IRON MAIDEN’S THE FINAL FRONTIER (VINCE’S TAKE)
Some albums hit you immediately, and some grown on you with time. From the very moment at Madison Square Garden last month that the band played “El Dorado” live and I found myself enjoying it after having been indifferent the first couple of times I heard it, I realized that The Final Frontier was going to be one of those albums that gets better with each listen. The songs are long, they don’t follow traditional structures, and the melodies aren’t obvious; it takes time to “learn” the songs, if you will, and many listens to fully understand what you’re hearing. And now that I’ve had some time to live with this album I can confidently say that it’s a damn good record. It certainly doesn’t stack up against Maiden’s classics, but it’s the best re-Bruce era album since Brave New World and it’s got plenty for any Maiden fan to be excited about.
As so many have said already, yes, the songs are long. With six songs close to or over the 8-minute mark, listening patience can wear thin and attention can wander. But let’s put it this way: if these songs simply all had 2 seconds of silence inserted into their middles thus creating twice as many songs, would that increase how much we like the album? No, that’d be silly to say; the riffs would still be sweet, the melodies grand, Bruce’s voice epic. So rather than simply saying “the songs are too long,” let’s judge based on the contents and constructs of each song.
And when it comes to the songs themselves, there are some hits and some misses; some songs really do go on for too long while others feel just right. For example, the hook of “Isle of Avalon” is positively infectious — but do we really need the extended multi-solo and chorus repeated 10,000 times? I feel like the same idea could’ve been conveyed in much less time. The same is true in other places; an intro that goes on for way too long here, a verse that seems to repeat forever there, etc. But even when The Final Frontier‘s songs feel bloated it’s hard to deny there’s plenty of what we all came for in the first place — excellent riffs, grand melodies, killer solos and fucking Bruce — and every song on this album does have these things even if they’re sometimes obscured.
Some songs, however, are completely justified in their length, particularly the final three songs that will come to be known as a holy triumvirate of Maiden album-enders once this album’s had a chance to sink in with the masses. If not for the same repetitive, over-indulgent qualities mentioned above it might be a holy quadrumvirate with the excellent “Starblind” included… but I digress. At nearly half an hour of total running time, “The Talisman,” “The Man Who Would Be King” and “When the Wild Wind Blows” are practically an album in and of themselves… and really, if the album consisted of just these three songs I’d be one happy clam. They’re fucking perfect. The thing is, on first (or second, or third) listen they might seem to be too long and over-bloated… but the more you listen and understand the structure, the more you realize every twist and turn has a purpose. AND DAMN, the choruses — like so many on this album — are fucking epic; it’s all in Bruce’s vocal melodies, which are perfectly crafted with the grace of the operatic master that Dickinson is. I’m still wrapping my head around all 11 minuts of “When the Wild Wind Blows”… I have a feeling I’ll need a few more listens still to truly grasp all that’s going on.
Of course, it’d be silly to try and compare The Final Frontier — or anything recent, for that matter — to Iron Maiden’s classic output. That brilliance will never be matched. But The Final Frontier is a really good album that has so many of the elements we know and love Maiden for; I can’t imagine very many Maiden fans are going to be really disappointed. That the lads of Maiden are still able to pump up such consistently good music — and still challenge themselves — so many years into their career is astonishing. SO few bands can do it; Maiden can.
(three and a half out of five horns)