The Book of Souls a stunning return to form

I’ll admit that when I heard the news heavy metal stalwarts Iron Maiden were releasing a new album — and a double album at that — my excitement was laced with trepidation. For all its soaring ambition, the band’s 2010 effort The Final Frontier laboured underneath some bloat and ill-informed forays into prog territory, and 2006’s A Matter of Life and Death felt much the same way. Fortunately for metalheads, these fears were completely unfounded. Simply put, The Book of Souls kicks ass.

I was more than pleased when I slipped my headphones on last Friday evening and immersed myself in this hour and 32-minute-long mammoth. Honestly, it shouldn’t be this good. Book of Souls feels like the culmination of everything the band has put out since 2000, when the invigorated metal outfit, freshly reunited with vocalist Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith, charged into a new millennium. The fact that they can put out their sixteenth album and sound this inspired is, well, inspiring!

Hyperbole aside, it only takes a few listens to know I’m not blowing smoke up your ass. “Speed of Light,” the first single off the album, shines brighter in context than it did on its own, and the ten-minute title track comes loaded with guitar wizardry and an unforgettable chorus. “Death Or Glory” is an absolute burner that would fit perfectly alongside any of their ‘80s output, and “Tears Of A Clown” pays heartfelt tribute to the late Robin Williams (seriously!) while dropping a sledge of riffs.

And finally, though it doesn’t always justify its 18-minute running time, “Empire Of The Clouds” proves the boys can go in bold new directions while honouring their legacy. The track was composed entirely by Dickinson on piano, and is almost operatic in scale. It brings to mind the classical stylings of Gustav Holst in parts, and if that sounds pretentious, consider that the band used recordings of Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War” as an introduction on their 2010 tour. Like the airship described in the song, Dickinson carries the rest of the band skyward; and while an unforeseen Achilles heel ultimately spells the ship’s demise, “Empire” carries on in spite of a few weak spots.

I could go on. The Book of Souls isn’t perfect, but it comes to me at the right time. In fact, the worst I can say is that I will never be able to listen to it with fresh ears, with my headphones on and the woes of the world blocked out, ever again. I didn’t want another average effort, and I don’t think Maiden could afford to write one. I’m grateful to the band that they saw fit to do otherwise.

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