Well, it’s finally here! The first new Iron Maiden album in five years! Sorry about the delays in getting this review posted, but I thought that I’d start by talking about the album as a whole before writing shorter reviews/descriptions of each song.
As you might already know, this is Iron Maiden’s longest album to date (seriously, there are feature films that are shorter than this album) and it even comes on two CDs too.
The lyrics booklet that comes with the album is absolutely gigantic and it also features some beautifully grotesque Aztec/Maya themed paintings of Eddie too. The CDs themselves have a cool Aztec-style pattern printed on them, although there’s nothing on the CDs to tell you which one is disc one and disc two, so I can see how this might be confusing if you put them back in the case in the wrong order.
But is this album a case of quantity over quality? No, it isn’t. Ok, a couple of the songs are slightly longer than they probably should be, but the quality of the music more than makes up for this.
If you just want the short version of this review – “The Book Of Souls” is an absolutely outstanding album and my favourite song on it is “The Red And The Black”. 🙂
Although “The Book Of Souls” isn’t a concept album, virtually every song is about death and/or the meaning of life in some way or another, which really lends the album a sense of dramatic and philosophical weight which lesser bands would struggle to convey. But, although this is an album about death, it isn’t particularly gloomy in the way that Iron Maiden’s past few albums have been.
Musically, the album sounds a lot more like classic Maiden than their previous three or four albums have. There’s a gigantic range of musical and vocal styles crammed into this album and they all fit together really well.
This album is almost like a “greatest hits” collection from several Maiden albums that have never been made. If I had to give the whole album a rating out of five, it would probably get a six.
For the sake of this review, I’m going to assume that you’ve listened to quite a few of Iron Maiden’s other songs, since the only way to describe many of these songs is to liken them to other songs and/or albums by the band (and maybe a couple of songs from other bands too).
Anyway, let’s get started:
1) If Eternity Should Fail: This song starts out with a slightly surprising and quiet woodwind and percussion introduction which evokes an ancient temple of some kind. This is accompanied by some slightly echoey singing from Bruce.
When the guitar parts kick in, they are certainly heavy enough, but they are also just about light and distorted enough to sound a lot like something from Maiden’s “Somewhere In Time” album.
This is the kind of epic, dramatic, 1980s-style song which will probably make you involuntarily start playing the air guitar during a couple of parts. Iron Maiden haven’t made a song like this in ages and it’s great to see that they still have songs like this in them 🙂
This song marches along confidently, gradually getting more and more epic as it flows along, before it ends with some thoroughly ominous chanting/ slow vocals that sound a little bit like something from a 1980s horror movie called “The Evil Dead”.
It has the drama of one of Bruce’s solo songs, but it also has an absolutely wonderful late 1980s kind of sound to it too. Needless to say, it’s radically different from anything that Iron Maiden have released in the past 15-20 years. It’s a truly epic beginning to a truly epic album.
2) Speed Of Light: This was the first single to be released from the album and I reviewed it back when it came out. You can read my review of this song here.
3) The Great Unknown: This song starts and ends in a slow and sombre way that reminded me slightly of both “Eulogy” by Judas Priest and some of Bruce’s solo stuff. However, just as you’ve become accustomed to the gloom at the beginning of the song, the song picks up pace and the guitars really kick in.
The bulk of the song is a loud, powerful anthem that probably wouldn’t be out of place on Iron Maiden’s “Dance Of Death” album. Seriously, there’s a surprising amount of variety and drama in this song.
4) The Red And The Black: This has got to be my favourite song from the new album!
Even though it started out with a fairly understated and slightly “light” intro, as soon as the dramatic guitar riff began and Bruce started belting out the surprisingly powerful and emotional lyrics – I was astonished and actually moved to tears slightly. Seriously, the first few verses can occasionally be surprisingly profound. Not to mention that every line has an absolutely perfect rhythm to it.
The first few verses of this song march along at a furious pace, as Bruce belts out dramatic description after dramatic description with precision timing. Seriously, this is the kind of song that needs to be listened to repeatedly.
