Iron Maiden’s The Book of Souls: Not Perfect, But Pretty Damn Good
These days, it’s difficult to review an Iron Maiden album without just reviewing Iron Maiden. Every Maiden release is an event, because it means the greatest metal band of all time still exists, and you’ll probably get a chance to see them live in the near future. One can’t discuss their current material out of the context of Maiden’s legacy; simply by being an Iron Maiden album, a new Maiden joint immediately enters the halls of the ancients. All one can do is hope the album is at least inoffensive.
Thankfully, The Book of Souls, Iron Maiden’s sixteenth studio album, is more than inoffensive—it’s damn good. Not perfect, not a modern masterpiece, but really fucking good. A solid slab of raging pure NWOBHM mainlined straight into the denim-lined veins of Metal Itself, The Book of Souls delivers all the unhinged solos and poetic lyrics one wants from metal’s aristocracy. So while listeners who wanted to see the genre redefined with this album might be disappointed, classic headbangers will easily fall in love with the record, warts and all.
Let’s just get the problems out of the way; those upset by the idea of Iron Maiden being fallible should just skip this paragraph. To begin, Book of Souls can feel a little too long. Every song thereon clocks in at five minutes or longer, and there are moments where one wonders if something shorter and sweeter would be more effective. Obviously “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” is a classic, but not every song needs to be an epic ordeal (Hell, “Run To The Hills” is a flat 3:54). Do we need an eighteen minute closing track on this album, or was it just added as tradition? One or two quick, to-the-point songs would help break up the album up better. More to the point, every song sounds as though it wants to have everything—the big chorus, the melancholy bridge, the insane Smith/Murray/Gers solo. Not every song needs to be a perfect distillation of the band’s history, and it might behoove the band to spread their talents out via some variety.
But where The Book of Souls succeeds, it succeeds with flying colors. Opener “If Eternity Should Fail” begins with a weird tribal incantation that becomes a charging, go-for-the-throat anthem; the strange necromantic poem that closes it is a little corny, but also pretty classic for Maiden. The lyrics of “Speed of Light” can also bring the cheese at times—“Shooting plasma from my grave?” I dunno, man—but its sneering rocker riffs and shout-along chorus make them easy to shrug off. “The Great Unknown” is perfectly mid-paced, and showcases Maiden’s more thoughtful moments (the closing lyric sounds like a straight-up tribute to “Fear of the Dark”). “The Red and the Black” (who knew Maiden were Cardinals fans?) is the first epic of the album, clocking in at fourteen minutes. It’s also the first moment where casual listeners will become a little overwhelmed, but the massive solo in its middle will have guitar kids drooling for hours.
“When The River Runs Deep” might have my favorite chorus of the album, the song’s jaunty breakneck pace broken up by delicious chug and inspiring warrior lyrics (you can find me in the front row when Maiden hit Denver, screaming “GOING NOWHERE!”). The title track aptly channels black magic via a truly kickass central riff and an enthralling gallop midway through the track. “Death or Glory” has a great militant fuck-you vibe to it, while “Shadows of the Valley” channels “Wasted Years” both in its eerie intro and its introspective lyrics. “Tears of a Clown” is the closest thing the album has to a traditional single—quick, snappy, and fun, even with its depressing themes. “The Man of Sorrows” is a decent ballad-ish song with dark overtones, though it certainly feels like the closest thing to filler on Book of Souls; the track is a little synth-heavy and generally just lacks the standout power of those that came before it. “Empire Of The Clouds” is the second epic, an eighteen minute-long song about an epic airship adventure—a fitting, if at times tedious, tribute to Dickinson’s love of aviation.
There’s something endearing about the problematic moments on The Book of Souls. With their massive legacy, Iron Maiden could easily rest on their laurels and pump out glorified half-assed power metal to the tune of raucous applause. That this album isn’t perfect reminds metalheads that Maiden are a working band, still doing their best to write interesting and unique songs. And on The Book of Souls, they’ve done that. Iron Maiden will always be amazing, but it’s nice to know they can still create something that’s just pretty damn good.
Iron Maiden’s The Book of Souls is out today! MetalSucks readers can get a studio master quality copy of the album at a discounted price from HDTracks. Get details here.