Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier (2010) Aug 19, 2010 0:05:52 GMT -5
Post by Erik Rupp on Aug 19, 2010 0:05:52 GMT -5
As I listened to The Final Frontier for the first time a thought occurred to me: It's really nice to know that in 2010 we can still count on Iron Maiden to deliver not only great live shows, but a top notch new album as well.
I mean, really, who thought back in 1985 that twenty-five years later Iron Maiden would still be around, and would still be a vital act that could draw crowds in excess of ten thousand?
Well, that's where we are. It's 2010 and Iron Maiden's still got it.
The Final Frontier is really a tale of two albums. The first five songs are shorter and more straightforward, while the second five are the longer, more progressive/dynamic songs. The first five songs have the stronger hooks, where the second five songs have the stronger musical substance.
The first five songs are certainly easier to listen to as driving music, but you can't discount the second batch of songs as road worthy songs - they still work pretty well in that context.
The album starts off in an atypical fashion for Maiden as they go with the electronic, percussive, "Satellite 15," which segues into the song's second half, "The Final Frontier." It's, "The Final Frontier," that is the real album opener, and it's a corker. Straighforward, heavy, but still melodic, and featuring a phenomenal chorus hook this is a song that isn't all that far removed from the songwriting on Somewhere in Time. It's a great way to start the album.
Following that is the first single from the album, "El Dorado," which is a high octane, high energy song with another big chorus. It works even better following up, "The Final Frontier," than it does on it's own as a single. That moves into, "Mother of Mercy," which starts off fairly mellow, but not in the same way that Steve Harris has been starting so many of Maiden's songs over the last 10 years (this isn't a noodling quiet bass intro). When it kicks in full gear, "Mother of Mercy," has a great grooving gallop and some great riffing. It's a very good song.
"Coming Home," is particularly interesting as it starts with a fairly complex riff before mellowing out to a, "Remember Tommorrow," type of verse. The bridge and chorus have a feel not unlike some of the material on Fear of the Dark, just done better than most of those songs. After that kind of moody, dynamic song a straightforward ass kicking song is needed, and that's just what Maiden delivers in, "The Alchemist." This song is kind of a hodge-podge of fast Maiden styles. The intro sounds not unlike the Piece of Mind/Powerslave era, before moving into a verse that is very similar in style to, "Man on the Edge," from The X Factor, then moving into a style not unlike the first two Maiden albums for the bridge. The chorus, though is pure 2000's era Maiden, and somehow the combination of styles works really well for the song. This is a pure burst of energy that gives the album a great dynamic.
And then comes the longer, more progressive part of the album starting with the epic (and brilliant), "Isle of Avalon." Just when you've got Steve Harris pegged as the mellow bass intro guy, he pulls out some new tricks. On The Final Frontier there isn't a single song with a mellow solo bass intro. Not one. There are plenty of mellow intros, but this time they're done differently and that helps give the album a fresh sound.
Now, are some of the intros too long? Maybe, but they're different than what we've heard from Maiden over the last 10 years, and they're all pretty darned good so if one or two of them is longer than it needs to be that becomes a minor quibble.
As noted, "Isle of Avalon," is epic, and it's really, really good. Really, it's great. Dissecting the songs from the second half of the album in detail is probably not particularly practical, so I won't bother with it (much). "Isle," is classy, melodic, and (like all the songs from the second five songs on the album) dynamic.
"Starblind," has an odd feel to both the riff and the drum beat in the verse (and chorus - same part, different vocal), but it works well for this song that changes moods and beats several times (and includes some Seventh Son-isms). This one isn't as good as, "Isle," but it is good.
Janick Gers made multiple key songwriting contributions on A Matter of Life and Death. On The Final Frontier his contributions are limited to a riff or two on, "The Alchemist," and this song (which is mostly his) - "The Talisman." The heavy part is fairly upbeat and energetic, and the song on the whole is more melodic than it's predecessor (without being any less heavy). This is another really strong track.
"The Man Who Would be King," is a good song written largely by Dave Murray (his only songwriting contribution to the album). The changes on this one are all fairly organic and flow well, and there are some really cool riffs here (as well as some decent melodies).
The album closes with another epic, Steve Harris', "When the Wild Wind Blows." I'm not totally sold on the main verse (which is just OK), but the song takes a radical change after that and becomes something truly special. There is a section in the second half that grooves along with an infectious beat. The vocal melodies in this section are all pretty darned strong as well. The changes are all really cool on this one, and it ends up being very much like the songs on, "A Matter of Life and Death," in that respect.
One thing I find interesting are the bits here and there that are fairly jazzy in style. Kind of like Fragile era Yes, only slightly jazzier. It only shows up in spots here and there, but it's a nice touch that gives the album a little more flair.
It may not have been a great idea to break up the album into the two halves like Iron Maiden did here, and a couple of the songs from the second half are a tad too long, but that isn't a fatal flaw by any means. The songs are strong enough that the album can overcome these relatively minor issues.
While Kevin Shirley's production does leave a little to be desired (would it kill him to use a little more high mids on the guitar tones so they sound a little less muddy in spots?), it is fairly decent overall. It doesn't help the album, but it doesn't hurt it, either.
It really is nice to know that 25 years after their career hit it's peak Iron Maiden is still capable of coming up with an album this good. The Final Frontier is a welcome addition to the Iron Maiden catalog and holds up well in that large group of albums.