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Old 08-15-2010, 07:42 PM
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Maiden33 Maiden33 is offline
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Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier (Maiden33 Review)

I thank everyone who reads this in advance - this is the longest review I've ever written.

Well, it's that time again. For anyone who knows me, they know how seriously I take the release of an Iron Maiden studio album. This new record is only the third to have been released in my tenure as a fan, which now stretches about eight years. The new album is of course entitled "The Final Frontier", and there is of course much talk about it being their final studio effort, though for now the band is leaving things open-ended. But still, with this possibility at hand, there's no doubt that there's a good deal of tension and pressure for the band to release an album worthy of being the final one, should it wind up going down that way. Their previous album, "A Matter of life and Death" was met with much praise as well as criticism, mainly for sounding somewhat repetitive and one-dimensional. Though I personally really enjoyed it, both points were not terribly far fetched, and I, like most people, were hoping to see Maiden break the formula up a bit and bring a bit more of variety to the table with this album. So, without further adieu, let's get things started.

The album begins in a very strange fashion, with the intro "Satellite 15", which is certainly unlike anything the band have done before. Unfortunately I can't say it's all that thrilling to me. This intro is the first of a couple of ideas on this record that I don't think quite panned out like they should have. There's some very electronic sounding drum patterns, with some very dissonant and effect-laden guitar bits. There is supposed to be a bit of a building feel throughout, but overall it just doesn't go much of anywhere. There's some strange chords and weird vocals from Bruce, just adding to the chaos. The first 4 and a half minutes of this really could've been it's own track, for how disjointed it is from what follows it. I suppose some intro sequence was necessary to set up the song, but I think they could have and should have done much better than this. When the proper track "The Final Frontier" kicks in, it's music to my ears, in much better quality than heard in the promo video. Here we can even here some acoustic guitars jangling in the background. The song is very concise and straight forward. They certainly weren't trying to reinvent the wheel here, and I think it actually works the way it is, as just a simple and catchy tune. Bruce's vocals in the verses aren't spectacular, and I find myself wanting some vocal harmonies on the chorus, but overall I have no big complaints with the track. Some nice solos from Adrian and Dave, and the track signs off. In all honesty, this is probably one of the weakest opening tracks Maiden have ever done in context of "quality of the song versus the rest of the album", but it's enjoyable. It certainly sets a different tone for the album than we've grown accustomed to on reunion Maiden records.

Next up we have "El Dorado", which I figure by now, most people are familiar with. The song begins with a somewhat unnecessary "big ending" of sorts, before kicking into a bit of a cheesy gallop riff that worked considerably better live than it does here. Bruce keeps a very grim, storyteller-like vibe on the verses, not doing much in the way of melody. As with the first track, the band don't seem to be thinking too outside the box here, but at least they gave us a good bit of variety with key changes in the song, which is one area in which this album is a vast improvement over its predecessor. The extra guitar harmony added on the second half of the second verse is honestly probably my favorite thing about the whole tune, though all 3 guitarist's turn in pretty strong solos. "Mother of Mercy" opens with a very typical Maiden guitar figure, with some relatively clean guitars building a bit of a mood. This is the typical sort of intro you'd expect the band to use as a jumping-off point for a pick-up into a 7-minute song, but instead the band turns in a fairly heavy and very concise tune with some great lyrics and melodies. The chorus is very heavy and a bit chromatic/dissonant by Maiden standards, but serves as a nice contrast to the very melodic prechorus. Bruce strains a bit on the chorus here, but not much worse than fans should be pretty accustomed to hearing by now, especially on songs that Steve writes the vocal melodies for. Just one solo to be found here, and it's a typically great one from Adrian, no surprise since he penned the tune with Steve. Both the bridge and outro of this song offer some vibes and progressions that Maiden doesn't use too often, which leads to them sounding pretty fresh. This was the first track on the album where I started to feel genuinely excited to be listening to brand new Maiden material - a feeling that would grow exponentially as the record continued to progress.Ballads are something that have always fared well with me, though this is certainly not the case with the majority of the Maiden fanbase. I think the band knows this, which is why when they indulge their ballad tendencies, they usually dress up the song with some heavier sections to keep the wolves at bay. There's no doubt that "Coming Home" is a ballad at heart, but the band do a nice job of dressing it up with an excellent harmony theme with occurs a few times, and a very thumping prechorus. The chorus here is no doubt one of the most melodic and memorable sections of the entire disc, where Bruce is finally able to shine for the first time on the album. The timeless duo of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith turn in two more great solos on this track, and overall I think the band really struck gold with this. Reminiscent of "Out of the Shadows" from the previous album, though even better this time around I think. At this point something should be obvious to the listener. If you consider "Satellite 15" and "The Final Frontier" as two separate pieces, which is logical - we are now several tracks into a new Maiden record which has not had one long song, potentially bloated by soft and slow intros and countless solos. There seems to have been a conscious decision to put the hammer down on this album, and this is driven home by the next offering.

