As I sit typing this, Iron Maiden is currently embarking on their Legacy of the Beast tour. Legacy of the Beast is Iron Maiden’s mobile game. If you didn’t know, Iron Maiden rule the world. So because their Los Angeles show is coming up; what better time to write a review of all sixteen of their albums leading up to it. Their show is Saturday, September 14th at the Banc of California Stadium. So every work day (including one day with two), there will be a song-by-song Iron Maiden album review. We had our double duty day with Eddie and Iron Maiden. It’s the end of the line, for now, of Iron Maiden-A-Thon. We end with The Book of Souls, the sixteenth Iron Maiden album.
Background on The Book of Souls
After The Final Frontier, Iron Maiden confirmed that they would be recording a new album at some point in the future in 2013. It would be a five year gap from The Final Frontier to their next album The Book of Souls. The longest in Iron Maiden’s history. The recording and writing of the album was done at the Guillaume Tell Studios in Paris. It was the same place they had recorded Brave New World, so they were hoping to recapture some of that magic. The band recorded the album very close to the writing of songs for a spontaneous feel and a lot of their first takes were used. It lent the album a live feeling sound.
Bruce Dickinson would have a health scare during this time period. He was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor at the back of his tongue. The story goes that he recorded all the vocals for the album with this tumor. He would make a full recovery to the joy of Maiden fans around the world in time for the record to release on September 4th, 2015. The Book of Souls is the longest Iron Maiden album, clocking in at 92:11. It’s an album heavily based in the themes of death, reincarnation, the soul, and mortality.
It has the longest Iron Maiden song ever recorded on it and it’s the first double album they’ve released. The band would embark on the Book of Souls World Tour to support the album with multiple legs in countries across the world. The Book of Souls was a huge success commercially, going Number 1 in 24 different countries, and outselling The Final Frontier in the UK and the US. Enough with the background though. On with the show.
Track 1: If Eternity Should Fail
An opening track that Bruce Dickinson was planning on using for a solo album of his. If you’ve ever heard Bruce’s solo work from the 90’s and 2000’s, it sounds very much like this song. The first Iron Maiden song to be used in drop D tuning also, it makes the song that much heavier sounding. “If Eternity Should Fail” goes through someone sailing that reaches the edge of the world. This is of course, a meaning for death. The end of your life is just the edge of the world and you’ve got to reef in your sail to keep yourself from falling off. “If Eternity Should Fail” ends with a speech from an unknown figure named Necropolis. He’s lived for eternities and tells us about his sons, and how eternity is merely a short while. It’s a great way to kick off this lengthy album.
Track 2: Speed of Light
Iron Maiden released “Speed of Light” as the first single from the album on August 14th, 2015. It depicts Eddie as a virus traveling through the history of video games. A classic sounding rocker with a chorus that’ll worm it’s way into your brain. This one is definitely a highlight of the album. It’s another in a line of classic, short but sweet, Maiden songs by Adrian Smith and Bruce Dickinson. There’ll be another song in this vein coming up. As for this one, it’s one that makes it to my playlists all the time.
Track 3: The Great Unknown
“The Great Unknown” is a song that doesn’t feel nearly as long as it’s 6:37 runtime. A song that speaks about an event or war just before the collapse or apocalypse of humanity. We look into the future and can’t find a way to predict it. We’re not painted a very bright picture of humanity in it’s final days with this track. “The Great Unknown” follows up a classic in “Speed of Light” but it deserves to be seen in a similar way.
Track 4: The Red and the Black
The only song on the album to be written without a collaborator by Steve Harris. “The Red and the Black” is in the top 5 for longest songs in Maiden’s history at 13:33. It doesn’t feel nearly that long. It paints a picture of gambling as a battlefield. The red and the black go along with the imagery of a casino and the game of roulette or a deck of cards. It’s filled with references to a deck of cards and the various ways that gamblers explain their degeneracy. “The Red and the Black” succeeds in making a 13 minute song feel like a breeze. They played this one on their Book of Souls World Tour and it was not a slog to listen live. I love this track, it’s definitely worth multiple listens.
Track 5: When the River Runs Deep
Normally Iron Maiden’s longer songs feature tempo changes throughout. “When the River Runs Deep” features plenty of tempo changes during it’s 5:52 runtime. A song about valor in battle, it’s not one that I can find myself listening to a bunch of times. The guitar riffs are amazing and the playing by Gers, Smith, and Murray are a definite highlight, the lyrics don’t sound super cohesive with the rest of the song. It’s one that is probably the weakest on the album. Listen for the guitars and musicianship.
Track 6: The Book of Souls
The main event, the title track. “The Book of Souls” is about how all societies, no matter how large, will eventually fall. Hypocrisy is at the heart of all the major powers that fall throughout the history of humanity. It’s painted in a Mayan civilization frame but it’s a general song. The guitar solos in the latter half of the song are the real highlight but overall this is a polished track that evokes classic Maiden. Bruce Dickinson sings the shit out of this one and leaves you hanging on his every word. It’s a classic in every sense of the word, one of the best songs from the reunion era or any era.
