IRON MAIDEN’S THE FINAL FRONTIER (ANSO DF’S TAKE)
Four albums in, the return of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith to Iron Maiden might no longer be novel. The band’s brush with obsolesence is history, and fans have had time to again grow accustomed to a thriving, active Maiden, forever on tour and regularly releasing records. As such, it’s easy to forgive the promise of the Iron Maiden sextet’s collossal first outing, Brave New World, next to which its successors Dance of Death and A Matter Of Life and Death sound uneven (the former) and procedural (the latter).
Part of that is Iron Maiden 6’s hands-off producer, Kevin Shirley, and his set-the-mics-and-play approach for a seasoned live act. Forget big production, forget even mastering. But this mentality hamstrings proggy, multi-act Maiden composition, not as it would Rick Rubin’s stable of grieving singer-songwriters. And so the previous 2k Maiden records, without grand slam songwriting and balls-out performance, might’ve flourished with some sleek effects and ear-catching arrangements. (Oh, and why not retouch sagging tempos?) Without the intangible dynamics provided by a good meddlesome producer, DoD and AMoLaD struggle to sound like more than a band cycling through a song whose chorus probably consists of Dickinson shouting the title.
These minor failings in mind, I quickly decided what I wanted from 2010’s The Final Frontier: an album that sounds “worked on,” not random or rushed, undercooked or indifferent. I wanted the force and flair of BNW; I wanted the next plateau from a line-up on the verge of complacency; from a band with the rare creative and commercial freedom granted by three decades of metal dominance, I wanted a new classic.
And that is exactly what we get from Maiden’s fifteenth album: a unified collection of complex, moody, riffy, dense rock-metal masterpiece that features some of Maiden’s most memorable lyrics (“El Dorado,” “The Talisman”), most dizzying instrumental breaks (“Isle of Avalon,” “The Man Who Would Be King”), and catchiest hooks (“The Alchemist,” “Coming Home”). This is our beloved Maiden out of default mode, going beyond rote Maidenisms (galloping rhythms, random guitar harmonies, Dickinson’s pinched upper register) to match the power of Brave New World with the confidence of a veteran, well-informed band. It’s Maiden’s most melodic offering since Somewhere in Time, and Dickinson’s fullest vocal workload since his own Skunkworks project. It’s a dudless and dynamic instant classic goosed by sophisticated melodies and odd time signatures. It’s Maiden for the world, not just for fans. It’s the final frontier.
(five outta five horns up)