Yorktown-class aircraft carrier
Collin has been banned for heresy.
Can't disagree with much if any of your TBOS review. It's a very special album to me for personal reasons, but absolutely 100% with you on If Eternity Should Fail.Finally getting around to listening to these. I think now is a good time to review the two albums in comparison to each other, since the same amount of time has passed since The Book of Souls as had passed The Final Frontier when TBOS came out. First, some thoughts on The Book of Souls. I'll come back with some Final Frontier thoughts and then an assessment of the two. Last time I listened to the whole discography, I found The Final Frontier slightly edged out The Book of Souls. That being said, I really enjoyed TBOS on this last listen through, so we'll see.
It's easy to look at The Book Of Souls as a proggy album filled with epics, but it's really not. There are less epics than either of the previous two albums and this album is the first since Dance of Death to have really concise, 80's styled rockers. Speed of Light and Death or Glory are both great examples of this. No long intros or extended instrumental sections, just meat and potatoes rock. It's also a nice return of the classic Smith/Dickinson combo that made some of the band's biggest hits in the 80s. Even better, these tunes don't feel like mindless retreads of past material. Some people were annoyed by the climb like a monkey stuff, but I thought it was a nice return to the playfulness of 80s Maiden. Tears Of a Clown and Man of Sorrows are more modern sounding, but equally to the point. Man of Sorrows especially is very overlooked. I am routinely surprised when it is eliminated so early in these games. One of Steve's most thoughtful lyrics and a really crushing riff. Tears Of a Clown already gets a lot of well deserved acclaim. Surprisingly reminiscent of late 90s Bruce Dickinson, despite no writing contribution from Bruce.
That's not to say this album is without any epics. You get three very different ones. The classic Harris epic, the now-traditional Harris/Gers thematic epic, and whatever the fuck Empire of the Clouds is. The Red and the Black is interesting because it feels less like a big epic and more like an attempt at a live favorite. In other words, it's less Rime Of the Ancient Mariner/When the Wild Wind Blows and more Fear of the Dark/Angel and the Gambler. This is somewhat surprising after a long string of Harris epics in the new century that were getting progressively longer and more complex. I imagine most of us were expecting a continuation of For the Greater Good of God and Wild Wind with this. A lot of people seemed to be underwhelmed with what we got, myself included. With that being said, I think there's a lot of merit to this song. The singalong parts are awesome and it's filled with some really good melodic material. I would've preferred a more adventurous instrumental section for it being so long, or maybe some more dynamic shifts, but for what it is the song is thoroughly enjoyable. Definitely one of the catalog's oddities though.
After The Talisman, it was starting to feel like the Janick Gers epics were starting to become formulaic. You have your long acoustic intro, a heavier middle section, some instrumental wackiness, and then maybe an acoustic outro. The Book of Souls doesn't break this formula, but it does feel a bit more refreshing than The Talisman. I love the crushing riff (for music theory nerds: it's in E locrian) and the dynamics/tempo switches up enough to keep it less predictable than The Red and the Black. Really fun live too.
Empire Of the Clouds is the 500 pound elephant of the album. It's hard to ignore when discussing the album, and much of the discourse around the album revolves around it. In some ways I'm kind of glad they didn't play it live. For one thing, it wouldn't be very good live. It'd break the flow of the concert and it would probably be sloppily performed. Not only that though, but I think the setlist allowed us to appreciate what the album had to offer outside of Empire. There's a lot of content there and it would still be a triumph without Empire. The 18 minute epic is just the icing on the cake. That all being said, I'd like to hear it live one day, but maybe in more of a special event context with an orchestra. To that end, one of the biggest failures in Maiden's career, in my mind, is the fact that they didn't use a real orchestra to record this song. They have the time and the money to do it, the fake orchestra really cheapens what is otherwise a very majestic track.
All that aside, I really enjoy Empire of the Clouds. I remember the lead up to The Book of Souls and how we weren't really sure what to expect. Some people speculated that it might not be 18 minutes of continuous music; maybe there was a spoken word section or some sort of intro. Then we started hearing about how Bruce wrote the song on piano. Was this going to be an 18 minute Bruce Dickinson singer/songwriter piano odyssey? Luckily what we got was a pretty healthy mix of the standard Maiden fare and some more adventurous elements. It also feels surprisingly cohesive with the rest of the album. I don't totally buy into LC's folk ballad theory, but there's a strong argument there and I really enjoy Bruce's story telling method. Maiden (both Bruce and Steve) have historically been a bit shoddy when it comes to telling cohesive stories through their lyrics, but this song really excels in a way that no previous Maiden song does. Another unique aspect is the way it uses musical cues to illustrate the story. Very impressive piece of work. While it's not the best song on the album, let alone the band's best work, I do really commend them for trying new things 40 years into their career. It's amazing that I am still excited for what this band and the individual musicians in the band have to offer.
As for the best song of the album? For me, that's the opener. If Eternity Should Fail is top ten Maiden and a contender for the best Maiden opener. It feels like they've finally struck the balance of a good Maiden opener. You've got elements of the more "epic" Maiden openers like Moonchild and Caught Somewhere In Time balanced with the energy and hooks of Wicker Man and Aces High. It's style and substance. I like what Perun said about Bruce understanding the individual musicians the best of anyone in the band. Funnily enough, this song wasn't even written for Maiden. I'm really curious about what the original demo was like.
I also feel If Eternity Should Fail succeeds where The Final Frontier fails. Satellite 15 is a really cool experimental opening, but it's offset by what is probably the most generic rocker the band has put to tape since the 90s. If Eternity Should Fail actually sets listeners up for an adventurous and surprising album. In some ways, it fits the ethos of TFF better. But the tone and mood of the song is perfect for TBOS.