"The Alchemist" is probably one of the fastest and most driving tunes this band have recorded in quite some time. This track bears nothing in common with the solo Bruce Dickinson song of the same name, as it rips for its 4-and-a-half-minute duration. Each section feels like it continues to pick up from the last, and the chorus is just magical, featuring something else that this album has added into the mix - guitar harmonies and lines working their way into lyrical sections of songs. The guitar work on most recent Maiden work has been very riff-driven, with all 3 guitarists generally playing the same riffs aside from their solos on cue. This track is just the beginning of this technique though, we'll see much more as the album progresses. All in all, "The Alchemist"is just a great track that should please almost any Maiden fan. Track-wise, we've now reached the half-way point of the album, and almost as though someone flipped a switch, the band changes gears to more long and epic tunes. "Isle of Avalon" has our first token "slow intro", though it's a slow intro that shares almost nothing in common melodically with what has become expected from Maiden. A very creepy recurring guitar figure continues to build on itself. All in all, the whole sequence probably could've been a bit shorter, but it seems very justified when the band actually gets going. The pick-up section is brilliant,and the "chorus" that follows is just awesome. The next section features a descending chromatic melody that annoyed me a bit at first but is starting to grow on my ears. The instrumental section is downright magically, with the band starting to fire on all cylinders. There's no doubt that Adrian Smith pulled out every stop on this track, turning in some of the best guitar lines on the whole disc. His solo on this track is so atypical of what we're used to from Maiden records. Honestly I am most reminded of the style of King's X guitarist Ty Tabor - a genuine possibility as Adrian has previously cited his love of this band. The whole middle section just jams in a way that's very atypical of this band, and I love it. After revisiting the "bridge", if you will,the band return to the mellow build-up section, but thankfully not as long this time. When they get going again they ride out the song with some great stuff, including a nice little guitar lead. At this point in the record it has become obvious that each track has been getting progressively better in my eyes.



The aforementioned trend continues yet again with the band's next offering, "Starblind". Again, we are greeted with a somewhat typical slow intro sequence, featuring a very oddly timed vocal passage. Thankfully the band don't ride this passage to death for 2+ minutes, and get right to the riffage before being a minute in. The main riff of this song is probably my favorite on the disc as a whole, which is good because it is the clay from which the whole song was molded. The verses and chorus of this song just have such a great groove to them that again is not necessarily typical Maiden fare. I think Bruce's vocals sound fantastic on this track, and he penned some great lyrics as well. The sections that follow the choruses are oddly reminiscent of the classic "Infinite Dreams" to me, and really add a lot to the epic nature of the song. This track sees even more "outside the lines" guitar work, especially in the second verse in chorus. It really is not to be understated how much I think these little guitar lines add to the songs as a whole. After the second chorus we hear another great riff that dominates the instrumental section, which again has this absolutely great 7/4 groove to it. Adrian's soloing again paints a great texture for the whole tune, and the lead section following the solos is just undeniably epic. After a quick drop back to the slow section, the band find their way back to the epic groove of the verse/chorus structure, before ending with the great post-chorus section. As of this point, I have to say this my favorite offering from this record, and honestly, probably going to be a strong candidate for one of my favorite reunion Maiden songs, along with another track on this record we have yet to visit.

