Bruce Dickinson
The Mandrake Project


4.0
excellent

Review

by TheMoonchild USER (156 Reviews)
March 4th, 2024 | 34 replies


Release Date: 03/01/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: 19 years in the making.

Bruce Dickinson is 65 years of age. Based on that information alone, one would expect the Iron Maiden frontman, former airline pilot, current fencer, beer developer, comic writer, and whatever he decides to do when he has even a millisecond of spare time, to be delivering his most conservative effort yet. And while I’d usually be the first to say “anyone else might, but Bruce wouldn’t”, it seemed like the opposite was the case three years ago. As fantastic as Maiden’s 17th album Senjutsu was, it was the first sign to me that the boys might be holding back- which is ironic considering it being Iron Maiden’s second double album(!!!). The vocal melodies were a lot more held back and less varied, which made sense because the instrumentation was, to an extent. And even despite the two lead singles from The Mandrake Project showing more range, part of me was expecting him to be delivering the effort that most singers his age typically would. But after hearing the album, I guess I’ll just have to eat my ass or whatever the saying is, because even at 65, Bruce Dickinson is fucking unstoppable, and The Mandrake Project is complete and utter proof.

Right from the word go, it feels like it hasn’t been 19 years since Dickinson’s last solo effort Tyranny of Souls. Beginning with a doomy intro before launching right into a stupidly catchy riff, and Bruce delivering some truly gritty vocals before abruptly and effortlessly shifting to his high range, over a tempo shift, Bruce immediately lets us know one thing: “I never left”. “Afterglow of Ragnarok” gets the ensuing hour of heavy goodness off on the right foot. Over the next hour, Bruce pulls out all the stops. Musically and vocally, it seems like there’s nothing he can’t – or won’t – do. A heavy, bluesy jaunt reminiscent of “Devil Went Down to Georgia”? “Rain on the Graves” has you covered. A delightfully proggish adventure with flamenco, Groove Metal and even Skunkworks style upetempo? “Resurrection Men” has you covered. Eastern melodies? “Fingers in the Wounds” has it. What “If Eternity Should Fail” could have been? A somewhat improvised sonata? Age hasn’t reduced the amount of crazy ideas floating through his head, and the best part is, they all work. Combined with producer partner Roy Z’s musical and production efforts, Bruce’s crazy ideas and Roy Z’s production make for yet another atmospheric and magical package.

The best thing- to me at least- about Bruce’s solo efforts (especially his ones with Roy Z) has always been the atmosphere. There’s no shortage of killer riffs and heavy moments complimented by Bruce’s voice, but the mystical atmosphere that hangs over the songs has always what has truly set Bruce’s music apart from Maiden’s, or just about any heavy metal frontman, really. Here, the duo nails it yet again, but in a different way. Whereas Tyranny of Souls’ overall atmosphere- the icy sounding synth choirs and oscillating single riffs in particular- contributed to its themes about arcane mysticism, and Chemical Wedding’s themes of alchemy were graced with extra distortion, The Mandrake Project’s concept with themes of playing God and toying with death is complimented by the heavier presence of keyboards, and even a little extra production value here and there. Remember how “If Eternity Should Fail” began with a keyboard intro with melodies vaguely reminiscent of a spaghetti western score cue? Its fully realized counterpart on that album begins with rattlesnake tail rattles, tumbleweeds blowing by, and a piccolo playing the keyboard melody, thus truly conjuring the image of Bruce arriving in a desert town in cowboy gear to truly fuck some shit up. And that’s just ONE example.

But of course, the songs are the most important part, and full of fantastic songs, this album is. After the aforementioned “Afterglow”, it’s followed by “Many Doors to Hell”, which harkens back to his Tattooed Millionaire days, beginning with a bluesy hard rock riff before stomping along at an urgent pace. With one of Bruce’s catchiest choruses to date and some truly fantastic vocals from Bruce, it’s a nice little throwback and a good testament to the album’s variety. As a whole, this album could be looked at as Bruce taking a look back at his different eras he’s explored over the course of his solo career, as basically every base is touched upon. “Resurrection Men” somehow manages to bring both Skunkworks and Balls to Picasso to mind; alternating between uptempo “Solar Confinement”-esque verses and choruses, and a sludgy bridge that brings tracks like “Laughing in the Hiding Bush” to mind, Bruce loses his mind just a little bit more here. It’s easily the most unhinged song on the album both musically and lyrically- featuring flamenco-esque acoustic strumming over fast paced beats, ascending riffs with bizarre lyrics like “We’re ecstasy on respirators/Breathing cosmic incubators”, before switching to one insanely catchy chorus and then to a mid-tempo, sludgy bridge with one insanely catchy and grungey bass riff driving it, there’s nothing you can’t love about this song, honestly. Bruce has always been his best at his strangest, and this song sure is a prime example. “Mistress of Mercy” doubles down on the Skunkworks influences; a catchy up-tempo rocker with some classic Roy Z-style riffs, there’s even an interesting and playful moment of tension building in the middle of the song where it enters a vamp, while Roy Z plays a catchy riff over it, and it gets more and more clever as it goes on. “Shadow of the Gods” sees Bruce getting downright proggy, and is one of a couple slower songs on the album, which has a slower first half before picking up with some heaviness in the second half. And the album closes out with the 10-minute “Sonata (Immortal Beloved)”, which sees Bruce at his trippiest and darkest. Beginning with synth and a slow drumbeat, the song sees Bruce retell the story of Sleeping Beauty, with a gothic atmosphere to compliment the strange, surreal story being told, often dipping into spoken word, and ranging from soaring highs to moody lows, the piece ebbs and flows quite like a classical sonata itself, closing the album out on as dreamy and strange a note it began on.

