I really like Nicko's work on this album. He gets better every album.
I am deeply impressed. Most of the tracks are very strong; I really enjoyed every song, and I don't think there's any "filler". It's gonna take more listens, but this could be one of their best albums.
Yeah, I'm not a fan of TRatB, but it's definitely not a 'filler.'
Reposting from the Maiden Chat thread. As I'm wont to do whenever a new Maiden album comes around, I'm here to pop out of the shadows, spew my opinions on it, then fade into the great unknown after about ten posts or so when my enthusiasm wears off. Enjoy, lambaste, or ignore at your leisure. All my thoughts are in spoiler tags, for the sake of brevity.
I listened to The Book of Souls from start to glorious end one time yesterday, unable to manage the wait until my pre-order copy arrives in a week. Any negative feelings about opening my presents early quickly faded once I made my way to the meat of the album and, to spare you any illusions of what this review will entail, I came away thoroughly impressed. It has its problems and I'll happily discuss them, but held up to their back catalog as a whole, I can't really give The Book of Souls any faults that I couldn't also lay on any of their other releases. There are songs that, while I'm glad I got to hear, I'm not sure hold up quality-wise to the rest of the album. The only difference here is that, while past albums would be rather lacking in length if songs were removed, this one in particular has such a wealth of content that knocking off a few of the weaker songs would have actually improved it as a whole. That's just one humble reviewer's opinion though. This review is based off my second listening, after plenty of soak time and as much objectivity as I'm capable of and allowing myself the privledge of bouncing around songs for a better listen. I listened to the album in a dark room without distraction through a pair of Sennheiser HD595's. My sound card is an Asus XonarSTX. Just so you know I'm not bullshitting you when I say that the album sounds pretty good in the next bit.
Adequate. If I had to sum up the overall sound of the album in one word, it would be adequate. Leveling issues and some peaking here and there aside, this is probably the best we're going to hear from Maiden as far as sound quality these days, and it's very easily their best sounding record since Somewhere in Time, witch I find to be the best mixed and mastered album in their entire catalog. It's nowhere near as good mind you, but most issues can be mitigated to taste with some EQing, witch cannot be said for many of the other albums engineered by Harris with someone elses name on it. There are some lovely guitar tones floating around, and there are many instances where all three players are very clear in the distinct parts they're shredding out. Steve could use a little more of his trademark "clank" and Nicko could use a little more punchyness in the mix, but my complaints are pretty nitpicky here. Bruce seems to be straining a lot more here than on albums past, whitch I understand is due to age and potentially tumors constricting his airway, but his midrange is starting to suffer now as opposed to when it was only evident when he was reaching for the highs. This could be due to the recording method, but I suspect it's not. We'll see when the tour rolls around what changes to his voice the surgery made. There will never be a day that I don't want to hear this man sing things, it's just sad to listen to your favorite vocalist get old. It's not a complaint, there are many moments of killer vocals here, just an observation.
I'll be completely honest, my heart sank when the keyboards kicked in on If Eternity Should Fail. What an awful tone, and what an insult to Bruce's moody intro. There's nothing there that couldn't have been done better with a guitar. Thankfully, the song itself is quite good once the guitars kick in. It's actually a pretty interesting intro track, almost a prelude in concept to the rest of the album. There's a lot of very "classic" sounding riffage floating around in there, with song structure that should look pretty familiar to fans of the "post-reunion" albums. This trend is repeated throughout the rest of the album to a certain degree. Lots of throwback licks, even some bits in solos that I can't put a finger on, but sound vaguely familiar to me. I like it, and I vew the album itself as a celebration of Iron Maiden's history. If it comes to that, a fitting and worthy swan song. I hate the spoken word outtro. It's made of a sauce that's 50% corn and 50% cheese.
Next up is Speed of Light, witch has been discussed ad nauseam around here by everyone but me. So here I go, but I will be brief. This is probably my favorite single since Wildest Dreams. I love the riffyness of it, that classic rock swagger with a Maiden twist. Great solos all around, but in particular, did Adrian cop a bit of his own Paschendale solo at the start of his own on here? It's used to great purpose regardless, and generally as far as straight-up rockers go, this is the best one on the album and one of my favorites of the reunion lineup.
Not a whole lot to say on The Great Unknown, other than there are some sweet harmonies here and an impassioned delivery from Bruce. Solid track all around, but I don't feel that's giving it enough credit. Let's just say that it's taking a formula that has become typical for Maiden at this point and showing us that they've perfected it.
A sweet, albeit simple bass into leads us into The Red and the Black, Maiden's first "true" epic on the record. There's a very natural shifting of tone here, from the steady drive at the songs onset, the general uplift leading up to and through the instrumental section. Some gorgeous extended harmony pieces put a nice cap on the whole instrumental affair, then bring us back down to the outro with some cursory "woah-oh's" and a repeat of Steve's bass licks. My only complaint is that the "woah-oh's" tend to overstay their welcome a bit here, but it's relatively minor. All in all, this is a worthy addition to Maiden's pantheon of epic tunes.
