If this hadn’t been perhaps one of the most hyped metal albums in history it might have just gotten swept into the dustbin, along with the other regrettable entries in many metal legends’ discographies. However, coming five years after their prior release, being a double album (amazingly they only have 11 tracks covering the album’s 92 minutes), and suffering from delays due to lead singer Bruce Dickinson’s cancer treatment, this album was highly anticipated. Unfortunately, while being mostly inoffensive, it pretty much sucks from top to bottom.
The first thing you’ll notice is that Dickinson’s voice has not held up over time (or possibly hasn’t recovered from the surgery on his tongue). I noted a similar effect on Motörhead’s release from this summer, too, but a rough-voiced singer like Lemmy can pull off some weakening better than can the operatic Dickinson. I hate to criticize somebody’s performance when they’ve just had cancer treatment on their singing organ, but the band had no business making Dickinson produce this much singing on record.
And, really, the band had no business putting this much music on record. Again, this is an 11-track album that lasts 92 minutes. There is a 10-, a 13-, and an unbelievable 18-minute track included. The second longest song on the album, “The Red And The Black” is representative of most: the stanzas are paired in such a way that the first three bars of each are the same, but the melody of the fourth bar in the first stanza ascends at the end whereas that of the second stanza descends into resolution. There’s nothing wrong with that approach per se, but it’s certainly not progressive, and when it’s done over and over for 90 minutes it becomes incredibly tiresome. Another trope delivered all too often is that most of the songs, especially the longer epics, are introduced with a solo guitar playing a slowed down version of the main theme (that, again, we’re about to hear for another eight minutes or more, anyway). With every run through the pattern at the start of “The Book Of Souls” I’m begging for it to begin, and I’m disappointed too often.
Finally, there’s “Empire Of The Clouds,” the album’s last track. It runs 18 minutes (and one second, for good measure). It’s about a big ship and the difficulties of launching it. I mean I think it’s a flying ship, which makes it a little better, but at the point where the captain melodramatically drops the cargo when told she won’t sail, the last little flicker of interest I have dies out.
The band is at its best when they keep things short, at least relatively so, as they get to the point more expeditiously and don’t stretch things out when they don’t have anything else to say. See “The Great Unknown” and “Death Or Glory” for a couple of examples. Still, these are not great songs by any measure. In fact, the band’s ceiling on this album seems to be adequate.
Rock musicians have proven to me in the past two decades that, even when they’re old, they can still release great music and deliver energetic performances. But it’s far from guaranteed, and if you’re doing this in your 50’s and 60’s, you’d better be damned sure your material is solid. Iron Maiden came through the grunge/alternative era with their reputation probably better than it was when it went in, and in large part well-deserved due to the strength of their 80’s catalog. But good grief, The Book Of Souls is more preposterous than much of what Spinal Tap predicted.
Like: “The Great Unknown”
Meh: “If Eternity Should Fail,” “Speed Of Light,” “The Red And The Black,” “When The River Runs Deep,” “The Book Of Souls,” “Death Or Glory,” “Shadows Of The Valley,” “Tears Of A Clown,” “The Man Of Sorrows”
Dislike: “Empire Of The Clouds”
Song Notes: After the jump
- If Eternity Should Fail – Pink Floyd bluesy beginning. Vocoder 70’s Rush style stuff at the end, boring.
- Speed Of Light – I think this is about the event horizon. so that’s cool
- The Great Unknown –
- The Red And The Black – 13:34
- When The River Runs Deep – has some pretty good parts
- The Book Of Souls – (the last song on disc 1) over ten minutes. Gets good about six minutes in. Six.
- Death Or Glory –
- Shadows Of The Valley –
- Tears Of A Clown –
- The Man Of Sorrows – Queensrÿche-y
- Empire Of The Clouds – 18 minutes long