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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