CD Review: Iron Maiden – Book Of Souls

CD Review: Iron Maiden – Book Of Souls
BMG Recorded Music
All Access Rating: A-

Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls 2015
Flying too close to the sun is an occupational hazard for Bruce Dickinson, both as an aviation enthusiast and as the lead singer of heavy metal legends Iron Maiden.

Ignoring the lessons of Icarus – the cautionary tale having been recounted by the metal legends on the 1983 album Piece Of Mind – Dickinson and company climb to dangerously lofty heights on an ambitious new double LP entitled Book Of Souls. Somehow they manage to do so without crashing to earth in a burning heap of singed feathers.

Exploring issues of mortality and the nature of souls with a deep intellectual curiosity, the highly literate Book Of Souls is a progressive-metal epiphany – with a strong emphasis on the word "progressive." Whether charging once more into the breach with the pounding rhythmic hooves, galvanizing strength and hot metallic breath of "Death Or Glory," "When the River Runs Deep" and "Speed Of Light" or traveling the winding passages of the glorious "Empire of the Clouds" – Dickinson's 18-minute long, piano-based opus and now the longest song in Maiden's catalog – the follow-up to 2010's The Final Frontier is a daring musical adventure. Maiden has never shown this much diversity or taken these kinds of risks.

With Dickinson, Steve Harris and Adrian Smith divvying up the songwriting duties, Book Of Souls artfully develops heady harmonies, plots out clever changes and subtle intricacies and indulges in the kind of signature gallops and dramatic builds and flourishes that have always been part and parcel of Maiden's sonic mythology. Practically daring critics to grouse about how "overblown" the release is, Maiden throws all of these elements into the chugging, dizzying rush of blood to the head that is "The Red and the Black," the sweeping, cinematic grandeur of "Shadow Of The Valley" and the wheeling, serrated sharpness of "The Great Unknown," controlling shifts in tempo and dynamics like puppet masters. Even with three songs eclipsing the 10-minute mark, Maiden seizes this opportunity to distinctly shape and mold its melodic sensibilities on "If Eternity Should Fail" – dodgy synthesizer intro and all – and the Robin Williams' tribute "Tears Of A Clown," trotting out good, sure hooks in thoroughly impressive displays of song craftsmanship.

Hardly diminished by time, Dickinson's stirring vocal histrionics are forceful and dynamic, but it's his expressive reading of "The Man Of Sorrows," emerging from quiet calm and a menacing undercurrent, that's his most affecting performance here. Flowing twin-guitar leads and searing solos shoot forth like missiles from the guitar armada of Smith, Dave Murray and Janick Gers, while drummer Nicko McBrain offers his trademark acrobatic rolls and Harris takes a more nuanced approach to his bass work – choosing to prod and pull Maiden with an easier touch, rather than simply thundering away out in front.

Anyone holding their breath for a return to the explosive heaviness and raw, immediate excitement of Killers or even The Number of the Beast should probably exhale. While not completely abandoning the identity it's taken them decades to establish, on Book Of Souls an even more theatrical and indulgent Maiden expands what defines them, making them harder to pigeonhole. That, in and of itself, doesn't automatically qualify Book Of Souls a great record, but the fact that it contains music that is consistently compelling and interesting does.
– Peter Lindblad

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