After five years, the sixteenth Iron Maiden studio album, The Book Of Souls, was finally released on September 4, 2015. It comes as a double-CD album with a length of 92:11 minutes, and – spoiler alert – it is already one of my favourite Iron Maiden albums.
If Eternity Should Fail kicks off the album with spherical synthesiser sounds in an Iron Maiden-typical melodramatic mood, followed by a mid-tempo groove. Exactly five minutes into the song, enters the obliged uptempo instrumental part that brings melodic and harmonic guitar parts. The song crosses then back to its mid-tempo groove and mood to finish after 8 minutes of old-school Iron Maiden. A fantastic start.
Speed Of Light introduces a more 80s-sounding Iron Maiden song: straight, uptempo groove, bluesy guitar riff and song feel. I especially enjoyed the guitar solos starting at around 3 minutes.
The intro to The Great Unknown build ups to a cut-time groove with nicely arranged guitar pickings und a straight, 16th-notes bass line before smoothly flowing into a characteristic uptempo chorus with a great hook. The song keeps his mystical mood in good ol’ Iron Maiden manner all-through the song. Again, the guitar instrumentals after 4 minutes 10 seconds are very nicely arranged with a reverse drum-part added to it, in addition to the melodic solos. Definitely my favourite song thus far on The Book Of Souls.
Steve Harris introduces The Red And The Black with a chord-based bass lick, before Nicko McBrain puts his stamp on the song with a cavalry-themed galloping drum-beat. The song is characterised by a Oh-oh choir part, which will be a highlight when this song will be enjoyed live. The song becomes melodically more colourful after 5 minutes with Bruce Dickinson adding a ‘happier’ note – for lack of better words. The song enters in a continuous instrumental outro with different solo, riff, and groove arrangements, to end the song after 13 and a half minutes with the the characteristic Oh-oh choir part and the chord-based bass lick. Another great one on this album.
When The River Runs Deep is the most modern-sounding song on The Book Of Souls so far. I attribute that to the guitar riffs and the punctually utilised harmony vocals. A good song, not remarkable, but good nonetheless.
Enters the title-song. The Book Of Souls is introduced by an acoustic guitar picking, underlined by a smooth synthesiser. A heavy, dark riff, carried by a thumping, slow drumbeat, gets the song started. Typical Iron Maiden melodies tighten the bow before releasing the tension with Bruce Dickinson’s phenomenal belting hooklines during the chorus. My favourite chorus on this album so far. Then, 5 minutes and 50 seconds into the song the Iron Maiden-typical galloping drumbeat enters the picture to embellish the song and bring it to a new level. Especially, the riff at around 7:30 gets my head-nodding going and I can’t stop till the end of the song, which doesn’t come for the next 3 minutes. THIS is my favourite Iron Maiden song so far on this album! And an instant classic!
Death Or Glory is another song that reminds me of the Iron Maiden sound of the late 80s, early 90s. Characterised by a galloping uptempo beat and darker guitar riffs, the song flows towards a [almost-cheesy] melodic chorus. Although the cliché chord progression, Iron Maiden is able to make the chorus sound metal, if you know what I mean. I attribute that to the easy-to-sing-along hookline, which will win over any audience. A good song all in all.
Shadows Of The Valley is a danceable heavy metal song with a great chorus. Very typical Iron Maiden. Couldn’t stop nodding my head through the entire song. The groove and the melodramatic mood, combined with the very strong lyrics make me imagine standing in the middle of an arena raising my fist to the air shouting the words, “Ask the the questions, tell them no lies. A cry for freedom, praying that they wouldn’t die.” And then, another Oh-oh choir part for the world to sing along. One of the strongest songs on The Book Of Souls.
Tears Of A Clown reminds me of the 1986 Iron Maiden classic Stranger In A Strange Land, at least initially. The song can be considered a heavy metal ballad, characterised by strong melodies. Bruce Dickinson does a great job in telling the story with his clean singing. I can imagine hearing this song in mainstream radio stations given its lighter touch.
The Man Of Sorrows is introduced by an exciting guitar solo carried by a chord-picking, lightly distorted guitar. A schlepping drumbeat enters at 1:30 before shifting gear to a more danceable beat around 2:00. The song is characterised by fundamentally different song-parts that at first do not seem to make much sense when jumping from one to the other, but somehow fit well together as soon as the song finds back to the chorus. An intriguing song. Very well done here.
The ending song, Empire Of The Clouds, is introduced by a piano, smooth guitars and a violin, and brings us one of the most recognisable melodies of the entire album. Vocals enter after 2 minutes to embellish this melodramatic ballad about a war fought in the air – great lyrics here, by the way. The song follows the same melody and mood for 7 minutes thoroughly building upon that until finding the sweet spot to transition into new, (more or less) related melodies, exactly how we would expect from Iron Maiden.
Iron Maiden have produced many remarkable albums that have been rightfully listed in different Greatest Albums Of All Time lists. I claim The Book Of Souls will also find its way onto such lists. Iron Maiden stays true to the concept of its traditional sound, arrangement of the songs, and overall feel of the album. Nevertheless, comparing the album with my personal favourites, such as Somewhere In Time and Fear Of The Dark, one can observe the experience the band gained in terms of the above-mentioned features, which added to the growth of the band in regard to composing and producing such a phenomenal album.
There’s nothing more to say other than congratulating Bruce Dickinson, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, Janick Gers, Steve Harris, Nicko McBrain, and producer Kevin Shirley for creating this exciting album, which I consider an instant classic already.