The grandest and most epic statement they have made in their career

Iron Maiden have never shied away from audacity so it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise that their sixteenth album would turn out to be the grandest and most epic statement they have made in their long and storied career. The Book of Souls may not be deliberately conceptual but there are certainly common themes weaving throughout the staggering 90+ minute playing time that for all its length is surprisingly engaging. The entire band are in glorious form, sounding better on every level than they have since regrouping with Bruce and Adrian a decade and a half ago.

Even with the wobbly synths in the intro of ‘If Eternity Should Fall’ and Nicko banging a cowbell in the pacier ‘Speed of Light’, there’s no mistaking which band we’re listening to. With a coherency that’s been sometimes lacking on previous works and less of the clunky song writing that has often dogged them in the past, The Book of Souls is still all very Iron Maiden – galloping bass figures, multi-part guitar solos and Dickinson’s inimitable vocal dexterity – just better. On ‘The Red and the Black’ – the only track written by Steve Harris alone – the band does fall back on previous classics like ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ and ‘Heaven Can Wait’ but redeem themselves with seemingly never-ending soloing from the guitar team. Adrian Smith again emphasises his song writing intuition on the album’s shorter tracks that hearken back to cherished anthems of their glory days, but it’s Dickinson who shines as the band’s mastercraftsman this time. ‘Empire of the Clouds’ is the singer’s tour de force, a rousing, sweeping masterpiece that builds from a definitively un-Maidenlike piano ballad filled with string orchestration and gentle guitar lines into a magnificent saga almost as grand as the doomed airship it’s written about, Nicko’s booming drum rolls paving the way toward a crescendo of tension and pathos Iron Maiden has rarely visited before while maintaining an astonishing level of restraint in spite of its breathtaking length.

The Book of Souls is a fine-tuning of all of Iron Maiden’s greatest hallmarks and attributes, a creative high-watermark for a band that has confounded their critics and detractors for four decades now and continues to maintain their relevance as paradigms shift and trends rise and fall around them.

1. If Eternity Should Fall
2. Speed of Light
3. The Great Unknown
4. The Red and the Black
5. When the River Runs Deep
6. The Book of Souls
7. Death or Glory
8. Shadows of the Valley
9. Tears of a Clown
10. The Man of Sorrows
11. Empire of the Clouds