Ginger Nuts of Horror
It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I consider the first seven Iron Maiden albums to be perfect. Entirely perfect. Not a single misstep among them. There are more than a few missteps in No Prayer, Fear of the Dark, and Virtual XI, but generally speaking I am pretty forgiving of Iron Maiden. Albums like The X Factor and A Matter of Life and Death have their detractors but I defend them unwaveringly. It must be said, however, that a person can notice a difference in overall quality between the Maiden of old and the band we have today.
That is, until now....
Iron Maiden's newest album, The Book of Souls, is perfect. A masterpiece of epic proportions. It represents the best possible music that the band could produce today. I really believe that it could not be any better than it is. It is a phenomenally complex and mature album from a group of musicians in full command of their respective instruments. Bruce's voice has changed. That is undeniable. However, where other vocalists like Rob Halford and Chris Cornell strain to pretend nothing has changed, Dickinson knows and embraces the change. If anything, he sounds even more in command and more confident than before.
I digress. This isn't an album review. If you want one of those, you can find several. When this album was released, everyone who is anyone in relation to the metal genre was talking about THIS album. Besides, there isn't much of anything I could say to help you understand how good this music is. You need to hear it. You need to feel it rattle your bones. You need to let it inside your mind.
No, I won't be reviewing the music.
I'll be reviewing myself and I'll be reviewing you too.
You come here, reader, because you already possess an opinion of Iron Maiden. Iron Maiden, heavy metal, rock music, religion, culture, politics, sex. You have an opinion about all of these things and more and maybe they are relevant here and maybe they aren't. But they play a role. You have opinions on these things and so do I.
And these things matter.
They matter because we have a relationship, you and I. I don't know you and you could be from literally anywhere at any time. I could be alive or dead, happy or sad, sick or well, at the time you create our relationship. After all, you are the creator. We need not get bogged down in discussions of who came first – writer or reader. The fact remains that the two-way street that is our relationship begins the moment you navigate to this page. (It probably ends the moment you get to this sentence, as you go about your day wondering what the hell I was going on about, but I digress again. We have a relationship, after all, and so I won't talk to you like I don't care. You'll instead be privy to all the boring trivialities – the digressions inside digressions inside digressions – that all of my closest friends and family members get when they communicate with me.)
I say a two-way relationship but I haven't been quite honest about that. Sure information flows between you and I. I'm sure that if you wanted, you could get in touch with me and tell me just how stupid my writings are. Really, though, there's another player in this here game. The Outside. You can think of it as the world, the Internet, God, whatever you want to say is influencing us before we even begin to discuss Iron Maiden and their newest album. There is a direct flow from The Outside to me, The Outside to you, and between you and me. It won't do, then, to ignore this mutual connection of ours. It's there and it matters. It enabled us, and will continue to enable us forever, to have this relationship. We are dependent on The Outside. We – you and I, this two-way street – can't breathe without it. However you view The Outside – whatever your socioeconomic, cultural, political, or religious background – the capital 'W' We die without it.
So let us allow music to be our guide here. Your garden variety reviewer can't do that. They don't know how. The guy with the fake clothes and fake hair on television can't do that. He doesn't know how. They let all that trivial crap of The Outside get in the way whenever they talk about anything because they want to wrestle control that they don't and can't have. No, reader, we're dealing with great music here by great musicians, so let's deal with the music and forget The Outside for just a minute, okay? I'll let you return to it soon.
A New Iron Maiden album is a cause for celebration whenever it happens. You hope that when you actually get the music, it is as good as you want it to be. For me, when The Final Frontier dropped, that didn't happen. I have tried and tried again to appreciate the album and I can't. It manages to be something that Maiden has never been before: boring. Even albums I don't care for like No Prayer For The Dying still have ideas and substance. For me, Final Frontier just fell flat.
So, when The Book of Souls was announced, I was nervous. Excited still because IRON MAIDEN(!!!) but nervous. I don't want to see Iron Maiden become a shadow of their former selves like so many classic bands have. I'm looking at you, Priest.
I'm not going to tell you what I discovered. I already have. I'm not going to insult you like that. Go read someone on Amazon or MetalSucks if you want to be insulted. Go buy the album. Make your own decisions.
What I will tell you is that you need to slow down when you get this album. This isn't Killers. It isn't even Number of the Beast. It's more purposeful than that. Maiden know how to make ALBUMS. They're not an iTunes band. They're a looking at the album artwork, reading lyrics, trying to take in as much information as you can while you listen band. Take a moment to look at what you've got here:
Two albums. It's one, sure, but it's in two parts. A double album. Think of it like that. The first one begins and then it ends with the title track. It favors mostly mid-length to long tracks with a couple of rockers mixed in (“Speed of Light”). The second part is all about leading to the epic “Empire of Clouds” which finishes the album. 18 minutes. With a piano. Iron Maiden and a piano. It's amazing.
I could tell you the ten thousand things that this album has going for it. The little things that you won't hear about in a review because most reviewers don't actually listen to music, they listen to themselves think and talk. But why would I take that away from you? Why wouldn't I let you discover the ten thousand things for yourself?
This isn't an album and Iron Maiden isn't a band. To paraphrase Rob Zombie (who was actually talking about another band that is not a band, the Gimmick of All Gimmicks, Slayer), I never heard anyone talk about how they were really into Iron Maiden that one summer. Iron Maiden is a band that becomes a part of your world. They represent the ultimate rarity in our consumerist age – integrity.
And as such, they and their music deserves your respect. Forget the plane piloted by the vocalist when the band goes on tour. Forget the overpriced Maiden merchandise, the crappy beer. None of that matters. What matters is you and the lifelong dialogue, the relationship between you and the music.
Up the Irons.
CT McNeely is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in such places as Thuglit, Beat to a Pulp, Monster! and Fist of B List. He lives in the greatest city on Earth -- New Orleans, LA -- with his perfect wife and their mighty children.