Richard V. : The moment the details of the new album Iron Maiden were published, many held their breath. Only one song with a duration of less than five minutes and three songs with a playing time of more than ten minutes. Since 'To Tame A Land', 'Alexander The Great' and of course 'Rime Of The Ancient Mariner' long epic songs are a tradition for Iron Maiden, but on 'A Matter Of Life And Death' and 'The Final Frontier' long playing times were almost a synonym for boredom. The fear of long boring intros and slow songs without venom, turns out unfounded this time because 'The Book Of Souls' is quite a fascinating album. Another positive point is that after some hideous covers the artwork is top notch. Eddie as a Maya Indian will yield much more T-shirt sales than the monster on the cover of 'The Final Frontier. "
'If Eternity Should Fail' opens quietly and gradually grows into a mid-tempo song like Maiden has been playing for decades. Only when the guitar solos start the song becomes really interesting, a phenomenon which happens often on this album. The single 'Speed Of Light' is built upon a good riff and has a somewhat snappier pace. The composition reminds us of the 'Piece Of Mind' era though the production is less tight. 'The Great Unknown' follows the pattern of the opening track and slows things down again. Again, the instrumental part is better than the choruses. Dickinson still sings well, but no longer has the power of thirty years ago. He is forgiven, we are all getting older and not everyone simply is blessed to the finish with a voice like the late Ronnie James Dio. ‘The Red And The Black’ is one of the true highlights of the album. The song whose title probably comes from the book by Stendhal, recalls memories of the band who wrote ‘Genghis Khan’ both at the beginning and the end. This Harris composition actually consists of two parts; the initial part is very reminiscent of the ‘Somewhere in Time’ period, including a reprise of the choirs, the second half is mainly instrumental and contains some dazzling guitar work. 'When The River Runs Deep’ for current Maiden a fast song and more rugged than the other material. As with the previous and all subsequent numbers it is unclear who is playing what solo. The playing styles of Murray, Smith and Gers are so much alike that there really is no contrast. The solos therefore suffer under the yoke of uniformity. The title track of 'The Book Of Souls' is a gem; atmospheric acoustic guitar work, memorable hook, good vocals, tasty solos. It would not surprise me if this number will become a classic.
'Death Or Glory’ is a relatively short number and could have come from the ‘Powerslave’ album. The number ensures an energetic start to CD 2. The intro of 'Shadows Of The Valley' is a blatant copy of 'Wasted Years'. The song is not, but contains many typical Maiden features such as repeating arpeggios and vocals. The lyric is pretty weak and contains quite a few clichés. Better is 'Tears Of A Clown’ about Robin Williams, the comedian who committed suicide. The lyric digs deeper than most other lyrics. Comedians often struggle with psychological problems and show the outside world another version of themselves. If everything is a joke, what holds value?
'The Man Of Sorrows’ comes from the two longest serving members Murray and Harris. It is one of the less successful compositions because it never really gets going and is simply too predictable. 'Empire Of The Clouds' was penned by Dickinson. That song title could only have come from the pilot that will fly the band to six continents during the band's world tour. The song lasts 18 minutes and is the longest the band ever recorded. Some parts could have been cut shorter, but the epic scope stands proudly. A true tour de force by Dickinson. For a band with such a long history in epic songs it does not carry enough surprises to overtake 'Rime Of The Ancient Mariner' as the Iron Maiden epic. Nevertheless, a perfect ending of a strong Maiden album.
'The Book Of Souls’ is Iron Maiden's best album since ‘Brave New World.’ The long playing time of 92 minutes passes quickly and the boredom that plagued the two previous albums is mostly absent. Still, the album could have been better if the songs had been somewhat shorter, the production a bit sharper and the guitar solos showed a bit more variety. Producer Kevin Shirley could have done something about the first two points of criticism. Unfortunately, Shirley is not known as a critical producer, but as hard-working, pragmatic partner. I am convinced that with Martin Birch at the helm it would have been better. Anyway, I cannot imagine that any Iron Maiden will be dissatisfied with this record. The status in the top three of popular metal bands has once again been secured for years to come.