The Book of Souls: individual album judgement by yours truly

looks as if Empire of the Clouds didn't hook a lot of people in after repeat listens - took me a good 5-6 listens, but it finally clicked with me on about listen #7 whilst on a 2 hour drive (many Maiden songs click for me while driving - there's always been a certain "scenic" quality to their melodies and progressions - and the beat and rhythms have kept me alive on a few occasions when I could've drifted off during a late-night drive)
 
I have little (if any) emotional attachment to the Whoa-Oh's in The Red and The Black - but they're fun from a rhythmic standpoint - and they lead up well to the Bruce's impassioned "I need somebody to save me" post-chorus
 

karljant

Ancient Mariner
IRON MAIDEN - THE BOOK OF SOULS (2020 re-listening)

1- If Eternity Should Fail:
With an over the top dramatic and atmospheric intro (and being the first of many lengthy tracks of a double disc) Maiden show they're not releasing "just another album". This ritual like introduction shows Bruce evoking the Mayan theme for the first time in the album and builds great atmosphere as an hammering mid paced strong riff comes stomping in. Simple yet effective the verses give a lot of room for Bruce's powerful tenor to reverb. And although the legendary singer's voice sounds a bit eroded by time it still echoes with full strength, being the major highlight on this epic opener. The chorus is quite good although far from being top quality. As for the fast section it's a bit out of nowhere but fairly decent. After returning to the chorus, the track (which theme seems to be an overview of the planet we live on since its formation and its ever changing nature throughout the millennia) finishes with a ghostly spoken word outro by a character that presents himself as Necropolis (maybe a reference to the sum of all things the once were and are no more). Lots of grandeur, epic, cool and with some exciting details here and there, this is indeed a greart opener. 8/10

2- Speed Of Light:
Now this is your typical "radio friendly Maiden single". The intro is really great: the shamelessly rock n' roll cowbell and Bruce's signature scream as the main riff starts sounding sound really cool. As for the song itself the verses are quite mundane and obvious. The lead guitar on the pre-chorus on the other hand is great but the chorus itself once again is nothing special and the lyrics are nothing more than some sci-fi inspired cryptic lose lines. The solos are ok though and the use of the pre-chorus as a bridge is also really on point. But other than that there's nothing much else to listen to in this short rocker. Cool, easy listening tune but lthat's it. 6.5/10

3- The Great Unknown:
Here Maiden re-ash the anti-war theme, this time focused on the uncertainty on the future in a time when so many conflicts occur and the danger of mankind's nuclear self destruction start to resurface. The track starts with a really simple but well achieved calm and mysterious intro, and the melody is underlined as the verses kick in with full force. Although being your typical syncopated crescendo the pre-chorus is really enjoyable and makes an excellent transition to the refrain. Bruce does an excellent work throughout this entire song. The soloing action ensues and I really like how the track comes to an alt before returning to the intro. Unlike many other times the band pulls this trick (sounding disruptive most of the time) I think it's absolutely what the song asks for... a break from all the adrenaline, chaos and insanity of war as the song returns for a brief go on the 1st melody, portraying the desolate scenario of a possible new world war aftermath. So yeah... although it seems lacking something (I´m not sure what it is) to propel it to other echelon, this is a terrific song, well put together and featuring great passages. 8.25/10