And the time to visit that track is now. "The Talisman" opens with an acoustic section undeniably reminiscent of "The legacy" from the previous record. Fortunately that similarity is nearly the only complaint I can register about this entire 9-minute opus. The verse riff of this track is fierce, and once it gets going, the song just drives forward immensely. This track has an absolutely great balance between pure balls and soaring melodies, and no shortage of great musical interludes. There's an excellent interlude in particular that paints a nearly perfect picture of being caught at sea amidst the chaos of a storm, far better than anything present in the band's classic "Rime of the Ancient Mariner". The guitar solo on this track is unfortunately a tad underwhelming, but actually serves as an appropriate vehicle for Janick Gers to deliver a somewhat awkward solo. It's very strange how the solo seems to almost perfectly compliment the section of the tune. The section immediately following the solo reminds me a lot of the band Kansas. Wait? What? I have now mentioned Kansas and King's X in a review of an Iron Maiden album. If this doesn't serve as proof that they were thinking outside the box at least a couple of times here, I don't know what will. All in all, this is just a fantastic track featuring some great lyrics, great melodies, and great instrumentation from pretty much the entire band. No doubt my second favorite tune on here behind the previous one.

Sadly, we have now reached the section of the album where the trend of the songs getting seemingly progressively better has died. "The Man Who Would Be King" is far from bad, though not up to snuff with the several tracks that proceeded it. The lyrics manage to be almost annoyingly direct and annoyingly ambigious at the same time - almost like I should know what this song is about, but yet I have absolutely no idea. The whole slow intro sequence is somewhat reminiscent of the (gasp) Blaze-era of the band. The harmony section when the tune starts to pick up is quite cool, probably actually the single best part of the song - the section builds amazingly well before kicking into the verse which somewhat brings back the aforementioned Blaze-era vibe. The chorus sounds a tad disjointed to me for some reason, though continues the pattern of being beefed up with extra guitar lines. The solo section of this tune is just bizarre - it honestly reminds me of something found in one of Journey's more proggy songs. Dave Murray turns in a very noodly solo that is a bit buried, before giving way to a cool harmony section. Eventually there's more verses and a chorus, and something heard for the first time this shockingly late on the album - a "slow" outro. This is something the band have drawn a lot of criticism for on recent records, so it's nice to see they've cut back on it. Overall the track has its moments, but comes off a tad inferior compared to the 5 or so tracks which proceeded it. Unfortunate, considering it's Dave's only writing contribution to this album.

And now we arrive at the closing track, the curious "When the Wild Wind Blows". There was no doubt that there was going to be huge expectations for this track, as it ends up clocking in as the third of fourth-longest song the band have ever done, at 11 minutes. Before getting into the actual music itself, I just have to mention that this track let me down. I was expecting something far more adventurous and creative out of a track so long and promising. Unfortunately, the sole solo-penned Steve Harris track ends up underwhelming me. Why? Sadly, I have to confess that this entire track consists of approximately 3 or 4 musical ideas, with nearly all identical chord structures. The rhythms and melodies change slightly throughout, but overall it honestly comes off like 11 minutes of the same vibe. It doesn't help matters that I find the lyrics of this song to be very silly. It bothers me to say this, but I just feel like Steve blew it here. This is especially painfully to say being that I genuinely believe that this track does have good parts and a lot of potential. If they had either cut about 4 minutes worth of repetition out, or replaced it with something considerably different, they probably could've salvaged it as a very, very good track. But the truth of the matter is that the best thing about this song is the instrumental section - while fairly pedestrian in arrangement, features some absolutely brilliant soloing. The Blaze-era vibe is definitely running through this tune as well - both in the guitar melodies as well as the vocal melodies, as Bruce stays relatively in his lower range throughout most of the track. I guess I'm partially to blame for my own disappointment here, I think I got a tad too excited for this, but the truth of the matter is that I just can't help being as underwhelmed as I am. The thought of this possibly being the final track on the final Maiden record is somewhat disappointing to me, compared to the previous couple of album closers.