Track 7: Death or Glory
“Death or Glory” can be seen as a companion to their earlier track “Aces High”. They both are about air combat in war. “Death or Glory” being about tri-planes in World War I. Evoking imagery of the Red Baron, it feels very much like a catchy, classic Maiden single. Adrian Smith and Bruce Dickinson set out to write this song and “Speed of Light” in that way. Also any song that can start a phenomenon of Maiden fans wearing monkey masks to concerts just for the lyric “climb like a monkey” is great in my book.
Track 8: Shadows of the Valley
“Shadows of the Valley” isn’t a song that you hear much about from this album. After re-listening to the entire album, it’s the song that sticks out as the most underrated from the bunch. With a sound similar to other reunion albums but with a sheen of the themes of death, afterlife, and the soul, it brings a vintage Iron Maiden sound to the new age. I’m honestly surprised that this song didn’t make the cut for their tour supporting the album. It’s that good.
Track 9: Tears of a Clown
Get those tissues out. Iron Maiden’s tribute to Robin Williams and his untimely suicide, “Tears of a Clown” paints a sad, depressing, picture of mental health and how people deal with it. Some of us out there have to put on the clown makeup and make other people laugh while we’re dying on the inside. Those that are happy on the outside might not always be on the inside. It’s a real tearjerker, so prepare yourself before listening.
Track 10: The Man of Sorrows
A song filled with sadness and sorrow, like the title suggests. “The Man of Sorrows” is one that won’t be brightening up your spirits anytime soon. It doesn’t sound like a typical Iron Maiden song, which is a surprise for this album that goes back to a vintage and classic Iron Maiden sound quite frequently. In the guitar solos you can feel the despair that the song talks so much about. It’s truly an underrated gem on this album, sandwiched between a song about Robin Williams and the longest Iron Maiden song in existence. It’s not one that you should forget about.
Track 11: Empire of the Clouds
An epic in EVERY SENSE OF THE WORD. Clocking in at 18:01, “Empire of the Clouds” is about the airship R101. In 1930, on it’s maiden voyage, the airship was supposed to be the next evolution in travel, but it wasn’t tested properly and crashed in Northern France. Written solely by Bruce Dickinson the song is unlike anything else in their catalog. It receives comparisons to “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” for it’s length and scope but “Empire of the Clouds” is a different beast entirely.
If The Book of Souls is the last Iron Maiden album, “Empire of the Clouds” is a perfect swan-song for them to go out on. The song encapsulates what Iron Maiden is about all in one and it never overstays its welcome even with an 18 minute runtime. The song feels like it’s own self-contained story. Like a rock opera with a huge scope. I sure hope it’s not their last album, but I would be satisfied with this being their final bow. It’s that good, listen for yourself.
Final Thoughts and Score
The Book of Souls is a fantastic, albeit lengthy, album from the band. During their reunion period, the songs have gotten longer, the themes more dark and dreary, but the band is as good as ever. The Book of Souls isn’t their best work from this era, that still goes to A Matter of Life and Death. Iron Maiden will always be back to claim their throne as the best heavy metal band performing to this day. This run of albums from 2000 to today proves that they’re always evolving and creating beautiful new music.
The Book of Souls gets an 8.75/10. The album as a whole is very long which might scare off people who aren’t super-fans of the band. The album is well worth your time but it doesn’t quite reach the heights of some of their others. It finishes in the upper class of Iron Maiden albums though. “Empire of the Clouds” is worth the price of admission by itself. Hopefully you’ll be able to find some hidden gems tucked away in the 90+ minute runtime.
Reflection on Iron Maiden-A-Thon
That’s it for Iron Maiden-A-Thon! Sixteen album reviews in fifteen days. Iron Maiden is my favorite band and one that has led me through every period in my life since the year 2008. After more than 30,000 words or so, this was one of the most fun times I’ve had writing. It was a treat going through their history and each album for you all to read and here’s to more Iron Maiden in the future. As they said in the song “Iron Maiden” “Oh well, wherever, wherever you are. Iron Maiden’s gonna get you, no matter how far”.
Now for a special section. To conclude Iron Maiden-A-Thon, I’ll rank the sixteen Iron Maiden albums complete with links to the other reviews. This is my personal list, not yours, so if you get mad that your favorite album isn’t high enough, make your own list.
- Somewhere in Time (1986)
- Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)
- Number of the Beast (1982)
- A Matter of Life and Death (2006)
- Powerslave (1984)
- Piece of Mind (1983)
- Dance of Death (2003)
- The X-Factor (1995)
- Iron Maiden (1980)
- The Book of Souls (2015)
- Brave New World (2000)
- The Final Frontier (2010)
- Fear of the Dark (1992)
- Killers (1981)
- Virtual XI (1998)
- No Prayer for the Dying (1990)
That’s it from Eddie and I for now. Wherever Iron Maiden goes, I’ll go with them.
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All images and audio are courtesy of Iron Maiden.