4- The Red And The Black:
This 13 plus long mammoth of a song comes as a double edged sword. If it's true it brings absolutely top tier class epic Maiden it also can't help itself from repeating some mistakes the band has done several times (especially since the reunion). And that leaves me mad since this tune had everything to be a 10 out of 10. So I won't even analyse the large instrumental section since I consider it to be absloutely superb, especially the two last guitar harmony sections (although featuring some familiar melodies here and there). So let's start: what the hell is doing that absolutely filler of a bass line at the beginning of the track? Nothing. The song starts with a great riff (although bearing some similitudes with older songs) followed by a simple Maiden trademark lead upon it. But as the voice enters why the heck must it mimic 100% the damned guitar line melody? Man this wrecks my nerves... plus Bruce struggles keeping up with the phrasing making this sound goofy. Then we're thrown into an awesome bridge where, further ahead, the same 100% mimicking of guitar and voice happens. Ok.. I really don't mind the "oh oh oh's" on the bridge. But when we come to point of the guitar reproducing the "I need somebody to save me" melody... Really? Is this a joke? And it's the same with the following section! Are you kidding me? Although here the tables turn: the melody is perfect on Bruce's voice but sounds feeble as a guitar lead. But that's not the point. What's distressing is the fact we have 3 distinct sections 4 minutes plus long where voice and lead guitar do exactly the same! This is either lack of imagination or laziness at its best, sorry! And once again let me repeat: it's a pity since no matter how recurring the sections are, they sound so majestic and epic it's almost criminal tarnishing with stuff like this. Finnaly I would like to highlight what I consider to be the zenith in this the tune, where the song's title is sang. Since it has everything a out of this world refrain must have I'll call it chorus although it's only played once. And that's exactly the problem: with 13 plus minutes of song not being able to repeat such a masterpiece of a passage is beyond my comprehension. It sounds vast, glorious, intense and the keyboards really enhance that flavor. Finnaly a nod to the lyrical content: I don't know if they're inspired in Stendhal's book although some passages really remind me of the main character's twists and turns on fortune and how his excessive ambition traced his fate (while others seem way more cryptic and detached from the narrative). But I'm too mad for stuff as lyrics interpretation anyway. This could have been a perfect song and it isn't simply because the band didn't wanted to. 8.5/10

5- When The River Runs Deep:
A cacophonous intro that slightly reminds the one on "Lord Of The Flies" with Bruce's strained voice on top really makes me fear where this track is heading to. But all of the sudden the song completely shifts its direction and reveals itself to be a great uptempo tune. The tempo mid cut on the chorus really works but I think that on the last turn before the song ends they should play it at the same pace than the rest of the song for variation purposes. Great guitar harmony bridge and the second solo is really vicious. As for the lyrics I think it pictures a couple of people who committed themselves to a cause and are about to die for it (probably soldiers, don't know). Other than that, yeah... simple, energetic and if it wasn't for that mess of an intro I would rate it much higher 7.75/10

6- The Book Of Souls:
The title track starts with a desolate acoustic guitar before it erupts in a slow epic march like riff. Really like how Nicko uses the crash cymbal here and man this section is the definition of pomp. The sang verses are even more majestic with the keyboards backing up Bruce's voice in a really solid fashion. The pre-chorus brings another great guitar melody once again mimicked by the voice, but since it doesn't take that long it's not as near as irritating as in other songs. But the absolute apotheosis is the state of the art of a chorus that follows: the keyboards, Bruce's singing with the remainder of the band granting the grandeur of this thing is something absolutely awesome. Really, the entire song really does justice to the splendor of the extinct Mayan empire but the refrain is on a league of its own. The way the guitars turn the marching riff into an excellent harmony after the second chorus is also top notch. And then we're off to the races and... wait a minute! Come on guys! This is Montsegur's opening riff *sigh*. Fortunately it's alternated with another riff and another great dual guitar melody but nonetheless they even do the upper variation the exact same way they do in Losfer Words (the song Montsegur kinda reminds me of. See? There's a difference between resemblance and blatant recycling). And after some soloing the song ends and let me tell you: this is by far my favorite track here. And if it wasn't for the obvious self plagiarism on the second part I'd give it an even higher note. 9.5/10

7- Death Or Glory:
Yet another song based on aerial dog fights (this time during the first great war), the track's first riff is based upon your typical Piece Of Mind/ Powerslave era rumbling cuts. The verses are truly enjoyable and energetic. To be honest so is the entire song overall, really lose yet having punch enough to remain fair to its theme. Nicko doe sa great job on the kit throughout the entire track: nothing too fancy but every detail seems to fit perfectly. The already well known pre chorus involving monkey climbing choreography does its job nicely, It's being a bit basic but hey, it works. And the same works for the sing along chorus. So there you go: a simple yet highly live effective tune with a solid structure and while not being top material it sure has its charm. 7.75/10

