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Iron Maiden “The Final Frontier” Review

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The Final Frontier is Iron Maiden‘s 15th album, and one that initially brought with it rumblings that it would be the legendary band’s swan song. After all, it is called The Final Frontier and founding member and bassist Steve Harris has put 15 albums on the board as the predetermined lifespan of the group. In recent interviews Harris has scoffed at the unofficial marker though, subsequently adding a cheeky exclamation point to an album that has been eagerly awaited since the release of Maiden’s last studio album, 2006′s A Matter of Life and Death. And without much of a shock the opening track looks back, touching on a sound that is sure to please old-school fans, though it’s likely to attract its share of curious looks along the way.

The introduction to the album comes in the form of a two-part track, “Satellite15/The Final Frontier”: the first half of the opener is strange song which sounds uncharacteristically hollow and—truth be told—wouldn’t harm the rest of the album had The Final Frontier bypassed it completely. As soon as “The Final Frontier” takes off, the opening riff connects in classic Maiden fashion, representing as a nod to the past as the band moves ahead into the future. Next comes the record’s lead single, “El Dorado,” which thematically follows a deceptive character’s narrative as the band chugs along behind Bruce Dickinson’s ever-youthful sounding vocals. Setting the tone for the album, the song’s solo does well in acting as a stunning interlude between the track’s chapters of dialog.

“Mother of Mercy” continues with a less frantic pace than the previous tracks, warming up as a lyrical portrait of a battlefield and its casualties is slowly painted. Nicko McBrain steps in with a rumbling beat before the band follows suit and chimes in with an oh-so-familiar rhythm. Later, following the song’s solo, Dickinson further solidifies the focus of the track, “Rivers flow with blood, there’s nowhere left to hide/It’s hard to comprehend there’s anyone left alive/Sick of all the killing and the reek of death/Well, God, tell me what religion is to man?” A relative-ballad in comparison to much of the album, “Coming Home” follows, including one of the record’s most technically impressive solos while lyrically focusing on an ever-present longing for Albion (Great Britain), “Coming home when I see the runway lights/In the misty dawn of the night is fading fast/Coming home, far away as their vapor trails alight/Where I’ve been tonight, you know I will not stay.” “The Alchemist” revs the pace back up as a story is told of John Dee and his trials with the “strange alchemy” of Edward Kelley.

It’s at this point in time where the band begins to take liberties with the attention span of the listener: Each of the following five songs run roughly eight to eleven minutes in length—to date, The Final Frontier is actually the longest studio album in Iron Maiden’s catalog. “Isle of Avalon” features an extended dialog between guitarists which is gorgeously revisited with the tandem guitar pieces in “The Man Who Would Be King.” The gritty guitars of “Starblind” and the slow-boiling intensity of “The Talisman” fall in the middle of the two aforementioned songs, but as much as the band might push things when it comes to the length of the tracks, they never really toy with useless experimentation or include much—if any—aural waste; everything is in order and plays out accordingly. “When The Wild Wind Blows” concludes the album with its characters preparing for some sort of end-times, an Armageddon which is subsequently manipulated by a mass media set on confusing a nation’s citizens with misdirection. “There will be a catastrophe the like we’ve never seen/There will be something that will light the sky/That the world as we know it, it will never be the same/Did you know, did you know? As the band winds down and softly plays Dickinson out, a swirling wind howls in the distance and the album fades to black.

How many bands can you name, just off the top of your head, who have long-since outlived their expiration date? And how many of rock’s greatest names continue to play on, cashing in their legacies for another “farewell” tour, or even worse, ridiculously sub par studio albums that are no sooner released than they are forgotten? Here we are, some 35 years after Iron Maiden began creating a legacy which the band never set out to make for itself, and the group sounds as tight and energetic as it ever has. Not only that, but Iron Maiden is making music that is—shocking for a band of its age—honestly relevant in the grand scheme its genre; if you were to take away Maiden at this point in time, the band would leave a hole in today’s metal scene, not just the metal scene in general. The Final Frontier is a substantial statement backing up that sentiment, though in all honesty, by this point in time they never really needed one.