There are Iron Maiden albums and then there are great Iron Maiden albums. But arguably there has never been a bad Iron Maiden album. Every album in their catalog belongs within the collections of rock advocates and metalheads alike. ‘The Book of Souls’ is no exception, and it might just be among the favorites.
Kevin Shirley is once again at the helm of production and the sound quality is a throwback to the sonic delivery of ‘Powerslave.’ The classic Maiden feel is evident throughout, but retains a more modern feel by the fact that song lengths and composition are very much in line with what started being introduced with the comeback ‘Brave New World’ album to ‘The Final Frontier.’ Each instrument can be distinctly heard and the drums are ferocious and raw. Maiden fans old and new will find all sorts of tidbits to wrap their ears around.
No Maiden album review should be without a commentary on the cover art. Admittedly, it initially disappointed some longtime listeners. Many fans long for a classic Derek Riggs cover. ‘The Book of Souls,’ sounding so classic, would have been well served with more vintage artwork. But after listening to the album, there is a tribal vibe throughout, and the simplicity of a native Indian-like Eddie begins to make sense.
It is well documented that Bruce Dickinson recorded his vocals while suffering from tongue cancer. Taking a closer look at Eddie, you will notice streams of blood running down his neck. It may not have been the intent of the artist to tie the blood with Bruce’s cancer, but it is fitting nonetheless. His vocal performance has changed with age, but the fact remains, there is only one Bruce Dickinson.
‘The Book of Souls’ is a very fast-paced and pummeling collection of songs. In a two-disc set with song-lengths extending from five minutes to over eighteen minutes, it is very much like getting two new Maiden albums all at once. Listening to the album, it is heavy on time signatures, moments of hard classic Maiden galloping thunder, and poignant moments of slower-paced melodies that lead to even more whiplash-inducing rapid fire.
Personally, each song wields such a strength and intensity that it’s near exhausting to listen to the complete album in one sitting. Most every song is epic, requiring mental absorption and digestion. I caught myself scrolling back through moments of songs to hear the time signatures a second and third time. The band’s ability to take the listener on an aural thrill ride is second to none. There is no filler on ‘The Book of Souls,’ each song having depth and wizardry that only Iron Maiden can write and perform.
Out of the gate is possibly the strongest song on the album. Written by Dickinson for a possible solo release, “If Eternity Should Fail” begins with an enigmatic intro that invites the listener to sit down, strap in and prepare for a sonic thrill ride. Immediately, you will know that something of prominence is going to kick in and it does at the minute and a half mark. Bruce’s voice has grown into a faint rasp and rather than it being harsh or limited, it has aged like a fine wine. When you remember he was singing this through a cancerous throat, it is even more impressive. This opening track is an immediate classic.
The order in which the songs are presented is one place that more thought could have been given. “Speed of Light” is the second track and the first single released. It’s a full-throttle, fast-paced anthem that keeps the energy going. Yet its placement after “If Eternity Should Fail” seems abrupt. It has a catchy chorus and the shorter song length, making it the most accessible track on the album to the common listener. The song especially lifts with the guitar solos in the last two and a half minutes. However, coming after such an epic and classic opener, it may have been advisable to place the song deeper into the track list. Keep in mind, ‘The Book of Souls’ is a very, very strong Maiden album. Even the ‘weaker’ songs are quite remarkable considering how late into their careers the band mates are.
The highlights for this writer as a 32 year fan of Maiden are “The Red and The Black,” “When The River Runs Deep,” and the Robin Williams inspired “Tears Of A Clown.” This is to take nothing away from the balance of the album. The release is full of nuances and powerful rhythmic soundscapes that the favorites are subject to change at any time.
“The Red and The Black” is nothing short of an attention grabber. It begins with a wild bass solo and then jumps into the classic Maiden galloping, rhythmic metal that Maiden has cemented their careers with. It also holds a chanting “Whoa-oh-oh!” repetition that any live audience will eat up. As is on display throughout ‘The Book of Souls,’ Bruce’s lyrical delivery is strong, forceful, and pointed. Upon first listen, this was the song I personally wanted to immediately hit the repeat button on. This track is pure victory-metal that legions of fans can celebrate. There are time signatures and twists throughout that demonstrate just how much these guys love performing music with each other and challenge the listener to yet another play.
“When The River Runs Deep” keeps the Maiden spirit going. For me, this was the point where I realized I was hearing a very special Maiden release. I cannot imagine what it must have been like in the studio working with this band in full communication and focus. The rhythm section of McBrain and Harris provide the foundation of the inter-play of the guitars. It just seems like these veteran talents never run out of ideas to kick fans in the head with.
The closer, “Empire of the Clouds” is actually longer than Maiden’s longest track that until now has been “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” This song is not only epic in length, but epic in quality. This is where the triumph of the band is really felt. 37 years of releases and Iron Maiden can still teach the younger bands lessons about the strength of classic metal as a blueprint for new music. Bruce’s piano play is on display and his storytelling is as memorable as the previously mentioned epic from ‘Powerslave.’
‘The Book of Souls’ is a must for any fan of Iron Maiden, and would be a great entry point for new listeners to begin their journey into the band’s rich history. Guitars abound, the whole album is a crescendo of Maiden bliss if this were to be their final studio curtain call. Any true fan of Iron Maiden may need to invest in a neck brace. Many of us are older now, and we may just forget about it and find ourselves with a nice case of whiplash.