By Andrew Revord
It is difficult for any rock band to survive 30 years and 15 studio albums. It is even harder to remain relevant for that long. British metal band Iron Maiden easily accomplishes both, and continues to do so with their new album, “The Final Frontier”.
Like its space themed name and cover art, this album keeps up with the Maiden tradition of not just aiming high, but shooting for the stars.
Many artists will put out albums late in their careers that sound like mediocre rehashes of earlier works. Iron Maiden, on the other hand, has taken their three decades of knowledge to create something that is an excellent album in its own right. Maiden has aged, but it has aged gracefully.
Anyone who had difficulty with Maiden’s previous album, the highly progressive “A Matter of Life and Death,” will probably have a hard time with “Frontier,” or at least the first four tracks or so.
“Satellite 15…the Final Frontier” starts off with a bunch of space-y sound effects. These unnecessary additions don’t wreck the track’s beginning, but they don’t add anything to it. The song has less to do with space than it does with singer Bruce Dickinson looking back on his life.
As a song, there is nothing particularly bad about it, save for the fact that it is a little repetitive, but as a title track, it should have spent some more time in the cooker.
“El Dorado” has been circling around the internet for some time due to the fact that Maiden offered it as a free download on their website. Like a hot dog, this song’s components seem like they wouldn’t go well together, but turn into something enjoyable. Dickinson acts as much as he sings in this song; as opposed to making the experience overly cheesy, this acting adds to the song, especially the final verse. “Well you can say I’m a devil /And I wouldn’t say no/ But out here on the dark side/ Hey, on with the show”: The lyrics themselves are some of the better ones on the album, showcasing Iron Maiden’s legendary talent of storytelling.
The emotional “Mother of Mercy” is another one of the more progressive songs on the album, picking up steam early into the song. Like “Satelite 15” there is nothing wrong with this song, it just fails to be catchy.
“Coming Home” and “Starblind” are ballads, but they still manage to maintain a certain energy to it that keeps them from being filler. That being said, “Starblind” could have been shortened down to five or six minutes and still would have sounded at least as good as it does.
After “Coming Home,” the album really starts to pick up. Fans of early Metallica-style thrash metal (think “Kill ‘Em All”) will probably like the chunky, fast-paced rhythms of “The Alchemist.”
“Isle of Avalon” doesn’t try to overwhelm the listener immediately. In fact, it remains rather slow for several minutes. This seems like it would detract from the song, but it actually works in its favor, providing a solid buildup to Maiden’s signature gallop. This song tops off at just over nine minutes, but manages to remain interesting until the very end. From here on out, Maiden takes a lot of liberties with the attention spans of their listeners by and the lengths of the songs.
“The Talisman” is the story of someone leaving their homeland for a new world, perhaps America. It starts with a gentle acoustic intro and then the electric guitars come in. It almost sounds like “Mother of Mercy” at some parts.
“The Man Who Would Be King” commences with a gentle guitar solo backed up by an orchestra, and like “Isle of Avalon” and “The Talsiman,” it quickly breaks into the classic heavy Maiden sound. Unlike the previous songs, it then changes again into more progressive melody changes and an epic guitar solo section, and eventually coming to a rather abrupt end. This song, despite its length, is easily one of the highlights of the entire album. Just like “El Dorado,” this song is an unusual combination of sounds that, in the end, manage to make something awesome.
Maiden tops off their album with their longest track on it: “When the Wild Wind Blows,” which is a lengthy 11 minutes and one second. It starts off with a beautiful acoustic section for the first verse, where the lyrical rhythm follows the guitar melody. Maiden repeats this melody for the next verse, this time with their guitars plugged in and added power chords. The structure of the song changes, takes a solo break, and then returns. The song ends the same way it started, repeating the acoustic melody. The song tells the tragic story of a paranoid old couple who prepare themselves for a nuclear attack that never comes, eventually committing suicide. While this seems like in incredibly strange subject, this song is one of, if not the best written song on “The Final Frontier.”
Overall, “The Final Frontier” is a success. Maiden has refined and evolved their style, but at this album’s core is the same stuff that fans have always loved. The only real issue with “Frontier” is that it makes for an excellent 80-something minute album, but probably would have made an even better 50 or 60 minute album.
But going on longer than something is expected to last is not a concept that is foreign to Iron Maiden. With three epic decades and yet another great album under their belts, they show no signs of stopping. Up the Irons!