8- Shadows Of The Valley:
By now we all know that Maiden sometimes goes too far when it comes to recycling but even with that in mind Shadows Of The Valley's intro is on a league of his own. Making a copy of one of the band's most well known hits' intro and placing it at the beginning of other song is something that puzzles me. I can only imagine Adrian's thoughts "Hey.. Janick and Steve... Is it just me or does this sounds a bit familiar?" then going "Nah! Why bother? I'm too old for band discussions and shit.". And the rest of the song could be good at least. But no. a) the verses have nothing to do with the intro. b) Speaking of verses... The Fallen Angel anyone? c) Bruce's voice sounds absolutely strained on the chorus... it's painful to listen to. d) Unlike many songs here the keyboards seem absolutely accessory. e) The guitar harmony after the chorus is generic and boring. The only sections I truly like are between the 4.48 to 6.42 minute mark where this song kinda offer us some good highlights, in soloing, singing and melody. The rest is utterly avoidable. 5.75/10

9- Tears Of A Clown:
Based on the tragic death of Robin Williams, and serving as a tribute, this is a melancholic hard rock tune, a genre I'm not a fan of but must admit Maiden defenetily nailed this one. Nicko does a great job and the 7 by 8 variation really gives it an extra spice (although I think it makes a poor finish section for the track). And while the verse and pre chorus are quite simple they flow nicely and complement eachother. As for the chorus it's truly beautiful, especially the last go round with the keyboards filling the gaps as Bruce raises his voice, repeating the song's title. Overall a heartful dedication and a beautiful song. 7.5/10

10- The Man Of Sorrows:
Yup... now it seems the band not only recycles melodies they also recycle track tittles from their member's solo projects. Moving ahead... a really sad melody acoustic opens the penultimate tune from the record. And although rightfully depressive (I think the lyrics focus the refugees tragedy) it is well put together, has a lot of emotion on it and truly stays faithful to its goals. Then at the 1.56 minute mark I simply don't know where this song went. Is this a different song I'm listening to? Because it sounds like it is. And one with pretty poor verses as well. At least the pre-chorus inflection with a basic yet top notch use of keyboards while Bruce's voice echoes on the background for dramatic effect is really good and gives that sense of tragedy the lyrics ask for. The chorus is also really somber... lacks a bit of intensity but it's decent enough to hold his own ground. The following two harmony sections are really interesting (especially the first one with guitars and bass weaving a truly remarkable acoustic texture) and are followed by your typical soloing before the song returns to the chorus and gives it some go on some more guitar solo action. Speaking of such the soothing solos on the coda are also really nice. Of course there's the title matter but where I think this song would benefit a lot was if it didn't forced a collage of two different tunes. The singing verses could be better, also. And it's a pity since there are some great passages here. 6.25/10

11- Empire Of The Clouds:
Many lines have been written about this gigantic and megalomaniac creation by Mr. Dickinson. Instead of wandering through the countless sections and melodies that compose this epic tune dedicated to the tragic flight of the R101, I'll approach it in a quite different way. For starts I dislike the vast majority of Rock Operas. Of course there are some exceptions (The Crimson Idol, Quadrophenia). And that's what Empire Of The Clouds is: 100% a Rock Opera. So, it has everything for me to not like it in its morphology. And, to be fair, it's far from being my cup of tea. But instead of hating it right away I gave it some more listens and what did I took from it? For a start is always great seeing Maiden bringing something so new to their universe, especially when we're talking about an album featuring so much recycling as The Book Of Souls. Then major props to Bruce for immense work while writing this whole thing by himself. Also hats off to the rest of the band for going along in such a risky and ambitious project (a song that features a long piano section is far from being a sure shot when we're dealing with such a conservative fan base as Maiden's). Finally the track has some pretty interesting passages: I really like the initial piano based section, some of the first instrumental variations and the final stretch. And when I find myself whistling some of the melodies of a song built upon a structure and dynamic I dislike as much as Rock Operas it's because I at least partially enjoy it. So, although I only listened to it less than a dozen times, the quality of some parts and respect for the band while not playing safe seriously increases the value of something that had everything for me to run away from it as fast as I could. 7.25/10

