I find that when it comes to reviewing a new Iron Maiden album these days, I need to give it serious time before dissecting and finding a true perspective. Generally, they tend to grow on me, and I’ll find good in pretty much everything they do (although I doubt that I’ll ever understand what they were up to with Virtual XI). But I need that step back to take it all in and let the hype die down. The other reason for this time allowance, I have come to realize, is because every album released after Brave New World has just been too damn long. The band has either forgotten how to edit altogether, or they simply want to throw everything and the proverbial kitchen sink into everything they do. Either way, it’s usually a lot of work as a listener, casual or otherwise.
This brings us to 2015’s double album, The Book Of Souls. At a whopping hour and a half, its 11 songs are top contenders for some of their longest ever, but the record is more interesting and engaging than the previous three releases. Their modern neo-progressive leanings are openly on display with each song building wave upon wave of riffs and passages. Most of these work as a larger whole, and a few of them are in dire need of trimming down and/or simplifying to feed the overall pacing. Songs like “Tears Of A Clown” and the title track are Iron Maiden winners that will ultimately become stadium singalong classics. And I find the majority of the album quite memorable, even with some of the emotion-drawing chorus chord progressions feeling like standard Maiden fodder (not a bad thing at all, considering they are the masters of such epic fan pleasers). Also, the 18-minute album closer “Empire Of The Clouds” is a new direction for the band with its piano and orchestral infusions and extreme length, but they pull it off like they do this kind of thing every day. Wait… they kind of do anyway, don’t they?
For their age, everybody is firing on all 666 cylinders. Bruce is working with a far more suitable key so that he can show how fucking magic that voice still is without straining. Steve can still get the blood pumping with his rumbling bass sound (without being overused or too in-your-face). Dave and Janick sound like they’re just having the best time with their mates. Adrian solos with such gusto that it seems like we’re only starting to see the man’s true genius now. And bloody Nicko is still one of the best drummers on the planet, hands down. The production on The Book Of Souls is wonderfully organic and warm and suits the huge sound perfectly without being too loud and allowing breathing room for all the histrionics at play here. Hell, even the simplistic album artwork is direct and iconic — the bastards.
As much as I denied it upon release, this is their strongest album since Brave New World, and possibly even a big daddy to the prog monster that was Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son. There’s still room to get an unbiased editor on board, and you’d need a lot of spare time to listen to The Book Of Souls on repeated listens. But Iron Maiden have proved that an older band can release a double album and still deliver the goods (sorry, Priest). It’s worth every minute of your attention and then some.