Rock Sound's review of Iron Maiden's latest opus..
With the news that this isn’t Iron Maiden’s last hurrah on record, the album’s Trekkie title alluding instead to an ostensibly intergalactic sci-fi concept, fans of the Irons can pack a celebratory peace-pipe with dilithium crystals, slip into their denim-patched space suits and prepare for an 80-minute widescreen metal odyssey. Over a career chaptered by 15 studio albums in 30 years, Iron Maiden have always gone large with their ideas, but since Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith returned to the fold in 99, the band have sauced their patented gallop with a generous dollop of musical adventurism. It’s as if every track has to carry the same weight of narrative as legendary, career-high watermark ‘Rime Of The Ancient Mariner’.
Orbiting Maiden’s most comfortable métier, ‘The Final Frontier’ is an essay on death, war, adventure and the human condition – sure, it’s set largely in space, but like all good sci-fi it’s rooted in earthly travails. Where the band’s career has always been imbued with a sense of immediacy, with insistent melodies blessing the faithful with instant gratification, Iron Maiden 2.0 is a far denser proposition. Save for ‘El Dorado’, the single offered as a free download in lieu of this summer’s tour, ‘The Final Frontier’ is shorn of obvious hits. Those jonesing for the next ‘Flight Of Icarus’ or ‘The Trooper’ to come swashbuckling out of the speakers will have to curb their enthusiasm, take a deep breath and dig in for their jollies. Indeed, the weighty Tolstoy-esque grandeur of 06’s ‘A Matter Of Life And Death’ was easier to digest, with ‘Different World’ and ‘The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg’ adding a bit of levity and a muster point for those weened on Maiden circa-83.
Opener ‘Satellite 15… The Final Frontier’ is as dark as Maiden get: Steve Harris seems to have bottled the pathos of Apollo 13 when stitching together four minutes of abstract Maiden at zero gravity, before its blast off into the conquistador bombast for which they are famous for. ‘The Final Frontier’ is not an easy album. There are hooks strewn throughout, and while well-worth persisting for they are well concealed amongst the more elongated compositions. When they do arrive, they’re administered by Dickinson. Some folks have suggested that his vocal performance on ‘El Dorado’ is material evidence of diminishing power in Dickinson’s lungs, but this is disingenuous; if Dickinson’s voice has atrophied over the years it has been incrementally and, besides, his style has always sailed close to the wind of full-capacity. On ‘Coming Home’ he’s in his pomp during a song thick with allegories of his own lifestyle as a pilot / touring musician. With the riff to ‘Starblind’ sounding kind of UFO; those folkish melodies first aired on ‘Dance Of Death’, perfected on ‘A Matter Of Life And Death’ running throughout; erm, ‘The Alchemist’ recalling ‘Man On The Edge’; those lyrical themes of redemption, of battle-worn philosophy; and, though rationed, The Gallop: ‘The Final Frontier’ might sound alien at first, but Iron Maiden’s DNA is splashed all over it.