Review Summary: For the most part, you can't compare The Final Frontier to the 80s albums, nor should it be. The Final Frontier is a record which stands on its own two feet and will have something for everyone to like.
Looking back on Iron Maiden’s career is a journey in itself, one with soaring peaks and undeniable lows. Yet, exactly where those peaks and valleys are on the map have always stirred up much discussion among Iron Maiden fans. For some, The X Factor saw the band scraping the bottom of the barrel, and to others (like myself), the band had been rejuvenated after two rather disappointing releases. For some people, No Prayer For The Dying was definitely worthy of being ranked among the classics, and to others (like myself), No Prayer was definitely a disappointment, especially considering the predictable songs and sloppy solos it housed.
Then there were the post-reunion albums. Brave New World, while being mostly hailed as an excellent come-back album (especially considering the crucial return of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith), also drew criticism from fans who wanted nothing to do with the progressive elements Maiden adapted. And while this group may have been a minority, it slowly grew with each following Maiden release up to A Matter Of Life And Death.
Now don’t get me wrong, I personally love progressive Maiden, and I believe that the last three albums have possessed some of the strongest songwriting of their career. I am merely pointing out the obvious line that’s been drawn between the die-hards and those clamoring for Powerslave II (or No Prayer II if that is your taste). With The Final Frontier, many hoped that the line between these groups could vanish, and once again all of the numerous Maiden fans would unite under the single banner of the mascot Eddie (this time in alien form). So, on August 16th (17th here in the States), the world saw countless fans worldwide rush to music stores to buy their own copy of The Final Frontier, practically holding their breath as they raced home to hear what the band had in store for them.
By this time, you may be thinking Get on with it newbie, your rating says everything anyway. Putting it frankly, The Final Frontier is a superb album, a modern classic in metal and an essential album to long-time fans of the band. At least, that is my opinion. Others may think differently; and after all, I am one fan in a sea of people who adore Iron Maiden (that you can’t deny). Here today though, I’ll put forth my reasoning as to why The Final Frontier is a great album, and hopefully it will get through to people on both sides of the line.
Let’s start with the band itself. Thirty five years in and still making music is an accomplishment that not many can claim. And after all this time, Iron Maiden still has the energy and overall drive to write and play a wide variety of hard rock/power metal songs. The back-to-back songs Coming Home and The Alchemist showcase this point excellently. While hardly representative to the rest of the music on the album, these two songs in particular are great examples showcasing the band’s flexibility when writing songs.
Then there is the music. With an average song-length nearing seven-and-a-half minutes, some rightfully would fear of bloated repetition ala The Angel And The Gambler. Rest assured, nothing on here is as boring as that monstrosity, and the fact is that songs on The Final Frontier usually contain so many smooth changes in time, beat, and riffing that one can not help but sit on the edge of their seat, wondering what journey the music will take them on nest. The Talisman is probably the best example of this on the album, with different riffs, tempos, and vocal melodies erupting every minute. After the chorus though, Iron Maiden goes all out in what can be described as a mixing of desperate guitars on top of amazing drum fills, all highlighting a brilliant solo similar to the one in the end of Metallica’s For Whom The Bell Tolls. It’s one of the album’s most unexpected moments, and one of the most epic and best.
Besides the music though, another highlight of the album is the lyrics. Ranging from pure fantasy on songs like Isle Of Avalon and The Man Who Would Be King to modern-day issues told in a very H.G. Wells manner, the band brings their A-Game once again and prove that they are THE step above everyone else, the lyricists that others wish they could be. Take these lines in El Dorado for example: So now my tale is told/ bigger, badder, twice as bold/the ship of fools is sinking as the cracks begin to grow/there is no easy way/for an honest man today/which is something you should think on as my life boat sails away.
Just in case you weren’t already familiar with El Dorado’s lyrical themes, El Dorado examines the bankers who left people to lose all their money in the 2008 economic crash. Again I must compare lines like these to the themes of H.G. Wells’s novels, which turned concepts like the conquering of Native Africans into the conquering of the Human Race in War of the Worlds. It’s all very clever, and can be found a number of times on the album. The Talisman can be interpreted as a metaphor for the obstacles in life, Starblind can be seen as choosing a life bound to religion or free to do what you will, and When The Wild Wind Blows, a personal favorite of mine, can be seen as an attack on media-induced paranoia, which in this song’s case, killed an elderly couple.
So there you have it: One person’s analysis of The Final Frontier. An album which I deem very well-rounded, and an excellent outing considering that it the fifteenth album by an 80’s metal band. Just like Brave New World or Dance of Death, everyone can find something to enjoy on these records, from rockers El Dorado and The Alchemist, to the ballad Coming Home, to epics like The Talisman found mostly on the second half of the album. Many before me have said that the album takes several listens to get used to, and while I can’t disagree, I can’t entirely agree either. It all depends on personal music taste and on which side of the aforementioned line you find yourself on.