Review Summary: The first Bruce solo album since he rejoined Maiden is essentially his previous album's Ritalin-addicted, ADHD-suffering twin brother. And that's a good thing.
In 1998, Bruce Dickinson released what was his last solo album before he rejoined Iron Maiden
, Chemical Wedding
. The majority consider it his best album, and for many reasons too; for one, it was crushingly heavy and dark, face-meltingly brutal and unlike anything you'd hear in Maiden. At times it's bleak and depressing, at other times is headbang worthy, but as a whole, it's the album that really defines his songwriting and his creativity, his ability to express himself through music and then some. Thanks to having reunited with old friends in a certain band, his next few releases were some high quality releases from Maiden, both of which are among the best in the band's near-flawless tenure. But it wasn't until 2005 which we'd get another Bruce solo effort.
Tyranny of Souls
is no doubt a very good album, just shy of greatness. If anything, it's also kind of a disappointment when held up to the ridiculously high standards set by its predecessor. It has a similar sound but a different style- much like Maiden's discography, but as opposed to most of the sings being mid-tempo and slower, crushing tunes that are to be found on Chemical Wedding
, this time it's faster, catchier, and upbeat tunes, which at times, remind you of power-metal. And another noticeable aspect that contrasts its predecessor is that it is a bit rougher, rawer, whereas the previous album felt more polished and perfected. According to the book 30 Years of the Beast
, most of the album had to be recorded and written in a hurry, as Roy Z had come up with a bunch of riffs and played them to Bruce over the phone, giving him not much time to write. Thankfully that never shows up in the musicianship or the vocals (more on the vocals later), but it does take its toll, and quite noticeably on a few of the songs.
In example- "Kill Devil Hill" is a stunningly beautiful song, but it feels like half a song. It has more or less a verse/chorus/verse/chorus structure (which isn't really a concern as almost all the songs on this album do), and both are absolutely stunning; in fact, if you close your eyes and pretend there's no singing in the chorus, you realize how amazing the song is musically... but when you get to the second half... there's not much else... It repeats the same three chords over and over until the fade out, but it still sounds amazing, regardless. Another example is "Power of the Sun", which is a fast-paced tune that would make Steve Harris proud, and features an insanely catchy chorus, but just feels a bit too straightforward.
However, the flaws are thankfully redeemed by material that can be looked at as some of his best. Following the creepy and sinister intro, "Abduction" is catchy, and a kick-in-the-teeth start to the album with face-meltingly heavy guitar work, and plenty of other songs pack the same punch, including the gloriously cheesy (but awesome nonetheless) power-metal hymn "Soul Intruders" that would make Sonata Arctica Proud, and the absolutely terrifying "Believil". Never mind the corny title, the song is a slow and plodding dirge that has one of the scariest chord progressions ever, and the choir during the bridge only amps up the scare factor. The song ends with some low-pitched laugher as well, and at this point, the song may as well have been written by Satan. The ballads are pretty cool too, with what might be his best ballad to date- "Navigste the Seas of the Sun". It is heavy on the nylon-string guitars (not unlike "Arc of Space" from Accident of Birth
), but also has some electric guitars near the end, and synths giving it a very dreamy and otherworldly feel, as if you're floating through the clouds.
But the best thing about the album is ultimately Bruce's vocal performance. Dickinson hasn't sounded this good since Brave New World
, as he doesn't once sound strained throughout and gives a beautiful, soaring performance that solidifies his status as the best metal vocalist today. While Halford would be turning to studio trickery and downtuning the songs when played live, Bruce hits the notes almost effortlessly here, and at times it's just plain hard to believe that he was as old as he was when singing on the album. I can't name a single song that has any hint of strain or waver.
So overall, while the album has apparent flaws, and boy are they apparent, they're nonetheless redeemed by the magic that Bruce manages to give every album of his that make them a joy to listen to, even if it doesn't live up to standards set by Chemical Wedding
. His songwriting still sticks, the music still kicks ass, and if any other solo Metal vocalist claims they make a solo album as consistent and steady as Tyranny of Souls
, I'd like to see them try.