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Long live the champions! - 88%

SirMetalGinger, January 13th, 2013

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.