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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.