So, 75 minutes later we have finished the musical journey known as "The Final Frontier", and it's time to reflect a bit. Despite it ending on a somewhat down note for me, I don't think this would be a bad final album for Maiden's great career. For ANY band's fifteenth studio album, this is an incredible effort. Is it rivaling their best work on the whole? No. But I genuinely believe they are by far the most enduring band in their age bracket. The fact that they cant still turn out tunes like "Starblind", "The Talisman", and "The Alchemist" at this point is incredibly impressive to me. I think the writing of Janick Gers and the soloing of Adrian Smith (as well as his writing) shown the most on this effort, with Steve Harris overall being much more of a background player than we're used to, I think it's very obvious that the band was thinking and writing a bit outside of their typical "box", or comfort zone with this album, as they really seem to have broke the mold that many people criticized the last album for. Sadly this band tends to attract a lot of people who are never happy, and so I'm sure this album will receive many negative reviews from stubborn old folks who want the band to keep rewriting Piece of Mind - but the truth is that for better or worse, I think this album is triumph for the creative side of this band. Though less consistent than its predecessor, the band has definitely yet again proven why they should still be making albums - because they can still write music that is worth being heard - and I can honestly say I am genuinely interested in hearing more of it, should the band bless the world with writing it.
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Old 08-15-2010, 08:23 PM
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idrinkwine732 idrinkwine732 is offline
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I agree on all fronts with exception to your love of Starblind and your distaste of When the Wild Wind Blows. Seriously though, this was a great read.
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Old 08-16-2010, 02:24 PM
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I love thorough reviews. I will read it once I listen to the album tomorrow.
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Old 08-16-2010, 02:34 PM
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Great review, can't wait to hear the album tomorrow. I've only heard El Dorado, The Final Frontier, and Starblind as of now.
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Old 08-16-2010, 02:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Maiden33 View Post
The sections that follow the choruses are oddly reminiscent of the classic "Infinite Dreams" to me, and really add a lot to the epic nature of the song. 
Glad I'm not the only one who noticed this.
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Old 08-17-2010, 08:55 AM
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Fucking great review! Good job!



With Iron Maiden albums for me the only albums that I could form an instant opinion on is when I first heard the classic 80's ones. Since No Prayer on (which I got all at relatively the same time as the two Blaze albums) it usually takes a good number of listens to write a review or rank it with other Maiden albums. The Final Frontier is no exception, I can say right now that When the Wild Wind Blows is fucking brilliant though!
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Old 08-17-2010, 10:51 AM
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Excellent review.

I gotta say this album has grown on me from when I first listened to it.
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Old 08-17-2010, 12:06 PM
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Very well written.

I figured the prog/power people would like Starblind but most wouldn't. I didn't think anyone could find something positive to say about TMWWBK. I just can't get past the lyrics personally. The rest of the album gets better with each listen.

Just curious am I the only person who totally hears Scorpions - Make it Real in When the Wild Wind Blows? That 1st riff is almost identical to me. I'm expecting Klaus to start singing the "Make your choice don't be blind" verse at every moment.
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Old 08-17-2010, 12:19 PM
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Originally Posted by jerry1013 View Post
I can say right now that When the Wild Wind Blows is fucking brilliant though!
Yes it is!!

Nice review Maiden33. Give WTWWB another chance because it's a great epic. My favorite is playing right now, Isle Of Avalon. Just an awesome tune

It's deffinitly one of those albums that needs a few listens but there is some great stuff on it. Mother Of Mercy is excellent and I know Bruce's voice sounds a bit strained on the chorus but I would be disappointed if once they "officially" tour for this album it wasn't in the set.

Along with Rush there aren't any other bands that I know of who still produce music this good when their primes were supposedly 25 years ago.

Last edited by Sanitarium78; 08-17-2010 at 12:25 PM.
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Old 08-17-2010, 12:28 PM
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I love the intro to TMWWBK. Too bad the rest of the song isn't as good.
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