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Good lord, nothing here I would give less than four stars! This epitomizes quality over quantity with a massive 72 minute ride down the warpath spread over only ten songs.
The opener, "Different World", is the album's best proof of Dickinson's durability. He proves his voice is still marvelously powerful even after 10 Iron Maiden records across three decades. Lyrically, it is a regrettably standard rock/metal ode to doing your own thing and "everybody has a different way to view the world" - who cares? But the song is redeemed and then some by Smith's fairly short, yet blistering solo.
Lyrically and melodically, the highlight here is the almost 9 minute masterpiece "Brighter Than a Thousand Suns". You'd be hard pressed in my mind to challenge its candidacy for heavy metal song #1 of the 2000s. The soft vocal intro with slowly building guitar intensity keeps you on the edge of your seat and knocks you right out as Bruce belts out "we will feel the pain of his beginning". This coupled with the first electrification of the simple, yet menacing main riff is brilliant. Much has been sung about atomic war, but little compares to 1000 Suns.
Assuming the listener is not too closed-minded about McBrain's Christianity, "The Pilgrim" comes in as a close second best on this disc. The lyrics are deeply spiritual as all meaningful metal should be (whether you carry or invert your crucifix, the theme of spiritual crisis should strike a chord). As the instruments go, "The Pilgrim" has Nicko's most proficient drum rhythm that you can't help playing along to as well as a subtle, yet unshakable Middle Eastern vibe that matches its psalm-like words.
The back five songs, aside from "Out of the Shadows", follow the example of tracks 2 and 3: long with a soft, dark, mood-building intro verse (or two verses, or two minutes). "The Longest Day" is the bloodiest track here. Its slow, slogging opening perfectly suits its theme of Allied soldiers dragging themselves up over the daunting fortifications of Hitler's Norman Coast. There follows the relatively shorter "Out of the Shadows", whose strange mystical lyrics all wouldn't be out of place on one of Maiden's late-'80s albums (this is not to say that it's out of place here).
As mentioned, tracks 7-10 are more similar to 2, 3 and 5, in both length and in structure. They all feature Iron Maiden's patented slow buildup and my favourite trademark of theirs, the instrumental rhythm solo (see also Metal Church for a band who does that well). Of course, do not skip the lead solo in "Lord of Light". It weaves and winds its way through tastefully used distortion to create a feeling of being pulled down a spiral staircase to the abyss.
I must admit, when I saw the last song was called "The Legacy" I worried that they were hinting this would be their last song ever. And it would have been going out on a good note as the solid main riff rolls down on you like an avalanche. Last, but not least, "The Legacy" features the highlight of Steve Harris' bass work on this record. Not since Trouble's classic "Endtime" back in '84 has anyone used the bass to introduce, then mirror the guitar line so effectively. Dang, it's crushing when that's done right!
As of now, this is the only album to earn an absolute perfect score from me. Listen to it - it's a matter of life and death!