For me at least, this song packed a real emotional punch that easily surpasses “The Talisman” from their previous album and is comparable to “Sign Of The Cross” in terms of cathartic emotional lyrics.
Musically, the song is kind of a mixture of 80s/90s Maiden and ’00s Maiden. It’s kind of a bit like “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” meets “Sign Of The Cross” meets some of Maiden’s more modern songs (eg: “Paschendale” etc..). I really can’t wait until concert footage of this song appears online in 2016, since it sounds like the kind of thing that would be even better than it already is when performed live.
My only real criticism of this masterpiece is that between a third and half of the song is taken up with a long instrumental section – honestly, the song would probably be even better than it already is if the band had cut it down to a 6-7 minute song.
5) When The River Runs Deep: Bruce’s vocal style at the beginning of this song is very reminiscent of Maiden’s stuff from the mid-1980s. Seriously, the first verse of this song wouldn’t be out of place on their “Live After Death” album. For the rest of the song, Bruce alternates between fast-paced singing and a very slightly slower and more contemplative style and this works really well.
Musically, this song is kind of difficult to describe in any other way than to say that it’s probably one of the more “modern” sounding songs on the album. Don’t get me wrong, it still sounds very much like Iron Maiden – but it can’t quite be likened to any of their other songs or albums. Even so, it’s still a really cool song.
6) The Book Of Souls: This song begins with a slow acoustic intro before turning into a rather “modern”-sounding Iron Maiden song.
As you would expect from the title track of an album like this, it sounds suitably dramatic, atmospheric and epic, with an almost ancient Egypt-like riff in the background of some parts.
7) Death Or Glory: This song starts out with a fast, driving riff that sounds very much like classic Iron Maiden. Seriously, the beginning of this song wouldn’t be out of place on “The Number Of The Beast”. Despite the dramatic lyrics, Bruce’s singing style in the first verse doesn’t quite have the impact that a song like this deserves.
As for Bruce’s vocal style and the rest of the song, it sounds a bit like a mixture of something from the “Dance Of Death” album and early 90s Maiden, possibly even with a very slight Judas Priest influence in some parts of the song too. If this song appeared on Judas Priest’s “Screaming For Vengeance” album, it wouldn’t be totally out of place. It’s a fairly good and enjoyably fast-paced song
8) Shadows Of The Valley: The intro to this song sounds a lot like the beginning of both “Wasted Years”, but Bruce starts out by singing in a slightly gloomier style than you would expect (he also manages to slip in a reference to “Sea Of Madness” too).
But, as soon as the guitars really kick in, this song quickly turns into classic early 1980s-style Maiden, before turning into something that sounds a little bit more like “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg”, sort of.
Anyway, it’s the kind of epic, dramatic song that only Iron Maiden can make.
9) Tears Of A Clown: This song was written in reaction to Robin Williams’ death and it is as sombre and gloomy as you would expect a song about a tragic subject like this to be.
The guitars are very slightly more distorted than usual (some parts almost sound a little bit like a blues/rock song) and, although it’s as loud and heavy as you would expect an Iron Maiden song to be
10) The Man Of Sorrows: This song starts out in a much slower and in a much more blues/rock kind way than you would expect from an Iron Maiden song.
Bruce’s vocal style is slightly clearer and slower than usual. The song gradually builds in intensity slightly though and it eventually starts to sound a bit more like classic mid-late 1980s Maiden.
11) Empire Of The Clouds: This gargantuan 18 minute epic about a historic 1930s airship disaster is the longest Iron Maiden song to ever be recorded. It starts out slowly with an almost Nightwish-like piano and cello (?) intro and some soft/distant singing from Bruce.
Bruce’s singing gradually increases in intensity and this song started to remind me a bit of “Tears Of The Dragon” and “Navigate The Seas Of The Sun” from Bruce’s solo albums.
The song keeps building in intensity and the electric guitars kick in, as Bruce begins to sing in his usual epic way. The song contains a surprising variety of different guitar parts and different vocal styles. The best way to describe it is that it’s kind of a bit like fusion of modern Iron Maiden, modern Nightwish and some of Bruce’s solo stuff.