Monday, August 16, 2010

Album Review: The Final Frontier

It's that time of the decade that a real metalhead waits for with baited breath day-in and day-out, knowing that each time this day comes may be the last, and the greatest. A new Iron Maiden album has hit the shelves: The Final Frontier. Already the title begged the question, "Is this the last Iron Maiden album?" Luckily, Steve Harris and company have repeatedly said that it won't be. These guys range from 52 to 56 years in age, and they sure as hell don't sound like it on tour - nor on the new disc.

I've actually had my hands on this since it leaked on Monday, and no, I don't feel bad about it. I've already bought it three times (iTunes LP, Mission Edition via Amazon, and pre-ordered the regular disc for average car/CD use), so, if EMI thinks I'm a thief, they can shove it. When it comes to a band with the utter quality and power of Iron Maiden, they definitely deserve my money. I'll pretty much keep buying everything they throw out.

Once again, Iron Maiden proved they're on the edge of the digital world. Rather than release a physical single, instead, they put out a free .mp3 download of the album's single, "El Dorado", about two months before the album was released. They then released a music video for the song "The Final Frontier", which they hosted on their website and on YouTube. Maiden has time and again proven that they trust and respect their fans; they allow us to record their concerts and distribute bootlegs, upload videos to YouTube and other video sites, and even give us free songs to listen to before the album is released. Before The Final Frontier's numbers come in, Iron Maiden has sold 80 million plus albums. They're doing okay in the digital age, probably because their recent albums since the Napster Era have all been solid.

2000's Brave New World remains my favourite Iron Maiden album of them all, with highlights like "Ghost of the Navigator", "Dream of Mirrors", and the title track that hearken back to Iron Maiden's glory days of the 1980s. Dance of Death, from 2003, has the single greatest metal song ever recorded, "Paschendale". The 2006 release, A Matter of Life and Death, was a doomily progressive metal album with fantastic songs, and one I truly enjoyed through and through.

Now, we've got a new release, the fourth with the current lineup of Harris, Dickinson, Murray, Smith, Gers, and McBrain, and how does it stack up? Pretty. Fucking. Awesome.

It may be Maiden's final album, and it may not - but no matter what it is, it is very, very incredible, touching, powerful, and most importantly, it proves the point that Maiden fans will try to make time and time again: nobody does it like Iron Maiden.

Please note that I may expand on some of the songs later.

1. Satellite 15... The Final Frontier

This starts with a long, four+ minute introduction written by Adrian Smith on a demo tape some time ago. The band liked it and used it as-is, with Bruce singing some lines about being stranded in space without hope. Then it launches in to the second half of the track, a hard, fast rocker on the same theme. It's really quite good, both parts - the first is very Pink Floydesque, and the latter is a traditional Smith/Dickinson song in the veins of "The Wicker Man" and "2 Minutes To Midnight". B+.

2. El Dorado

A longer rock sound, with a heavy grooving riff, that's about the way bankers cheated us into a recession. I like it quite a lot, but it's the first single from the album. As a result, it's worn a bit. A lot of people slag it. I think I know why: social commentary has never been a strong point for Maiden (consider "Age of Innocence", "Fear is the Key", "Public Enema Number One"). This is probably got the best music of all those tracks, however. B-.

3. Mother of Mercy

While Maiden is well known for their plethora of war songs, Mother of Mercy strays a bit from the norm of reciting history. It's closest to Afraid To Shoot Strangers in subject material. The song itself is a bit slower but has a decent tune, and I like the solos. I especially like the outro where Bruce kinda "raps" a bit (he doesn't, but it's the best way to describe how he sings. Still, it's one of my less favourite songs on the album. B-.

4. Coming Home

Bruce wrote this song about what it's like to fly his Astraeus Airlines 757 back home to England, "to Albion's land". It's touching. The emotion in his voice is ever so poignant, and you can tell he loves to fly, and loves his homeland. Sentiments I would love to echo some day. The music itself is more power balladesque, and honestly sounds like it would belong directly on Bruce's 1997 release Accident of Birth. You want to tear up while listening to it. A+.

5. The Alchemist

A Bruce/Janick/Steve composition, this is a quick rocker about John Dee, the famous alchemist who travelled Europe with his companion Edward Kelley. Kelley, however, was a bit of a sham who wanted to bone Dee's wife, and when Dee decided that was a bad idea, Kelley destroyed Dee's home, which was at the time the largest library in Europe. In this, Dee is swearing revenge and to rebuild, and it's a fun track. Nice and fast, and probably the best rocker they've done since "The Wicker Man". A-.

6. Isle of Avalon

This took awhile to grow, but it's monsterous. Again, Bruce writes some amazing lyrics here, about Celtic death rites. I haven't deciphered it all yet, but the chorus hits hard and fast. The traditional Maiden gallop is present, but the instrumental section sounds like it's straight off of Rush's Moving Pictures. There's also a little homage to 2003's "No More Lies" in one Adrian's riffs, and I think it's a clue. More later. A.

7. Starblind.

This one deserves a full review. Amazing. A++.

8. The Talisman.

Slow buildup, tremendous riff, nautical themes: a great traditional track. Nicko is awesome here. He rolls his kit back and forth in your ears, giving you a very good approximation of getting bounced around on storming raging seas. The tale is of a group of people leaving their hope in Europe and heading to the New World, a storm wrecking their journey, and arriving all the same, though the narrator perishes. A lot of people call it Rime II, but I don't think of it that way. To me, it's closer to "Dance of Death" or "Dream of Mirrors" - both of which were also written by Janick.

9. The Man Who Would Be King

It hasn't clicked yet. It's good, but it reminds me a fair bit of some of the slow work off of Virtual XI and The X Factor - both albums I love, but something is missing. Nonetheless it has great moments, a nice bass solo by Steve, and some cool vocals.'s missing a little summat summat. B-.

10. Where the Wild Wind Blows

This is a monster. Steve said he wrote it some time ago and only found it recently. It sounds like it was written for inclusion on Virtual XI, and I'm sad it wasn't. Bruce sings low, showing his incredible range, and filling his voice with emotion, despair, and sadness. Ultimate sadness. This is the tale of an elderly couple who go to their fallout shelter when told that nuclear holocaust is imminent, but rather than face a destroyed world, choose to end their lives in their shelter, unknowing that the impact they felt was an earthquake. This is the third longest song Maiden's written, and it hardly feels that way. Amazing. Steve still has it. A+.

I love this album. Buy it.


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