Fifteenth studio offering from the British Metal veterans sees IRON MAIDEN record an album that sounds like nothing they have recorded previously and yet it still sounds like an IRON MAIDEN album although it does have its fair share of annoyances and irritations, ‘’The Final Frontier’’ is as bold an artistic statement the band has made since ‘’Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’’.
This album is by no means an easy listen; its length surpasses the hour mark by some distance. The continuing fixation with long songs telling epic tales of war and misery keeps in line with the three albums recorded since 2000; the move from being a stoic Heavy Metal band into a brooding Progressive Metal band is now utterly complete.
In delivering such a record as ‘’The Final Frontier’’ MAIDEN has pushed back their classic foot-on-the-monitor sound envelope as much as they are ever like to. The initial listen will most probably leave you scratching your head in wonder or dread. There’s just so much to take in.
Firstly the influence of Dickinson and Smith, back in the fold since 2000’s ‘’Brave New World’’ record is in full vogue with many of the songs having that slightly more Melodic feel to them. And none more so than the semi-ballad ‘’Coming Home’’ which like ‘’’Journeyman’’ from ‘’Dance Of Death’’ tugs on the heart strings, an obvious ode to both the band and fans. And yet it’s Bomber Harris who once again takes on the lion share of composing, he has a hand in each track and his bass gallop resounds throughout especially on the rampant ‘’The Alchemist’’.
Opening with the weird, static crackle of ‘’Satellite 15... ‘’the next four minutes or so is a swirling maelstrom of distorted guitar riffs, musical indifference and a somewhat reticent Bruce Dickinson, the then thump of the angular, sharp riff of ‘’The Final Frontier’’ introduces MAIDEN courting a traditional Hard Rock riff. The title track is perhaps the most straightforward of the songs on the album juxtaposed against the Progressive shenanigans around the corner , the lead download single ‘’El Dorado’’ leads off with another feint letting the riff build and build into something quite strange and very un-MAIDEN like. It doesn’t quite work does it?
The first of the epics ‘’Isle Of Avalon’’ does tend to drag like somthing left off from ‘’The X-Factor’’ era., ‘’Starblind’’ does the same a bit of pruning wouldn’t have gone amiss here too however it’s the final three songs that really set the standard for the album. ‘’The Talisman’’ has a Baroque renaissance feel to it with Dickinson lamenting before the Air Raid Siren lets loose his bellow, finally MAIDEN letting off some steam. ‘’The Man Who Would Be King’’ is an imperious body of Progressive work, moving the MAIDEN sound into a new realm of lights and shades, the vocals of Dickinson are supreme whilst the guitar tradeoffs between Murray, Smith and Gers are excellent and not forgetting the quite magnificent drumming by Nicko McBrain. Leaving us the last track the magnanimous ‘’When The Wild Wind Blows’’ based on the Raymond Briggs’ tale of nuclear desolation, for Harris to really pull out all the stops.
‘’The Final Frontier’’ is far from perfect, at times over long and ponderous, occasionally veering into boredom, some the poorest lyrics I’ve heard on a MAIDEN record are herein contained and whether Bruce agrees or not his voice isn’t what it used to be, he does tend to talk a bit more than sing sporadically but that takes little away from an album that has depth and a creative resonance that encapsulates much of the bands back catalogue but still looks very much to the future.
I reckon on this form there’s a couple of albums left in Eddie’s LP rack yet.
(Online September 13, 2010)