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You know in about a million cop movies or sports movies, when the hero has gone into retirement after a long and successful career, then when a new challenger, stronger than any before, rises up to challenge the field, they step back out of retirement and muster one last effort to defeat the threat? That's what Iron Maiden should be doing, except they haven't retired and thus can't muster up one last shot at glory. I've just seen the track listing for the upcoming 2015 Maiden album 'The Book of Souls' and, knowing now that there's going to be two discs to that album and that we've got a 10 minute title track and an 18 minute album closer, I'm going to officially dub this album (as in 'The Final Frontier') "The Warning". As far as I can tell, Maiden have lost the plot and aren't going to get it back.
One needn't ask too far to elicit the difference between 80s Maiden and post-2000 Maiden (I'm overlooking 90s Maiden, I know, but who doesn't?). The song lengths have grown, the progressive tendencies have emerged, the ambition seems to have increased, yet the ability to consistently deliver the goods has waned. None of the three 00s albums were free of filler or poor songs and all of them ran to excessive lengths, with some sections of songs bearing little fruit compared to the more focused work earlier in the band's career. I don't have a problem with bands writing long songs or changing their style, but I do worry that Maiden are simply doing this because someone feels they should or they can, and usually it hasn't worked. There are a few great longer songs in the last decade - 'Paschendale', 'The Legacy', 'Dance of Death' - yet the majority of them have been slow to build, lacking ideas and progress, or simply not up to scratch. This may in part be me judging Maiden on past glories, so let me take a song from 'The Final Frontier' as an example. I choose 'Isle of Avalon' as symptomatic of many of the band's problems and also showing some of their remaining strengths.
That song has a long build-up, which eventually gets going into a rippling stream with some mysterious vocals stroking over the top, which sounds great, as if the band are holding back an ancient secret. Then that suspense breaks into a chorus (I think it's the chorus, but it doesn't deserve that name) that has one of the worst vocal lines I've ever heard from Bruce Dickinson over a very average riff that doesn't define itself or the vocals. There's another verse that is backed with keyboards and has a lot of momentum to it and refreshes itself very nicely with a simple fill, even if it doesn't end up anywhere particular. The lead section is definitely not characteristic of Maiden, since they have mostly been able to hang onto their great lead style even during times of turmoil: this one sounds like a jam session between a few drunk guitarists who have some skill, though apparently no idea of how to assimilate their skills into anything resembling a listenable experience. The first time I listened to that aimless solo, I actually laughed, because I just didn't see the point and couldn't fathom why the band included it.
These problems occur in many of the songs on 'The Final Frontier' and, because of the excessive length of the album, are not only repeated but repeated ad nauseam for 76 minutes, during which time I forget which band I'm listening to at least three or four times. The first occasion is during the lengthy and unspeakably shit introduction to the title track, which lasts almost five minutes yet seems to be merely the end of Nicko McBrain's warm-up as he battles with his kit and everyone else joins in numbly around him. The lack of Maiden's traditional galloping rhythm is notable, as is the slow and often plodding (it's not brooding, or pensive, or calm) nature of these songs, while I find that the riffs have become a little softer and sometimes influenced more by hard rock than heavy metal. These changes aren't bad in themselves (well, plodding, maybe), but the band haven't found something better to fill the gap of their diminished personality, and - to a large extent - it was that personality and familiarity that brought fans to their new albums after the vigour and passion had begun to fade.
My distaste comes down without mercy on the title track, 'Coming Home', 'Isle of Avalon', 'Starblind', and 'The Man Who Would Be King', nor do the other songs manage to achieve a very high standard - their faults are simply tempered with some positives. The long slog of 'The Talisman' has a dull opening but there is at least five great minutes of driving verse and chorus bulk in the middle of the song, though the band again squander the solo in their desire to do something different; 'Mother of Mercy' pulls itself up on the best chorus of the album; 'El Dorado' manages to control its excesses enough to punch above its weight here, ending up as one of my two favourites along with 'The Talisman'. The general absence of hooks, be those in vocals, riffs, leads, or rhythms is sorely disappointing and the experimentalism doesn't come close to making up for that abyss in the centre of 'The Final Frontier'.
I can' t say much for the individual members of the band that hasn't been said already, but I will attempt to categorise my disappointment into its constituent parts. All of the instruments are heard clearly, including occasional keyboards, and there's nothing wrong with the mix, only with the decision-making that has led to the creation of these songs. Steve Harris is more prominent than ever and actually plays his bass as if it is a lead instrument. This has been noticed in the past, but this time no one has managed to get a grip on playing rhythm and there are many moments, like that solo section of 'Isle of Avalon' and the one in 'The Man Who Would Be King', when everyone is doing something different and the whole devolves into a mess of guitar noise and pointless rhythms. Nicko McBrain is playing against the band when it would benefit him to be playing with them (those lead sections again), though he gives a fairly standard performance most of the time. The guitarists seem to have abandoned a style that they had built up over more than 30 years: we no longer have any classic Dave Murray solos, no Adrian Smith riffs, nothing to show that this is Iron Maiden or that Iron Maiden have been doing some serious thinking while they were touring the world and recording their new album. Bruce Dickinson has lacked some power in the last few recorded efforts, but here he also lacks skill at times, with several disjointed and awkward choruses, not to mention the tiredness that is evident in his voice at times.
This album comes as a stark reminder that all of our heroes are fallible and may fall at any point. The performance is flat and unbecoming of the band, while the songs are overlong and underdeveloped, often seeming aimless. I can understand why Maiden may have wanted to tinker with their old style, but I can't see why they would have chosen this as an advance of their talents and a good use of their energies. I hope I'm wrong, but I have a feeling the next Iron Maiden album is going to be terrible.
Few bands within the metal scene are held in as high regard as Iron Maiden; and not without good reason. For more than three decades now the band has consistently set the bar very high for bands everywhere to attempt to match. Whilst it is almost certainly true that their newer works are not quite as hard hitting nor as powerful as album like "The Number Of The Beast"; each release the band has put out has had more positives than negatives. So when news arrived that the band was working on their first studio in four years, many a metal fan's hearts suddenly began to beat faster in anticipation and quite rightfully so. After all, 2006's "A Matter Of Life And Death" had arguably been the band's strongest work since "Seventh Son Of A Seventh Sun". The question that many would pose would be whether the band could pump out yet another album of a high standard despite the fact the band were rapidly ageing.
The answer is a resounding "yes". Every aspect of the band that many have come to idolize is present and correct on "The Final Frontier"; from the never-ending guitar bombastic guitar assault to the powerful operatic vocals of Bruce Dickinson and the clever and thought provoking lyrics that added so much to classic songs like "Hallowed Be Thy Name". The band chose an appropriate song to release as a single in "El Dorado" as this is merely a taster as to what the band is capable of whilst still being a solid song in its own right. The galloping bass lines from Steve Harris are shown to be on form once again with this song, rumbling away in the background; high in the mix but not so much that it becomes a distraction from the rest of the music. Harris' bass work is almost flawless on Maiden's 2010 return and is flooded with his characteristic impeccable sense of rhythm and anchors each of the songs down with a solid groove for the three guitarists to build off which they do masterfully. Be it the water-tight riffing to the opening song, the pinch harmonics that add such a lot to the sound of "El Dorado" or the epic eleven minute closer "When the Wild Wind Blows"; the band never lets up showing their guitar talent on here. The solos are phenomenal and many in number, usually flinging a mass of notes the listeners way so fast that it is hard to comprehend. This is just another day at the office for Maiden.
The vocal performance from Bruce Dickinson is less mind-blowing than on the band's earlier works and it appears that age is finally catching up with him; but the man still has the chops to put in a great performance. On "Mother Of Mercy" he holds some great notes for a couple of seconds during the chorus whilst delivering the verses in a lower voice than some will be accustomed to. He has quite a wide range here and scarcely put a foot wrong throughout the entire album but it is still irksome to hear the vocals on here when stacked against their earliest works. The one thing that really does let down "The Final Frontier" is the drum performance. Whereas songs such as "Invaders" on their earlier works showed the band know how to write a varied and entertaining drum show; this album does shoot itself in the foot where the drums are concerned. The beats are generic and disappointing and do little more than just create a rhythm and Nicko McBrain doesn't strive to push himself at all. Another problem with this release is that it is a little too long, clocking in at just shy of an hour and a quarter long-the longest of all Maiden releases. On the longer cuts off of this album such as "When The Wind Blows" the band attempts to show off a more progressively inspired side to their sound by incorporating long build ups and changes in sound. Sadly they really fail to pull this off and could have instead used the faster and heavier sections as songs in their own right and kept the album length down. Moments such as the jam sections that open and close "El Dorado" feel pointless and unnecessary and would also have helped to keep the length down had they been cut.
The choice songs off here are "El Dorado", "Mother Of Mercy" and "The Man Who Would Be King". The first two are straightforward Maiden songs with creative bass work and an influx of fast-paced soloing and riffs that thunder along without taking any prisoners. The latter is far longer but makes good use of its length with many cleverly written twists and turns, and some awesome lyrics. If the whole album were up to the same standard as these three songs then the album would have been a lot more solid as each song has at least one or two moments worth speaking about. Sadly; the title track does not open the album up very well with some generic drumming and is unnecessarily long. Many of the songs suffer due to the length and not in fact because of the song writing itself although they do tend to repeat themselves numerous times. "The Final Frontier" is an album worth checking out for both avid Maiden fans and also casual fans of the band but is not highly recommended to others as a place to start with the band as it pales in comparison to their earliest works and also to the three that preceded it.
Iron Maiden are the be-all, end-all of heavy metal. Anything you know about good metal begins and ends with Iron Maiden. A lot of diehards and purists like to knock this album for no reason other than "it's newer". Well, I've got some news for those people: Iron Maiden lives. Sure, they may have had a long stretch of shitty albums in the 90's (Though I admit enjoying Fear of the Dark quite a bit) but Brave New World and Dance of Death were formidable and A Matter of Life and Death was one of their best albums ever. So, what about the Final Frontier? Well, it's not easy to say. It certainly isn't any of their 80's albums, nor does it touch their 2006 masterstroke. There's a lot of brave (or foolhardy) experimentation on the Final Frontier. There are a few bland tracks that are weaker for it, but GOD DAMN, when it works, it REALLY works. But enough rambling, let's discuss this album for real.
First thing we should reasonably note is the production. Iron Maiden being one of the most consistently exalted metal bands of all time, they can clearly afford nice things, and smooth, slick production is not exception. It's not revolutionary, but it certainly sounds as crystal-clear as you could want.
Bruce Dickinson admittedly shows some age on a few tracks. Mother of Mercy has him hitting some very strained, scratchy highs. But overall, he has aged very well compared to, say, Ozzy Osbourne or Robert Plant. The lyrics seem to follow a couple of major themes: Space/space travel and home. Yeah, just home in general, y'know, missing it, returning to it, thinking of it...we'll touch a bit more on that one.
Obviously the guitar riffs are fantastic. Nothing less than the best from Adrian, Dave, and Janick. It isn't all their most memorable work, but there are some great, shining moments. I wouldn't say they're QUITE at the to of their game, but they're pretty close. Steve Harris, as usual, really feels like a PART of the songs rather than the glue that holds them together. Nicko McBrain's drum fills are insane especially on El Dorado.
The Final Frontier is one of Iron Maiden's strangest, most unique albums. The tone ranges from hopeful and lighthearted (Coming Home) to dark and brooding (When the Wild Wind Blows), and that's another element with its ups and downs. It can be a tad jarring, especially when the opening track switches from its creepy, borderline psychological torture opening Satellite 15 to the album's self titled track, a very standard, midtempo Maiden rocker. Both tracks are very good, but at the very least I could see them being separated into two.
Now let's talk a little more about notable tracks. There are some definite highlights here, and a couple of tracks that measure up to the highest tier of Maiden's catalog. Case in point, track 4, Coming Home. The preceding songs are great and all, but this is the first one that really grabs and holds you. The lyrics, the well-implemented vocals, the catchy, unforgettable chorus guaranteed to get stuck in your head...all fantastic. The Talisman is the Final Frontier's next big winner. A two-minute acoustic solo leads into a great, escalating tale about a man lost at sea. Finally, the one son that REALLY lives up to the highest of Iron Maiden standards-When the Wild Wind Blows. Iron Maiden's best songs, or at least their best songwriting, come from character studies or contemplative introspection. Hallowed Be thy Name, Paschendale, Infinite Dreams....THESE are what Maiden is about. Sure, they have plenty of songs about historical battles, and those are fantastic!-but there is still so much greater potential in some very serious psychological exploration. Wild Wind is a tale about the end of the world, how people react, how the media sensationalizes it. I know it's based on a comic book, but it's still very creative. You may have already heard it, but if you haven't, I won't DARE spoil the twist ending for you.
