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Bruce Dickinson’s second studio album since his brilliant return to form named “Accident of Birth.” His third masterpiece in a row. That is pretty much all that needs to be said about “Tyranny of Souls.” It is difficult to pin down what makes the guy so special, but somehow I can’t seem to get enough of his music. Even songs that would be dismissed as merely average were they performed by another artist are miraculously transformed into great ones owing to Bruce’s unparalleled charisma and brilliant voice. Although he has slightly altered his approach to singing since the early Maiden days, mostly steering clear of the very high notes and preferring mid-range vocals instead (no, not even Bruce is immune to the implications of age), he is probably still the best singer in the entire realm of Heavy Metal. He somehow manages to put so much passion and conviction in every single note that you will find yourself gaping with awe while listening to his mind-blowing performance on “Tyranny.” And the things he has to say in his songs are, as always, pretty interesting and beautifully phrased – this is indeed miles ahead of the drivel some other classic Metal bands frequently come up with (Priest, I’m looking in your direction…).
Anyway, I guess that should be enough unabashed Bruce worship for now – time for a more or less detailed song-by-song low-down on what the Air Raid Siren has to offer on his latest studio album:
“Mars Within” is a beautiful short intro, effectively setting the tone for the rest of the album. That applies to the music as well as the lyrics, where Bruce was obviously inspired by Science Fiction this time around (“Mankind returns to the stars… but sometimes, the stars return to mankind…”).
“Abduction” is the perfect way to start off the record. It virtually rips out of your speakers like a hurricane – fast tempo, fierce riffs, stomping drums (I should add that the drum sound on the entire album is magnificent), and Bruce’s soaring vocals on top of it all. This track had me singing along pretty much the first time I heard it – simply awesome! By the way, the lyrics sound like Bruce has had a rather unpleasant encounter with alien life forms recently…
“Soul Intruders” is the legitimate follow-up to “Star Children” from “Accident of Birth.” Fast double bass drums, heavy riffs, and a memorable chorus are the major ingredients for this more than solid song.
“Kill Devil Hill” is the next potential classic on this record. The title initially had me thinking along the lines of anti-war movies such as “Hamburger Hill,” when in fact the lyrics are again based on the theme of aviation and space travel. The chorus is simply out of this world – Bruce is in full swing here, and the keyboards merely add to the atmosphere instead of dominating the song – just the way it should be.
“Navigate the Seas of the Sun” is the ballad on here, and I have to say that at first I didn’t care for it at all. I still consider it the weakest song on the album, but at least it has grown on me to a point where I don’t have to skip it to enjoy the record. It’s just a somewhat unspectacular ballad driven by acoustic guitars and some keyboards. The major reason why it passes as a pretty decent song after all are Bruce’s stellar vocals – even when they are as relaxed as they are here, they still rule.
“River of No Return” is another great mid-tempo tune, alternating between atmospheric verses with some nice piano touches and a very heavy chorus. I really like how the verses slowly gain momentum until the awesome chorus kicks in. (Need I mention Bruce is once again phenomenal here?)
“Power of the Sun” is the most Maidenesque of all the songs on “Tyranny.” Clocking in at only around three and a half minutes, it wastes no time at getting to the point and has speed, great riffs, and yet another insanely catchy chorus, making this one of my favorite songs of Bruce’s solo career up to this point.
“Devil on the Hog,” as has been observed by other reviewers, has more of a Hard Rock feel to it and sounds almost like a leftover from Bruce’s solo debut “Tattooed Millionaire.” It’s not exactly the next highlight, but it doesn’t feel out of place either – I think it does a good job at adding variety and depth to the record.
“Believil” is a very interesting tune that differs a little from the majority of the songs. The verses are very slow and brooding, primarily focusing on eerie keyboard sounds, whereas the chorus with its chunky guitar riffs is just punishingly heavy. Overall, this song sounds very dark and has somewhat of a 1970s Black Sabbath Doom vibe to it.
“Tyranny of Souls,” the title track, concludes the record in due fashion. Bruce has saved the best for last here, as this song is a legitimate epic masterpiece. Though it clocks in at slightly under six minutes, it is so varied it actually seems to last much longer. The awesome chorus, which may be the best on the entire album, features amazing riffs and guitar harmonies, binding all the different parts of the song seamlessly together. Breathtaking!
As a conclusion, having already mentioned several times how great an album this is, it should suffice to say that Iron Maiden (i.e. Steve “stubborn old mule” Harris) would do well to take this as an example and make extensive use of Bruce’s songwriting skills on their next record. Hiring Roy Z, who has yet again done a very solid job as a producer, to handle the recording of the next Maiden album would also have been a very wise move, but apparently Kevin Shirley is already working with the boys in the studio. Oh well – here’s hoping the Caveman doesn’t screw up again this time around…