On September 4, 2015, "Iron Maiden" released their 16th album - "The Book of Souls".
What was not said about this album? A grandiose, bombastic, most ambitious, the first double album of "Iron Maiden"'s career, It is all right! But if you peel the layers from each song one by one, you will find that it is not much different from what the band has done in recent years. Here you will find biting and kicking tracks reminiscent of "Be Quick or Be Dead", sweeping, "bold" and "brave" moments that will correspond with "Brave New World", dark and gloomy songs in the atmosphere of "The X Factor" and of course epic and grandiose works in the magnitude of "Rime of the Ancient Mariner ".
At the time "The Book of Souls" came out, it was the largest gap from any other two "Iron Maiden"'s albums (it was released 5 years after "The Final Frontier"), many believe the band worked on it for a very long time due to its length or Bruce Dickinson's cancerous tumor. But this is not the case! Although this album is the band's longest album, with no less than 92 minutes of music, although it includes the band's longest track ever, which spans over 18 minutes, this album is one of the quickest to be written and recorded. The album was ready for release as early as the end of 2014 and was fully recorded before singer Bruce Dickinson was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his throat. The release of the album was delayed from December 2014 to September 2015 just to allow Bruce to recover from the tumor removal.
The reason for such a long and grandiose album to be written and recorded in such a short time (about three months) is probably due to the different working methods that the band has adapted this time. Unlike previous albums, this time the band members wrote the songs in the studio, rehearsed them, and recorded them on the spot, spontaneously and with as few repetitions and corrections as possible. This method of working also gave most of the songs a sense of "live recording". This is also probably the reason that this album came out so long. Dickinson noted that after they finished working on 6 songs he turned to Steve Harris and told him that if they did not stop now it would become a double album. Eventually, the band members agreed that each song is an integral part of the album and if it has to be a double album, then that's what it will be!
The grandiosity of the album can be felt right from the first track. "If Eternity Should Fail" is a long and complex track that crosses the 8-minute bar, whose style and character match the epic creations that usually seal the band's albums and do not open them. This song was intended for the solo album of Bruce Dickinson who began writing it along with guitarist and producer Roy Z, who accompanied him on his solo career. The keyboards roles that accompany the song were written by him in Roy Z.'s bedroom. Bruce noted that the band took his demo and worked on it.
Immediately after that comes the fast and edgy "Speed of Light" written by Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith and completes a sequence of two songs that Bruce is involved in writing straight at the opening of the album. It hasn’t happened since “Powerslave” and it says a lot about Dickinson’s unusual dominance on this album, which we’ll continue to write about later. In its atmosphere, the song reminds us of "Be Quick or Be Dead" from the album "Fear Of The Dark". It is also the first single released from the album that was accompanied by a spectacular video clip, which is a kind of homage to four decades of gaming and video games. Adrian Smith noted that this song is the result of his rediscovery of the pentatonic scale. He started playing with it and making different variations on it on his guitar and the result is reflected in the song. Bruce noted that this song is a kind of tribute to Deep Purple, a band that all the band members really like. He said that when he heard the riff it immediately remind him of Deep Purple's "Burn" and then he said to Adrian, let's put in also a scream in the style of Ian Gillan, right at the beginning of the song.
We slow down a bit with "The Great Unknown" which is similar to the opening song "If Eternity Should Fail" and corresponds with themes like good and evil, life and death, both of which could fit like a glove in the album "A Matter of Life and Death". Musically the song begins in a relaxed atmosphere that is quickly broken by a "circle of violence". In this way, the first verse opens in calm and quiet, before erupting with a heavy sound in subsequent verses, literally reflecting the calm and peaceful world that gives way to a violent and evil one. By the words "The Great Unknown" Steve Harris and Adrian Smith refer to death and they describe how violence distorts the good qualities and allows death to flourish and give birth to more death.
"The Red and the Black" was written by Steve Harris and it opens with his chord passages on bass guitar, until the entry that takes us, in terms of melody and rhythm, directly to 1984, into the arms of the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner". This piece spans over 13 minutes but at the same time is one of the melodic and catchy tracks on the album. It turns out that the words Harris wrote were not simple for Bruce Dickinson to sing. Harris said that Bruce told him that he could not sing those words and that he did not understand how difficult it was sometimes for a singer to sing a certain sequence of words that did not really roll over the tongue. Harris noted that Bruce is such a great singer and he told him that he was sure he would nail it, as so he did.