So, that's the Final Verdict on the Final Frontier. The tracks I mentioned aren't the only notable ones-just the ones that really kept me thinking when I walked away from it the first time. The others have grown on me though, and overall add up to a very good, worthwhile metal journey. It's a ways away from perfect, though. The space travel theme could have been explored a bit more-seriously, there's a TON of potential in there-but beyond that, the biggest problem is the constant change in feel the album goes through-and if THAT'S its biggest Achilles Heel, you know you've got a winner on your hands. If you loved Brave New World or A Matter of Life and Death, give this one a try. There's a lot to like.
Iron Maiden's career is a perfect example of one that managed to not only achieve greatness, but maintain it with a relative consistency. Sure, there are a handful of albums from the nineties that are generally considered 'weaker' than the others, but when some fans of the band- myself included- regard a lot of their new stuff to be on par with the classic material, that's damned near unheard of. Upon the release of "The Final Frontier" (Maiden's fifteenth studio release to date), the band had been together for the better part of 35 years in one shape or another. Admittedly, their style has not changed much this time around, although given that their sound has earned them a cross-generational legion of fans, this isn't such a bad thing. "The Final Frontier" is an epic quest of heavy metal, and it's home to some of the best tracks the band has ever done.
Iron Maiden may have generally stuck to a signature sound throughout their career, yet especially since 2000's "Brave New World", they have been going down a more progressive path with their music. Maiden already had plenty of experience with the proggy, epic form of metal throughout the eighties; "Phantom of the Opera", "Alexander the Great", and "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" all come to mind. With "Brave New World" however, the progressive direction they had always acknowledged began to take a greater step forward. Of the three new millennium albums that came before this, "The Final Frontier" rests at a general par. It may be a tit less consistent than "Brave New World" or even "A Matter of Life and Death", yet it makes up for it with its highlights. As "Dance of Death" impressed me most with "Paschendale" and its haunting title track, "The Final Frontier"s greatest contribution to Maiden's discography is through a few of its best moments.
Among these 'highlights' are the eerie opener "Satellite 15... The Final Frontier", an intensely atmospheric introduction recalling Dickinson's work with Ayreon, building up gradually and making way for a rock-oriented latter half. "The Man Who Would Be King" is a progressive powerhouse with some of the album's best guitar work. Above all else however, is the epic "When the Wild Wind Blows". Based on a similarly titled animated film, it's a sombre piece of music that tackles the topic of nuclear war from the everyman's perspective. Unlike a million thrash metal bands who may fetishize nuclear war as something 'epic' or extreme, "The Final Frontier"s highlight focuses on the feelings of confusion and helplessness that arise from the catastrophe. Within ten minutes, "When the Wild Wind Blows" enjoys an impressive emotional arc, ranging from the intimate to the balls-out epic. It was a real joy to hear something like this on one of the band's latest releases- one of my now-favourite Maiden tracks, and on I would rank up there with the band's longstanding epics.
The instrumentation is a little more laid back on "The Final Frontier" than they have been in the past. The guitar solos are still as fiery as ever, but Iron Maiden put less of an emphasis on speed here than they did on "A Matter of Life and Death" and prior. In its place, Maiden's proggy undertones have taken a step up. In the end however, these changes are minute in the overall scope. Iron Maiden are largely up to their old tricks once again, and though some fans will be disappointed to hear the development (or lack thereof) in the band's sound, their style still sounds fresh and vital.
Before I fall victim to an unfair flame war, let me assure you that I've been a loyal Iron Maiden fan for over 25 years. I have every single album they've ever recorded, I own the videos, the singles, the t-shirts, the posters, the flags, the video game and I've seen them live on numerous occasions. Yes, I know every single song by heart and can sing along to 99% of them. Like any other self respecting Iron Maiden fan. Yes, I've read the official biography more than once and can even quote whole passages from it.
Why am I saying all that? Well, for a very simple reason. Criticizing Iron Maiden is no small feat. It is not easy to criticize a band that has a career spanning over 30 years and a band that has made some of the best heavy metal albums you could ever hope to listen to. So I felt I needed to prove my never-ending love for Iron Maiden before I dared to commit heresy and say that Iron Maiden made an overlong and boring album.
You see, I'm such a fanboy that I will even defend The X Factor and Virtual XI. But my loyalty to Iron Maiden does not cloud my judgment and does not keep me from admitting that with The Final Frontier Iron Maiden has hit rock-bottom in terms of writing music.
Now, I will not launch into a detailed analysis of every note or riff played on this album, because I am not a musician and I lack the theoretical knowledge to do so. So I just can't talk about musical composition. I cannot criticize their use of scales or harmonies. However, I can speak as a fan and I will tell you how I feel when I listen to these songs. I can tell you about what sounds right and wrong. I can tell you about what is exciting and what's dull, annoying and repetitive. That I can do.
You see, I don't think you need to be a composer to criticize music. Of course, if I were a musician, I could hit the nail on the head and give you a list of theoretical reasons why The Final Frontier is not a good album. But every single fan out there has an instinct that tells him/her if an album is good or bad. We may not be able to explain why, but we know. Oh, yes. We do.
Let's start, shall we?
My first pet peeve with The Final Frontier is that the songs are unnecessarily overlong and this is a trend we have witnessed since Iron Maiden released Dance of Death back in 2003.
I don’t have anything against long songs, as long as the song really needs to be long. For instance, if you’re telling a complex story that requires more than 6 or 7 minutes to be told. Remember The Rime of The Ancient Mariner? Or if the song is interesting enough, from a musical point of view, to keep your attention. And by that I mean if the song is dynamic and exciting, like The Thin Line Between Love and Hate, with its glorious chorus and fast pace, or Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, with its amazing guitar solos.
The problem with most of the songs on The Final Frontier is that you feel the band now writes long songs just for the sake of writing long songs. Granted, Mother of Mercy, Coming Home and The Alchemist clock in at less than 6 minutes, but you can’t say the same about the rest of the album, which feels repetitive and flat. Songs like The Man Who Would Be King or When The Wild Wind Blows are perfect examples of this. There’s nothing really exciting going on. They’re tedious songs. Period. Gone are the catchy choruses and the amazing hooks.
Now it’s all about being epic. Hey, Steve. Guess what? Not every song has to be epic. There was a time when you were into writing catchy tunes like Flight of Icarus or Wasted Years. Whatever happened to writing songs your fans could sing along to? The fact that you can write long songs doesn’t mean that you have to. Keep it simple and be epic if you really need to.
I feel Iron Maiden has chosen a path that will ultimately lead to their musical demise. Whereas in the past their albums were full of glorious and thunderous metal songs and your occasional epic tune to balance things out, now it’s the other way around. And the result is a band that plays on autopilot and merely goes through the motions and that no longer writes memorable songs. I bet you’d be hard-pressed to find a single Maiden fan that actually believes The Final Frontier surpasses their early efforts.
If all your songs start out slow and then pick up the pace, aren’t you on autopilot? If all your songs have 3,000,000 time changes, aren’t you on autopilot? If all your guitar players have at least 1 solo per song and they must all play a solo, because hey we have 3 guitar players and they have to do something besides playing riffs, aren’t you on autopilot?
And I have to say this. Did we really need another Iron Maiden album? I am not so sure. In spite of being a huge fan, I feel Iron Maiden no longer has anything to give in musical terms. They’ve already achieved greatness and they will never surpass what they did back in the early days. All they are doing now is repeating themselves over and over again and that’s what I’m afraid of. Unless their next album is really exciting, because I’m 100% sure there’ll be another album, and the band will keep being the target of criticism. Wouldn’t it have been better if they had retired right after Dance of Death? I really think so. Because AMOLAD was nothing to write home about either. It was another over-indulgent album with long songs and repetitive riffs and songs that seemed to be going nowhere. And then you get the obligatory live album and live DVD and Greatest Hits...(yawn).
You have to know when to stop. Maybe it is about time Steve Harris & Co. called it a day. It has indeed been a great ride, but enough is enough.
On the one hand, Iron Maiden’s latest studio album, ominously titled “The Final Frontier”, is a tough nut to crack. On the other hand, it is exactly what most of us should have expected all along – the logical continuation of the artistic path the band has taken since 1995’s “The X-Factor”. How I hated that particular album upon its release, and how I prayed to the metal gods that it would prove to be nothing but an aberration, that the band would soon return to the sound of their revered classics from the 1980s or even that of lesser albums like “Fear of the Dark” or “No Prayer for the Dying”. That never came to pass, of course, but a strange thing has happened since then: over time, I have grown accustomed to and come to appreciate Maiden’s “new” musical direction, which is characterized not so much by the instantly recognizable, swift galloping headbangers of old but by slower, longer, epic songs that are broad in scope as well as bold and almost progressive in their approach.
It may have taken the band a little while to master that new style, but I feel that with their last two albums, the brilliant “A Matter of Life and Death” and “The Final Frontier”, they have finally arrived. It’s not like “The Final Frontier”, just like its predecessors, doesn’t come with some excess fat that could have been trimmed. It’s true that many of Maiden’s more recent tracks tend to be a little long-winded, what with all the two-minute long intros and outros. At nearly 80 minutes (!) in length, “The Final Frontier” can be a bit hard to stomach, so one or two fewer tracks or a slightly more streamlined songwriting approach may have helped.
Alas, since this issue is unlikely to go away anytime soon, we might as well stop complaining about it, especially because Maiden haven’t forgotten to treat us to some shorter, more concise tracks as well. The galloping “El Dorado” and the fast-paced “The Alchemist” are two obvious examples, and both would have held their own on Maiden’s classic records from the 1980s. For some reason, “El Dorado” in particular has been heavily criticized, which I find peculiar as it would have fit perfectly on, say, “Powerslave”. The ensuing “Mother of Mercy”, a rather straightforward track, has caught some grief for Bruce Dickinson’s supposedly strained vocals. While it’s true that he doesn’t always hit the high notes quite as cleanly as he did some 25 years ago, it doesn’t detract from the fact that he’s still a phenomenal singer, which he also proves in the immensely catchy power ballad (is that term still in use?) “Coming Home”.
But it’s really the long tracks that have become Maiden’s bread and butter, and for the most part, they do not disappoint. The only exception is the 11-minute long “When the Wild Wind Blows”, which has its moments but ultimately doesn’t have enough interesting parts going for it. Moreover, the initial five or six minutes are just not metal enough, owing to the weak main riff and flowery, annoying, almost pop-like melody. The song isn’t a complete dud, but I feel like the album would be better off without it (a trait it has in common with the rather bland title track). Another track that seems quite inconspicuous at first but grows immensely the more you listen to it is “Starblind”. Dickinson’s vocal lines really make this song, which is both progressive and catchy at the same time. “Isle of Avalon” is very good as well, building up nicely from the solemn intro all the way to the soaring chorus. However, the best song on the album and, in my humble opinion, possibly Maiden’s best tune since the glory days of “Seventh Son” is the breathtaking seafaring epic “The Talisman” – yes, it really is that good! This song is, in a word, perfect, from the poetic intro over the ripping riffs and trademark twin guitar harmonies to the amazing chorus. The second-to-last track “The Man Who Would Be King” is no slouch either, although it doesn’t quite fulfill its potential. By the way, has anyone else noticed that the melody at the end bears a striking resemblance to “The Prophecy” from “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”?
One thing in general Maiden have done noticeably better on “The Final Frontier” than at any point since Dickinson’s return to the band is to avoid the overly simple, repetitive choruses that reared their ugly head on all the more recent albums. One thing that hasn’t changed (and likely never will change), however, is the barely adequate production or mixing job courtesy of one Mr. Kevin Shirley. Then again, it is probably Mr. Steve Harris himself telling the poor sap precisely which buttons to push and which knobs to turn in the studio. In other words: what we hear is very likely the exact sound Mr. Harris deems appropriate for Iron Maiden, so Shirley shouldn’t have to shoulder all of the blame.
