Iron Maiden’s well publicised RPG now available on the Apps Store and Google Play has been well promoted by the band during their latest world tour supporting “The Book of Souls”. The game draws inspiration from all the bands previous albums and combines the music and artwork that fans have come to love with the tried formula of a turn based RPG. As you might expect the gameplay isn’t anything unique for mobile RPGs with a simple levelling system and well throughout skill trees combined with a plethora of in app purchases. This was never going to be the draw of “Legacy of the Beast” as it has been a game designed for hard-core fans who would recognise every reference from the bands back catalogue.
The game is well conceived to take advantage of Maiden’s mascot Eddie as you must play through a series of worlds from the Ailing Kingdom (The Wicker Man), The Kingdom of the Sands (Powerslave) and The Underworld (Number of the Beast) in order to recover the pieces of Eddie’s soul. Playing through each world unlocks another portion of Eddie’s soul and an aspect of the mascot to add to your playable characters which are interchangeable during play to capitalise on their unique abilities.
Beyond the inspiration for each world it’s not surprising that the developers have managed to squeeze in as many references to the bands body of work wherever possible. The newest album features strongly in the games mechanics as the book of souls which you collect early in the tutorial phrase allows you to utilise soul shards in order to summon creatures to help Eddie as he fight his way an army of cultist. However, the others are all their somewhere in different ways like the equitable items called talismans (The Final Frontier) the ever present guide called “The Clairvoyant” (Seventh Son of the Seventh Son) or a line of dialogue.
The result is a real blast for any Maiden fan as you can’t help prove your knowledge of the band by picking up all the little nodes to individual tracks. A soundtrack of some of the bands greatest hits is just the icing on the cake but is the element that obviously has pulled everything else together.
Iron Maiden’s Book Of Souls tops Official Albums Chart
Number 1 in the UK, Belgium, Italy, Finland, Germany and a handful of others. Unfortunately my fellow Auzzie’s need to jump on board as the book of souls is only at number 2 and that goes double for my friends in the US at number 4. Lets all show that mainstream crap what real music is.
In stark contrast to the atmospheric “If eternity should fail”, disc 2 begins with the intense and galloping “Death or Glory” which follows in the footsteps of “Aces High” as it tells the story of WWI tri-planes. The guitar really complements this concept as the riff seems to climb before falling back down to earth and rushes Dickinson’s well composed lyrics to give the impression of dog fighting. Through all this is Harris’ customary bass line which really gives the song a truly Maiden feel.
Reprising the opening from 1986’s “Wasted Years” is “Shadow of the Valley” a reasonably safe song which struggles to stick in my mind Beyond the first 30 seconds. In many ways it reminds me of 2010’s “Isle of Avalon” but fails to reach any of the same heights and doesn’t really distinguish itself from the rest of the album.
Dedicated to the memory of Robin Williams, “Tears of a Clown” is a powerful and well written reminder about the dangers of depression. To start the guitar seems to halt mind riff as the energy wants to build it stops and is concluded by Nicko’s drums which remain noticeable throughout the song. It is however Dickinson’s vocals carried by the rhythmic bass that makes the track. Not only are they clear and easy to follow but from personal experience they made me reject on aspects of my own minor struggles with depression. It is a fitting tribute to actor who gave everyone years of laughter and whose personal struggles went unnoticed through the public façade, perhaps giving us a final lesson to look beyond the surface.
“The Man of Sorrows” has a bit more of a stripped back and raw sound reminiscent of the bands earlier work but at a noticeably slower pace. Dickinson’s operatic vocal style is in full effect with different length notes dominating the song before the guitar solo adds a little more intensity. Like, ” Shadows of the Valley” this track fails to really distinguish itself however it is reasonable entertaining if not memorable and provides a moment to take a breath before the grand finally.
The album’s triumph and possibly the bands magnum opus “Empire of the clouds” doesn’t sound anything like an Iron Maiden song. Opening with Dickinson on Piano and building a layered orchestral melody the song foreshadows the tragic events of the history it is about to tell while also symbolising the beauty of the havens. As the song develops the music begins to tell the story alongside the lyrics as Nicko’s military drums softly allude to the idea of Empire and the Airships own roots while the melody of the piano is gradually taken over by the mimicking guitar as it builds towards its final flight. The well composed lyrics with their multiple meanings like the obvious reference to the our father, in the ‘kingdom yet to come’ while alluding to the notion of an Empire united by Air travel symbolised by the title, to the imagery of the ‘silver ghost’ make this one of Maiden’s most finely crafted tracks. This well constructed build up changes with the approaching storm as guitar’s quicken their pace begin to drive the Airship towards France this instrumental movement forms the basis for the songs outstanding solos before giving way to the turbulent description of the tragedy. This raising torrent resolves itself with the crash and the piano returns with its sombre tones and bury the ‘Empire of the Clouds’ along with the 48 victims of the tragedy.
