The Final Frontier

Iron Maiden

The general consensus surrounding The Final Frontier, Iron Maiden’s studio release for 2010, seems to be that it takes a while to soak in. Then, after a few spins, the album starts to grow on you. Heavy metal dinosaurs aren’t supposed to be making heavy records like this one. Reaching beyond A Matter of Life and Death, Maiden’s heavy 2006 diatribe addressing war and religion, the band took Captain Kirk’s advice, teamed up with producer Kevin Shirley and set off for space…The Final Frontier.

Thankfully Maiden hasn’t absconded to Trekkieville — they’ve merely put Eddie and his minions into a catacomb of interplanetary situations. That’s what you decipher from the lyrics and artwork graphics, perhaps a tad arbitrary to the monster riffs that push the whole thing forward. In this instance, Maiden has grown beyond the crunchy three guitar pile-up — constructing songs like architects, relying on textures and layers to add depth and new sonic ground.

Which isn't to say the lyrics lack any sort of depth or heart. Primary lyricist Steve Harris continues to probe heavy subjects like war and religion, while singer Bruce Dickinson settles into the comfortable role of pilot, navigating the melody, adding here and there where he can, rallying the cry as dramatically as possible.

Maiden's approach on The Final Frontier is far more measured and considered than on previous releases. A churning, squirming build fills out the opening four minutes of “Satellite 15…The Final Frontier.” The engines revved up, an assault is unleashed and the triple axe attack of Adrian Smith, Dave Murray, Janick Gers winks in and out of Dickinson’s commanding vocal.

“El Dorado” has one of those barking riffs that melt in your mouth, with a catchy gallop the kids will be leaping in the aisles over. A seismic shift nudges "Mother Of Mercy" into a neo-classical direction, entering darker terrain, but "Coming Home” lifts the veil, and Dickinson tosses in his lot toward to runway lights.

At over nine minutes, “Isle Of Avalon” is the appropriate centerpiece, a chuggernaut that chases down an endless range of power chords wedged around twirling, weaving leads and momentary tempo thrusts. A questionable outlook for “Starblind,” “The Talisman” and “The Man Who Would Be King,” but none can stand up to Harris’ “When The Wild Wind Blows,” an anthemic bender that spends 11 minutes ascending and staggering through the electric airwaves.

Recorded at Compass Point Studio, where Piece Of Mind, Powerslave and Somewhere In Time were all cut, The Final Frontier is not a simple return to form, but a sophisticated extension of the band’s might and muscle. The band's 15th can rightfully take its place alongside other classics as one of their more concerted efforts, late in a 30-year odyssey with no end in sight.

~ Shawn Perry

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