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The Final Frontier is Iron Maiden's 15th studio offering and twists through a maelstrom of classic Maiden power and prog rock.
This is encapsulated in the opening track, where we meander through a four-minute proggy intro before being hit round the head with a classic slice of rock with all the hallmarks of Maiden. We have Bruce Dickinson's endearingly earnest-yet-silly lyrics about being lost in space, some good guitar breaks and the unmistakable air-raid siren vocals and triple guitar sound that define Iron Maiden.
This continues into the second track 'El Dorado'. It was here I realised Bruce's range isn't quite what it once was, which made me feel sad, but in his defence he is getting on a bit. It's still a solid song though.
The tracks afterwards snake through various genres, touching on prog, folk and even the Nordic/Celtic metal sound, travelling through brooding 'Mother of Mercy' and ballad 'Coming Home' to reach the next rock cornerstone of 'The Alchemist'.
I noticed that this was an occurring theme throughout the album, Maiden seemed to be trying out new directions whilst at the same time reassuring their fans that they aren't going to 'pull a Metallica' and go completely pants-on-head crazy by writing familiar and comfortable tracks like 'The Alchemist'. Speaking as someone who's been a fan of the band for seventeen years I enjoyed all of it.
The last four tracks on the album veer in a more proggy direction, but have been constructed around linchpin Maiden-esque riffs (especially 'The Talisman') which, again, add a comforting familiarity to the surrounding weirdness.
Some of the tracks do go on a bit, and the album itself is 76 minutes, but that's the only real criticism I have.
Their fans now span three-generations and there is enough mix of tried-and-tested Iron Maiden riffage and new stuff to keep the dinosaurs, the middle ones and the nippers happy.
4 years after the pretty controversial A Matter of Life and Death, Iron Maiden come back with this album. It's important to stress that after their reunion with Bruce Dickinson the band has been opting for a stylistic shift that tends to deliver longer compositions that lean towards and epic prog kind of metal. This, as any other change in rock and roll, has been received with some sort of diffidence.
The Final Frontier honestly seems to continue on their new path with what we could define as the "new-millennium" trademark sound for Iron Maiden. The new album presents a less "dark" sound and has Bruce Dikinson talk with drums in the background before the first real track begins. I can't help but notice this songs that happens to be the title track of the album is more a rock n roll song than anything else, but it's pretty good after all. Conversely El Dorado (that was chosen as the first single...) is a bit of a let down with low energy levels and a chorus absolutely unworthy of this historical band, not to mention that -maybe- 7 minutes are far too many... To be really honest most of the choruses on The Final Frontier are a bit too obvious and only the magical vocals of Dickinson are able to give substance to mediocre tunes like Coming Home and Mother of Mercy. A good song that stands out in the album is The Alchemist where the "Maidens" deliver a fast paced song, the way they did in the past: pure classic metal with style.
The rest of the album tends to continue in the progressive vein I discussed above and honestly Starblind or Talisman didn't convince me. Unfortunately as the rest of the album. And I don't even dare think how these far too long and monotonous songs will sound like during their live shows...
A Continuing Mission...
You can rely on Iron Maiden. You know that you are going to get exactly what you expect, and it is akin to putting on a pair of comfortable slippers when you play one of their latest offerings... alright they might deviate from the norm on occasion, but on the whole they give you exactly what it says on the tin.
Their fifteen album to date, weighing in at just over 76 mutes in total is no different. I will say right from the outset that this is no classic album, not one to look back on as one would look back on the previous greats, such as Number of the Beast, but that is not to say it is not a good album, because it is, very much so, a good album.
Most of you will know who Iron Maiden are, and most of you will have a love or hate feeling towards them, the rest of you will probably not care a lot. But to re-cap and to report: Iron Maiden were formed in 1975 by bassist Steve Harris and have been through one or two changes since then, but have rested over the last decade or so as a sextet of:
Bruce Dickinson - vocals
Dave Murray - lead & rhythm guitars
Adrian Smith - lead & rhythm guitars
Janick Gers - lead & rhythm guitars
Steve Harris - bass & keyboards
Nicko McBrain - drums & percussion
Iron Maiden are a heavy metal band, in fact they are probably the best know Heavy Metal band in the world. But they broke the mould which their style of Metal: they opted out of the rock and roll style of metal of that ilk, and decided on a more workman like Metal, with sophisticated guitar riffs, both loud and gentle, and interesting lyrics which were inspired by films and books, such as Frank Herbert's Dune.
