I’m breaking my own rule with this one, in not waiting for Sunday Service. This deserves to be posted now! On the release date!
Well folks, the wait is over – it’s here! And it’s a beautiful thing – I got the hardcover deluxe version and the packaging is beautiful. The book, which contains great artwork and all the lyrics, with the 2CDs tucked into a clever stack tray at the back slides into a gorgeously simple slipcase. They really knocked the packaging out of the park, on this one.
This was the first album I have ever pre-ordered from Amazon. Normally, I just wait for release and go get it, but I was pretty stoked for this release, so I pre-ordered. When I pre-ordered, it was over $30. It soon went to $22.99 and that’s what I ended up paying. I would have paid the original price too – it’s new Maiden, just send it to me! And I have to say, I’m impressed with Amazon’s turn-around. I got a Shipped notification midday yesterday, the day before the release date, and the set was in my trembling hands by noon on the day of release (today). I didn’t even pay extra for faster shipping. Nice one, Amazon!
I’m gonna go track by track here, which is not something I do much anymore – however, this release is totally worth it. I won’t get into the lyrics, though Deke promises me that they are brilliant (and from what I heard as I listened, I have to totally agree). I’ll give it another full spin, with the lyrics sheets, very soon. But for this review, I’m just gonna gut-react to the whole thing as I hear it. These words are written based on my first spin through.
Let’s give ‘er! \m/ \m/
If Eternity Should Fail’s intro gives us a feel of something ancient, I assume from the cover artwork they’re going for Aztec or Mayan, something like that. Soon enough the band comes in mid-tempo and it’s glorious. All the elements are here. Around the 5:00 mark the drums roll and we kick into full Maiden gallop. It’s a very melodic section, gorgeous. We pull back to the original tempo and ride the wave out, until a creepy voice of the Harvester Of Souls talks us out haha awesome. Holy hell, this one song is like a Maiden master class. All the elements are here. YES!
Speed Of Light, the first single, is a corker. I still swear that the first 30 seconds of it sounds like a G ’n’ R track circa 1987. That riff, the drums (and cowbell – more cowbell!), that howl… But of course it immediately becomes an Iron Maiden ripper. You’ve all heard it and analysed it and have your own opinion. Me, I think you can’t help but be lifted up by the hugeness of it, and it fucking rocks.
The Great Unknown’s gently-picked guitar intro with Bruce’s vocals is reminiscent of many previous Maiden tracks. When it kicks in, it’s a swinging metal blues as only Maiden can rock it. At top volume (as if there’s any other way to listen to this album), this track hits HARD! This would make a fantastic gym work out track, it just has that energy and elevating feel to it. The ending brings us back down beautifully and I love every second of it all.
The Red And The Black is a masterpiece. It brings a sweet acoustic guitar sound (but is that a bass?) to the feel from the album’s intro before blasting us into that trademark Maiden galloping chug. This sprawling 13:34 track pounds along through its distinct parts and it’s absolutely beautiful. You can almost picture a battle scene as it plays, a battle on a dusty open plain fought hand-to-hand by foot soldiers… the guitar soloing here is incredible. Haha I could write that about every Maiden track. The bit where the tempo switches around the 9:00, and then switches again at 11:55 (this is all instrumental, these whole sections) is absolutely fun, as is the shout-along at the end. Holy hell, what a track! This is gonna be HUGE in concert!
When The River Runs Deep blasts from the get-go. A quick intro and BAM! get ready to go full-tilt Maiden boogie! This is the kind of thing they do that makes me have to check myself and make sure I’m not driving too fast in the car. It’s easy to get swept along. They break it up with half-time sections, but the real meat here is the full gallop. YEAH!
The Book Of Souls lulls us with a beautiful acoustic guitar intro, then punches hard in the solar plexus with that guitar riff. Yes! This one is majestic, infused with the swagger of those long-used to ruling and power. I pictured Bruce in a cape and crown, for this one! Haha. Of course, at 10:32, the song shifts a few times – like around 5:45 where it full-on tries to separate your scalp from your head for the rest of the song (until the acoustic guitar carries your body to the morgue), but in whatever form it retains its acknowledged glory!
Death Or Glory goes 100 mph right out of the gate with another monstrous Maiden riff, oh man. I’m driving too fast again! If I had to pick the second single for the record, it’d be this one. I hear a track like this and am filled with so much joy and love and rawk and I must really resist the urge to hit repeat on it as I must hear the rest of the album yet, too!
Shadows Of The Valley builds of the strengths of the previous track and once again sweeps us along in its rip-tide. It’s another majestic track as only Maiden can do it, so many pieces of brilliance making up the hard-rocking whole.
Tears Of A Clown is not, sadly, a cover of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. I would dearly have loved to hear that. Of course, it wouldn’t fit the album at all, a cover like that, but who would care? Not me! And what is it instead? Another hard-hitting Maiden mid-tempo rocker, of course! I love the way it plays with time signatures, and once again the guitars rule the show. The two guitar solo section from 3:02-4:00 is great, both instruments with different tones yet still working perfectly.
The Man Of Sorrows slows the tempo down even more for a while, from gorgeous intro to the stomping second section. Of course, the menace and tempo returns incrementally by the third tempo and that’s about where the songs stays. This one is very bluesy, with that cool swing to it yet retaining its metal edges.
Empire Of The Clouds is notable, first and foremost, for being 18:05. That is HUGE! And truly, it is a magnum opus. It starts us off on piano, and cello (though I’d say it begs for full orchestra treatment)! Whoa, this section is gorgeous. The band creeps in gently, that martial snare drum as Bruce sings us through the story. And being Maiden, it builds through several stages until full gallop is achieved, and then back down again. It’s an entire Maiden album in one track! You know, at this point, these guys are just showing off. 🙂 An Ultimate Maiden Epic. They have topped even themselves, with this one. Wow.
It wasn’t marketed as such, at least not that I saw, but I’d swear this was a concept album. Not just a collection of cool and amazing Maiden songs, comprising an album, but a fully-realized 2CD history book about a period (real or imagined) of history. I haven’t paid too much attention to the lyrics on this first spin through, but it still feels that way, to me.
Surely people will try to draw comparisons between this one and other albums in the discography. But I really don’t think that’s fair. Elements may seem familiar of course (as they should, at this point), but this is a separate project. Unto itself. Everything about this is epic and beautiful, from the tunes themselves to the pristine sound production to the packaging. Hell, even having new Iron Maiden in 2015 at all is glorious. There were conscerns about Bruce’s ability to get the job done, given his cancer battle, but I can say without doubt those fears have no basis on this record. He is in full-on form and holding nothing back.
Book Of Souls has no missteps, no moments that are even close to medicore, no tracks I thought were lesser. For me it was hit after hit after hit. This is solid, immutable and perfect Maiden music. There is nothing here to let down any fan. Not even close. And if there was anyone turned off by the last couple of albums, this will surely bring them back to the fold. It’s incredible.
Unless something better (unlikely!) comes out of the woodwork, this is the Contender for Album Of The Year for 2015. Hands-down. You’d better fucking believe it, mate. HOLY HELL THIS IS AMAZING!