It has been four years since Iron Maiden’s last studio fare, and once again Bassist Steve Harris and company have submerged into prog rock waters with their new album The Final Frontier. This album sees the band getting in a submarine and downing the periscope they are so deep in prog rock. Those familiar with the band know that Maiden have always had the 10 + minute epic song or two per album, but since 2000’s Brave New World, it is rare to see a song that is less than 7-8 minutes long. It seems the epic has become the norm and short, concise songs are now the exception. As with every Iron Maiden album, they throw you a few curveballs, but you pretty much know you’re going to get good old Maiden bashing out some tunes about war, far off lands of history past, or of galaxies far, far away. I approach each song as an action adventure movie. You just need to sit back and look through your mind’s eye and see the landscape the song and lyrics are painting. The great thing about either Steve Harris or Bruce Dickinson penned lyrical content is that they always seem to be able to make the songs personal to the point where you can see yourself in whatever situation the song proposes.
The opening track, Satellite 15…The Final Frontier, is the big curveball on this album and it sails at you like it has been thrown by Barry Zito on a hot July day. This is serious new territory for Maiden and unfortunately, to be quite honest, it falls flat. The beginning of Satellite 15 goes on for about 3 minutes too long and has several stopping points where the song should have started to begin with or ended. It is apparent the band is going for a trippy, lost in space vibe to match the lyrical content, but they just don’t quite pull it off. The second part of the song, The Final Frontier, is great and a breath of fresh air and will surely be played live on this tour.
The second track, El Dorado, is your typical Maiden gallop song and has a souring, sing-along chorus. The beginning of the song bares strong resemblance to Heart’s Barracuda but hopefully the Wilson sisters don’t mind too much.
The middle of the album sees some songs not unlike that of a Bruce Dickinson solo album. This is not a bad thing and can most likely be attributed to many songs being written by guitarist Adrian Smith who contributed so heavily to Dickinson’s late 90s solo masterpieces Accident of Birth and The Chemical Wedding. Two songs in particular, Coming Home and Starblind, stand out as they also feature Dickinson penned lyrics. Coming Home has rare heartfelt Maiden lyrics and speaks to Dickinson’s love of flying planes. The subject of this song is purely about the thoughts and feelings he has when taking off and flying above the Earth. Dickinson has written songs featuring lyrics about flying before, but these are very personal in nature and a great change of pace on a Maiden album.
The last part of The Final Frontier has three songs which are trademark Iron Maiden and couldn’t be mistaken for anyone else. My personal favorite on this album, The Talisman, begins with a slow intro and builds into the song structure. A slow intro has become a staple on recent albums and it would be nice to see the band skip some of these quiet, slow intros and just get to the main riff and get on with it. I think Steve Harris is trying to build atmosphere and dynamics in the song, but when you use the same formula for every “epic” song on the album it loses its luster a bit. The lyrical matter deals with a man making his voyage across the Atlantic to the then New World of America and the perils it involved. Some would find this very Spinal Tapish and clichéd for metal but it fits the song well and again, you kind of have to act like you are watching an adventure movie and just role with it.
The final song on the album, Where The Wild Wind Blows, is a 10 minute plus masterpiece and instant classic. Even those that don’t like metal would have to marvel at the song structure and pure musical talent put forth in this song. The subject matter of this song is inspired by Raymond Brigg’s 1980s graphic novel, When the Wind Blows. The graphic novel is about an elderly couple that faces a nuclear catastrophe and is ill prepared due to the little information the government has given them to survive such a challenge. Harris has taken this and spun it around to a couple that is very prepared and waiting for disaster to strike. When they believe it has, their preparedness and paranoia of their government ultimately leads to their doom.
From a production standpoint the album is superbly done by long time producer Kevin Shirley. The absence of really screaming, extended guitar solos is noticeable on this album. Also, on songs like Mother of Mercy, you can finally hear a tinge of rasping in Bruce Dickinson’s voice. However, for 51 years old this is excusable and actually adds a tad of character. The only bothersome production quality in both sound and song writing is the lack of Steve Harris bass sound. Not only has it become more inaudible in the last 10 years, but Steve no longer plays the intricate fills that he was always known for. It could be that he no longer fills the need to show off but it is an aspect of the music sorely missed.
Album score 9/10
Other Maiden related material to check out…
Accident of Birth
The Chemical Wedding
Scream For Me Brazil (awesome live album)