By David Peek
photo by: Mike Coatesworth Say the words ‘When I’m walking a dark road, I am the man who walks alone’ to anyone with a refined palate regarding rock, and watch their eyes glaze blissfully over as they think upon one of the quintessential metal bands of all time, Iron Maiden. After 30 years of existence, a staggering eighty million record sales and fifteen studio recorded albums, Iron Maiden cannot be denied as being one of the most evolutionary and explosive metal bands to have ever existed. For a band whose average age is fifty four, these men can still rock- hard, with their new album The Final Frontier, in a Classic Rock Magazine review fans are promises that they will ‘adore ever last second’ of it. Iron Maiden albums are decidedly atmospheric, and The Final Frontier does not depart from this norm, beginning the album with the near nine minute apocalyptic epic; Satellite 15’The Final Frontier. This is one of the most experimental of Maiden’s songs to date and if it were not for Bruce Dickinson’s strong and distinctive vocals, one could quite easily mistake it for another band, such as Metallica, or even at a stretch, Muse. El Dorado, the first track released as a single before the album’s official launch, conforms far more to the typical eighties sound of Maiden. A galloping bass line is provided by Steve Harris, with one particularly tasty bass solo towards the end of the song. This song simply oozes the power of Maiden, the typically upbeat Maiden style masking surprisingly dark lyrics ‘I’m the jester with no tears, And I’m playing on your fears’ The next track Mother Of Mercy could quite easily have been lifted straight from the album Number Of The Beast, because of the brutality and raw force behind the guitar work. Nico Bell, on drums, and Steve Harris on bass guitar manage to keep a thoroughly Maidenesque feel to the song- the only difference being the fact that Dickinson’s vocal work is far more pronounced that in any album to date Coming Home, the next track is one of the weaker tracks on the album; one could go so far as to even call the track lackluster. Certain elements of this song, even the guitar solo towards the end, have disturbing similarities to the power metal band Dragon Force and the whole song feels decidedly without substance and unlike the rich and sturdy songs of their past. The song The Alchemist follows on in this disconcerting trend, even Dickinson’s usually strong voice sounds weak, and the guitar, bass and drum work lacks the organization and punch that has made Maiden have such an impact before.
Beginning with Isle Of Avalon, the next song on Final Frontier, the song lengths become untypically long, Isle Of Avalon being a mighty nine minutes. Isle Of Avalon is certainly one of the more powerful and recognizable of the songs on the album, with a build up at the start of the song is intensely atmospheric, and Dickinson’s vocals- oddly subdued- assist this perfectly. This song, as well as the guitar solo by Adrian Smith have echoes of one of the band’s most famous albums, Fear Of The Dark. This song is one of the more experimental songs on the album with regard to the chorus, which manages to hold the sturdiness of Maiden, whilst incorporating a oddly tender vocal line into it.
Starblind is another song from The Final Frontier that is decidedly different to any of Maiden’s prior work. It incorporates a far less intense bass line and instead focuses on technical and emotive guitar work with Dickinson’s vocals providing a harmonious and gut punching effect.
The Talisman, another nine minute epic, utilizes the vocal abilities of Dickinson to the absolute maximum. It distinctively echoes Maiden’s Powerslave album with regard to Dickinson’s mighty vocal work, and the focus on speed work with regard to the instrumentals, especially the drum and bass work.
The Man Who Would Be King is another of the songs on The Final Frontier that sounds instrumentally very different to Maiden’s prior work. At around the halfway mark of the song, there is a lingering and eerie instrumental segment which is oddly akin to a Dire Straits song, but which somehow integrates perfectly into the song.When The Wild Wind Blows, at around eleven minutes, is the longest track on album, and by far the most effective. The eerie introduction, which includes the blowing of wind, a work of pure genius as it seamlessly integrates into the rest of the song. Dickinson gives the perfect vocal score to the song, reverting to a far more traditional vocal style to the rest of the album. The rhythmic guitar work is absolutely stunning and effective, with an amazing instrumental piece at around the four and a half minute mark of the song. This is by far the best song on the album and it will surely be remembered by fans as one of the all time Maiden greats.
The Final Frontier has very different aspects incorporated into it to other Iron Maiden albums. For example, Dickinson’s vocal work is used far more than in previous albums. The album on the whole, aside from one or two comparatively flimsy songs, is very solid and capable of being ranked among their classic albums in terms of quality. From a diehard fan’s perspective, The Final Frontier will almost surely receive much praise, but the one major complaint that I have is that newcomers to the band may be intimidated by the lack of consistency throughout the album, and the changes in style throughout if they have no prior experience of the band’s past work. On the whole, though, The Final Frontier is a solid and well finished album with some works of pure genius incorporated into it, and the band deserves much praise for managing to keep the spirit and pace of Maiden alive, even after a good thirty years of existence.