Oh well, as long as the boys give us a couple more good albums before they call it quits, I won’t complain about such trifles. Aside from some minor flaws, “The Final Frontier” is another excellent effort proving once again that Maiden have accomplished the remarkable feat of staying artistically relevant after all these years instead of turning into a sorry self-parody endlessly rehashing some 25-year old classics everyone has already heard a million times. In the end, isn’t that all we can realistically ask for? I certainly wouldn’t be averse to getting treated to the second coming of “Piece of Mind”, but in the meantime, this latest incarnation of Iron Maiden will do just fine for me.
Choicest cuts: “El Dorado” (witness the trademark Maiden gallop in full swing), “Coming Home” (a very pleasant surprise), “Starblind” (see “Coming Home”), “The Talisman” (arr mateys, ‘tis the real deal!)
After 15 albums and being one of the most recognisable bands in heavy metal, Iron Maiden need no introduction. Iron Maiden is a band that takes its themes, concepts, and lyrical content very seriously, and on this album there is no exception. This album runs a gauntlet of songs about space, whether it's exploring it or being stranded in it. And there are also a lot of themes about going home and missing loved ones; kind of about being away from where you're used to being.
Iron Maiden sure takes their sweet ass time talking about this, too. This album is almost an hour and twenty minutes long, making it their longest studio album to date. The reason for this is not extra tracks. There are ten songs on the album.
Following 2006's A Matter Of Life And Death, Iron Maiden have fallen in love with the concept of the 'intro'. Only several songs on this album get on with it, so if you're looking for lean, straight-to-the-point Iron Maiden, you may be disappointed. But if you're patient, Maiden actually go through some pretty interesting intros, whether it be interesting musically, like on the first moment on the album, "Satellite 15", where there is this really electronic, futuristic sound. There are also some moments where it seems like Maiden is just doing an intro for the sake of setting up the story that plays itself out through the lyrics. So even though it may take a few minutes for these tracks to get started, there is still a lot of vitality in the songwriting. Maiden doesn't show any age in this aspect.
When Maiden needs to, the band uses their speed, and when they need to, they use their solo power, and they're still flash with this music, but the band is really emphasizing songwriting and progressiveness over flashy musicianship. The slower moments aren't bad either, like the track "Coming Home" has a really fantastic hook that will stick with you every time you listen to it. Some songs overall I'm really not enjoying and I'm sad to say it's mostly because of Bruce's vocals. I don't know if there were outside factors involved, but Bruce sounds a little bit strained on some of these tracks when he starts to reach his upper register. It could've been an off season, could've been a lack of studio time, but I think some of these songs could've done with a few extra takes.
One more problem I have with tracks like "Mother of Mercy of "Starblind" is that it's almost as if Bruce isn't really singing, but instead trying to channel his inner thespian by kind of acting out the song. But I'm still happy to say that Iron Maiden is still making good music that is powerful, and that means something; they're definitely showing some signs of aging, but I still think they've got it.
If I'm going to be honest with you, I feel this album still is in no way as thrilling or as riveting as Piece Of Mind or Powerslave or Killers. Iron Maiden is still making good music, and for tha they are still relevant in the metal world. Their music isn't getting lost in the past, it's not forgotten, and that's because every so often we have something like this to talk about.
Originally published on http://suite101.com
Unlike most bands that are just content to reunite and endlessly regurgitate their old hits for every tour, Iron Maiden has never strayed from treading on new ground ever since singer Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith came back into the fold back in 1999.
The Final Frontier is the fourth album that the band has released since their highly-publicized reunion and brings in a few new elements while sticking with their signature style. This is also the band's longest album to date with there being nearly 76 minutes of music to offer on this disc.
For those who haven't been paying attention to the band's recent musical shifts, it can be safely said that very little on this album has any resemblance to the band's "classic" 80's sound. There is no Run To The Hills, The Trooper, or even a Can I Play With Madness within this album's long duration!
Instead, this album continues the dark progressive metal sound that the band undertook with 1995's The X Factor and has a lot in common with 2006's A Matter Of Life And Death with its complex structures, theatrical contrasts, and occasionally brooding themes.
There also seem to be a few flirtations with outside genres as folk-like melodies appear on The Talisman and Where The Wild Wind Blows and an old rock element pops up on El Dorado that hasn't been seen since the infamous days of Virtual XI. Throw in some nicely placed acoustic flourishes and you've got one of Maiden's more relaxed efforts to date.
Fortunately the band manages to work well with the changes that have been made and put on their usual great performances. Dickinson's vocals and founder Steve Harris' bass playing are what predictably stand out the most, but the triple guitar attack does still have plenty of chances to shine.
On the other hand, drummer Nicko McBrain is also fairly solid but doesn't seem to stand out as much as usual. The exception to this rule seems to occur over the course of the opening Satellite 15 but this mainly due to it being driven by some unusual drum programming more than anything else...
The songs on this album are also strong and contain the expected mix of accessible rockers and more drawn out segments. But unlike the last few albums, the choruses are more developed and largely stay away from the one-line chants that dominated songs such as The Wicker Man and Brave New World.
Following the strangeness that is Satellite 15, things start off on an upbeat note with the likes of the laid back title track and the driving El Dorado. From there, the album's first half is excellently rounded out by the Celtic touches of Mother Of Mercy, the lighter-worthy Coming Home, and the fast paced The Alchemist (Not to be confused with Bruce Dickinson's solo song of the same name).
From there, the album's second side goes into more epic territory with there only being one song that is less than eight minutes long. Of this lot, The Talisman may be the strongest with its sea shanty beginning and more energetic body. Isle Of Avalon and Where The Wild Wind Blows also manage to stand out thanks to the former's building verses and the latter's upbeat melodies and apocalyptic theme.
And speaking of themes, the lyrics on this album continue the band's tradition of quality storytelling. Like Somewhere in Time and Virtual XI before it, there are some future aesthetics at hand though these are more in its image than its actual content...
Instead, the main themes seem to deal with traveling and dealing with the unknown. Coming Home stands out in this regard as its lyrics deal with Dickinson's flying experience and the title track does make for a nice life reflection. Of course, we do see the band's old fixations with war and history pop up on places such as Mother Of Mercy and Isle of Avalon.
All in all, this is another great Iron Maiden album that proves the band's continuing relevance in the modern day. There are some derivative moments where the band plays things a little safe but there are just as many that manage to keep things interesting. Whatever the case, here's hoping that the band will keep their momentum going and astound us all for just a little while longer...
The Final Frontier, El Dorado, Mother Of Mercy, Coming Home, and The Talisman
It's hard to believe that it has been 11 years since the legendary pair; Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith returned to the band which made them superstars. Time has certainly flown by and 1999 still seems like yesterday. The line up of Iron Maiden consisting of Bruce and Adrian, plus Janick Gers, Steve Harris, Dave Murray and Nicko McBrain have now released four albums together, with their 15th and latest CD entitled 'The Final Frontier'.
A scary title to say the least, as the meaning behind the title adding to the speculation with an interview of Steve Harris a few years back mentioning that the band would release 15 albums and then call it a day. I know that all Maiden fans around the world would be hoping that Harris' statement will not come to pass, as the world would be a different place if Iron Maiden were not in it.
The Irons' current sound (beginning with 1995's 'The X Factor'), can be considered to be a form of progressive metal, combined with bass guitar driven British heavy metal. Albums post 1995 includes more intricate and complex song-writing, slower songs and lengthy epic tracks; while the shorter and punchier tracks have taken a backseat. This has been Maiden's bread and butter for 15 years now and while there are still some fans who beg and plead for Maiden to return to the days of 'Piece of Mind', 'Powerslave' and 'The Number of the Beast', we all just know that this will never happen. Iron Maiden is just not that type of band anymore. Things change, trends change, interests change and if you know Steve Harris you'll know that he's only moved forward since creating this unique band all those decades ago.
'The Final Frontier' is a continuation of Maiden's albums from the new millennium and the two albums that featured vocalist Blaze Bayley. Hearing a bit of 'The X Factor', 'Brave New World' and 'Dance of Death' melded into the music of the new album, I can easily say that 'The Final Frontier' has a much lighter mood and a more creative and majestic feel than the dark and broodish 'A Matter of Life and Death'; which was quite dense compared to other Maiden albums. The human air-raid siren, Mr. Bruce Dickinson, has lost a bit of power in his vocals over the years with age and performing year in and year out for almost 25 years, but he is still one of the best singers in the metal world and again does an outstanding job on the new album.
Whichever way you look at it, a new album by Maiden is going to cause a big stir of excitement within the metal community. And with that excitement comes a million different opinions about songs, vocals, guitars, drumming, track length and everything else in between. Early criticism came with the very first single of the album, "El Dorado". Despite the fact the song is very catchy, well constructed and overall a soon-to-be classic (due to its typical Maiden sound), earning a spot in future Maiden live set-lists, fans complained about the guitar solo being weak, the song itself being boring and many other things. Next up was the video premier for "Satellite 15...The Final Frontier" and again more criticism. All this before the CD had even hit the music shelves, which just goes to prove that we all can be a fickle bunch and love to object the most to the biggest bands in the world. Just ask Metallica.
However, once the dust has settled from the initial crumbs of new music that EMI and Iron Maiden Holdings throw to us and the album in full is held within our hands, the overall feel and opinion begins to change for the better. While the opening track (also the title track) is one of the better songs on the album and a typical Maiden opener, I must say that the strange and eerie atmospheric build-up to the song (which lasts for 4:35) sounds quite weird and very much skip worthy. If it lasted under two minutes, it would be fine, but over 4 I felt was just too much and I expect the vast majority of fans would also skip that part and get to the heart of the track.
Iron Maiden's current formula of slow instrumental intro's to their tracks are again prominent and also fulfilling on 'The Final Frontier'. One of the best slow intro's on the album is with the final track on the disc, "When the Wild Wind Blows". Not only is the soft and slow intro tremendously affective, the song itself is excellent and one of Maiden's best in their modern era. There are great riffs aplenty once the song gets into full gear and its catchy melody and overall quality gets my nod as the best track on the CD. Another great song on the album is "The Talisman". With a 2:20 min intro with lyrics spoken in an off-sounding peculiar way by Bruce, the song eventually thrusts into gear for another memorable, epic and catchy track. "Coming Home" is a slower track, more like a ballad, which has an emotional feel wrapped around it. Sung very well by Bruce, the track has a cracking uplifting chorus that would go down extremely well during a Maiden concert.
I do feel though, that "The Alchemist" is (in my opinion) the weakest track of the 10. Also the fastest of the bunch, the song just lacks a bit of direction and never really takes off. I've felt for a while that Maiden now struggle to write decent short songs (under five minutes), but they certainly excel with the longer more epic sounding tracks. Take "Wildest Dreams" and "Different World" for examples of short tracks that are alright but could have been better. Rounding off the new album, "Starblind" is a progressive, intricate and lengthy song that will need a few listens to fully get into, while "Isle of Avalon" is probably the most epic track on the release. It is another very long atmospheric sounding track, with more complex and progressive sections, tempo changes and excellent guitar work by Janick, Adrian and Dave. In my opinion, "Isle of Avalon" would have to be the most epic track Maiden has done since "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" or even "Seventh Son of A Seventh Son". I finish off with another good but underrated track "The Man Who Would Be King", a mid-paced track which has a great traditional Maiden melody, and lastly "Mother of Mercy", another impressive war-themed emotional track. However, opinions concerning the quality of this song have been split down the middle, but the track is just too catchy and majestic to simply cast aside.
When all is said and done, I just need to say one thing: It's Iron Maiden! You know who they are and you know what they sound like. You also know what to expect and most importantly, you won't be disappointed. Those who were fearing the worst leading up to the release of this album (Lord knows why), can be rest assured that 'The Final Frontier' is another excellent album by the Irons, and around the same quality as past favourites like 'Brave New World' and 'Dance of Death'. I myself would have this album a fair amount above 'A Matter of Life and Death', simply because it has more creative and catchy tracks and less of a darker element that 'Life and Death' brought to the table. In no way is this release the best they've ever done, but in terms of their current sound and structure, 'The Final Frontier' stacks up very well indeed and is a definite addition to every Maiden fan's collection.