PS: 7.54/10 points song average


No one can point the finger at the band and say that, while making The Book Of Souls, they intended to sell us "just another album". It's a two disc lengthy release, featuring various epic and long songs (one of them being a Rock Opera with piano clocking over 18 minutes) with a focus on the dramatic side like we haven't seen perhaps since Seventh Son. It starts with one of the subjects that serves as motive for the cover: Like in Powerslave with ancient Egypt, the Mayan empire seems to nurture this new found need for grandeur. Speaking of which nce again I believe the band and management made a rash decision regarding the artwork. Mark Wilkinson is one hell of an artist and, although a bit empty, the cover is really good. Nevertheless when compared with the absolute jaw dropping illustration of Eddie ripping his own heart out that's inside the booklet it falls short. Perhaps the band wanted to avoid controversy due to the graphic nature of the drawing. Production wise is the same work Shirley did since 2000. So Maiden's latest album sure has lot of juice and great songs/ passages. Nevertheless there are some really poor structured songs, laziness while rounding some edges and an excessive bet on recycling old melodies. Bruce's voice also sounds a bit tired here and there (perhaps already due to the tumour he would treat and recover from later). So I think the band payed lots of attention on the large picture and kinda went a bit sloppy on the details in some parts of the album. Still a great effort for a band that, despite being formed by sexagenaries, still can pull out amazing musical moments even 35 years after their first release. 7.5/10
 
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TheTalisman

Ancient Mariner
8- Shadows Of The Valley: By now we all know that Maiden sometimes goes to far when it comes to recycling but even with that in mind Shadows Of The Valley's intro is on a league of his own. Making a copy of one of the band's most well known hits' intro and placing it at the beginning of other song is something that puzzles me.
A bit familiar to the intro in Out of the Silent Planet as well, another Janick/Steve track.
 

Forostar

Ancient Mariner
The Man of Sorrows. An exaggerated low grade when I read that, karljant.

So it suddenly changes into something different. O noooooo, that is unheard of in metal, that is unheard of in Maiden! Remove this petty "problem" and I see your very admiring acknowledgement of its qualities. :dancinggeek:

Edit:
Just half a point more than that destroying review of Shadow in the Valley? *shakes head*
 
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karljant

Ancient Mariner
So it suddenly changes into something different. O noooooo, that is unheard of in metal, that is unheard of in Maiden! Remove this petty "problem" and I see your very admiring acknowledgement of its qualities. :dancinggeek:
Come on you know what I'm talking about. I mean... if at least it was an epic song... or any kind of prog like stuff it's ok for me. But no: this is a song with simple build that starts with an intro from other song, period! You don't see me criticizing Empire Of The Clouds, The Book Of Souls, The Red And The Black in this record (as many others in many other albums) while they feature quite different sections. Because that''s what prog Maiden does and does it well. And Man Of Sorrows is far from being prog Maiden.
As for half a point... it's still considerable when it comes to my ranks. Just to put in perspective that's the same difference between cool songs like Death Or Glory and When The River Runs Deep and If Eternity Should Fail (that is obviously on another echelon). Or if you want to bring it to albums I believe it's the difference between this album (12th in my rank) to both Iron Maiden and TNOTB (8th and 9th) two albums I like way more.

P.S. as matter of fact I gave 8.25/10 to both Iron Maiden and TNOTB... it's a difference of 0.75 instead of 0.5. But nonetheless it shows how in a scale of 0/10 half a point can be considerable.
 
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Forostar

Ancient Mariner
Not sure if you know what I was talking about. Your review for Shadow was very negative. And you review for The Man of Sorrows wasn't (that much). Moreover, it praised several qualities. This difference between your writings for these songs is not shining through in your rating. On the contrary.
The positivity (and the large portion of it) in your review is not represented well by the grade. The Man of Sorrow far from prog Maiden? Depending on what we define as proggy, I'd say it has proggy bits for sure. More than the Red and Black which is long but also one of the songs with the least variety in the complete catalogue.

