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Life begins at fifty! - 88%

Lord_Lexy, August 22nd, 2010

I’ve been into metal for about six years now, and during those years there were a few big bands in the genre and it relatives that released a new album. Metallica had the just decent Death Magnetic (which was disappointing), Megadeth had Endgame (which was good) and then there was Maiden’s The Final Frontier. Numerous rumours about the release date of the album and its quality spread around the internet as fast as the swine flu, but what was truth and what was just fantasy? I got my copy on the release date and gave it my attention, hoping that this big release would be worth the excitement. And as it turned out, it is…

In the past months I spent several listening sessions to Iron Maiden’s previous release, A Matter Of Life And Death, hoping that I would finally “get” this album and thus be prepared for a possible successor with similar sound. My work paid off, I learned to appreciate the album and was now completely ready for anything Maiden could give the fans. But my efforts were not crucial to liking The Final Frontier: it is something different, some really rocking songs that don’t need several spins to be appreciated make the album more accessible, and some songs that do require the extra attention give it more depth. Let’s take a closer look at our telescope and explore the borders of the musical universe that Iron Maiden has conquered.

The biggest difference with A Matter Or Life And Death, or all post-reunion Iron Maiden albums for that matter, is the big diversity that can be found on the album. Harris and company serve us both pure rocker and more progressive songs. Both new and old elements are used on the album.

Let’s begin with the intro: the completely overwhelming Satellite 15 (which for reasons unknown to me has been glued to The Final Frontier), which is an industrial and experimental sounding track. The drums echo which gives the impression of a vast space, the bass is a constant and very deep droning sound on the background, the guitars play high tones and produce sounds and shrieks that one would deem very un-Maiden. Bruce sounds desperate as he screams for help in his desolate prison of infinite space – an excellent opener for an album with such science fiction artwork. But, as already mentioned, the song is glued to the next one. The songs are both about the same theme but about everything else is different. The Final Frontier could be your typical Iron Maiden song, including four to eight time repeating of a simple chorus and straightforward riffs.

Songs as Mother of Mercy and The Talisman contain the most traces of A Matter Or Life And Death’s progressive nature: a slow and gentle intro with Bruce singing some lines before the song becomes a heavy mastodon, with the drums and bass creating a midpaced tempo and a catchy chorus (Mother of Mercy). The Talisman evolves into a song dominated by fast riffing, sounding epic and majestic thanks to the three guitar formula. Janick Gers might not have been around during the Iron Maiden heydays of the 80’s, but he has made some good contributions to the band: the riff popping up out of the background at 3:45 is a very good example of this. Short but catchy as hell, and it makes you want to spin back that few seconds of the record to hear it again. Little surprises like this make the progressive The Talisman easier to digest, despite being similar to The Legacy in intro and build-up.

But next to post-reunion Maiden influences there are also… prepare for it, this is good news!... 80’s influences. The best example of this is Isle of Avalon: the song itself would not have been very out of place on Somewhere in Time or Seventh Son of a Seventh Son because of the heavy traces of these albums. The song begins with a bassline and a single guitar riff in a more electronic tune, playing a melody recalling the good old days of Wasted Years. The drums on this part resemble the build up of the instrumental part of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son: first some light but constant tickling of the hi-hats, later on accompanied by some drumming by the feet. This nice stew of sounds builds up to a chorus with Bruce singing high notes. The song sounds a little like “new old” Iron Maiden.

Something really new is Starblind: progressive but different from what has been done on The Final Frontier’s immediate predecessor. It’s very difficult to bang your head to this one, as the vocals and the instruments meet at beginning and ending of a line but tread very different ways in between these to points. During the chorus one of the guitars starts playing a little solo melody (somewhere around 2:00), and some synthesizer can be heard if you listen closely. A very strange song, different from anything done before but when you listen to it you get the feeling that the formula is right. The different lines of the vocals, guitars, drums and bass are all contained within a wider melody. A potentially dangerous experiment but it turned out well.

The Final Frontier offers a mix of easy and progressive, old and new Iron Maiden. A welcome album after the dark and difficult A Matter Of Life And Death that can please both old and new fans of the band, it might take a place in my top five of Maiden albums!

My favourite songs: Isle of Avalon, El Dorado and the riff in When the Wild Wind Blows from 9:00 to 9:30 – this might be the best part of the album; epic and bittersweet tragedy.