Originally written for www.themetalforge.com and www.metalcdratings.com
Heads up and listen, I am about to commit blasphemy of the tallest order concerning one of our sub cultures most beloved and at times ‘untouchable’ institutions. Sure there was the Blaze era, which is easy to dog on, and we can forgive them for occasionally letting Dave Murray write a song, but can we really forgive Maiden for continuing to dine out on their 80s reputation and past prolific catalogue?
The Final Frontier is the 4th album since the almighty return of the big Dicko, but lets all be honest here, the hard rock tinged ‘No Prayer for the Dying’ and the barely passable ‘Fear of the Dark’ were hardly world beaters prior to his departure. So what has the return of the Bruce (and Adrian Smith no less) given us since the all time low of Virtual XI? Consistency – yes, More excuses to tour – bloody oath, new classics to play along side Number of the Beast and even Can I Play with Madness – No.
Now I’m a Maiden fan so lets not chuck the hater tag around, I even rate the X Factor above some of the classic line ups works (damn right I said it), so this review isn’t going to be bias either way. 1. I’m not going to sugar coat the facts and 2. I’m not going to bag them for the sake of kicking an old dog when it’s down. I will however point out that there can and should be a divide between whether you liked Maiden and whether you continue to like Maiden as they have evolved into a more indulgent and at times pretentious beast.
For better or worse The Final Frontier continues in the vein of A Matter of Life and Death in regards to longer compositions and more progressive laced elements. We have but one song under the 5 minute mark (The Alchemist) and that ironically is the closest they get to recapturing old glories. Now Maiden have written some awesome epics in the past and when they decide to go long they’ve done it well but the last 3 outings have pushed the limits of patience and tolerance and there’s something to be said about capturing the moment in under 7 minutes or less (The album clocks in at a whopping 76mins, 5 mins more than AMOLAD and 10 mins more than Brave New World).
As stated when they do get an epic right it’s a magical thing and there are some worthy cuts to add to their canon here. The Talisman is classic fare with a slow folky acoustic build up into another maritime adventure and Isle of Avalon has great eerie feel and use of repetition to create its atmosphere. Opener and title track Final Frontier also has a good sing a long vibe however could have done without the monotonous drumming lead in. Then there’s the let downs, El Dorado could have ruled but doesn’t and Starblind feels like a left over from Dicko's solo stuff, and while The Alchemist seriously rumbles like times of old, the chorus delivery and lack of a killer blow makes it a good track rather than a great one.
Overall as an album it’s a little daunting and over blown, it is however a grower if you’ve got the time to immerse yourself in it. My gripe is that Maiden are essentially a live beast and I can’t see how any of this stuff will sit in nicely along side their older classic (better) stuff. They recently toured AMOLOD entirely before doing a world tour centred solely around their classic 80s era, I can tell you right now which one I saw and which one the majority of us would have attended if we had to choose.
So in closing The Final Frontier is solid and definitely has its moments, I rank it below only Brave New World as their best album since Bruce’s return. It isn’t however a return to their old sound or a classic album which will be remembered in 10 years time. So in my eyes the record stands at 5 albums since 1998, with one stinker, one great album and 3 solid releases over 12 years and still nothing that can touch their first 5 releases with Dicko on board.
This is the new Maiden, and while I appreciate it I do pine for a return to at least the approach which made them great. Hopefully 16th time around is the charm.
As a long-time fan of Iron Maiden is was awaiting this album since almost four years, the longest gap ever between two albums of this band. When I first listened to "El Dorado" when it was published on the official website at midnight, I was one of the first to discover the new song. I thought that it was something new and unusual with a jam intro and outro, almost spoken word verses and a powerful chorus that comes quite late. I also thought that this song was a rather average song but now I know that is one of the best ones on the album. The other two songs on the album which I like is the opener "Satellite 15... the final frontier" that surprises with a very progressive and experimental introduction that proves that the band can still innovate and create something new. Otherwise, "Where the wild wind blows" is a good epic track and even if we have already heard several comparable songs and even if this one isn't as strong and innovating as the big classics, it might still please to the majority of the Iron Maiden fans.
Now, where does this album fail? First of all, there is the sound. It all sounds very dumb and almost like a demo recording. Especially "El Dorado" has some sound problems and also technical lacks as the drumming is out of the rhythm and filled with mistakes. This album wants to transmit a certain live feeling but that doesn't fit with the progressive style at all.
Second, the elaboration of the songs is extremely poor. Most of the tracks sound as if they were written in several jam sessions and blindly recorded without arranging them or taking a second look at the product. Often, the instruments play all at the same time like the guitar parts in the horribly weak "The talisman" that almost causes headaches. There is no clear line, no progression and no emotion a part of confusion in the track. "Starblind" is a comparable random jam session and Bruce Dickinson sings a completely different melody than the guitars play while bass and drums play yet another rhythm. He sings as if he was under pressure and if he was screaming against the confusing potpourri of failing melody lines. The result is just horrible. "Mother of mercy" has got the same problem as Bruce sounds as if he was suffering while he is trying to sing more high pitched notes than ever needed. The band tries to sound progressive but they ultimately fail because they have good ideas for four or five minutes and decide to repeat the whole patterns to stretch the songs to an artificial length of eight to eleven minutes. That's the case for "Island of Avalon" that has a very interesting beginning and would be an enjoyable song if it would only last about six minutes but the last three minutes of repeating boredom and a lack of inspiration just make you want to skip the rest. It isn't the length that makes a song progressive or epic but the band doesn't seem to understand that. Boring long introduction of several minutes are present in almost every song. That can work for one or two tracks on an album but on this record half of the songs have unnecessary introductions like in "The man who would be king" that often fail to create an interesting atmosphere or tension. Sometimes the band even copies itself. "Coming home" has almost exactly the same elaboration and melody as "Out of the shadows" while "The alchemist" sounds like a mixture of "Flash of a blade" and "The mercenary". The song tries to sound like a classic but as he is by far weaker than the two mentioned tracks he just sounds lost on this overlong pseudo-progressive cacophony.
The third thing is the lack of motivation. After four long years where the band put so much energy in their retro concerts around the world as well as in a couple of live recordings, compilation albums and documentaries, they seem tired to me. They worked out the song quite fast, recorded and published them quite fast without any process of reflection or authentic passion. There has been no real tour alongside the album. There hasn't been any physical single for the first time ever. They called some people to create a music video and a little game and weren't even involved in the whole development. They are still a great live band as I have seen them last summer but everywhere else, they seem to focus on something else. Adrian does his side projects, Bruce does a few other jobs, Nicko does some golf and they don't concentrate their creativity on the band that made them the legends they are today and forget about what they have achieved to be able to do side projects and more nowadays. They forget about their responsibility and legacy. They let this band musically die.
I never thought that I would give less than sixty percent to any album of one of my favourite bands. Even some tracks on "No prayer for the dying" really rocked and sounded fresh and "Virtual XI" had at least a very unique, dreamy and progressive atmosphere that is enjoyable from time to time. This album simply goes nowhere and loses itself in endless introductions, repeating patterns and horrible guitar solos. If they are heading through the universe for the final frontier they seem now be torn into a black hole. Great recent offerings like the much diversified and heavily underrated "Dance of death" showed that the band is still able to be surprising and diversified and so there is maybe a way out of trouble. But it will be a long way back to the top and I hope that they won't leave us with this pseudo-intellectual piece of boredom.
The next time they should give fewer concerts and focus on the music and the song writing before going to the studio...
Iron Maiden returns this year with their first full length album in 4 years. After 2006's heavily progressive A Matter of Life and Death, an album divided the fan base and opinions about Bruce Dickinson's return to the band, everyone wondered how much further can Maiden take their new sound to.
The revealing of mascot Eddie's new look further alienated the fan base as longtime fans of Maiden could no longer recognise the prominent "face" of Maiden. The fire was further fueled with the release of El Dorado, the first single off The Final Frontier weeks before the actual release of the album, displaying their new "direction". 2009's release of Flight 666 had heightened my hopes for the album, hearing the band in top form once again and it certainly made me look forward to what 2010 brings to Iron Maiden fans.
On first listen, it was understandable why so many fans were alienated after the release of El Dorado. The introduction to the first track, Satellite 15... The Final Frontier was just basically 4 minutes of "spaceship" atmospheric-inducing noise with some "spacey" guitar lines and Bruce's faint singing in the background. Halfway through the song, the album starts off proper, and fans are greeted with a somewhat weaker sounding Bruce Dickinson, totally not what was expected especially after stellar performances on the recent Flight 666.
El Dorado further proves this point, with Bruce Dickinson sounding as if unmotivated or as if the sound engineer had intentionally mixed his vocals lower than the other instruments. (More about this track can be read in my review when the single was released.) Songs like Mother of Mercy make the band sound whiney, especially Bruce's vocals. On other tracks such as Isle of Avalon Bruce sounds as if he were struggling to hit the high notes. And no, not even a nice introductory song to the album like AMOLAD such as Different World was present to at least give a ray of hope.
Songs that run on average 8 minutes meant that listeners with short attention span (such as myself) tend to stop listening and paying attention within the first half of the album. Note that this album is perhaps the longest full length studio release by the band, clocking at approximately 1 hour and 16 minutes. By the time When the Wild Wind Blows ends, I was heaving a sigh of relief, glad that the long boring ride was over. One good thing that I took away from this first listen though: on the whole, The Final Frontier is definitely more easy listening compared to 2006's AMOLAD, which had a dark overtone throughout the entire album.
However, I was not satisfied condemning the latest album from my all-time favourite band after just one listen and decided to have a few more spins, to see if it will grow on me just as AMOLAD eventually had. And was I glad I did.
I have to admit that even after numerous listens I still find the first half of Satellite 15... redundant, and the MV, well... Can't say I liked it either. However, what follows that is just 1 hour and 12 minutes (minus the 4 minutes of the introduction) of genius. Realising that I totally neglected the instrumental section of the album on my first listen, I made conscious effort to take note of the instruments on subsequent listens and it certainly provided me with a different experience.
While the number of ballads on the album are not typical of an Iron Maiden album, songs such as Coming Home, Starblind and When the Wild Wind Blows certainly displayed each of the guitarists' ability to convey emotions and feelings on top of their technical prowess, something that so many bands neglect nowadays in the quest for speed.
And Bruce's vocals? I hate to admit it but this is no longer the air-raid siren that we are familiar with. However, he does handle songs well and like the guitar trio of Maiden, his vocals reek with emotions and certainly shine on softer parts of the album. Faster numbers such as The Alchemist are sufficiently Maiden-ish and are certainly fun listens as well. Songs like Isle of Avalon have such feel-good and memorable riffs that it is almost impossible to not have them imprinted in your mind after a few listens.
If you are expecting "classic" Maiden in the veins of The Number of the Beast, Powerslave and Piece of Mind, and you don't like "new" Maiden (i.e. Brave New World onwards), then forget about this album. But if you are looking for some good progressive-influenced heavy metal, then put this album into your record player, play it loud and play it proud. Give it a few tries though, and it shouldn't take longer than how long it took to get you into AMOLAD to start enjoying the album.
By now any experienced Iron Maiden listener should know roughly what they're going to get with a new CD. There's no way they'll ever release another in the style of 'Powerslave' or 'Seventh son of a seventh son'. They've come a long way since the undisputed glory days of the 80s, and everyone should be well familiar by now with the style they have established since their reunion with Adrian Smith and Bruce Dickinson at the turn of the century. In other words, anyone who didn't like 'A matter of life and death' should have known after only a cursory glance at the lengths of the songs in the tracklist that this CD wouldn't be for them.
Iron Maiden now find themselves in an enviable but well-earned position where they are guaranteed sales based on brand recognition alone, and are under no pressure to write for anyone other than themselves. There are no forced attempts at reverting to successful styles of days gone by, and 'The final frontier', for better and for worse, simply is what it is.
Though had it not been for the advance release of "El Dorado" - more on that later - a couple of months before the release of the CD itself, it's safe to say the opening segment of "Satellite 15... The final frontier" would have had me worried that the boys had completely lost their minds. The dissonant drum and guitar bashing of course serves only as an (extremely) extended intro to the title track, and would probably work ok were it only a minute or so in length, but as it stands it is far, far too long and contributes much to what is a stop-start opening half to the CD.