Our next rocker comes in the form of When the River Runs Deep. I love the riff here, but the vocals feel a bit... awkward? Especially the chorus. I can't really put a finger on it, but it's odd that this song feels so disjointed to me considering its length. It starts off skipping along, but it trips all over itself whenever they take a break for that chorus. Unfortunate, and as a result, I could basically take or leave this song despite some entertaining riffage popping around here and there. It just doesn't form a cohesive whole to me.
And on to the title track! Hilariously, this song starts with a diversion of the opening acoustic bit on The Talisman, then slams into some strange plodding beast that reminds me of a far better take on Mother Russia. Weird! But I like it. This song is massive and savage, with soaring vocals from Bruce. Interesting, as this is the first song on the album that I couldn't form a solid opinion on by my first play through. A grower to be sure, and this trend continues through the second disc as well. Repeated listening is definitely rewarded though, and the kick in to high gear around 6 minutes in put a huge smile on my face. This section invokes the spirit of the main riff in Losfer Words, and this pace is continued to the track's end. Such a strange mishmash, I said it was a weird one, but it works on a number of levels.
In Death or Glory, once again, we have a rocker that shows such promise and ends up just not doing it for me. That intro belongs on a far better song. Not much more to say on it.
Continuing on, we come to Wasted Years (just kidding!) Shadows of the Valley. A sinister introduction from Bruce over a vaguely familiar opening riff leads us to another pretty great mid-length tune. There's a lot to like here, and my dissatisfaction with the opening number on this disc is very quickly abated. There's a lot of strained vocal delivery from Bruce. I can't help but wonder if there was a better way to approach some of the higher sections in a more comfortable register but, regardless, this one's a keeper for sure. We have an always appreciated return of Maiden's trademark "woah-oh's" and, thankfully, they're only used to spice up what's already a pretty delicious meal. Lot's of fretwork to enjoy here.
This is the last time I'll speak of it, mostly because this is the last one, but I'm pretty sure that you're catching on that I'm not a huge fan of the shorter songs on this album. Tears of a Clown in particular pisses me off given who its about and how on the nose it is. Not a fan of this one. Nice riff though.
I always look forward to a new song by Dave. Ever since Thin Line from BNW, I'm always sure to keep an eye out for 'em when the track list and writing credits get released. The Man of Sorrows isn't my favorite song on the album, but it has some very haunting guitar work peppered here and there. To sum it up? Solid.
The Empire of the Clouds as far as I can gather, this is Bruce's 18+ minute sonic love letter to a blimp. No one else would dare write a song as ridiculous in concept as this, then have the audacity to make it this amazing. For the first time on a Maiden record, Brucie hopps on his piano and serenades us through the opening diddy, accompanied by string instruments and the rest of the band in a vaguely celtic style that we should all be accustomed to by now. This theme continues through the opening verses until a glorious guitar buildup about 8 minutes in. Like heralding the coming of a king, with a hint of desperation at the end as the tone changes just before the guitars evoke the sense of a downward spiral. Then, a riff from The Legacy makes an unexpected comeback, albeit much better utilized here, leading us through an instrumental section showcasing all three guitars in fine form with brief interjections from Bruce. I'm not familiar with the subject matter, but given the sinister then somber tones the song takes on towards the end, I'm all but certain things do not end will for the passengers and crew of the enormous airship. And, you know, the lyrics. The length of the song belies just how masterfully paced and composed the whole package is. This truly goes by too soon, and will be talked about for years as one of Iron Maiden's seminal pieces. Simply wonderful.
It annoys me to a certain extent how often I hear people say how "good, for their age" Iron Maiden are. If anything should lay waste to that kind of tone, this album is it. I've never had 92 minutes fly by as quickly as my first play through of this wonderful addition to Iron Maiden's catalog. They certainly play to their strengths here, and there's nothing overtly "new" to hear, even a lot that's overtly and intentionally old, but the creative fire that is still burning in this band, 40 years and 16 albums deep, is unprecedented. Time will tell where The Book of Souls sits in Iron Maiden's extensive library of work, but I can say with assurance that it will be looked back on with love and fondness from even the most casual of fan decades from now.
Thanks! As much as I'd love to hear a collection of strong, fast paced songs from the band, it's time for me to accept that they're past all that. I'm loving their more longform work here, and always have, so if that's what they're going to pour their creativity into I'd personally rather them keep with it rather than muddy the album with uninspired rockers just for the sake of sticking them in there. I see a lot of praise for the shorter songs on this album around here, so maybe they just need some time to sink in. Or maybe everyone's still too drunk off the excitement to give them a critical ear. Time will tell I suppose.Great write up! I find myself agreeing with a lot of your points, actually. The shorter songs don't quite resonate with me as much as the longer tracks either.
Thanks! As much as I'd love to hear a collection of strong, fast paced songs from the band, it's time for me to accept that they're past all that. I'm loving their more longform work here, and always have, so if that's what they're going to pour their creativity into I'd personally rather them keep with it rather than muddy the album with uninspired rockers just for the sake of sticking them in there. I see a lot of praise for the shorter songs on this album around here, so maybe they just need some time to sink in. Or maybe everyone's still too drunk off the excitement to give them a critical ear. Time will tell I suppose.