note straight from the holy book and the end-result is… interesting. I spot a lot of familiar musical influences with the intro almost sounding like Wasted Years and the solo like it could have come from a song off Fear of the Dark. The lyrics are sadly a little flat but Bruce puts his best foot forward on the vocals and actually makes the song sound much better than I’d expect. The song is also a bit longer than it would need to be but it stays together until the end which is pretty impressive.
Tears of a Clown: 4½/5 – For a song with a title this ominous, it’s surprisingly one of the highlights of the album. It tells the story of a clown struck by depression in his old age. It’s actually a really moving song and probably the best song apart from the first one lyrically.
The Man of Sorrows: 3/5 – “Now we need to know the truth now.” What is this? My blog which I proofread sloppily. I’ll jump straight to the punchline, Bruce Dickinson’s Man of Sorrows (from his Accident of Birth album) is a way better song. Once again, there’s some really cool instrumentation but this time the lyrics are just really uninspired as is Bruce’s vocal performance. It doesn’t completely ruin the song, but there are plenty of songs just on this album which sound better.
Empire of the Clouds: 3/5 – Maiden breaks their own record for the longest song committed to one of their album. Unfortunately, I don’t feel Empire of Clouds really holds up its entire 18 minute run. There’s certainly a lot of variety and Maiden even devotes long sections to having just a piano-backing which is quite novel from the band. Again, the instrumental sections sound fantastic but if compared to Rime of the Ancient Mariner, I don’t feel this song holds up as well right to the end. It’s a good effort and there’s a lot I like about it (piano, Bruce’s lyrics, the instrumental breaks) but I don’t feel the song gels together as well as some of the band’s other long songs.
There are lots of really good songs on The Book of Souls. Compared to the previous album though, I feel the epic-length tracks were this album’s Achilles’ Heel with many of them having extremely ambitious and good musical output but not much coherence to make them sound good all the way to the end. Conversely, I really loved If Eternity Should Fail, Death Or Glory, When the River Runs Deep and even Tears of a Clown. I just feel that song-writing was a bit off this time but at least Bruce Dickinson made the songs come alive.