"The final frontier" itself continues the recent Maiden tradition of opening the CD (and also serving as lead single) with its least demanding song, though it is still an enjoyable romp - far better than 2003's uninspiring "Wildest dreams" - that survives a repetitive chorus and is lit up by surprisingly long solo section. One of Maiden's more breezy, rock-based songs, it nevertheless serves as an energetic starting point and reminds anyone simple enough to forget just how great the guitar talent in this band is.
Now, "El Dorado" is a slightly different prospect. Despite the soaring chorus, it didn't convince me much at all on the first few listens, and despite being a definite grower is one of the CD's weaker moments. There just isn't enough energy in the verses, with the grooving riffs not powerful enough to sustain nearly 7 minutes of song, and Dickinson's singing doesn't really inspire until he reaches the pre-chorus.
"Mother of mercy" is maybe the inverse of this, as while the moody verses gradually build and build and promise much, the chorus is rather weak and it feels like a lot of foreplay with no payoff. To make matters worse for the chorus, Dickinson is really not at this best, and his voice sounds uncharacteristically strained and out of sorts.
He sounds far more inspired on the following song though, and his passion can be heard soaring (no pun intended) through the chorus of "Coming home" - as well it should do, as it is another recounting of his well documented love of flying and the freedom and togetherness that he at least seems to feel that it brings. This sort of thing is the real heart of what Iron Maiden are all about these days - we've heard it on songs like "Blood brothers" and ""The thin line between love and hate", and we here it on this one too; honest, heartfelt emotion. Fantastical lyrics still appear of course, but rather than channelling themselves through aggression or speed, Maiden often choose to lead their listeners on with songs of sweeping romance and plaintive beauty.
It is from this point on that 'The final frontier' at last finds its feet, as "The alchemist" (no relation to the Dickinson song, by the way) provides an injection of energy, with the Maiden stallion finally accelerating to its trademark gallop. It is the only song on the CD to consistently go down this road, and to be honest I doubt I'm the only one who thinks it could do with a bit more of it throughout, but the quality of the rest of the songs from this point on speaks for itself.
The remaining 5 songs uniformly fit the 'controversial' style that has been a hallmark of Maiden's later career, and has been gradually on the increase in recent years (possibly excluding the more exuberant 'Dance of death') - not one is less than 7 1/2 minutes in length, and yes, all include a soft intro of either unsupported bass or clean/acoustic picking before the song properly kicks in.
The thing is, they're all good; they're all really good. And while, yes, Maiden may to some extend be writing to formula these days, when the results end up as captivating as this, who really cares? Of the 5, it could only really be argued that the intro to "Starblind" is especially gratuitous, and in fact had the song just started cold with the skittish riff that kicks things off properly it may have been an improvement. A minor complaint though, as the song is another triumph, laced with excellent lead playing and weaving effortlessly through a variety of tempos. It also dispels those early worries about the man with the mic, as the chorus here is as challenging as any on the CD and Dickinson sails through it.
"Isle of Avalon" precedes it in the tracklist and the 2 fit well together, each wandering into progressive rock territory with extended instrumental sections and lengthy solos that give all 3 guitarists plenty of room to breathe comfortably. The cymbal work backing the bass in the portentous intro to "Isle of Avalon" also serves to remind that Nicko McBrain has lost none of his flair or indeed stamina, and keeps an edge on things until the song explodes fantastically to life.
Not to make too much of these intros, but "The talisman" keeps it going with a long, crystalline acoustic section - there's always something special in store when Maiden unplug, from "The prophecy" right the way through to "Journeyman" and this song is no different. Janick Gers has more than his fair share of detractors as a player, but I doubt many people could question his ability as a songwriter these days when he is involved with tracks like this one. This is maybe the band at their most cinematic, the stirring melodies, urgent riffs and of course a meticulous chorus fully encapsulating the spirit of doomed adventure that the lyrics detail.
Like Gers on the previous song, Dave Murray has only one writing credit on the whole CD, which isn't unusual for him of late. But while he may be slowing down as a writer, he usually pulls out all the stops on the limited contributions he does make. "The man who would be king" is typical of his style in recent years, the soothing atmosphere of the intro, outro and interludes something of a trademark to him lately, and perfectly suited to his off-the-cuff style of playing. This is another song in the same vein as "Coming home" where, without going into ballad territory, the band show they aren't afraid of a little reflection and at least partially ditch the heaviness in favour of contemplative serenity.
As if just to embody how 'The final fronteir' is an exercise in patience and appreciating a gradual build-up to something wonderful, the best is undoubtedly saved for last. The only song penned entirely by Steve Harris this time round (he of course co-wrote everything else), "When the wild wind blows" is nothing short of a masterpiece, a breathtaking bit of work that can comfortably stand shoulder to shoulder with any other song of his long career.
Anyone receptive to the style the band have taken recently will know how special a song they're in for when the main, achingly beautiful melody begins in earnest at around the 40 second mark, and the song as a whole does not fail to deliver as it carries the listener on a journey through a varied landscape of searing beauty and tender despair.
This is the song Harris has been trying to write for about 15 years now - several of the last CDs have featured tracks of interminable length written in a similar layout to this one, and he finally seems to have cracked it as despite being a second short of 11 minutes in length it feels like not a breath has been wasted in its execution, the guitarists running the show in the various solo breaks and Dickinson on top form as he delivers the tragic lyrics with a burning passion.
I can't help but feel the rating I've assigned might seem a little low in light of the praise I've lavished upon most of the songs, and objectively speaking I've definitely given lesser CDs higher ratings, but with the weight of the band's previous catalogue on it, 'The final frontier' is easy to see as being far from perfect. Rather, it is an honest display of British heavy metal edging towards a healthy and natural conclusion after 35 years in the business. Iron Maiden have nothing to prove to anyone, but it is credit to a legacy of defiance and integrity that they continue to write the songs they want to write. Anyone of a like mind is welcome to join the party, and who gives a damn about anyone else?
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)
Iron Maiden is the greatest heavy metal band to ever live. Thirty years after the release of their self-titled album, they are arguably just as relevant as they ever have been—not resting on their laurels and imitating a hits jukebox, but instead touring the world playing their new material to the joy of fans everywhere. After what was a rousing success with their most recent record, the 2006 release of A Matter of Life and Death, there is actually maybe a bit more pressure on the band to produce something that is quality, memorable and, frankly, classic. Especially with the rumors floating around that this is Maiden's final album, spurred even further on by the fact that Steve Harris helped write every song on the record, the pressure cooker of fan scrutiny is reaching fever pitch. And so it falls to this Angry Metal Guy to try to put all of this into some sort of context; to try to listen to my favorite band with fresh ears—and I've come to some realizations about the band in the process.
The Final Frontier has promised to be a controversial record since the cover art was unveiled, actually. This new, comic booky Eddie in space stirred up a strange sense of dread among fans, not offset by the fact that "El Dorado", the first track released, was a bit of a grower to the say the least. And that's a good analogy for how the record begins—"Satelite 15..." is without a doubt the weirdest thing that Iron Maiden has ever included on a record, complete with distorted bass and a drum machine that lead right into what is probably the most straight forward rock song Maiden has ever written in their career—"The Final Frontier". However, the track flows right into an in context "El Dorado" and suddenly the record is flying. And, really, it stays in air for the next 42 minutes.
Starting with "Mother of Mercy", The Final Frontier really starts to kick some ass. With the reintroduction of the gallop and some of the darker lyrics that the band has written, going right in hand with A Matter of Life and Death and themes from Dance of Death as well. "Coming Home", a track about Dickinson's flying, is actually a surprising stand out. While the song itself is pretty simple and practically a power ballad, it sports one of the catchiest choruses that the band have ever written and has an anthemic quality that will serve the live show very well. "Isle of Avalon", "Starblind" and "The Talisman" are all songs that sport classic late-Maiden riffs and choruses and are great ("Isle of Avalon" especially so), but the standout track from the middle of the record for me is easily "The Alchemist", written by the ever-maligned Janick Gers with Harris and Dickinson. This track is the best song on the album—it's got classic Maiden quality, speed, melodies and some fantastic lyrics. Therefore: I fully expect the band to not play it live and for the fans to piss on it publicly (see: "Montségur" and "The Pilgrim", two ridiculously underrated tracks from the last couple records).
However, after an hour of awesome, The Final Frontier grinds to what is an unpleasant halt for me. While the album flows expertly through a variety of styles that really exemplifies Iron Maiden's long and storied career, the Murray and Harris penned "The Man Who Would Be King", and Harris' solo piece "When the Wild Wind Blows" really just drag down the end of the record. Two major problems stand out with them. Firstly, both of them share some of the most rambling and, I'm going to be frank, bad lyrics that Harris has ever penned, and secondly, the song writing is really just ... subpar; slow, dragging and puzzled together without any comprehensible segues or thoughts for structure. While "The Man Who Would Be King" has some great parts in it, it is just too long. The lyrics, as well, are contradictory, poorly conceived and the only song that I can think of that has worse lyrics in the history of Iron Maiden is Steve's screed about how shitty the world is and about how he's old and bitter in "Age of Innocence" from Dance of Death. And while conceptually "When the Wild Wind Blows" is an awesome song, again, it's just too long, too drawn out and lyrically poorly executed. Really, it's reminiscent of the stuff Harris has been penning since X Factor, but without the emotional poignancy that was so strong on that album. This leaves an unfortunately poor aftertaste to what is otherwise a shining example of Iron Maiden's relevance in 2010.
So let me put it like this: if this record were 55 minutes long it would be a tremendous piece of genius. Rod used to brag about how Maiden always delivered 45 minutes of music when they released a new record in the 1980s. Now, with the advent of CD, there seem to be expectations that they produce 80 minutes of music instead. While there are many other factors, I do think it's interesting that this band never produced a poor record until the advent of the CD (well, OK, No Prayer for the Dying is pretty stinky, but musically it's still pretty awesome even if Bruce singing directly from his crotch puts a pall over otherwise good songwriting). It leaves me to question how this record would have sounded if the band had been forced to edit it down for LP length... I have a feeling I'd be talking about how this was Iron Maiden's best record since Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Instead, I'm having kind of the opposite reaction I had to A Matter of Life and Death, where the beginning of the record always left me a little cold, but the end always blows me away. This record just sorta fizzles out after "The Talisman".
However, 15 albums later for a lot of bands, there's no point in telling you to buy their records (hahaha, new Kiss?? Yeah, right.). Not so with Iron Maiden: The Final Frontier is still a kick ass group of songs which showcases that the band is still one of the best heavy metal bands in the world. From this album it is already clear to me that "Isle of Avalon", "Mother of Mercy" and "The Alchemist" will live on as testaments to the band and their later material and the whole record is layered enough that you'll be hearing new things when you pop it into your CD player or iPod in months and maybe years. This is Iron Maiden in its some of its finest post-Brave New World form and definitely competing for the best of the four. So, Up the fucking Irons! (And buy the fucking record!)
Originally posted at AngryMetalGuy.com.
This has been a much long awaited release by the British heavy metal legends, Iron Maiden. Still sticking to their roots, however, this album is very different from their classic releases in the 80s. A lot like A Matter of Life and Death, Iron Maiden has continued working on their new-found progressive sound with longer longs and odd time signatures. Their ascension up the heavy metal hierarchy can be really attributed to their previous style; harmonized leads and 4-5 minutes classics. How will this album fare with the critics? It’s certainly a point to be proven by Steve and his mates.
This is, as I said before, a completely different album and one which will receive much criticism and acclaim simultaneously. For me though, I had to listen to the whole album three times before I could come to like it. It does prove a point; it’s a pretty good album. Anyone can dislike it at first go and not listen to it a second time before jumping to a straightforward conclusion. Although, grabbing the listeners’ attentions is a key aspect of a success, this album is not dismissive. It is a good album which sticks to some basics that have come to define the archetypes of Iron Maiden’s music. Steve Harris still maintains those galloping basslines that made this band’s music so popular and sonically “different”. It’s always catchy. Moreover, Adrian did a good job in taking the lead role in compositions and his solos sounded beautiful and well constructed. I guess, Janick didn’t play a big part in solos in The Final Frontier.
