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As a long-time fan of Iron Maiden is was awaiting this album since almost four years, the longest gap ever between two albums of this band. When I first listened to "El Dorado" when it was published on the official website at midnight, I was one of the first to discover the new song. I thought that it was something new and unusual with a jam intro and outro, almost spoken word verses and a powerful chorus that comes quite late. I also thought that this song was a rather average song but now I know that is one of the best ones on the album. The other two songs on the album which I like is the opener "Satellite 15... the final frontier" that surprises with a very progressive and experimental introduction that proves that the band can still innovate and create something new. Otherwise, "Where the wild wind blows" is a good epic track and even if we have already heard several comparable songs and even if this one isn't as strong and innovating as the big classics, it might still please to the majority of the Iron Maiden fans.
Now, where does this album fail? First of all, there is the sound. It all sounds very dumb and almost like a demo recording. Especially "El Dorado" has some sound problems and also technical lacks as the drumming is out of the rhythm and filled with mistakes. This album wants to transmit a certain live feeling but that doesn't fit with the progressive style at all.
Second, the elaboration of the songs is extremely poor. Most of the tracks sound as if they were written in several jam sessions and blindly recorded without arranging them or taking a second look at the product. Often, the instruments play all at the same time like the guitar parts in the horribly weak "The talisman" that almost causes headaches. There is no clear line, no progression and no emotion a part of confusion in the track. "Starblind" is a comparable random jam session and Bruce Dickinson sings a completely different melody than the guitars play while bass and drums play yet another rhythm. He sings as if he was under pressure and if he was screaming against the confusing potpourri of failing melody lines. The result is just horrible. "Mother of mercy" has got the same problem as Bruce sounds as if he was suffering while he is trying to sing more high pitched notes than ever needed. The band tries to sound progressive but they ultimately fail because they have good ideas for four or five minutes and decide to repeat the whole patterns to stretch the songs to an artificial length of eight to eleven minutes. That's the case for "Island of Avalon" that has a very interesting beginning and would be an enjoyable song if it would only last about six minutes but the last three minutes of repeating boredom and a lack of inspiration just make you want to skip the rest. It isn't the length that makes a song progressive or epic but the band doesn't seem to understand that. Boring long introduction of several minutes are present in almost every song. That can work for one or two tracks on an album but on this record half of the songs have unnecessary introductions like in "The man who would be king" that often fail to create an interesting atmosphere or tension. Sometimes the band even copies itself. "Coming home" has almost exactly the same elaboration and melody as "Out of the shadows" while "The alchemist" sounds like a mixture of "Flash of a blade" and "The mercenary". The song tries to sound like a classic but as he is by far weaker than the two mentioned tracks he just sounds lost on this overlong pseudo-progressive cacophony.
The third thing is the lack of motivation. After four long years where the band put so much energy in their retro concerts around the world as well as in a couple of live recordings, compilation albums and documentaries, they seem tired to me. They worked out the song quite fast, recorded and published them quite fast without any process of reflection or authentic passion. There has been no real tour alongside the album. There hasn't been any physical single for the first time ever. They called some people to create a music video and a little game and weren't even involved in the whole development. They are still a great live band as I have seen them last summer but everywhere else, they seem to focus on something else. Adrian does his side projects, Bruce does a few other jobs, Nicko does some golf and they don't concentrate their creativity on the band that made them the legends they are today and forget about what they have achieved to be able to do side projects and more nowadays. They forget about their responsibility and legacy. They let this band musically die.
I never thought that I would give less than sixty percent to any album of one of my favourite bands. Even some tracks on "No prayer for the dying" really rocked and sounded fresh and "Virtual XI" had at least a very unique, dreamy and progressive atmosphere that is enjoyable from time to time. This album simply goes nowhere and loses itself in endless introductions, repeating patterns and horrible guitar solos. If they are heading through the universe for the final frontier they seem now be torn into a black hole. Great recent offerings like the much diversified and heavily underrated "Dance of death" showed that the band is still able to be surprising and diversified and so there is maybe a way out of trouble. But it will be a long way back to the top and I hope that they won't leave us with this pseudo-intellectual piece of boredom.
The next time they should give fewer concerts and focus on the music and the song writing before going to the studio...