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Taking My Last Breath of Fire - 94%

Twisted_Psychology, September 19th, 2011

Originally published on http://suite101.com

Unlike most bands that are just content to reunite and endlessly regurgitate their old hits for every tour, Iron Maiden has never strayed from treading on new ground ever since singer Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith came back into the fold back in 1999.

The Final Frontier is the fourth album that the band has released since their highly-publicized reunion and brings in a few new elements while sticking with their signature style. This is also the band's longest album to date with there being nearly 76 minutes of music to offer on this disc.

For those who haven't been paying attention to the band's recent musical shifts, it can be safely said that very little on this album has any resemblance to the band's "classic" 80's sound. There is no Run To The Hills, The Trooper, or even a Can I Play With Madness within this album's long duration!

Instead, this album continues the dark progressive metal sound that the band undertook with 1995's The X Factor and has a lot in common with 2006's A Matter Of Life And Death with its complex structures, theatrical contrasts, and occasionally brooding themes.

There also seem to be a few flirtations with outside genres as folk-like melodies appear on The Talisman and Where The Wild Wind Blows and an old rock element pops up on El Dorado that hasn't been seen since the infamous days of Virtual XI. Throw in some nicely placed acoustic flourishes and you've got one of Maiden's more relaxed efforts to date.

Fortunately the band manages to work well with the changes that have been made and put on their usual great performances. Dickinson's vocals and founder Steve Harris' bass playing are what predictably stand out the most, but the triple guitar attack does still have plenty of chances to shine.

On the other hand, drummer Nicko McBrain is also fairly solid but doesn't seem to stand out as much as usual. The exception to this rule seems to occur over the course of the opening Satellite 15 but this mainly due to it being driven by some unusual drum programming more than anything else...

The songs on this album are also strong and contain the expected mix of accessible rockers and more drawn out segments. But unlike the last few albums, the choruses are more developed and largely stay away from the one-line chants that dominated songs such as The Wicker Man and Brave New World.

Following the strangeness that is Satellite 15, things start off on an upbeat note with the likes of the laid back title track and the driving El Dorado. From there, the album's first half is excellently rounded out by the Celtic touches of Mother Of Mercy, the lighter-worthy Coming Home, and the fast paced The Alchemist (Not to be confused with Bruce Dickinson's solo song of the same name).

From there, the album's second side goes into more epic territory with there only being one song that is less than eight minutes long. Of this lot, The Talisman may be the strongest with its sea shanty beginning and more energetic body. Isle Of Avalon and Where The Wild Wind Blows also manage to stand out thanks to the former's building verses and the latter's upbeat melodies and apocalyptic theme.

And speaking of themes, the lyrics on this album continue the band's tradition of quality storytelling. Like Somewhere in Time and Virtual XI before it, there are some future aesthetics at hand though these are more in its image than its actual content...

Instead, the main themes seem to deal with traveling and dealing with the unknown. Coming Home stands out in this regard as its lyrics deal with Dickinson's flying experience and the title track does make for a nice life reflection. Of course, we do see the band's old fixations with war and history pop up on places such as Mother Of Mercy and Isle of Avalon.

All in all, this is another great Iron Maiden album that proves the band's continuing relevance in the modern day. There are some derivative moments where the band plays things a little safe but there are just as many that manage to keep things interesting. Whatever the case, here's hoping that the band will keep their momentum going and astound us all for just a little while longer...

Highlights:
The Final Frontier, El Dorado, Mother Of Mercy, Coming Home, and The Talisman