What disappointed me, however, was that, provided many of the songs were long, the instrumentals were not really varied. The verse and chorus repeated a couple of times and that was really it. I expected some well executed interludes and guitar harmonies. All the lengthy songs, quite characteristically, start like those in AMOLAD- with slow clean guitar passages and Steve’s basslines. Not that it sounds bad, more like it has become a hackneyed start. Although, I really love the intro of “The Talisman” which starts off with a beautiful acoustic passage played by Janick. I really expected some more acoustics in this album bearing in mind that the albums are going to be long. On contrary, the only song that had the touch of the classic Maiden is “The Alchemist” with its intro guitar defining it all. It also has a catchy chorus with Bruce singing it well- although Bruce didn’t put one his operatic voice into it. Now, Bruce’s voice sounded extremely tired in the chorus sections of this album, exemplified by the choruses of “Mother of Mercy” and “El Dorado”, both of which are quite decent songs. The beginning of this album, the title song, is rather eccentric which commences with a Harris bass section that sounds quite psychedelic. To me, the long intro wasted the song and it would’ve served better to be only the last four minutes. To me, the best song of this album was its longest- Where the Wild Wind Blows. It has great melodic guitar works and very good lyrics. But, the repeating song structures prevented it from entering my all time Iron Maiden favourites.
This is a good album, no doubt; however it has the potential to disappoint many fans. I think they could’ve worked on a bit differently. If they really wanted to create progressive metal, they could’ve made the guitars sound heavier, maintaining a modicum of melody. If an Iron Maiden freak, but I still can’t say that it is really good or great. Simplified, it is good but, it could’ve been better for the sake of the band’s talent. If this album fails to make a world wide sales impact, I won’t be surprised. It’s clear that Iron Maiden has tried something new, and it is really appreciated by many. However, people looking for the Iron Maiden classics of the 80s won’t find this album very pursuing probably because of over-experimentation and repetitions of the song structures.
This really is a do-nothing album - essentially, if you took all that Maiden attempted - or perhaps shouldn’t have been attempting - in the past 20 years, and then took it down to X Factor levels of drudgery then you’d pretty much have this album. I honestly have a hard time believing that people want to justify this crap, it seems Maiden have got stuck in-between moving forward as a band and playing some sort of homage to their glory years, instead, it seems they’ve decided that paying tribute to all the folly of the past 20 years - you know, the unexciting part of their career.
Say what you will about Steve Harris as a songwriter, at least in the 80s he could write songs that flowed well and went somewhere. The Final Frontier seems to be haphazardly constructed, generic post-reunion Maiden interspersed with even more of Mr. Harris’s “look I’m influenced by Geddy Lee” Rush-isms that so plagued The X Factor. Hell, The X Factor was far from a passable album but at least it had its moments… here they're really, really struggling. The Final Frontier simply offers very little that I can welcome.
That said, there is something vaguely “new” on offer here and it’s worth commenting on, if only for its amusing idiocy. ‘Satellite 15’ is, of course, what I’m talking about - something that certainly should have been left on the cutting-room floor, if not actually destroyed so that no-one would have to suffer through it. I can’t help but feel Adrian Smith drank three bottles of wine and decided to submit a funny joke as a song as a way of getting his own back on Steve Harris (it must be pretty tiresome for a guitarist to have to do those “root-fifth” picked intros all the time) and then Steve decides he loves it and makes it the opening track on the new album. Honestly, it sounds like the product of watching 30 minutes of bad, late-night sci-fi and deciding to write an alternative score to it. That, or a terrible outtake from Bruce Dickinson’s Skunkworks album. I mean, sure, you can’t blame ‘em for branching from out beyond the dullard up-tempo tracks that have opened the last couple of albums - it’s actually the first non-speedy album opener since The X Factor - but really, this? I’m not sure I’ve heard much like it on metal albums, but then again, there’s probably a reason for that. Though, far from a dramatic or impressive song you’d have wished they’d simply have cut straight to the title track. The verses are clunky as hell and they seem to be riddled with that same “old man, self-help” vibe that Maiden lyrics seem to be cluttered with these days (even if it’s about being in space rather than step-by-step instructions on how to find your car keys), but at least the chorus is memorable in a good way.
So, that was alright, you know. Although, after that intro they probably could have put in an extended version of ‘The Angel and the Gambler’- now with even more choruses! - and it still would have sounded ok. But then it’s back to some dullard metal in the form of ‘El Dorado’. Now, I’m not really surprised that this hasn’t been setting the world alight since it’s basically a No Prayer…/Fear of the Dark rocker without the snarling vocals, and it’s actually more grating than, say, ‘Bring Your Daughter…’ and what have you. What’s to say, really, it just shifts from ideas you’d wish would end before they actually begun. Although, the solo section is actually somewhat entertaining…
Though, while on the subject, I have to ask myself at this point, what the hell is happening with Adrian Smith’s guitar playing at this point? For the some parts he’s decided to play around with some weird sort of “Robin Trower if in space, and not feeling very well” vibe for a few leads on this album, I know it could be an attempt to fit in with the band’s chosen theme for this album, but it certainly doesn’t work on in the classic “supposed to sound good” thing that we’ve come to expect from lead guitarists. Honestly, I didn’t think he had a bad solo in him - ever since Killers his solos have often been an emotional climax in many great Maiden songs. But here, a lot of his solos just sound, well, off and it's not like he’s forgotten how to play, some of the stuff here is just of good as he’s ever played (even if it lacks the good songs surrounding it). Again, just like the intro, I think he’s laughing at us. Maybe he’s been watching those old Bad News videos alongside the bad sci-fi… seeing how many Vim Fuego solos he can get away with.
Fuck me, this is an album to check your watch to. It sounds like they took ho-hum Maiden songs and dragged them out just because, well, “we’re Iron Maiden, we’ve always written long songs”. I don’t know if anyone’s ever explained this to Steve Harris but if you put several long songs together it’s not automatically “epic”… it’s often quite testing. You’ll notice great songs - that happen to be long - don’t often feel like the take a great amount of time to pass. Making a seventy-minute snoozer with possibly seven minutes worth of good ideas doesn’t seem like the best way to promote your new album. ‘Where the Wild Wind Blows’ seems to be the worst offender - just how many times can Mr Harris expect to trot on those picked power chord parts with the vocal melody and lead guitar simply doubling each? It worked for ‘Fear of the Dark’, sure, but eighteen years later it’s not so fresh. It doesn’t help that the song’s absolutely sleep-inducing - hell, if the apocalypse does come let’s pray it’s not this ho-hum. It’s basically ‘For the Greater Good of God’ with far less energy and drive, not to say that the said A Matter of Life and Death number was excessively energetic it’s just this is really fucking dreary. You can tell Bruce hasn’t had much say in writing his own melodies here - it’s obviously just stuff he’d never choose to sing for himself in a million years. It’s just cheese, especially the ‘got to help each other’ “Feed the World” moment. It’s a song with a 'clever twist', too, (I won't spoil it for you, feed your cash to the Maiden Machine and be rewarded with its ho-hum songwriting) which I guess is trying to be clever - but I think it was Harris’s excuse for bring one more of the dreaded false ending-quiet outro technique for one last hurrah… congratulations, Steve, because it really wasn’t getting boring after the last album. Whatever happened to songs with good twists? ‘Pray for you death/ because if you survive… you’ll die in pain in World War V!’ for instance.
What more do you want, really? There’s a whole lot of bad stuff going on here; with very few redeeming features. Generic old-man Maiden fare combined with some absolutely risible experimentations. Boring songs about the end of the world are rife… Bruce doing that annoying voice-straining accenting that no one really likes a lot, and Steve proving to the world that he’s a completely spent force as a songwriter. I’d say about the only real enjoyment you’ll get from this album is observing how the, shall we say, more devoted fans of the band will tell you it’s a fantastic album and, here we go again, “their best since Seventh Son…”
“Their best since Rust in Piece”.
“Their best since Painkiller”.
“Their best since And Justice For All”.
Are you beginning to see a pattern forming? No? Oh well, carry on.
In the 80s, Iron Maiden put out their legendary seven album run that pretty much has never been duplicated exactly the same. They had a certain magic back than that may have never quite been reclaimed; but even so, their unique stylistic stamp has carried them headstrong into the new millennium. Iron Maiden has come so far from their early days and have put out so much material that they’re almost a genre in and of themselves with how iconoclastic their sound is, all twists and turns they put in included. And they came out with a new album this year, so I guess it’s time to break out the old reviewin’ chops and get to work on analyzing The Final Frontier!
This is a Maiden album for Maiden fans, make no mistake. People who don’t like the band’s new direction probably won’t be persuaded by this, but everyone else can be assured that The Final Frontier is more quality material from this veteran act. They’ve got nothing to prove to anyone, after all. This is an album of hard-hitting, adventurous epic metal in the way that only they can deliver it – and there’s a lot of it, as this 76 minute opus is by far their longest to date. But it doesn’t ever feel that long. In fact, when the last note of “When the Wild Wind Blows” drops out, I go “Is that all?” None of these songs ever feels as long as they are, even when they hit the 9+ minute mark, as three of them here do.
The most amazing thing about this is probably Bruce Dickinson, who gives one of the best performances of his career on here. True, he doesn’t sound as young as he did on Seventh Son and Piece of Mind, but if I didn’t know better, I’d say The Final Frontier is a swansong of sorts. The man is simply on fire here, singing his heart out on every single track. His vocal lines here seem to have been given a lot more attention than on the last few albums, as this is a heavily theatrical and stylized performance that really elevates the album to another platform altogether. On “The Talisman” and “Coming Home,” he gives perhaps the performances of his career. He just sounds so spirited and so powerful that it floored me.
The rest of the band are no slouches, however, as they have combined their creative talents to form a gestalt of majestic Maiden-style epics. Unlike the modernized and often gloomy direction their last few albums took, The Final Frontier soars and gallops with a newfound flame and energy that is, in the end, a kind of amalgam of their 80s albums’ styles all at once. Finally we have an album with songs that play out like a storybook of sorts, taking the listener to all different places. “The Final Frontier” takes me to a space station about to implode on itself. “Isle of Avalon” evokes a Pagan isle much like something out of the movie The Wicker Man, rife with a strange clan of natives about to follow their yearly harvest ritual. “The Talisman” sweeps me into the sea on a rickety boat, battling the tides in search for some long-lost promised land.
The songwriting is…well, it’s Iron Maiden. The first few songs are all very classic styled, with galloping riffs and epic melodies galore, but the second half of the album dips into a slew of soul-stirring epic numbers. And these are real, genuine epic songs just like they did on “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Alexander the Great” – multiple time changes and theatrical devices that lead up to a stirring climax, with each of them being so dynamic that they only feel about half their real length. There are a ton of good moments here, from the rock riffing and hard edge of lead single “El Dorado” to the almost chamber-like feel of the darker, echoing epic “Starblind.” I really like the way the band can still rock so hard with such simple, bare-bones riffing, such as in the heavy section of “Mother of Mercy” or the ”I hear her crying, the tears of an angel…” section in “Isle of Avalon.” But all bow before the emotive power of the forlorn, tragic “The Man Who Would Be King,” with the curious middle Eastern-style wailing of the chorus melody behind the epic riffing build-up being really cool and inventive. And the final “When the Wild Wind Blows” is one of the finer moments the band has seen in the new decade, with its restrained, subtle vocal lines and searing, fiery guitar harmonies building up to a truly stunning, memorable epic.
This is Iron Maiden on full power. They’ll never return to the magic of their 80s days – that was something unique, and something that doesn’t happen often. But with this album they prove that they are not stagnating, and although they have to work a little harder at it now, they still have it in them to produce really first rate music anyway. The Final Frontier has kept me coming back again and again with its masterful hooks and enveloping atmosphere, and I have never been prouder to be a fan of this band. Go buy this album right now; you will not regret it.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
I’ve been into metal for about six years now, and during those years there were a few big bands in the genre and it relatives that released a new album. Metallica had the just decent Death Magnetic (which was disappointing), Megadeth had Endgame (which was good) and then there was Maiden’s The Final Frontier. Numerous rumours about the release date of the album and its quality spread around the internet as fast as the swine flu, but what was truth and what was just fantasy? I got my copy on the release date and gave it my attention, hoping that this big release would be worth the excitement. And as it turned out, it is…
In the past months I spent several listening sessions to Iron Maiden’s previous release, A Matter Of Life And Death, hoping that I would finally “get” this album and thus be prepared for a possible successor with similar sound. My work paid off, I learned to appreciate the album and was now completely ready for anything Maiden could give the fans. But my efforts were not crucial to liking The Final Frontier: it is something different, some really rocking songs that don’t need several spins to be appreciated make the album more accessible, and some songs that do require the extra attention give it more depth. Let’s take a closer look at our telescope and explore the borders of the musical universe that Iron Maiden has conquered.
