"Thrilling". "Remarkable". "Brilliant." These are the words that nearly every reviewer has been using to describe the new Iron Maiden album, The Final Frontier. I find that when everyone agrees on how great something is…it usually means that something is terribly wrong. BUT! In this case, I have to go with the consensus and agree: this is a very good album.
The last time I saw Iron Maiden, it was in October of 2006 when they were supporting A Matter of Life and Death. They played the entire album- from front to back. The album wasn't bad, but by the end of it, the crowd felt a little exhausted and was very pleased with the band's encore of 5 classic Maiden tunes. The album leaned very heavily towards Iron Maiden's progressive side, which has produced some of the best metal ever made, but on Matter it sounded overdone. On this album, they've avoided this and made an intricate yet very accessible record.
The first song, Satellite 15…The Final Frontier, might have worked better split into two tracks, due to its long intro section- but its a good start and leads into the energetic single, El Dorado. El Dorado has all the elements of classic Maiden: galloping guitars and soaring Bruce Dickenson-led choruses. More of this can be found on The Alchemist, including the band's signature dual guitar harmonies.
As for the longer songs, my favorites were Isle of Avalon and The Talisman. Over the course of their career, Iron Maiden has used epic storytelling and intricate arrangements to make for some awe-inspiring music, which is more than what many laughably cheesy "power metal" pretenders can say. Even on the shorter songs, the band uses very intricate arrangements with plenty of variation, without alienating the listener. Avalon has a great build-up which breaks into a powerful song with dramatic melodies and excellent guitar work. On The Talisman, The Man Who Would be King, and When The Wild Wind Blows, the quiet build-up technique becomes somewhat formulaic, which I suppose could be a weakness, but when I sat down to listen to the entire album, I didn't really notice because of how well each song flows into the next.
It's not a perfect record, and some of the praise thrown its way is a little exaggerated. Certain sections of the album are hard to follow and take multiple listens to really appreciate. I would have preferred some more short, direct/driving songs, as I've always liked the straightforward sound of the first few albums over much of their later work.
Anyway, the point is: Iron Maiden has taken their sharp musicianship, experience, and creativity to put together a genuinely enjoyable listen with The Final Frontier. I give it a solid 7 out of 10. Maybe a .5 bonus for how cool Eddie looks on the cover. (look at those jaws!)
Favorite Songs: El Dorado, The Alchemist, Isle of Avalon, and The Talisman