We move on to the fifth song "When the River Runs Deep" which can easily burn your car clutch. It ranges from fast-moving verses to slower bridges and choruses, in a way that will exhaust your gearbox. But do not worry, sometimes what is unhealthy for your car is actually great for your body because this song is just perfect for running with measured rest between sprints.
The theme song "The Book of Souls" ends the first album epically. What a beautiful opening with the keyboards and acoustic guitar and what a classic "immediate" entrance. The keyboards that simulate strings add to the "Kashmir" oriental atmosphere of the song. Bruce's singing is inspiring. Despite his effort to touch the high notes (probably also due to the cancerous tumor he faced while recording the album), he repeatedly proves why he deserves the name "The Air-Raid Siren". Lyrically the theme song corresponds with Eddie's character on the album cover, which draws from the Mayan culture, which believes that souls live forever, even after death. In order to test the authenticity of the image on the album cover, the band hired "Mayanist" scholar Simon Martin, who also translated the song titles into hieroglyphics. Although this is not a concept album, the reference to souls and life after death exists throughout. Steve Harris who co-wrote the song with guitarist Janick Gers explained to "Classic Rock" magazine that the song came from the Mayan culture of South America that intrigued him in the same way he was interested in ancient Egypt with the album "Powerslave". The Mayans believed in the "Underworld" and were afraid of losing their souls and this mystical element was the key to the song. Harris also admitted that the flowing and fast riff is quite similar to the "Losfer Words" excerpt from "Powerslave" even though unlike the previous riff this time Janick Gers wrote it.
The second album opened in a storm with the fast-paced "Death or Glory" written by Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith. This is one of the shortest songs on the album with a simple melody throughout the verses and an amazing tune in the bridge section. It must be said that for some reason the guitar work here reminded us in some way of "Thin Lizzy".
"Shadows of the Valley" is a great song that gets a little lost in the musical abundance that this album has to offer and which could easily have been a hit, just in case it was part of one of the band's albums from the nineties for example. The triple-guitar work in this song is noteworthy, especially the spectacular solos given here by all three members: Janick Gers, Adrian Smith, and Dave Murray. The keyboards that accompany Bruce Dickinson's vocals throughout the song add a lot to the song's unique sound.
"Tears of a Clown" written by Smith and Harris is one of the most beautiful gestures of "Iron Maiden" in its entire glorious career. The melancholy song was written about the depression and suicide of actor Robin Williams in 2014. The lyrics are a kind of farewell to the band members from him and are probably the best that was written for the album. It is a simple song, but at the same time very intimate and moving.
We continue with the melancholy atmosphere with the bluesy solo which opens "The Man of Sorrows", which sounds to us like it was taken from a ballad of "Scorpions". The guitar work of Dave Murray, who also co-wrote the song with Harris, especially his Legato technique, is simply perfect and unprecedented. His playing also determines the general atmosphere of this melancholy song, which is a direct continuation of the previous one, both musically and lyrically, and is the corridor that will accompany us towards the epic end of the album. This is the place to sort out that this song has nothing to do with the song of the same title from Bruce's solo career, from the 1997 album "Accident of Birth".
The highlight of this album is the amazing work that completes it. "Empire of the Clouds" is a wild 18-minute piece written exclusively by Bruce Dickinson. The song in which Dickinson also plays the piano for the first time, tells the story of the British airship "R101", which crashed in northern France on October 5, 1930, during its maiden flight. During the recording, Dickinson read the crash report of the R101 and it gave him the idea for the song. He composed the piece on Steinway's grand piano in the studio, inside a soundproof glass box, during the breaks the band took during the recording sessions. According to Adrian Smith, Dickinson worked on the song for about a month on his own and it was a big challenge for the rest of the band members who later had to learn it and follow Dickinson's piano, just from the instructions he gave them along with producer Kevin Shirley. Nicko McBrain is experimenting with a variety of percussions, including a gong to recreate the airship crash.