Iron Maiden – ‘The Book Of Souls’

Through health issues and bereavement, the metal titans return with a triumphant double album

When the world has fallen and you stand alone”, wails Bruce Dickinson staring into the apocalypse at the end of ‘The Great Unknown’. Governments will fall and the earth will swallow the sea, but Iron Maiden will somehow remain untempered, impermeable to the whims of fashion or outside influence. Well, sort of.

It’s five years since ‘The Final Frontier’, an unprecedented interregnum caused by circumstances beyond anyone’s control. The Irons’ perceived indestructibility was tested when news broke in May that Dickinson had been treated for mouth cancer. A trooper as always, Bruce Almighty roared through the pain before checking himself into a Paris hospital once recording was completed. The derring-do polymath appears to be on the mend again thankfully, while Iron Maiden have collectively outdone themselves with a mighty double album – a career first. Irrespective of health issues, ‘The Book Of Souls’ is a 92-minute intrepid juggernaut of a record, that laughs in the face of tribulation.

The words ‘double album’ – often the creative death knell and signifier of a shark jumped – are anything but here. ‘…Souls’ is a sinewy beast, abundant with creativity, and while it ostensibly sounds like most other Maiden albums, there are subtle – or not so subtle – differences. Founding bassist Steve Harris, writer of so many anthems, was forced to take a backseat due to bereavement; his trademark hooks are still present – how could they not be? – but the responsibility has been evenly distributed, giving rise to freshness and vitality (and an inadvertent stolen riff from The Smiths’ ‘Nowhere Fast’ on ‘When The River Runs Deep’).

The pièce-de-résistance is ‘Empire of the Clouds’, an 18-minute prog finalé written by Bruce Dickinson at the piano (think ‘November Rain’, plus many more months of drizzle besides). It’s not quite as wonderful as their previous longest – 1984’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ – but then what is? Not to be outdone, Harris delivers one of his career best in ‘Tears Of A Clown’, about the death of Robin Williams. The devil might reckon he has all the best tunes, but it’s a hollow claim when Iron Maiden are in town.

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