An Iron Soul part 2: Maiden’s “The book of souls” continued

In stark contrast to the atmospheric “If eternity should fail”, disc 2 begins with the intense and galloping “Death or Glory” which follows in the footsteps of “Aces High” as it tells the story of WWI tri-planes. The guitar really complements this concept as the riff seems to climb before falling back down to earth and rushes Dickinson’s well composed lyrics to give the impression of dog fighting. Through all this is Harris’ customary bass line which really gives the song a truly Maiden feel.

Reprising the opening from 1986’s “Wasted Years” is “Shadow of the Valley” a reasonably safe song which struggles to stick in my mind Beyond the first 30 seconds. In many ways it reminds me of 2010’s “Isle of Avalon” but fails to reach any of the same heights and doesn’t really distinguish itself from the rest of the album.

Dedicated to the memory of Robin Williams, “Tears of a Clown” is a powerful and well written reminder about the dangers of depression. To start the guitar seems to halt mind riff as the energy wants to build it stops and is concluded by Nicko’s drums which remain noticeable throughout the song. It is however Dickinson’s vocals carried by the rhythmic bass that makes the track. Not only are they clear and easy to follow but from personal experience they made me reject on aspects of my own minor struggles with depression. It is a fitting tribute to actor who gave everyone years of laughter and whose personal struggles went unnoticed through the public façade, perhaps giving us a final lesson to look beyond the surface.

“The Man of Sorrows” has a bit more of a stripped back and raw sound reminiscent of the bands earlier work but at a noticeably slower pace. Dickinson’s operatic vocal style is in full effect with different length notes dominating the song before the guitar solo adds a little more intensity. Like, ” Shadows of the Valley” this track fails to really distinguish itself however it is reasonable entertaining if not memorable and provides a moment to take a breath before the grand finally.

The album’s triumph and possibly the bands magnum opus “Empire of the clouds” doesn’t sound anything like an Iron Maiden song. Opening with Dickinson on Piano and building a layered orchestral melody the song foreshadows the tragic events of the history it is about to tell while also symbolising the beauty of the havens. As the song develops the music begins to tell the story alongside the lyrics as Nicko’s military drums softly allude to the idea of Empire and the Airships own roots while the melody of the piano is gradually taken over by the mimicking guitar as it builds towards its final flight. The well composed lyrics with their multiple meanings like the obvious reference to the our father, in the  ‘kingdom yet to come’ while alluding to the notion of an Empire united by Air travel symbolised by the title, to the imagery of the ‘silver ghost’ make this one of Maiden’s most finely crafted tracks. This well constructed build up changes with the approaching storm as guitar’s quicken their pace begin to drive the Airship towards France this instrumental movement forms the basis for the songs outstanding solos before giving way to the turbulent description of the tragedy. This raising torrent resolves itself with the crash and the piano returns with its sombre tones and bury the ‘Empire of the Clouds’ along with the 48 victims of the tragedy.

Maiden’s longest ever track at 18 minutes carries ever second better than other songs of similar length like In – The – Gadda – Da- Vida and is their purest example of storytelling. After multiple listens I can recognise why Steve Harris labelled the song a masterpiece as it has distinct movements, multiple layers and elements of a classical overture as the music itself inspires listeners to imagine scenes and moods. Personally, I can’t help but put “Empire of the Clouds” up their with “Rime of the Ancient Marnier” as the best epics produced by the band over their 40 year history.

Maiden have their own ‘Empire of the Clouds’ as they take the new Ed Force One across the continents in 2016

The album as a whole is simply brilliant with variations in pace and melody Maiden is able to combine their established sound with new elements. At 92 minutes it might be an exercise in endurance for some but as someone who has easily spent hours in the last few weeks listening to their back catalogue non-stop this isn’t a problem. Even so the divide between discs makes “The book of souls” work as two separate albums of more manageable length. While not every song reaches the same heights the album delivers  two clear standouts  that sit amongst the bands best work, “The Red and the Black” and “Empire of the Clouds” makes it arguebly their most complete effort since “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” in 1988 but for me it is a toss up with “The Final Frontier”.

4.5/5 Eddies

Up the Irons!!

Check out the first half of my review here.


About jgbarry

A teacher, poet, novelist and causal tech guru I am always keen to share my thoughts. A firm believer in critical thinking I rarely rush a decision without any research and once made my mind is primed for a good debate.

Posted on September 10, 2015, in Music, Reviews, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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