26 December 2015

Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier

Whilst we were calculating the 2015 album of the year (thanks to everyone who has voted and well done to Faith No More), I have decided to add a few retro review as well as continuing my task of trying to look at as many new albums as possible.  Today I am reviewing the 2010 release from Iron Maiden called 'The Final Frontier'.  At the time it was the longest album they had released, only recently surpassed by their 2015 release 'The Book of Souls' (cleverly linked here).  It had been four years since the release of 'A Matter of Life and Death' in 2006 which was another high water mark for the band started to flesh out ideas which would add further progressive themes to their work; something that had always been there, but had their genesis when they released the classic 'Seventh Son of a Seventh Son' (cleverly linked here).  Upon release of this album, it reached number one in twenty-eight countries around the world, reaching the top ten in a further ten countries; for a band that were alleged to be on the ropes and out of touch with the world, that is pretty good by anyone's reckoning.  But before I go on to how the album affected me upon its release, I will look at the songs to see if time has changed my perception on them.

Starting the album is "Satellite 15... The Final Frontier" which has a very aggressive start to the song; pounding drums, guitars screeching and the bass that could level a city with that rumble.  It loops around and around for two and a half minutes until the sirens that is Bruce Dickinson starts this tale about being lost in space, as the almost Queensrÿche nature with a touch of drone as the tension builds up, then there is a distinct change and the band that all the sound that we have all come to expect from Iron Maiden; but the story is continuing as the spaceman flies on into eternity and eventual death.  Both halves could not be more distinctive (in terms of Iron Maiden - obviously there are different styles that contrast), but it merges together so well that it is hard not to be dragged into the story.   Following on is "El Dorado" which actually starts in the same way that it ends; drum rolls, cymbals, guitars slowing down and the sound a song that should be slowing down.  But Iron Maiden have other ideas for you as the song rumbles into life as the song pass a social commentary on the most recent financial crash that effected the world.  It is one of those tracks which could have been a chart topping track (it did win a Grammy for Best Metal Performance), but it was never released as one.  In fact, there was no song released as official singles off this album, just as radio promos.  This is just a classic track that has all those timeless sounds that would sound out of place if created from another band, it is just classic Iron Maiden.  "Mother of Mercy" is the third track on this album, it's anti-war message is a continuation of the work from 'A Matter of Life & Death' with a mixture of some of the styling which came from 'No Prayer for The Dying' and mixing it with the cleverness of 'Powerslave', 'Piece of Mind' and it really works well.  It might not be the song that I would return to as much as other on the record, but each time I listen to it I am appreciating it a lot more.  This track is the true grower of the album and it does improve which each listen.

"Coming Home" is a song that can have a few meanings; my favourite one is the desire to return to your own homestead, the need to be with your family and the drive that will make a person do anything possible to achieve their dreams.  When I first heard this song, it was the track that grab my attention straight away and I had an instant connection with it.  It has a dream-like quality and reminds me of song such as "These Colours Don't Run", "Out of The Silent Planet" and "Fear of the Dark" as it has a moment which will make the whole audience sing in unions with Bruce & Co.  It is a great song in my opinion, might not be the loudest of songs on the album but it is one of the songs that grabs my heart.  "The Alchemist" is the first track on the album to feature a writing credit from guitarist Janick Gers and as is always the case, you can spot a song with his input from miles away.  The way he, Steve Harris & Bruce Dickinson have created the song it has that constant sound of the guitars duelling in harmony that you do not tend to get with Adrian Smith or Dave Murray; he just has his own way of harmonising them and it always shows through.  It has classic Maiden sound that others wish to immediate and rarely do they succeed, as much as I appreciate it the song there is always one song that is your least favourite in the album - this one is mine.  "Isle of Avalon" is the sixth song on the album and it is a nine-minute epic that demands attention, this is not your casual listening track and rock club classic that some people expected from Iron Maiden.  But then again, it should not have been a surprise as well as they have always been known for their lengthy tracks.  From beginning to end, the progression of the song is perfect and it is just a wonderful moment on the album.  By the time it has finished, you are wanting to put it back on again; it seems as if no time has passed at all and you are reaching to press the re-start button.  The more you hear it, the more you hear in it; more textures come out of each note and section - it just flows me each time I listen to it and it has really improved over the years.

"Starblind" follows on and now we are entering the end section of the album, which heralds the part where the lengthiest track of the album reside as well. It opens with a familiar pattern, that atmospheric, slow build that has been a general tone for quite a lot of 2nd era Bruce Dickinson Iron Maiden.  It feels like a pastiche of past glories from the band and it is the first track on the album that feels more retro than forward thinking.  However even though it does not tick all my boxes, you cannot help but be impressed by the band here; it is almost eight minutes long, it has some great guitar work and Nicko sounds as tremendous - shame it feels as if they had done most of it before.  With an acoustic guitar opening, "The Talisman" is next and this song is about leaving behind your home and heading to new lands - this song is about sea travel instead of space travel with a full story in flow.  It is another epic tale that brings all the best parts of Iron Maiden together, it has a progressive feeling and each ebb & flow of the song as it moves from passage to passage, the band just sound so polished.  The solos are not quite as ground breaking here, but for the most part they work well; overall it is one of the best songs of the album.  The penultimate song of the album is called "The Man Who Would Be King" and it follows the story of a man who is a king and has had to kill someone, or it could be about that - it is a story that is open to interpretation and that is a great thing to have with Iron Maiden.  It means it can mean something completely different to one person as it does to the next person who listens to the song.  That is a hard thing for some bands to do, especially one who are so big and have such a faithful audience who sometimes do not react well to change (I should know, I am one of them).  But the music does not really change too much from what has proceeded it on this album and open meaning of the lyrics here, well that just adds a new flavour to the Maiden faithful.  Ending the album is a song called "When The Wild Wind Blows" which is based on the graphic novel/cartoon film called 'When The Wind Blows' which was written by Raymond Briggs who wrote 'The Snowman'.  It tells the tale of an elderly couple who survive a nuclear explosion only to die due to drink radioactive rain water and from the effects of the bomb.  As a kid it was a distressing watch, it still is as an adult; this song captures their plight perfectly and is a true highlight to this record.  It has a great riff which hits all the emotion points, the bass and drums offer complete support and the lyrics/vocals are truly heart-breaking - a great number that does not seem to be over eleven minutes long.

Even after five years (almost six by the time this gets posted) this album is a ground breaking moment for the band in my opinion.  When you are fifteen albums into the lifetime of a band, at the time it was their thirty fifth year of their existence as well and you are still evolving and challenging what people (and yourself) expect from you, then you are doing something right in my book.  Before this came out, I always thought that their best work was 'Seventh Son of a Seventh Son'; that album is what got me into Iron Maiden and it is still an important record in my collection.  When this album came out, 'Seventh Son....' became my second favourite Iron Maiden album; this is still the same five years on and that is something I am very comfortable with, as it is their best work ever.  It is when they went from being the Iron Maiden of old and the change towards their progressive era sound was complete.  It is still Iron Maiden, it not be anybody else - but it is a brave and wonderful move. 

10 out of ten - This is proof that there is a God

Top track - When The Wild Wind Blows

You can purchase The Final Frontier on Amazon here

You can visit the Iron Maiden website here

You can follow the activities of Iron Maiden on Facebook here

You can stream The Final Frontier on Spotify here

You can stream The Final Frontier on Deezer here

You can stream The Final Frontier on Tidal here

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