Look at that magnificent bastard. Fucking Snaggletooth Samurai Eddie is the thing that I never knew that I needed in my life. And now that he’s here, I’m completely in love.
The new Iron Maiden album is here! The new Iron Maiden album is here! (You’ll have to picture me dancing around like a raving lunatic)
OK, look, this is my favorite band of all time. I have Eddie tattooed on my left calf and I’ve seen them live more times than I can count. But let me dispel you of any notion that I’m going to take it easy on my dudes. Quite the contrary. I hold these guys to a very high standard. They’re the band that truly turned me into a metalhead and I expect them to deliver even if they are in their sixties and 17 studio albums in at this point.
So, let’s get to it. Starting with the artwork. Eddie is always a key component to every Maiden release and I think they just knocked it out of the park. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Eddie wielding a samurai sword (see Maiden Japan), but this is the first time he’s sporting the full samurai regalia. And those teeth!! Goddamn, that’s just a tasty addition to his trademark sneer. They’ve kind of stuck with the Eddie on a stark black background on the front cover as they did with Book of Souls. I kind of wish there was a bit more of a background, but the inner gatefold photo of Eddie basking in his glory of battle in front of a temple brings the goods as far as detail. Also, inside the packaging you get multiple shots of the new Eddie in various poses. All in all, Maiden is just the best when it comes to packaging and presentation. Top notch job.
So, how are the songs? Man, I wish I could say that this one lives up to the promise of the artwork. Overall, it’s kind a a retread. The performances are all top notch, as to be expected, but the songwriting just doesn’t feel all that inspired. There are quite a few songs and riffs on here that feel like they have been stripped straight from previous Maiden songs. Also, this is a very mid-tempo Maiden album from start to finish. There’s no Aces High or Trooper-style ripper on here. None of these songs just come charging out of the gate and grab you by the throat like some of those early albums. Maybe its the age setting in, but hell, I would have even taken a Be Quick or Be Dead on this thing just to get the blood pumping a bit.
As with a lot of the more recent Maiden albums, there are a lot of really long songs on here and most of them start out with a clean guitar/Harris bass intro/prelude thing. Hell, it seems like they’ve been hitting this song structure hard since the Blaze Bayley days. I don’t know if it was written into a contract when Dickenson and Smith came back that Harris gets to fuck around with some bass line intro shit at least five times an album or what, but it is really starting to feel like they need a producer with the balls to step in and say “Enough.” There is just a decent amount of fat on some of the longer songs that really needs to be trimmed. And I say this as a fan of long songs! However, if you’re going to have a 12 minutes opus, you’ve got to make sure that every part of it serves a purpose. The Time Machine, Darkest Hour, Death of the Celts, The Parchment and Lost in a Lost World all suffer this malaise. The title cut is a nice bit of majesty and a grand way to start the album. Stratego is a nice cut for a single. It has a trademark bouncy Harris galloping bass line and a nice catchy chorus from Bruce. Lead single, Writing on the Wall was an interesting choice. I can’t quite nail down what sort of influence this one came from, but in a weird way, it kind of reminds me in places of Kvelertak when they are at their most folksy. I have no idea if the dudes in Maiden are listening to Kvelertak, but it would be kind of cool if they did. This has to be the most unique song on the album or at least the one that strays farthest from the formula. Lost in a Lost World kind of sounds like a retread of something like Sign of the Cross. Days of Future Past is a nice little Smith/Dickinson composition. It’s one of the short songs on here and I think this one really works because it is just tight in its delivery and it has a really cool Smith riff that doesn’t feel like something we’ve heard before. Starting with The Time Machine at the end of Disc One, the album kind of just grinds to a halt. All of the remainder of the songs kind of fall into the pattern of the modern Maiden formula as described above. Slow clean start, some Harris piddling and then crescendo into a mid-tempo gallop. Darkest Hour came about because I’m guessing Bruce went to the movies and was impressed with Gary Oldman. Death of the Celts is basically The Clansman, Part II. The Parchment feels kind of like it features a watered down version of the riff from To Tame a Land. I would really like them to play this one live, however, just to hear Bruce introduce it with something ridiculous like, “And now! It’s time! To write! On! The PAAAARRRRCCCCHHHMEEENNNTTTT!” Album closer, Hell on Earth, is in the same formula as the preceding songs, but for some reason this one works better than the others. It’s probably the best of the bunch of long songs. The opening clean guitar part is truly goosebump inducing.
All in all, this one is a bit of a disappointment. Any other band I may have given a bit more of a pass to, but as stated before, the bar is very fucking high for Maiden. If we’re looking at the post-2000 Maiden, when Dickinson and Smith rejoined the band, I’d probably end up slotting this one down with Dance of Death as my least favorite modern Maiden album. I’d probably end up giving this one a bit of a leg up on Dance simply because of the artwork.
A very lukewarm 3.5 flip flops out of 5