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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.