Where the issues lie with The Mandrake Proeject, however- and there are a few- is mostly the sequencing of the album’s songs. The album ends with three slower tracks in a row, beginning with the rather forgettable “Face in the Mirror”, and is followed by the aforementioned “Shadow of the Gods” and “Sonata”. Maybe placing it between those two songs would have had the final three tracks flow better. Likewise, “Eternity Has Failed” does indeed sound as though it was meant to be the album opener, but not only did Maiden beat Bruce to that, it was no longer the central track of the album, so that’s forgivable, but as for the song itself, I honestly cannot say I care too much for it, and that Maiden did the song a big favour with less overproduction and more fleshing out (and a faster tempo too). It does manage to sound mostly like a demo with more lush production on it; the biggest piece of evidence being the “Good day, my name is Necropolis” outro ending rather abrupt. “Fingers in the Wounds” also seems a tad randomly thrown into the album’s tracklist as well, and does seem rather fillerish, though it is admittedly saved by the lush Eastern sounding part in the bridge.

Whether or not The Mandrake Project is going to be Bruce’s final solo effort, we’ll never know; even despite his recent reassurances that he has two or so more sequels to the story in the works- but what we do know is that The Mandrake Project is one fine addition to Dickinson’s body of work, a grand return to form, and overall, it’s just nice to hear Bruce making solo music again. It is true that Mandrake isn’t quite as good as some of Bruce’s other albums, but knowing who we are talking about here, that is honestly a pretty high bar to reach. Bruce still sings like an absolute god, still kicks all sorts of ass with or without Maiden- but it sure would be nice to hear more of this, and let’s hope this is just the start of more goods to come from him.



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user ratings (82)
3.4
great
other reviews of this album
PsychicChris (4.5)
Aging gracefully with occult metal flair...



Comments:Add a Comment 
TheMoonchild
March 4th 2024


1315 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

When your account on this site is dead but Bruce just dropped a banger

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
March 4th 2024


32073 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Good review, and welcome back!



I appreciate your enthusiasm, unfortunately I did not listen to the same album, but that might be a personal issue. I never liked his solo efforts. To me, his voice just doesn't fit anything other than Maiden, I don't know why, but I can't shake it off.



It doesn't help that at least half of these songs are pretty hard pills to swallow. "Face in the Mirror" and the closer... I couldn't even finish them.



I actually like Eternity Has Failed, might even be my favorite here.

Pikazilla
March 4th 2024


30462 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

this was dull



agreed with dewi

DoofDoof
March 4th 2024


15470 Comments


Must be getting on a bit...isn't it time he moved into an air-raid shelter?

Pikazilla
March 4th 2024


30462 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

yeah he completely lost his voice



wild, considering so many singers round his age in the NWOBHM movement still sound great

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
March 4th 2024


32073 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

He defeated throat cancer not long ago so not strange at all. And aside Halford, no other NWOBHM relic has been performing at his level (touring, side projects, etc).



I think the problem with this album are the songs not his voice, he still sounds great all things considered.



Also, absolutely no effing way this is better than Senjutsu, and I'll die on this hill.

Pikazilla
March 4th 2024


30462 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Byford still sounds great and so does Owens

DoofDoof
March 4th 2024


15470 Comments


he played the Peel in my home town of Kingston a couple of times, remember walking past an older geezer in a leather jacket and my mate would say 'there's Bruce' and there he was having a pint

such things are a big deal when you're 18

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
March 4th 2024


32073 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

That sounds amazing.



@pika they do, but again, were they performing at the same level of intensity as Maiden all these years?

kkarron
March 4th 2024


1432 Comments


Bruce was my childhood hero, so I will not be listening to this.

Pikazilla
March 4th 2024


30462 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

wise call

lucazade22
March 4th 2024


806 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Fingers in the wounds is a good tune

Butkuiss
March 4th 2024


7349 Comments


Man Eternity Has Failed is so much worse than the maiden version lol

Pikazilla
March 4th 2024


30462 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

yes it is lmao

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
March 4th 2024


10828 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Listening to "Rain on the Graves" right now, and it's obvious that Bruce Bruce is past his prime...

Sniff
March 4th 2024


8110 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

I really don't mind his voice but this flows like and sounds like a collection of demos. And maybe most importantly, the songs have the average quality of a collection of demos from your local band that plays the pub every saturday and has been doing so for the past 20 years.

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
March 4th 2024


10828 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

-- this flows like and sounds like a collection of demos



The sound work too is demo quality. In the album opener for instance, Dickinson's voice is buried in the instrumentation.



The interesting part here, is the two distributions of ratings here, the dismal one and the excellent one.

InfernalDeity
Contributing Reviewer
March 4th 2024


601 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

I think bruce sounds fine here. Kinda shows that maiden is fucking him on the mix. But the music here is just really bland

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
March 4th 2024


10828 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

^^I don't think they were fucking him in the '80s, because at that time the objective of every metal singer with a pitch close to god was to rise above the instruments, however loud.

InfernalDeity
Contributing Reviewer
March 4th 2024


601 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

Yeah, 80s bruce is fantastic. I'm talking about Book of Souls and Senjutsu. He is absolutely buried in the mix on those records



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