Take 3 of 4: Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier (EMI)

Crushtor's take on the newest Iron Maiden record - it's inimitably Maiden and it has its moments, but there's much to be desired.

Eddie’s had his turn as a huge monster terrorizing commoners, he’s been back through time, forward through time and “somewhere” in time, he’s been lobotomized, cybernetically augmented and even killed! Now he’s in SPACE!

With this, we have the rationale for Iron Maiden’s fifteenth studio album The Final Frontier. I was very pleased with the recent “reunion” efforts – Dance of Death got a fair few spins in my CD player, as did A Matter of Life and Death. The Final Frontier? Well, maybe.

On the whole, it seems a bit lethargic. Perhaps, like the band, it’s suffering from rock n’ roll fatigue.

Reading Dave Mustaine’s (semi-)autobiography, he suffered from it so often he relapsed into his heroin addiction seventeen times. It’s good to hear that Maiden and her three guitar alchemists run as one well-oiled unit and their confluence of styles, the bluesy groove of Adrian Smith complementing the old school legato of Dave Murray and staccato “uber-wank” style of Janick Gers (as heard on the title track and El Dorado most prominently – the solos on The Man Who Would Be King are more inspired than they’ve been for a very long time.)

Quite disappointingly, Bruce makes mistakes – especially the meters in “Mother of Mercy” – they just don’t fit. There are a few other slip-ups by the band on Starblind too. (Why keep them in? It’s not like you guys are on some kind of tight production budget or anything.)

Coming Home sounds rather tired even by later-era Iron Maiden standards. On the other hand, The Alchemist carries the classic period formula of “big riffs and big solos” with it and more jam-oriented and progressive styles creep through in the epic Isle of Avalon, all helped by the beastly basslines of Steve Harris.

Galloping riffs and anthemic guitar lines are the order of the day for The Talisman, rather rousing despite the subdued sound.

I think that the eleven minute Celtic tinged closer When the Wild Wind Blows should be considered an achievement for the band considering their last foray into extended songs was “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” which had about five minutes worth of narrative anyway.

On the whole, it’s fairly decent and has some very satisfying standout tracks. I would be dishonest if I was to call it “brilliant” and slightly uncomfortable if I described it as “absolutely solid.” What I can say is that I’m tapping my toes to it and occasionally – very rarely – giving a slight back and forth nod of the head.

Regrettably, the cancer that kills the disc is Kevin Shirley’s emasculating production (why they keep hiring this moron is beyond me) that flattens the bravado of almost all the tracks and conceals some real nuggets of musical gold; a twist on a lick here, a guitar harmony there. Bring back classic-era producer Martin Birch, I say (with Derek Riggs doing the cover art while you’re at it!)

It’s still got the inimitable Maiden sound and fans should love it, warts and all – if you didn’t like Maiden before, this effort unquestionably won’t win you over. In my opinion it’s unfair to put Maiden on a pedestal just because they’re Maiden – they too are entirely capable of making middle-of-the-road albums just like any other band. But hey, that's just me.

The Final Frontier is out now through EMI Holdings.