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A flawed but strong return from Maiden - 73%

psychosisholocausto, April 5th, 2013

Few bands within the metal scene are held in as high regard as Iron Maiden; and not without good reason. For more than three decades now the band has consistently set the bar very high for bands everywhere to attempt to match. Whilst it is almost certainly true that their newer works are not quite as hard hitting nor as powerful as album like "The Number Of The Beast"; each release the band has put out has had more positives than negatives. So when news arrived that the band was working on their first studio in four years, many a metal fan's hearts suddenly began to beat faster in anticipation and quite rightfully so. After all, 2006's "A Matter Of Life And Death" had arguably been the band's strongest work since "Seventh Son Of A Seventh Sun". The question that many would pose would be whether the band could pump out yet another album of a high standard despite the fact the band were rapidly ageing.

The answer is a resounding "yes". Every aspect of the band that many have come to idolize is present and correct on "The Final Frontier"; from the never-ending guitar bombastic guitar assault to the powerful operatic vocals of Bruce Dickinson and the clever and thought provoking lyrics that added so much to classic songs like "Hallowed Be Thy Name". The band chose an appropriate song to release as a single in "El Dorado" as this is merely a taster as to what the band is capable of whilst still being a solid song in its own right. The galloping bass lines from Steve Harris are shown to be on form once again with this song, rumbling away in the background; high in the mix but not so much that it becomes a distraction from the rest of the music. Harris' bass work is almost flawless on Maiden's 2010 return and is flooded with his characteristic impeccable sense of rhythm and anchors each of the songs down with a solid groove for the three guitarists to build off which they do masterfully. Be it the water-tight riffing to the opening song, the pinch harmonics that add such a lot to the sound of "El Dorado" or the epic eleven minute closer "When the Wild Wind Blows"; the band never lets up showing their guitar talent on here. The solos are phenomenal and many in number, usually flinging a mass of notes the listeners way so fast that it is hard to comprehend. This is just another day at the office for Maiden.

The vocal performance from Bruce Dickinson is less mind-blowing than on the band's earlier works and it appears that age is finally catching up with him; but the man still has the chops to put in a great performance. On "Mother Of Mercy" he holds some great notes for a couple of seconds during the chorus whilst delivering the verses in a lower voice than some will be accustomed to. He has quite a wide range here and scarcely put a foot wrong throughout the entire album but it is still irksome to hear the vocals on here when stacked against their earliest works. The one thing that really does let down "The Final Frontier" is the drum performance. Whereas songs such as "Invaders" on their earlier works showed the band know how to write a varied and entertaining drum show; this album does shoot itself in the foot where the drums are concerned. The beats are generic and disappointing and do little more than just create a rhythm and Nicko McBrain doesn't strive to push himself at all. Another problem with this release is that it is a little too long, clocking in at just shy of an hour and a quarter long-the longest of all Maiden releases. On the longer cuts off of this album such as "When The Wind Blows" the band attempts to show off a more progressively inspired side to their sound by incorporating long build ups and changes in sound. Sadly they really fail to pull this off and could have instead used the faster and heavier sections as songs in their own right and kept the album length down. Moments such as the jam sections that open and close "El Dorado" feel pointless and unnecessary and would also have helped to keep the length down had they been cut.

The choice songs off here are "El Dorado", "Mother Of Mercy" and "The Man Who Would Be King". The first two are straightforward Maiden songs with creative bass work and an influx of fast-paced soloing and riffs that thunder along without taking any prisoners. The latter is far longer but makes good use of its length with many cleverly written twists and turns, and some awesome lyrics. If the whole album were up to the same standard as these three songs then the album would have been a lot more solid as each song has at least one or two moments worth speaking about. Sadly; the title track does not open the album up very well with some generic drumming and is unnecessarily long. Many of the songs suffer due to the length and not in fact because of the song writing itself although they do tend to repeat themselves numerous times. "The Final Frontier" is an album worth checking out for both avid Maiden fans and also casual fans of the band but is not highly recommended to others as a place to start with the band as it pales in comparison to their earliest works and also to the three that preceded it.