Wednesday, September 01, 2010

CD Review - Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier

Iron Maiden’s smash hit new album (I am not kidding -- check this out) The Final Frontier combines what we expect from Maiden (time signature and tempo changes galore, dual and triple guitar harmonies, galloping bass and apocalyptic lyrics) with some new twists (slide guitar, some gorgeous acoustic picking, and – gasp – electronic drums). Overall it’s a strong release, and after a few listens here is a sort of song by song take:

First song is in two parts. The first part, called Satellite 15, starts with something I have never heard on a Maiden album, which is heavily distorted Steve Harris bass, transitioning into a bit of a heavy metal jazz odyssey with heavily processed vocals and another first, electronic drums. A bit of a stretch for me here, but then half way through, the song jumps into the Maiden we know and love, as the song The Final Frontier.

Actually I had heard this second half before, as it came out on video a month ago. It’s very melodic. Good guitars and vocal melody but lyrically a little clunky. Kind of like a heavy metal version of Elton John’s Rocket Man, or David Bowie’s Space Oddity, but not as good.

This 8:41 opener goes right into El Dorado, which Maiden released online a while ago too. So I know this one and even saw them play it live. It’s a great tune and really kicks ass live.

Third track, Mother of Mercy, is very, very melodic. Guitars are almost jangling on this song. What I like about this is that with KISS for example, they feel obligated for every guitar tone to be totally overdriven to prove how much they rock. Maiden is cool with clean guitar tones and this song, while about soldiers and war (of course), has a lot of very clean, cool guitar tones on it. Good tune.

Fourth track, Coming Home is really solid – sounds a bit like Revelations but lyrically is about what space travelers feel when their mission is over and they land back on Earth. But you can read into this as a personal band road story too. Very cool – a bit of a departure from Maiden who don’t usually write about personal topics. Some great multi-part guitar harmonies on this one and a nice trading solos center section. Next up is The Alchemist. Upbeat tune. Again great guitar harmonies.

Island of Avalon is a nine-plus minute Steve Harris bass-driven tune a la To Tame A Land but really more like the center section of Seventh Son of A Seventh Son. Very nice chorus effect on the bass – again a nice, pure tone. As with most things Maiden, things move along and change quickly. Before you know it, you are in the 7/8 time center solo section, which I have to say is some of the coolest, trickiest new Maiden I have heard in a long time. If you only wanted to get one song off this CD and lean towards Maiden’s more epic, Steve Harris material, this one is your track. Otherwise, it's El Dorado.

Starlight is another good tune that sort of chugs along in the verses and straightens out in the choruses, which are also a bit of a Seventh Son throwback, chordally. This song is a great example of how with three guitars, the band can have a crunchy complex dual-guitar rhythm going, and then add a cool layer of lead fills or melody over the top. And the solo section is another 7/8 crank fest – they are flexing their 7/8 chops on this CD, and as usual drummer Nicko makes it sound very fluid. Never have been sure how he changes beats, time signatures, grooves etc on a dime but he does, and always has.

The Talisman is a nine-minute tune that starts with some very cool acoustic guitar picking. My guess is that this is driven by Janick Gers, who despite being totally annoying live brought more of a Genesis style open picked chordal feel to a lot of Maiden’s more recent quiet stuff. Shit, this song almost sounds like Steve Hackett on Entanged from Trick of the Tail! Love it. Very different. Of course this acoustic intro bashes into full Maiden gallop overdrive after a couple of minutes and yeah we’ve heard this before but it was good then and it’s good now. Handle it. There is actually some slide guitar in this song and I am not sure I have heard much of that over the years…

The last two songs are long epics as well. The first starts with bass chords, a repeating guitar melody and some moody synth. Maiden embraced synth way back on Seventh Son and I always thought it worked well in these quieter sections. Both of these last songs are top notch with some epic Maiden moments. Overall I give the album a 7 out of 10. For sure worth getting if you are a Maiden fan.

I have to say, after seeing the band on the last tour I went back and bought Brave New World and Dance of Death. I still far prefer A Matter of Life and Death and I hear this as a continuation of that latter album. Very real guitar tones, not a lot of processing on anything. Certainly a CD I will come back to more than a few times. I hope the Final Frontier tour comes back to my neck of the woods – these songs will be great live. Up the Irons!


Chris said...

Nice review, man. My only gripe is I wish for a track break between Satellite 15 and The Final Frontier. I don't always want to hear the former just to hear the latter. 15 is fine as an intro, but not something I want to hear all that often.

The Great Southern Brainfart said...

Great review and I totally agree with Chris. I think that track just goes on WAY too long before it gets to the real "meat" that is The Final Frontier. They should've split that up in the sequencing but nonetheless, it's Maiden's best collection of songs since Seventh Son.