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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