The biggest difference with A Matter Or Life And Death, or all post-reunion Iron Maiden albums for that matter, is the big diversity that can be found on the album. Harris and company serve us both pure rocker and more progressive songs. Both new and old elements are used on the album.
Let’s begin with the intro: the completely overwhelming Satellite 15 (which for reasons unknown to me has been glued to The Final Frontier), which is an industrial and experimental sounding track. The drums echo which gives the impression of a vast space, the bass is a constant and very deep droning sound on the background, the guitars play high tones and produce sounds and shrieks that one would deem very un-Maiden. Bruce sounds desperate as he screams for help in his desolate prison of infinite space – an excellent opener for an album with such science fiction artwork. But, as already mentioned, the song is glued to the next one. The songs are both about the same theme but about everything else is different. The Final Frontier could be your typical Iron Maiden song, including four to eight time repeating of a simple chorus and straightforward riffs.
Songs as Mother of Mercy and The Talisman contain the most traces of A Matter Or Life And Death’s progressive nature: a slow and gentle intro with Bruce singing some lines before the song becomes a heavy mastodon, with the drums and bass creating a midpaced tempo and a catchy chorus (Mother of Mercy). The Talisman evolves into a song dominated by fast riffing, sounding epic and majestic thanks to the three guitar formula. Janick Gers might not have been around during the Iron Maiden heydays of the 80’s, but he has made some good contributions to the band: the riff popping up out of the background at 3:45 is a very good example of this. Short but catchy as hell, and it makes you want to spin back that few seconds of the record to hear it again. Little surprises like this make the progressive The Talisman easier to digest, despite being similar to The Legacy in intro and build-up.
But next to post-reunion Maiden influences there are also… prepare for it, this is good news!... 80’s influences. The best example of this is Isle of Avalon: the song itself would not have been very out of place on Somewhere in Time or Seventh Son of a Seventh Son because of the heavy traces of these albums. The song begins with a bassline and a single guitar riff in a more electronic tune, playing a melody recalling the good old days of Wasted Years. The drums on this part resemble the build up of the instrumental part of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son: first some light but constant tickling of the hi-hats, later on accompanied by some drumming by the feet. This nice stew of sounds builds up to a chorus with Bruce singing high notes. The song sounds a little like “new old” Iron Maiden.
Something really new is Starblind: progressive but different from what has been done on The Final Frontier’s immediate predecessor. It’s very difficult to bang your head to this one, as the vocals and the instruments meet at beginning and ending of a line but tread very different ways in between these to points. During the chorus one of the guitars starts playing a little solo melody (somewhere around 2:00), and some synthesizer can be heard if you listen closely. A very strange song, different from anything done before but when you listen to it you get the feeling that the formula is right. The different lines of the vocals, guitars, drums and bass are all contained within a wider melody. A potentially dangerous experiment but it turned out well.
The Final Frontier offers a mix of easy and progressive, old and new Iron Maiden. A welcome album after the dark and difficult A Matter Of Life And Death that can please both old and new fans of the band, it might take a place in my top five of Maiden albums!
My favourite songs: Isle of Avalon, El Dorado and the riff in When the Wild Wind Blows from 9:00 to 9:30 – this might be the best part of the album; epic and bittersweet tragedy.
Iron Maiden, that pleasant blend of blood drenched metal spikes in an upright, coffin shaped cell with the tormented screams of its hapless victims set to music, now taken its odyssey of melodic goodness up to the stars yet again. Although not quite the same blend of classic, galloping heavy metal with the once forbidden addition of keyboards that was “Somewhere In Time”, their latest offering in “The Final Frontier” boasts of a renewed spirit towards a brand of metal with some unusually progressive elements, at least insofar as the band’s history go. Perhaps the best way to describe the album is as being out of this world, although that is more a testament to its peculiar makeup than necessarily its overall quality.
It’s usually customary to begin an excursion into the mystique of this longstanding brand name by recapping the sequence of events that led to this point, but given the auspicious nature of the album itself, it is more prudent to simply cut to the chase. This is, without a doubt, the strangest album that has ever been released under the Maiden logo. It bears a very strong resemblance to several older albums at a few key points, and each member of the fold retains the bulk of their signature sound, but when taking everything in as a whole, there is a strong vibe of newness that pervades the entire listen. Part of it might be chalked up to a slightly crunchier guitar character that is a little closer to their 80s character, but the spacey nature of the production of the rest of the arrangement, largely due to a feeling of distance and distinctiveness between each individual part that is far more prominent than any of their other albums after Smith and Dickinson returned to the group.
At times, one would swear he’s listening to the soundtrack of some quirky piece of sci-fi cinema, particularly when considering the rather jarring intro and title song “Satellite 15…The Final Frontier”. Essentially the first half of this song consists of an oddity drenched drone that sounds like it was lifted out of the early stages of thrash metal antiquity and painted with a progressive flavor right out of early progressive USPM pioneers such as Crimson Glory and Queensryche. The atmosphere is so reverb steeped that it almost seems to phase in and out of reality, and Bruce’s vocal character follows suit like a distant voice of some radio transmission fading in and out of some sort of pool of cosmic waves. Things normalize a little bit when the midway point is reached and things settle into an old fashioned rock groove, but in spite of the familiar hooks and utter simplicity, the feeling of being lost in space endures. Part of it could be chalked up to the acoustic guitar accompaniment, which brings a little bit of a “Space Oddity” vibe to what is otherwise a standard piece of rock fanfare.
There is somewhat of an affinity with the previous album “A Matter Of Life And Death” to be found in the sheer scope of the music found on here, but the presentation is very different. Whereas the previous album was almost completely overtaken by progressive rock influences, this one seems to be rediscovering Maiden’s galloping glory days at times. Noteworthy examples of a more driving version of this band can be heard in the adventurous and catchy “El Dorado”, pushing forward like a majestic steed towards a far off destination. Likewise, “The Alchemist” takes things up to speed metal territory in a sort of “Aces High” meets “Man On The Edge” fashion, fully exploiting the 3 guitar format with a brilliant series of melodic lead guitar sections that upstage most of the band’s post 1992 single oriented fan fodder. Amidst it all, lay a set of well crafted, unpretentious guitar solos that complement the songs and do justice to the legacy of the classic era of the late 80s.
Of course, no album out of this veteran fold would be complete without a towering collection of longwinded, labyrinth-like epics that somehow manage to find their way into familiar territory. As the aforementioned 2006 predecessor, over half of the songs on here break the 8 minute barrier. Unlike said album, these songs flow a little less gradually and almost remind of the band’s Bayley era epics, at times shifting abruptly but remaining constant for the most part. The winners in this bunch are “Starblind” and “The Man Who Would be King”, as they tend to mix things up a bit more and hearken a little closer to the space-like nature that the album is going for. Some of the other ones get a tiny bit convoluted, but for the most part the rest of the album is consistent in pursuing new territory while just keeping enough of Maiden’s signature character in place to keep from losing the audience.
They say that long careers are marked by ebbs and flows, and as of the past 10 years, Iron Maiden has been in a pretty steady current with few boulders blocking the path. In light of this, one should approach “The Final Frontier” as a part of the current era of the band, though there is a casual familiarity with the 1986-88 era of the band that doesn’t really come up on the previous albums, save perhaps a few songs on “Brave New World”. It’s only slightly below its predecessor in terms of sheer magnificence, and it is definitely a must have for Maiden fans who aren’t hopelessly longing for a complete return to the pre-1990 sound of the band. It may not be the final frontier in terms of their legacy, but if this band were to bow out at this point, this would be a worthy exit.
Iron Maiden has gone through plenty of changes over the years, including line-up, music, and even with Eddie, their mascot. Well, here we have The Final Frontier, which finds Iron Maiden sort of reinventing themselves a little more again, and this time being a little more dconfusing with the lyrical content and even the music. The most dramatic leap is the band's interest in a more astral appearance, which has also affecvted Eddie and turned him into more of a rendition of the beast a fan would come up with after watching a film like Alien. But why, when much of the album is still rooted in the more fantastical lyrical style that fans of the band have come to expect? As Iron Maiden continues, it appears they are starting to run out of ideas, and that's evident with this more experimental release called The Final Frontier.
The Final Frontier starts with a very long winded instrumental introduction to the song "Satellite 15... The Final Frontier", which doesn't do anything to set the tone of the album other then try to set up some kind of space ambience to the song which clearly has some science fiction lyrical content as compared to the rest of the album with tracks titled "El Dorado" and "The Talisman". This really is the only time there's any sort of science fiction aspect to the music, and it's clear the band just wanted to play with it, and unfortunately it simply doesn't work, leaving the song feeling drawn out before it even starts, and when the song does start, it feels so short that listener feels cheated in a sense, as the actual song itself is highly entertaining and is simply traditional Iron Maiden. This song also introduceds you yo the hollow production quality of the album.
The production quality on this album isn't quite as top notch as previous efforts have had, and it sadly does cause some problems with the final product. The main issue being the vocals. Aside the music being rather hollow sounding and lacking any bite, the vocals here just sound obnoxiously nasal to the point where it sometimes sounds off key with the music. A perfect example would be the track "Isle of Avalon", which has a bridge near the end that sounds horribly sung, and at times even mumbled as the song comes to it's close. But the lack of power in the vocals isn't the only thing missing, as it's really vacant in many of the songs here in general. There are tracks on this release where the band just doesn't really seem to put much effort into it, like "Starblind". Sure, this track is clearly meant to be a little more open and lighter musically, but it honestly just sounds like there's no drive. The amospheric keyboard moments to the song's chorus sound great, and the guitar solo is ok, but the rest of the track flows at a very slow, mechanical pace that it becomes the definition of a filler song.
But, the album does have some strongh points to it. Outside the extended introduction, "Satellite 15... The Final Frontier" is a catchy song that brings things back to the glory days of Iron Maiden, and any fan will simply eat up the actual music of the song. Outside that, there's the single "El Dorado", which isn't one of the strongest tracks on the album at first, but the more you listen to it, the more there is to enjoy about it's signature NWOBHM sound. The song also doesn't get old after a little while like some of the other tracks on The Final Frontier, and features enough solid musicianship to keep the listener attentive the whole time. The same can be said for "The Talisman", which is actually a rather brave track for this album. The song starts up as an acoustic folk song for more then two minutes, being sung very low and really gets you in a relaxed state of mine for the lyrical content of the song. The rest of the song, however, is just a straight forward Heavy Metal track with solid music right from the start, and a decent faster pace that doesn't cause everything to sound robotic. The ending does seem a bit extended, but it still woreks well with the song in the long run and is still enjoyable, even if you don't really want to sit through it.
With what can only be explained as the sheer length of the album, none of the bonus material that comes with the Mission Edition of this release is actually on the disc. On the back of the case is a link to go to on the band's official website, which requires you to put the Mission Edition CD into your computer's CD player to be validated through their site to gain access to the additional materials. Of these materials, you get the two music videos for the song "The Final Frontier", the original version sent out, and a director's cut, both in standard definition no less, as well as a photo gallery, a couple wallpapers that are mostly stills from the music video to "The Final Frontier" and , and a bonus game to play that is essentially just a slightly more complex version of Asteroids you play in your web browser while the album plays in the background in a horrible low quality. These bonus features wind up leaving a good amount to be desired, especially since you technically bought them but don't actually own them, with only the pictures really being able to be saved and kept as your own. Outside that, the Mission Edition also has different packaging, and it's really nothing too special, as it's supposed to be the window of a space ship with the artwork in the window. The case itself is of a nice lighter metal or tin, but the track listing is simply stickered to the back of the case and looks horrible, while the inside iss simply the art book loose with the center cradling the CD.
