The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

IRON MAIDEN
THE FINAL FRONTIER

 


Iron Maiden have always been unique. In the heady early days of the NWOBHM they stood above the pack by fusing uncompromising heavy metal music with intelligent lyrics, unforgettable melodies and choruses that a million pop bands would pay good money for.

 

Confused and unsure of their place in the musical landscape after the grunge and indie revolution threw rock a curve ball, the two albums the band made with Blaze Bayley weren’t nearly as successful as their millions-selling Dickinson catalogue, and they struggled with their identity.

 

When Bruce Dickinson rejoined the fold after the Bayley years, Maiden were – like many bands who had achieved great success in the 80’s and 90’s – looking to regain their rightful position at the top of the Heavy Metal mountain, and quickly found a solid balance between being their old and new material. The only time they approached being considered a “heritage act” was on their 2008 Somewhere Back In Time tour, and that was done completely on their own terms as a rightful celebration of their past.

 

“The Final Frontier” is Iron Maiden’s third studio album since the reformation with Dickinson and it’s easily the best of this stage of their career. Always showing a hint of “prog” even from their first albums, Maiden have steadily evolved into their current prog rock behemoth incarnation, complete with 10 or 15 minute epics, and Dickinson playing dress-ups during their concerts.

 

If 2000’s “Brave New World” was the sound of a band revitalised and feeding off the creative frisson between the main players, then “Dance of The Dead” was Maiden at their most experimental, boldly going where no band of their ilk had gone before and trying to define a new identity whilst holding onto their signature sound and sense of self.

 

“The Final Frontier” is the zenith of the past decade of Maiden’s life. It perfectly fuses the progressive with their spandex-and-studded-leather headbanging past, and eschews the experimental, safe in the knowledge that they have found the *ahem* brave new world they were searching for.

 

Title track ‘The Final Frontier’ – after a meandering intro called ‘Satellite 15’- is everything Iron Maiden are famous for, galloping bass lines, soaring vocals, triple lead guitar lines and all, and is a memorable way to open the record.

 

Opening single ‘El Dorado’ is as poppy as Maiden get at this stage of their long career, and once again distills the essence of the band into a memorable galloping tune.

 

‘Coming Home’ is a standout slower track, smouldering with the longing of someone who spends long periods away from home and loved ones, and bears some similarity to ‘Ghost of The Navigator’ from “Brave New World”.

 

‘The Alchemist’ is old school Maiden a la ‘The Trooper’, and then we descend into the really proggy material – ‘Isle Of Avalon’ is a glorious nine minute track which could almost be a metal Marillion; ‘Starblind’, ‘The Talisman’ and ‘The Man Who Would Be king’ are all epic in their scope and fully realised in their vision.

 

And finally, eleven minute album closer ‘When The Wild Wind Blows’ is the piece de resistance – a grand and sweeping track as ambitious as anything the band have recorded in their 40 year career. Is there another band to have released a song as majestic as this in the past few years? I can't think of anyone.

Maiden seemingly realise that they are more than a band now – they are a brand with an incredibly loyal following that are willing to be led down the rabbit hole by Eddie and the boys, thus they don’t need to make another album with the chart bothering singles like ‘Run To the Hills’ or ‘Can I Play With Madness’.

 

With the Somewhere Back In Time tour they paid homage to and said farewelled their glory-filled past. In “The Final Frontier” they have successfully defined a new identity for themselves as prog metal masters without sacrificing any of their populist following, as their next 12 months of international touring will undoubtedly prove.

 

"The Final Frontier" is Iron Maiden's best album since "Powerslave", so let’s hope this album is not Maiden’s final frontier, but the start of a new chapter in the history of the world’s greatest heavy metal band.

 

 

Shane Rockpit


Thanks to Dixie at EMI for the review CD and giveaways