Review Summary: Maiden will be Maiden...
Iron Maiden have had a highly successful and illustrious career since the early 80’s, and have since become just about the biggest heavy metal band in the world. As the past decade showed, the band, now all in their fifties, took age very well. Not many groups of their veteran status still release records such as Brave New World
and A Matter of Life and Death
, which proved Iron Maiden’s story was far from over. Ever since Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith returned to the fold, the quintet slightly altered its trademark style into a more epic brand of metal, which would produce continually more longer songs as they went on. Now, after four years of waiting, Maiden’s fifteenth effort The Final Frontier
has arrived, and it is their longest yet.
Questions have been raised. Do Maiden still have it in them after so many years? Can they still amaze us even now? Are they pushing their career past the expiry date? If it’s up to their loyal fans, Maiden can never disappoint. And if it’s up to the band, they will
never disappoint. The Final Frontier
, although unsurprising and by the book, is a sincere Maiden record that may leave the more critical of fans longing more just a bit more, but is altogether solid. The fact that you won’t find anything as powerful as The Wicker Man
or The Longest Day
is partially made up by the equal absence of bad material: most of what appears on here has been done slightly different before by Maiden, but it still works.
The album needs some time to get going, as is shown by the intro to Satellite 15...The Final Frontier
. Although the almost mechanical-sounding opening minutes with desperate vocals are certainly not what we normally hear from Maiden, it takes four and a half of them before, finally, a classic Maiden riff kicks in and Dickinson welcomes us with a still highly enjoyable vocal performance that shatters all forms of disappointment he might have awoken with his earlier singing in the track. Whether or not The Final Frontier
is truly to become the last Iron Maiden album, the lyrics of the title track have already provided a between-the-lines goodbye that reflects on the great things the group has achieved:
‘For I have lived my life to the full/I have no regrets
But I wish I could talk to my family to tell them/one last goodbye
If I could survive to live one more time/I wouldn’t be changing a thing at all
Do more in my life than some do in ten/I’d go back and do it all over again’
The catchy lead single El Dorado
is hardly representative of the rest of the record, and if that is a good or bad thing is up to you. Harris is fond of writing longer songs these days, and The Final Frontier
is full of them. There are only three tracks running under 6 minutes, of which the shortest and most up-tempo is The Alchemist
. El Dorado
itself is actually nearly seven minutes in length, although it certainly doesn’t feel that way. The album could have used more tracks like these two, because what follows are epics and epics only.
Despite the balance being a slightly tilted by this, the five tracks that make up the second half of the record are very much worthwhile. When the Wild Wind Blows
, the second longest Maiden track after Rime of the Ancient Mariner
and Sign of the Cross
, at just over 11 minutes, doesn’t quite live up to the hype it automatically creates, but is nevertheless very good. Starblind
, The Talisman
, and more so Isle of Avalon
and The Man Who Would Be King
continually keep things interesting, and are certainly an improvement over some of the slightly boring and long-winded epics found towards the end of A Matter of Life and Death
. Iron Maiden are still learning from past flaws, showing that room for improvement certainly isn’t impossible at the length of time they’ve been in the business.
If The Final Frontier
proves anything, it is that Iron Maiden’s longevity seems, at least for the moment, limitless. These boys still know how write quality heavy metal: after all, they’ve been doing just that for 35 years now. The riffs sound great, the solos are always worth it, Dickinson still somehow manages to pull this kind of singing off, and also Harris’ signature bass gallops keep their rightful place in the band’s sound. Maiden hasn’t changed, not really, and neither did we expect them to. The Final Frontier
will keep their fans happy; not because it’s more of the same, but because it shows effort and sincerity. If it will eventually turn out to be Maiden’s last, it will have been a great one to go out with.
When the Wild Wind Blows