British heavy metal legends Iron Maiden have been around since 1975 when they were formed by band leader and bassist Steve Harris.
After two well received albums in debut “Iron Maiden” (1980) and “Killers” (1981), problems with lead vocalist Paul Di’Anno led to his sacking and the recruitment of former Samson singer Bruce Dickinson.
Dickinson’s arrival had an instant impact as third album “The Number Of The Beast” saw the band breaking through into huge success and by the time album number four, “Piece Of Mind”, was released in 1983 the band’s line-up had solidified as Harris, Dickinson, guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith and then-new drummer Nicko McBrain.
Smith left the band during initial sessions for 1990’s “No Prayer For The Dying”, to be replaced by Janick Gers, whilst Dickinson left following the “Fear Of The Dark” tour in 1993 – leading to a relatively unsuccessful period for the group with Blaze Bayley at the mic.
Bayley was let go in January 1999 after the world tour in support of the “Virtual XI” album, at which point band manager Rod Smallwood apparently persuaded Harris to consider inviting Dickinson back into the band. As it turned out, not only did Dickinson return as lead vocalist, but Smith also rejoined – giving the band three lead guitarists in their line-up.
This line-up has remained constant since then, and the band have released four highly successful studio albums together – “Brave New World” (2000), “Dance Of Death” (2003), “A Matter Of Life And Death” (2006) and “The Final Frontier” (2010), the latter of which many feared might prove to be the band’s last.
In the summer of 2013, however, Dickinson revealed that the band had plans for another studio album, and work was confirmed as completed by McBrain in February of this year. However, it was also revealed that Dickinson was suffering from a cancerous tumour on his tongue and that the record would remain unreleased until he had been given the all-clear from medical specialist.
Thankfully Dickinson received the all-clear in May, clearing the way for studio album number sixteen “The Book Of Souls” to be unleashed. The album is the band’s first double disc studio effort and clocks in at around an hour and a half, so there’s lots to digest!
Opening track “If Eternity Should Fail” – the first of two tracks written solely by Dickinson – begins with an atmospheric synth motif under a restrained vocal from Dickinson, before the full band join in on an energetic number which changes temp when reaching the guitar solo section just over half way through its eight and a half minute duration before slowing down again and then fading to an acoustic ending with spoken word section. Already this is the best that I have heard from the band for some time.
Lead single “Speed Of Light” kicks off with one of Dickinson’s air raid siren screams over the guitar riff and is a classic Maiden single in the making.
The one sole writing credit for Harris comes with the epic thirteen minute “The Red And The Black” – bookended with some solo bass-lines. Now, to be honest, there’s nothing in this number that the band haven’t done before but that doesn’t stop this being a superb track and one of the album’s highlights.
Another epic turns up with the title track, all ten minutes of it. With its changes of pace and mood this is another reminder that although the band produced some epic and varied material in the 80s – such as “Phantom Of The Opera”, “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” and “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son” – they have become even more progressive since 2000.
Nowhere is this more evident than on Dickinson’s other composition, the eighteen minute piano-led closer “Empire Of The Clouds”, which features some violin work as well as the more traditional riffs, soaring guitar solos and thunderous drumming.
“Shadows Of The Valley”, written by Gers and Harris, begins with a guitar riff very reminiscent of “Wasted Years”, the 1986 track written by Smith, before becoming a real barnstormer.
I’m still coming to grips with this album, with the sheer amount to take in, but I am confident that this is not only the best record that this line-up of Maiden have made, and all six members are bang on the money, but is right up there with the best of their entire output.
For a band now in their 40th year, and 15 years for this configuration, this is a staggering achievement. A 92 minute double album of consistent top quality. Simply put, “A Book Of Souls” is nothing short of a triumph…
“The Book Of Souls” tracklist:
1. If Eternity Should Fail / 2. Speed Of Light / 3. The Great Unknown / 4. The Red And The Black / 5. When The River Runs Deep / 6. The Book Of Souls / 7. Death Or Glory / 8. Shadows Of The Valley / 9. Tears Of Clown / 10. The Man Of Sorrows / 11. Empire Of The Clouds