Take 1 of 4: Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier (EMI)

Given that this is has been such a highly anticipated release, we decided to run multiple reviews, to give you multiple perspectives. And they don't all agree. In this first one, Scott asks: Do Bruce and co. boldly go where no man has gone before? Do they even boldly go where no Iron Maiden album has gone before? Of course not. But this ain't half bad, much to your reviewer's surprise...

 

 

Iron Maiden won back massive amounts of goodwill from fans both longstanding and newly acquired during their Somewhere Back in Time/Flight 666 tour and album cycle. Could they maintain this momentum with their first album of all new material in four years? Here’s a track-by-track guide to The Final Frontier to help you make up your mind.

 

Satellite 15… The Final Frontier

Opening instrumental Satellite 15 is a genuinely ground-breaking piece of music – for Iron Maiden. It’s a long time since they’ve gone out on a limb like this, and the album, Maiden’s fifteenth, is all the better for it. The trouble is, S15 just goes to show how mundane first track proper The Final Frontier actually is. A traditional Maiden ‘third single off the album’ type track, it has that loose, slightly lazy feel of Maiden’s No Prayer for the Dying/ Fear of the Dark era about it.

 

El Dorado

It took me a long time to get this, but history will record that it was worth the effort. The first song on the album to bear the crucial ‘Smith/Harris/Dickinson’ writing credit, and the first to see some characteristic air-raiding from Bruce Dickinson. Still very much at the ‘run of the mill’ end of the Maiden spectrum, it does however motor along with classic Maiden intent lacking from the band since their ‘comeback’ album, Brave New World.

 

Mother of Mercy

Carrying on the now traditional ‘storyteller’ side of Maiden, Bruce speaks his way through the first part of the song, before the ‘gallop’ kicks in – albeit a half paced one- at around the two minute mark.  Its chorus misses the target completely, however, and  attention is allowed to wander by the meandering nature of the song. through the middle section. Picks up for a strong finish before leading into…

 

Coming Home

By some way the best song the band has put its name to since Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Echoes of Revelations at the start give way to a full blooded, stadium-filling chorus that goes a long way to restoring your faith in the band’s ability to come up with the anthemic goods.  Dickinson is never less than convincing as he sings – rather than bellows - of returning to ‘Albion’s Land’. Marvellous. The first song on the album to truly echo the band’s glory days.

 

The Alchemist

From the line of Be Quick or Be Dead and Man on the Edge, The Alchemist, though enough to get the head nodding and the pulse racing, is a not entirely convincing heads down assault; In part it’s held up by Nicko McBrain’s slightly plodding drumming and the thought that will keep coming into your mind – no matter what you do to prevent it- of the ludicrous pirouetting you’ll be subjected to by Janick Gers when they play this live. Serves as a pipe opener for the more epic, stately material to come on the second half of the album.

 

Isle of Avalon

Dramatic, portentous, Isle of Avalon is a brooding, triumphant Arthurian epic of elephantine proportions that promises much and… delivers in spades. A spacey, almost seventies production sound allows the band breathing space to stretch out in the mid section with excellent results. Another ground breaking passage from the band.

 

Starbright

Smith Harris and Dickinson again evoke memories of Seventh Son on this sprawling, monolithic epic. Dickinson again steals the show with another emotive, histrionic vocal, but he’s afforded the chance to shine by the marvellous instrumental backing, which is reminiscent in places of The Clairvoyant.

 

The Talisman

Another slowie. The song opens with Bruce in playful mood, narrating a seafaring tale in best …Ancient Mariner, Ghost of the Navigator tradition. When the song finally explodes into life there’s again a sense of lost opportunity – this really could have been a showstopper but – maybe because of its lack of a big, roof-raising chorus you’re left thinking what might have been.

 

The Man Who Would Be King

The album’s Dave Murray song. Another song employing a quiet, scene scetting vocal from Bruce before toughening up for the gallop home, it’s probably one too many. Murray, fine guitarist that he is, just doesn’t come up with the goods enough as a songwriter, leaving Dickinson a strictly by-numbers Maiden romp to warble over.

 

When the Wild Wind Blows

Based on the graphic novel When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs, this is one of Maiden’s most ambitious undertakings. The book (written in 1982, it details the suffering and eventual death from radiation sickness of an old couple after a nuclear attack) is a horribly sad, dark work, leavened by shards of affectionate, if mordant, humour. Maiden’s take on the song cannot really do justice to this in eleven minutes flat, but, against all the odds, they manage to balance bombast and trad-Maiden touches with the narrative to deliver a fine, ambitious album closer. Dickinson reins himself in this time, delivering the lyrics in restrained fashion, a decision which pays off as the song ebbs and flows creating more a piece of music than a mere riff-driven song. Interesting, if not entirely successful.

 

Indeed interesting, if not entirely successful, sums The Final Frontier up perfectly.

 

As usual with latter-day Maiden, somebody – ideally producer Kevin Shirley needs to take the band to one side occasionally and remind them that a long song doesn’t always make a good one; and the album, loaded down in its second half by a slightly one-paced, bloated feel certainly loses appeal because of this compulsion to overcomplicate.

 

But that said, it’s a far more enticing prospect than its horrendously dour predecessor, A Matter of Life and Death, or the ridiculous Maiden caricature of Dance of Death. The Somewhere Back in Time Tour, if it succeeded in anything, gave the band back its incentive to reconnect with its past, evident here in the three songs co-written by Adrian Smith, Bruce Dickinson and Steve Harris and the decision to record the album at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas. This studio was where they recorded, amongst other things, the Powerslave and Piece of Mind albums.

 

Indeed in its best moments, The Final Frontier evokes memories of Piece of Mind, at least sonically. You have to hand it to Maiden Somewhere Back in Time proved they could easily tour every couple of years trotting out the greatest hits to the faithful before spending their down time counting the money. Their determination to continue creating new music, thirty-five years after their inception deserves nothing but acclaim, especially when they prove on the likes of Coming Home and Starblind that the top drawer still isn’t out of reach. On reflection, this is the best record they’ve made since 1988’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, and it’s good to have them back.

 


Iron Maiden's The Final Frontier is out now on EMI.