That intro, it never belonged to another song. It was a piece on its own indeed, but did not belong to another song.
 
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Niall Kielt

Ancient Mariner
Am I the only one that doesn't notice/care about the Shadows/Wasted Years intro similarity? There must be a couple of notes difference, Shadows leans towards menacing, Wasted leans towards melancholy. For me, the tone/feel of the 2 is completely different.
 

karljant

Ancient Mariner
Not sure if you know what I was talking about. Your review for Shadow was very negative. And you review for The Man of Sorrows wasn't (that much). Moreover, it praised several qualities. This difference between your writings for these songs is not shining through in your rating. On the contrary.
The positivity (and the large portion of it) in your review is not represented well by the grade. The Man of Sorrow far from prog Maiden? Depending on what we define as proggy, I'd say it has proggy bits for sure. More than the Red and Black which is long but also one of the songs with the least variety in the complete catalogue.

That intro, it never belonged to another song. It was a piece on its own indeed, but did not belong to another song.
Once again after what you wrote all I can say is agreed to disagree since I find it so detached from my perspective (especially that part of TMOS being more proggy than TRATB ...WTF?). If you don't understand my point of view I'm not going to explain it any further.
 

srfc

Ancient Mariner
Am I the only one that doesn't notice/care about the Shadows/Wasted Years intro similarity? There must be a couple of notes difference, Shadows leans towards menacing, Wasted leans towards melancholy. For me, the tone/feel of the 2 is completely different.

Yeah I don't give a shit either, if I didn't give a shit that Wasted Years sounded like Losfer Words then why would I give a shit that Shadows of the Valley sounds like Wasted Years.
 

karljant

Ancient Mariner
I think that we in 2021 are way past when Metal sounds new and fresh altogether. There are 12 actual notes in western music. Riffs are going to sound similar. We're not talking Gamma Ray ripoffs here.
Depends regarding what you listen to. There's lots of refreshing bands popping here and there. Plus I won't go any further with what you can do with those 12 notes but just tell you this: you have 9 major scales in western music. From scales of 12 notes (chromatic) to 4 to 2 notes (diatonic). Mix that with dynamic fluctuation, shifts on timbre and especially time signatures. This particular last element is quite effective: it's the reason why songs like Afraid To Shoot Strangers, Phantom Of The Opera, Blood Brothers, Brighter Than A Thousand Suns, Where Eagles Dare and some others sound so distinct: all of them have major lengthy parts with unusual time signatures (than aren't your usual 4 by 4). There's no excuse... the combinations are still limitless.
 

karljant

Ancient Mariner
Yeah I don't give a shit either, if I didn't give a shit that Wasted Years sounded like Losfer Words then why would I give a shit that Shadows of the Valley sounds like Wasted Years.
Lol! After this one I'm out. Peace!
 

Forostar

Ancient Mariner
The drumming at the end of The Man of Sorrows is what it makes the song a bit proggy to me. Perhaps jazzy even. It's very loose, and with a-typical (variation on) patterns. In great length I have explained in the TRATB topic how big a chunk of The Red and the Black contains the least diverse section in the history of Iron Maiden (a record).

A song with such huge lack of variation does not deserve the qualification proggy imo (also because rhythmically nothing in particularly proggy happens; as you see I find rhythm / time signatures quite an important ingredient of prog rock, and changes in a song). Plus, in TRATB (with its copied segment from Uriah Heep) there are hardly any changes in feel and intensity, making it a too monotone track to deserve the qualification proggy (or great, in general) in my book.
 
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Forostar

Ancient Mariner
Yes. I loved it as well. The song is among my favourite Maiden songs since Bruce's return, in league with Brave New World, Ghost of the Navigator and Dance of Death as best pre-TBOS material. There's an ethereal and dark quality in it. The beauty of the guitar work is just magic. Bruce's delivery is haunting.
 

Diesel 11

As you scream into the web of silence...
Do people really care all that much about Maiden’s little self-plagiarisms and their lifting from other bands? A lot of this forum still calls Hallowed their best song after all.
 
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