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It's hard to believe that it has been 11 years since the legendary pair; Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith returned to the band which made them superstars. Time has certainly flown by and 1999 still seems like yesterday. The line up of Iron Maiden consisting of Bruce and Adrian, plus Janick Gers, Steve Harris, Dave Murray and Nicko McBrain have now released four albums together, with their 15th and latest CD entitled 'The Final Frontier'.
A scary title to say the least, as the meaning behind the title adding to the speculation with an interview of Steve Harris a few years back mentioning that the band would release 15 albums and then call it a day. I know that all Maiden fans around the world would be hoping that Harris' statement will not come to pass, as the world would be a different place if Iron Maiden were not in it.
The Irons' current sound (beginning with 1995's 'The X Factor'), can be considered to be a form of progressive metal, combined with bass guitar driven British heavy metal. Albums post 1995 includes more intricate and complex song-writing, slower songs and lengthy epic tracks; while the shorter and punchier tracks have taken a backseat. This has been Maiden's bread and butter for 15 years now and while there are still some fans who beg and plead for Maiden to return to the days of 'Piece of Mind', 'Powerslave' and 'The Number of the Beast', we all just know that this will never happen. Iron Maiden is just not that type of band anymore. Things change, trends change, interests change and if you know Steve Harris you'll know that he's only moved forward since creating this unique band all those decades ago.
'The Final Frontier' is a continuation of Maiden's albums from the new millennium and the two albums that featured vocalist Blaze Bayley. Hearing a bit of 'The X Factor', 'Brave New World' and 'Dance of Death' melded into the music of the new album, I can easily say that 'The Final Frontier' has a much lighter mood and a more creative and majestic feel than the dark and broodish 'A Matter of Life and Death'; which was quite dense compared to other Maiden albums. The human air-raid siren, Mr. Bruce Dickinson, has lost a bit of power in his vocals over the years with age and performing year in and year out for almost 25 years, but he is still one of the best singers in the metal world and again does an outstanding job on the new album.
Whichever way you look at it, a new album by Maiden is going to cause a big stir of excitement within the metal community. And with that excitement comes a million different opinions about songs, vocals, guitars, drumming, track length and everything else in between. Early criticism came with the very first single of the album, "El Dorado". Despite the fact the song is very catchy, well constructed and overall a soon-to-be classic (due to its typical Maiden sound), earning a spot in future Maiden live set-lists, fans complained about the guitar solo being weak, the song itself being boring and many other things. Next up was the video premier for "Satellite 15...The Final Frontier" and again more criticism. All this before the CD had even hit the music shelves, which just goes to prove that we all can be a fickle bunch and love to object the most to the biggest bands in the world. Just ask Metallica.
However, once the dust has settled from the initial crumbs of new music that EMI and Iron Maiden Holdings throw to us and the album in full is held within our hands, the overall feel and opinion begins to change for the better. While the opening track (also the title track) is one of the better songs on the album and a typical Maiden opener, I must say that the strange and eerie atmospheric build-up to the song (which lasts for 4:35) sounds quite weird and very much skip worthy. If it lasted under two minutes, it would be fine, but over 4 I felt was just too much and I expect the vast majority of fans would also skip that part and get to the heart of the track.
Iron Maiden's current formula of slow instrumental intro's to their tracks are again prominent and also fulfilling on 'The Final Frontier'. One of the best slow intro's on the album is with the final track on the disc, "When the Wild Wind Blows". Not only is the soft and slow intro tremendously affective, the song itself is excellent and one of Maiden's best in their modern era. There are great riffs aplenty once the song gets into full gear and its catchy melody and overall quality gets my nod as the best track on the CD. Another great song on the album is "The Talisman". With a 2:20 min intro with lyrics spoken in an off-sounding peculiar way by Bruce, the song eventually thrusts into gear for another memorable, epic and catchy track. "Coming Home" is a slower track, more like a ballad, which has an emotional feel wrapped around it. Sung very well by Bruce, the track has a cracking uplifting chorus that would go down extremely well during a Maiden concert.
I do feel though, that "The Alchemist" is (in my opinion) the weakest track of the 10. Also the fastest of the bunch, the song just lacks a bit of direction and never really takes off. I've felt for a while that Maiden now struggle to write decent short songs (under five minutes), but they certainly excel with the longer more epic sounding tracks. Take "Wildest Dreams" and "Different World" for examples of short tracks that are alright but could have been better. Rounding off the new album, "Starblind" is a progressive, intricate and lengthy song that will need a few listens to fully get into, while "Isle of Avalon" is probably the most epic track on the release. It is another very long atmospheric sounding track, with more complex and progressive sections, tempo changes and excellent guitar work by Janick, Adrian and Dave. In my opinion, "Isle of Avalon" would have to be the most epic track Maiden has done since "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" or even "Seventh Son of A Seventh Son". I finish off with another good but underrated track "The Man Who Would Be King", a mid-paced track which has a great traditional Maiden melody, and lastly "Mother of Mercy", another impressive war-themed emotional track. However, opinions concerning the quality of this song have been split down the middle, but the track is just too catchy and majestic to simply cast aside.
When all is said and done, I just need to say one thing: It's Iron Maiden! You know who they are and you know what they sound like. You also know what to expect and most importantly, you won't be disappointed. Those who were fearing the worst leading up to the release of this album (Lord knows why), can be rest assured that 'The Final Frontier' is another excellent album by the Irons, and around the same quality as past favourites like 'Brave New World' and 'Dance of Death'. I myself would have this album a fair amount above 'A Matter of Life and Death', simply because it has more creative and catchy tracks and less of a darker element that 'Life and Death' brought to the table. In no way is this release the best they've ever done, but in terms of their current sound and structure, 'The Final Frontier' stacks up very well indeed and is a definite addition to every Maiden fan's collection.
Originally written for www.themetalforge.com and www.metalcdratings.com