Maiden’s longest ever track at 18 minutes carries ever second better than other songs of similar length like In – The – Gadda – Da- Vida and is their purest example of storytelling. After multiple listens I can recognise why Steve Harris labelled the song a masterpiece as it has distinct movements, multiple layers and elements of a classical overture as the music itself inspires listeners to imagine scenes and moods. Personally, I can’t help but put “Empire of the Clouds” up their with “Rime of the Ancient Marnier” as the best epics produced by the band over their 40 year history.
Maiden have their own ‘Empire of the Clouds’ as they take the new Ed Force One across the continents in 2016
The album as a whole is simply brilliant with variations in pace and melody Maiden is able to combine their established sound with new elements. At 92 minutes it might be an exercise in endurance for some but as someone who has easily spent hours in the last few weeks listening to their back catalogue non-stop this isn’t a problem. Even so the divide between discs makes “The book of souls” work as two separate albums of more manageable length. While not every song reaches the same heights the album delivers two clear standouts that sit amongst the bands best work, “The Red and the Black” and “Empire of the Clouds” makes it arguebly their most complete effort since “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” in 1988 but for me it is a toss up with “The Final Frontier”.
Up the Irons!!
Check out the first half of my review here.
It has been 5 years since the release of “The Final Frontier” but Iron Maiden’s 16th album is now available around the world. Even after 40 years the band has still been able to break new ground and it has had me revisiting their entire back catalogue in anticipation. Not one to wait I was keen to get my hands on a CD for my car straight after work on September 4 and spent the rest of my afternoon rocking out to “The Book of Souls”. If your like me and have scanned the web for any reviews you’ll have seen the usual official music commentary which has been largely very positive and a more mixed reception by some fans so I thought I’d take the time to do a detailed review.
The first track “If Eternity should fail” creates a real atmosphere for the album with the South American inspired introduction and Dickinson’s echoing lyrics before it kicks into gear with the usual Maiden gallop. The heavy guitar riff drives the track and noticeable slows for the chorus where Nicko’s cymbal work becomes more noticeable. It’s a catchy track and easy for fans to pick up the lyrics so I wouldn’t be surprised if it appears in the set list for the 2016 tour. My only criticism is the addition of Dickinson’s distorted soliloquy at the conclusion which I fell detracts from the song as an individual track but it works as part of the album to introduce the recurring themes present in the album.
“Speed of Light” is a much simpler song with a faster pace and a traditional Dickinson wail it immediately feels more familiar. Yet, even this seemingly straight forward track introduces a cowbell to demonstrate Maiden’s willingness to experiment with new elements. The first single of the album has grown on me after a few listens as the rush is starts the adrenaline pumping and Dickinson’s vocals are easy to belt out while I’m driving. The energy is quickly shifted by the soft distinctive guitar introduction of “The Great Unknown” which I found really draw me into the track after the intensity of the previous song before the customary change of pace assured in with Nicko’s drums. Unlike some of the other tracks on the album the continuation of the riff through the song instantly made this one of my favourites.
However, it is quickly overshadowed by the bass at the start of the epic, “The Red and The Black” which quickly explodes into a galloping riff that gives the song a militant feel as it mirrors the rhythm of the drums. The psychological themes of the song are somewhat reminiscent of Stendhal’s book of the same name where the main character is often battling contrasting ideas and presenting a façade to those around him. This literary link had already got my attention before I listened to the track but the changes of pace, Dickinson’s lyrics, the melody and the inclusion of some ripping solos during the instrumental bridge instantly made this my favourite song off the album. Even before I was finished with the first listen I was busy humming the rhythm, always a good sign.
The faster pace of “When the river runs deep” caught me by surprise after the deliberate pace of the previous track. The guitars seem to race Dickson to the chorus before slowing and allowing Harris’ rhythm to come through behind the vocals to capture your attention. After this intensive burst of speed comes the title track, “The Book of Souls” which has a real sense of theatre, starting with an acoustic guitar and an almost tribal riff. The song is reminiscent of 1984’s “Powerslave” as the lyrics deal with the religious practices and beliefs of an ancient civilization. Like the earlier epic it starts with a very deliberate pace before it gives way to a strong guitar solo and starts racing towards the finish with a fast gallop reminiscent of classic Maiden.
This 92 minute album is best appreciated in two halves as this provides time to reflect and re-listen to some of the more demanding tracks with that in mind stay tuned for part 2 and my closing thoughts.
Up the Irons!!
Continue reading part 2 here.