In the end, The Final Frontier is nothing special at all. It has it's stronger moments when the music is a little faster, but for the most part the album just sounds rather mechanical and drags along with plenty of moments where the music feels drug out, or just uninspired. The main argument is who it would be to blame, as the band does manage to pull off some solid performances here, but then there are tracks that you would expect to be great, but sound horrible due to the production quality, so it winds up being a double assault working against the album. When you break it down, it's clear that this was something more geared towards a Bruce Dickinson solo type album, while the band clearly looked at composing a more Blaze Bayley-era Iron Maiden in appearance, and sometimes in the sound. Of course, this is still an iron Maiden album, so sampling it would be wise to hear the few worthy tracks on here, but outside those mentioned in the review, it honestly is nothing too special, and the Mission Edition is simply just not even worth the extra few US dollars to have in your collection, unless you just want something for bragging rights, or like awkward things protruding from your CDs.
Originally composed for Apoch's Metal Review
My first impressions of the latest Iron Maiden album en route were unabashedly positive. I'm a bit of a sci-fi nutter, so to see the band returning to this theme was a thrill. The big cover art reveal, the obvious amount of work placed in the cheesy if wonderful launch video, and the fact that the band were reportedly returning to the values that dominated classics like Somewhere in Time or Powerslave. Alas, once hearing a few of the early preview tracks for the record, my expectations started to dim. Like A Matter of Life and Death or Dance of Death before it, it seemed this album was long on loyalty to the band's trademark sound, and another top notch production, but might once again fail to deliver the extremely catchy mementos of years past, from about 1980-1988 when this band ruled the world across all its shores and could not be stopped in the studio.
To be fair, The Final Frontier is in no way a bad or negative album, at least no further than the fact it just doesn't live up to my hopes of one day hearing this band produce an 80s level masterpiece before they fall to arthritis, old age or whatever inevitable horror awaits these brave, tireless men as they parade across stages decades beyond when most bands have cashed in their chips and retired. The boys embrace the far off concepts of their lyrics just as they once did, skirting across both the unknown and historical significance of events past, present and future with the best of intentions. The drawback is simply a failure to deliver on all the fronts necessary to ingrain this music deep into the memory. There are some fairly good stabs at the light here, and the individual musicians are in fine form, in particular Bruce Dickinson. You know what to expect from this man by now, and he does not let you down, offering another of his balanced performances, but the melodies simply do not rise above the din of recent year releases, and the album is ultimately rationed out between the quality of the last two.
"Satellite 15...The Final Frontier" is certainly a tempting intro to the record, opening with a Hawkwind like space rock ministration of guitar feedback and steel wrought NWOBHM chords over pulsing, disappearing synthesizer lines, slowly developing into a melodic charge. It's a fine set-up for the record, but doesn't really capitalize with anything catchy, just an urgent build towards the latter, "Final Frontier" half of the track, a pretty standard melodic rocker without an enormously catchy chorus. "El Dorado" follows in a cloud of Nicko mangling his kit alongside some throwaway guitar noise, before the click and the triplets arrive for another pretty average chord selection that brings to bear the good old feel of a band like Saxon. Once again, though, the big surprise melody never arrives to catapult the song beyond its steady clime. The guitars sound huge, and Bruce is positively diabolic with his sneer, but when he explodes into the higher register, there's just no memorable line to connect the synapses to the steel.
"Mother of Mercy" sounds like any random song from the last album, using some clean guitars and bluesy melodic spikes in the intro, while a calm Dickinson steers the band towards a raging, mid-paced trot. The chorus is yet again lackluster; though the first repetition of the title's track might seem like its going to deliver. "Coming Home" fares slightly better than the previous songs due to the warmth of the descending guitar melody, the flow of Harris' chords, but the rest of the song is sub-standard, with little interesting transpiring outside of that opening guitar line. "The Alchemist" (not the same as the Bruce Dickinson solo track) is one of the better pieces here, a classic Maiden rocker reminiscent of "Be Quick or Be Dead" with a pretty if basic melody in the chorus. Yet, even this is far from the band at their best, and its merely a standout among so many other, drab colors on this canvas.
The latter half of the record sees Maiden lurch into 'epic mode', with the shortest track here being nearly 8 minutes in length. You can hear a few glints of "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner" influence in "Isle of Avalon", and the extensive clean guitars cede well into the more progressive, jamming segments, but its ultimately incoherent and soon forgotten. "Starblind" has grown on me slightly in a few listens, a desperately melodic track with semi-inspirational leads and some of the better lyrics on The Final Frontier. Easily one of the best new tracks for 2010, but still not delivering the nuclear payload I anticipated. "The Talisman" features about 2-3 minutes of raging awesome against 9 minutes of planning, and "The Man Who Would Be King" has some brush strokes of brilliance amidst its roiling, endless sea of painted momentum, but the bloated finale "When the Wild Wind Blows" delivers nothing beyond an average series of vocal melodies which sound very familiar to the last three records.
The Final Frontier is not an unpleasant experience to sit through, and certainly superior to anything the band released in the Blaze years, or Dance of Death, but I can't claim its on par with the band's one truly enjoyable post-reunion record, Brave New World, because there are just no loaded, emotionally charged singles like a "Wicker Man". This is a case of fine ideas, and the band's typically high class production standards colliding with composition that is merely average. The songs never capitalize on their strengths, the chords lapse into unconsciousness, and you really hope this is not the band's 'final frontier', because there must be something deep inside their spirits that we still need to hear, a muse that has not yet been satisfied. Considering how much value this band has offered me through the years (into the early 90s), the least I can do is cross my fingers and hope for the best next time, and probably the next after that. This time, we've been rationed out a passable effort, neither repugnant nor inspirational, but there in lies the quandary. 'Passable' and 'average' should not be acceptable outcomes for an Iron Maiden record. They never have been. They never will be.
I've got to say that prior to the release of this album I played through the last three albums a few times. Particularly BNW and AMOLAD were my long time favourites, and I really doubted that they could top the last one.
When El Dorado got released, it has gradually grown on me, as to be one of my favourite tracks from Maiden. The same goes to the title song, even though I was a bit surprised that the opener was not a fast one like usual. And then the album came.
I've got to say it - wow! I'm pretty impressed with how it turned out. After hearing the 30-second snippets I thought that it will be quite interesting, but rather slow and calm, but spacey and proggy. It turned out that it is spacey and pushing their prog direction to the limit, but far from being calm. The tracks are long, but one can barely notice this - after hearing the last track I was surprised how quick those 11 minutes past - not a moment of boredom!
One of the most impressive things about this record is the multitexturing of the sound, that was barely hereable on previous records. Instead of just repeating the same riffs on all three guitars, one can often hear those small nuances that add so much to the song. And they often reveal themselves only after numerous listenings.
At times, this album does not sound like Maiden at all, not mentioning the intro, that is something completely different to their previous work. Not only that, some songs have a really weird feeling, and only the occasional twin leads and bass gallop remind who are we listening to. Also, except for the title track, the band has abandoned the formula of writing simple choruses and repeating them ad infinitum. Here, they are complex and at times it's hard to discern which part is really the chorus, maybe because the band has often omitted the standard bridge/chorus/solo/chorus structure and let the songs live, twist and turn on their own. This album never sounds forced, instead it's brimming with creativity and fresh ideas. I also deeply enjoy the fact that Adrian 'H' Smith was involved in writing almost all of the tracks on the album. His brilliant ideas, as well as riffs and solos really shine here. Also, Bruce sounds really convincing here, and so do the lyrics. Overall, the whole bands perform flawlessly, but it's really the Smith-Harris-Dickinson trio that really turns this one into an instant classic.
This album came almost from nowhere, with little information coming from the band, and it turned out to be one of the greatest surprises coming from Iron Maiden. A peak of their proggy influences, resulting in one of the, if not the strongest effor yet. Highly recommended.
The highlights? The paganic Isle of Avalon, the cosmic Starblind, the adventurous The Talisman and of course, one of the best ballads since Bruce's 'Tears of the Dragon' - Coming Home.
(Originally written for the Wrecking Crew forum.)
Almost too weird to be true: there's actually people who claim they like Metal, but don't like Iron Maiden. To me, that sounds like being into swimming, but not liking water. If you are a Metal fan and don't like Maiden - I'm sorry to say so - I think you'd be better off not breathing. However, if your only referential point is this album's direct predecessor, the horribly bland and uninspired 'A Matter Of Life And Death', I can understand a certain aversion to the British Metal legend. There was only one song I could thoroughly enjoy on that album (closing track 'The Legacy'), so my hopes for 'The Final Frontier' weren't all that high.
Luckily, the first thing released off of this album was the awesome track 'El Dorado', a song in typical Maiden fashion. That means that the gallop that 'A Matter Of Life And Death' was so obviously lacking is back in full strength, Bruce Dickinson is blazing (no pun intended) vocally and the song is energetic, lively and vibrant. Something which goes for all of 'The Final Frontier' actually.
Musically, the album follows the same quasi-progressive route that Maiden has followed since reuniting with Dickinson and Adrian Smith. So that means that there are many long songs, a couple of shorter, catchier ones to round the album out. The biggest difference with the previous album, however, is that many of the long songs actually make sense. 'The Talisman', with its nine minutes of length, is one of the longest songs on the album, but isn't a second too long. It starts out with two minutes of celtic influenced acoustic guitars (obviously Janick Gers' input, who might be my least favorite guitarist in the band, but I'm still glad he's in the band, as he brings a lot of brilliant ideas to the table), after which it turns into a brilliant, galloping, melodic Metal tune like only Iron Maiden can do them. That little melodic lead after every chorus sent chills down my spine I haven't felt with any new material since 'Rainmaker' and 'Journeyman' seven years ago.
Okay, so this album is not perfect. But then again... Is there really anyone who expected the veterans to go back to the glory days of 'Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son' or 'Piece Of Mind'? Some songs lack the memorability almost any older Maiden song has. 'Coming Home', 'Isle Of Avalon' and 'Starblind' don't stick to my mind as easily as most of the classic stuff, although the latter has a brilliant riff that carries the song and all three songs are quite good. In fact, the only song I can hardly listen to is the 11 minute closing track 'When The Wild Wind Blows', which to these ears is only saved from the scrap heap by a number of killer guitar solos.
'Satellite 15... The Final Frontier' is a great way to start the album. It's actually two separate songs, with 'Satellite 15' being a pleasantly surprising dramatic intro - sounding relatively futuristic, compositionally as well as sonically - and the title track being your typical catchy Iron Maiden single. And I mean that as positive as it can get. The song really wets your appetite for the rest of the album.
Something I immediately noticed about the album is that its general tempo is remarkably higher than on 'A Matter Of Life And Death'. There's more variation in the tempos as well. And isn't that what made songs like 'Infinite Dreams' so irresistable in the first place? But even when the band slows down a bit, they've given their songs a more colorful finish than on the last album. 'Mother Of Mercy', for instance, doesn't exceed the midtempo range, but its brooding structure, atmospheric riffs and powerful chorus make it a delight for any fan of old school Heavy Metal. In deed, Black Sabbath came to mind, although it doesn't directly sound like them.
Other highlights include the uptempo stomper 'The Alchemist', which shows that Iron Maiden still reigns supreme over any Power Metal band attempting to do the same thing, and Dave Murray's 'The Man Who Would Be King', which sounds more like a multi-part suite than anything else really. The latter contains a couple of brilliant twin guitar melodies and a truly beautiful chorus. The aforementioned 'El Dorado' is a fantastic treat as well, but 'The Talisman' really takes the cake. That is the one song that sums up what makes this band so great in the first place.
As for the individual performances, some of them are nothing short of spectacular. Bruce Dickinson's vocals sound much more motivated and convincing than on 'A Matter Of Life And Death' and all of the instrumentalists still seem to be evolving, although being well in their fifties. Nicko McBrain's drumming never ceases to amaze me with little subtleties and all of the three guitarists are stellar in both the riff and solo department. On 'The Final Frontier', Maiden utilized the luxury of having three axemen better than ever and that brings out brilliant harmonies as well as impressive personal achievements. 'Starblind' contains a little semi-clean guitar fill which I would have sworn was Dave Murray's, but it's coming from the speaker where most of Janick Gers' stuff comes from.
It's truly a blessing that bands like Iron Maiden can still come up with an album this good so far into their carreers. Sure, it's not perfect, but 'The Final Frontier' shows that Iron Maiden still has the right to be alive in 2010. Purchase if you like... Metal in general actually!