To seek out new songs...
So, then, let us have a look at The Final Frontier...
We being with "Satellite 15... The Final Frontier" ((Smith, Harris) 8:41). The second half of this song was released as a single and it was the first song I heard from the album. It kicked ass so much that I was in instant and eager anticipation for the album. I have discussed how Iron Maiden rarely stray from the norm, but the start of "Satellite 15... The Final Frontier" does somewhat. It is an amalgam of drums, swirling guitar and anguished vocals. A drum beat that picks pace and works into a crescendo before the second part of the song kicks in. A great guitar riff, time to get out the air guitar folks...
"El Dorado" ((Smith, Harris, Dickinson) 6:48) carries on in a similar vein. A wonderful bass line, building up well. There is a lot of energy in this song and it pounds along nicely. It is an instantly likeable song.
"Mother of Mercy" ((Smith, Harris) 5:20) starts well with interchanging riffs, both soft and hard, but I cannot get into the chorus of this song, just sounds like Bruce is going through the motions. Not a favourite of mine, but musically it is well put together.
"Coming Home" ((Smith, Harris, Dickinson) 5:52) is the second song I heard on this album before it was released. It was a song I instantly loved. Taken from Bruce's experiences as a fully qualified air pilot, it is full of passion, albeit in a slow, but metal, tempo:
'To Albion's land...
Coming home when I see the
In the misty dawn of night
Is fading fast...
Coming home far away
As the vapour trails alight
Where I've been tonight
You know I will not say...'
"The Alchemist" ((Gers, Harris, Dickinson) 4:29) is a rocking little number. A straight forward song, akin to an earlier style of Maiden music. A toe-tapper.
It took a while but I grew to love "Isle of Avalon" ((Smith, Harris) 9:06). A quietly, searching riff with Spanish overtones slowly builds up into a train-like musical journey, then the passion erupts and off the rails we go. There is great passion here, within both vocal and guitar. It is a grower and well worth the wait. The nearest we can get to classic!
"Starblind" ((Smith, Harris, Dickinson) 7:48) is a good number, a mixture of emotions and music style. It has a gently opening that explodes into life with a chunky guitar riff. It does not really seem to go anywhere, but it is a worthy addition to the album nonetheless.
"The Talisman" ((Gers, Harris) 9:03) begins with a quiet guitar and vocal, you can almost picture Gers (I am guessing it is him) and Bruce sat by a campfire on an darkening evening here. There is too much lyric here though, as is the case with another of Harris's lyrics on this album. In come the loud guitars and off we go. Not a bad song, another grower.
'Four ships are lost in the
The spirits of the sunken crews
Their phantoms follow us...'
"The Man Who Would Be King" ((Murray, Harris) 8:28) is the penultimate song on this album. Remember what I said about too much lyric before? Well this is a fine example of that. What Harris says in about four words can be said in two and it makes this song a little bit clumsy as Bruce tries to get through it. So, bad words, but that is not to say it is a bad song... it is very good. A quiet opening that builds up and we are treated to an amalgam of differing riffs in an ever changing song.
"When the Wild Wind Blows" ((Harris) 10:59) ends the album nicely with an assortment of music style. Somewhat depressing lyrics to begin with and you are thinking, liven up guys! But the music makes up for it. A great song to finish up with.
Where no man has gone before...
A few other bits: The album was produced by Kevin Shirley and co-produced by Harris. The artwork it, as always, incredible. The cover illustration and the inlay sketches were by Melvin Grant, and depicts the band's mascot Eddie - this time on the cover he appears to be an alien-Eddie hybrid about to feast on a few long dead astronauts.
Overall, The Final Frontier is a fine example of six musicians still at their peak of musicianship. They show the world that they still have what it takes, even though their albums are few and far between nowadays. It also shows that they are obviously still loving it all. Long may they carry on, and here's to the next one... whenever that will be...