Narendra Kusnur's music musings …


Album: The Book of Souls

Singer: Iron Maiden

Genre: Heavy metal

Label: Sony Music/ Parlophone

Price: Rs 599 (double album)

Rating: ****

A PIONEER of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Iron Maiden has been one of the world’s most worshipped rock bands since its initial success in the early 1980s. Even though they followed a similar formula all through, albums like ‘The Number of the Beast’, ‘Piece of Mind’, ‘Powerslave’, ‘Somewhere in Time’, ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Sojourn’, ‘Fear of the Dark’ and ‘Brave New World’ have had millions of followers.

The group’s 16th studio album ‘The Book of Souls’ comes after vocalist Bruce Dickinson was recovering from a tumour surgery. It’s their first studio double album, and is filled with lengthy songs, often over 10 minutes in duration. References to mortality, spirits and the soul give it the classic Maiden flavour.

The sound isn’t too different from most of what one has heard before. There are similar high pitched vocals, hard-rocking riffs, cracking guitar solos and pounding drum patterns. While Dickinson is in full vocal form, the guitar trio of Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers provide plenty of flourish. Steve Hassis on bass and keyboards, and Nicko McBrain on drums complete the line-up.

What works in the album’s favour is the fact that some of the songs are simply outstanding. The highlight is the epic 18-minute Dickinson composition ‘The Empire of the Clouds’, based on a 1930 airship crash. The longest Maiden song ever, it is reminiscent of the 1984 classic ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, with its changing structures and grand sound. Slightly dramatic, slightly cinematic and totally Brit heavy metal, it stands out.

Another gem comes in ‘The Red and the Black’, a Harris composition boasting of an infectious tune, powerhouse drumming, some wild solos, a trademark ‘whoa-oh’ bridge and lines like “The morals of life and the perils of death, take the wrong way out running out of breath; Meet my match in the afterlife, suppress the demons that plague the night.” It’s similar to the old hit ‘Flight of the Icarus’, but so what?

‘Tears of a Clown’, dedicated to actor Robin Williams, is a sort-of melancholic track that doesn’t quite follow the formula. Dickinson is in amazing nick here, as he begins with the very appropriate dedicatory lines, “All alone in a crowded room, he tries to force a smile, the smile it beamed or so it seemed; But never reached the eyes, disguise masquerading, as the funny man do they despise.”

The other goodies include the theatrical, synth-driven title song, the straight-rocking debut single ‘Speed of Light’, the bass-driven sing-along piece ‘Death or Glory’ and the marvelous power ballad ‘The Man of Sorrows’. While numbers like ‘Shadows of the Valley’, ‘The Great Unknown’ and ‘When the River Runs Deep’ have the typical vocal structures and guitar licks, the album’s only weak point is the opener ‘If Eternity Should Fail’, which is too predictable.

Despite being over 90 minutes in length, ‘The Book of Souls’ impresses with not only its energy but also with numbers that edge on the theatrical. One may not compare it with the 1980s classics, but as against later albums like ‘Dance of Death’ and ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, it has more versatility and polish. All in all, another treat for the ‘Irons’.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding


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