As metal moments go, they don't get much bigger than the arrival of a new Iron Maiden album. Expectations are always huge even if they're not always met. But then there are almost as many visions of a perfect Iron Maiden album as there are Maiden fans, and the band have never, ever sought to please anyone other than themselves. It's the secret of their success, and their 15th studio album offers a wild ride for those willing to get on board.
Maiden don't really do playing it safe. The voices of critics who seem to want to consign the band to an endless 1980s time loop are always disproportionately loud and ignore the fact that Maiden have never played the nostalgia game. Beginning with frontman Bruce Dickinson's return to the band in 1999, Maiden have embarked on the most successful phase of their career whilst fully indulging their progressive tendencies and eschewing compact, catchy numbers like Run to the Hills and The Trooper; the sort of material the 80s trolls obsess over. Maiden have never been bigger and it's all been on their own terms. In that light, this album is exactly the sort of full-on prog-a-thon they were always going to write. Why would they even dream of doing anything else?
The Final Frontier is the longest album of a long career but there's barely a minute wasted. There are more ideas here than many bands manage in their entire career, but in inimitable Maiden style, it's woven together beautifully. Released in advance of the album, the single El Dorado is misleading. It's a solid if unspectacular effort, a comfortable mid-album track rather than a spanking showpiece. But even the band's best albums contain small amounts of filler and this forgettable effort is forgivable. It's certainly not typical of the album as a whole. Satellite 15... The Final Frontier opens proceedings with no small amount of melodrama, setting the scene for a series of truly gargantuan epics.
The mid-paced stomp Mother of Mercy, lighter-waving ballad Coming Home and up-tempo headbanger The Alchemist are all classic Maiden and make for an exciting prelude. The meat of the matter, however, is found in the sheer immensity of the second half. Loaded with changes in tempo and tone, restlessly twisting and turning, from Isle of Avalon to When the Wild Wind Blows, this is Iron Maiden truly living their purpose. No compromises, just complexities and challenges and more moments of brilliance than perhaps even they thought they still had left in them. A remarkable achievement.
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