A new Iron Maiden album. In the eighties that meant weeks of anticipation, and a near religious experience when I finally put the album on the turntable. Iron Maiden was synonymous to heavy metal as far as I was concerned.

Those days are long gone unfortunately. Maiden toppled from their peak through a succession of ever more mediocre or downright appalling albums.

This new album is touted as a step in a more progressive direction. The same was said about the atrocious A Matter Of Life And Death, so it was with trepidation I approached this newest epic.
I’m glad to report that this time they’ve taken the progressive approach and made it stick.
Instead of the endless intros (even if there’s still a more than healthy helping of them) and ad nauseam repetition that have marred most Maiden albums since Brave New World, the band offers up more intricate song structures and some more complex ideas.

Title track “The Final Frontier” is a typical 21st century Maiden track. Including a chorus that is little more than repeating the title…“El Dorado” reminds me of the Powerslave era for some reason.
“Mother Of Mercy” has Bruce straining in the chorus, but is a very well crafted song that builds to a nice climax. “Coming Home” sees the band branching out even more. An epic track with Bruce in fine form. Call me crazy, but “The Alchemist” has a whiff of “Spotlight Kid” about it. “Isle Of Avalon” is as epic as the title would have you believe. “Starblind” is a good example of the more proggy tendencies. A complex rhythm and no discernible chorus add up to a refreshing tune that brings something new to the Maiden catalog. By the time we reach “The Talisman” I’ve had my fill of intros. A more immediate song would have helped break up the monotony, which does begin to rear its head around this point. Once the song gets going things take a turn for the better. “The Man Who Would Be King” is a killer track where all the elements come together to near perfection. A track too many? “Where The Wild Wind Blows” offers yet another lengthy intro and may well be the least convincing track of the album. It’s not bad in itself, but it’s one in a series of three fairly similar tracks.

Yes, another case of me bitching about an album being too long. Without “The Talisman” and “When The Wild Wind Blows” or even one of them this would have been a more balanced album.
There are moments where Bruce doesn’t really sound like Bruce at all. A bit disconcerting. A major plus for this album is the fact that the guitarists finally seem to have found the right balance. Who knows, maybe the three guitar lineup will make some sense after all. There’s lots of small fills left and right that add welcome detail and tension to most of the tunes. Even Gers seemed inspired and has put in his best playing on a Maiden album yet. Which isn’t saying much, but it’s actually pretty good. He’s still no Adrian Smith or Dave Murray though. Nicko McBrain is on a roll as well, lots of fills, rolls and little embellishments. Steve Harris is Steve Harris. Production was once again in the hands of Kevin Shirley. I’ll remain polite and say I preferred Martin Birch…

This is their first album in twenty years I’ve truly enjoyed. Even with most songs clocking in at over 7 minutes there are few dead spots and really no cause for boredom, even if it gets a bit samey towards the end. It has restored my belief in Maiden and the human race.
Hot Spots : The Alchemist, Starblind, The Man Who Would Be King
Rating : 89% 
Review by Stranger In A Belgian Land Sancho.


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