Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier
Heavy Metal
10 songs (1:16:35)
Release year: 2010
Iron Maiden, EMI
Reviewed by Goat
Major event

As the first ‘proper’ metal band that I ever heard, Iron Maiden will always hold a special place in my heart, and doubtless in the hearts of 90% of you reading this. They’re elder statesmen of the Metal world, a brilliant band that reciprocate the deserved love they receive, and 2010 marks not only their 35th year of existence but the release of their fifteenth album, high numbers that should give every Metalhead a little shiver of pride. Steve Harris had said that the band would release fifteen albums, although he has recently admitted that they plan to continue touring and releasing albums. The thought of Maiden’s retirement did shock me, however, especially given the hint in this album’s title... We have the privilege to still be living in the same years as the ones who gave birth to our genre, something that will not be true for ever as time flies by and such icons as Dio are robbed from us – appreciate them whilst they’re still there, people, whilst we still can. Of course, a new Iron Maiden album is a major, major event in the metal world, and one which increasingly splits a fanbase caught between fondness for the 80s highlights and disdain for 90s low points – Bruce Dickinson’s return has turned the band in a slightly different direction, from anthemic ‘up the Irons!’-esque heroes to Prog-tinged Metal troubadours, something that sadly, not everyone appreciates.

Personally, I love the band’s work this past decade, easily placing it above most of their 90s work and even rivalling some of their 80s classics – as much as I love Powerslave, Seventh Son, Somewhere In Time and so on for their instantaneous entertainment value and sheer fists-in-the-air euphoria, with Brave New World, Dance Of Death and (especially) A Matter Of Life And Death, Maiden became a band that you had to immerse yourself in, to listen carefully, to appreciate subtle songwriting touches and long, epic songs that were the norm rather than the exception. It’s no surprise, then, that AMOLAD was the band’s most divisive album to date, earning accusations of boredom and failure that once would have been anathema to the fanbase. So it’s not entirely surprising that early tracks from The Final Frontier were treated poorly, the title track especially coming under fire on the MR forum (from a disappointed me as much as anyone) for being, well, crap. Neither that nor El Dorado had the catchiness or mystery that made The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg such a great introduction to AMOLAD, and expectations for The Final Frontier was thus pretty low.

What surprises, then, is that The Final Frontier as a whole is a step backwards, away from AMOLAD towards a mixture of its longer, epic tracks and older-styled anthemic Heavy Metal. That title track that sounds so poor on its own here comes as the second part of the opening track, Satellite 15... The Final Frontier, and the distinctly weird opening that this gives the album is more suited to one of Bruce’s solo albums. Epic, almost militaristic percussion, ominous riffs and strange backing noises work together to create an atmospheric build-up leading to a wail-heavy introductory bit of singing, launching almost without warning into the second half of the song, that ‘crap’ title piece that suddenly sounds much better in context of the album. Anthemic, clap-along Heavy Metal with some great melodies and vocal hooks from Bruce, who sounds a little strained and repeats far too many choruses far too many times but is, as ever, completely on the top of his game. We may never hear those ear-splitting screams again, but he remains one of the best vocalists in Metal.

My first listen to the album as a whole was vastly disappointing, expecting a ‘Maiden goes wacky’ carnivalesque Cathedral ride that all the hype was mistakenly promising, but once I remembered that I was listening to Iron Maiden, the complaints died away. There are no real bad tracks, although a couple are going to take quite a few listens to really enjoy, verging on the forgettable – Mother Of Mercy is first and foremost amongst these, despite its passable chorus indulging far too much in the sort of grandiose Maiden windbaggery that reached its peak on previous albums and is getting rather tiresome. Fortunately, at just over five minutes’ length it doesn’t outstay its welcome, leading quickly into ballad Coming Home, sure to be a killer track live with its wistful verses and lighters-in-the-air patriotism of the chorus. I can’t fault The Alchemist, either, a reflection on Elizabethan wizard/scientist John Dee that shows Maiden at their most traditional and solid, and it’s good to see that previous eyebrow-raiser El Dorado is great here, snug in the first half of the album tracklisting, and a real highlight with its extended instrumental parts.

The second half of the album is where the really good stuff resides, starting with Isle Of Avalon which could have fit on A Matter Of Life And Death like a glove, long, epic and with excellent instrumental parts. Four epics finish the album off, starting with the comparatively straightforward Starblind at nearly eight minutes of enjoyably complex prog-touched melody, and building up. I love the spooky acoustic opening to The Talisman, and love the sudden cranking-up to pounding Heavy Metal even more, an infectiously energetic and intense track that deserves to fit on Bruce’s Chemical Wedding solo high mark – awesome stuff. The Man Who Would Be King features some nice vocal harmonising that links up with the music in an almost psychedelic fashion, a spot of experimentation in a sea of normality that I would love to have seen expanded on, and finale When The Wild Wind Blows is an eleven-minute tale of heartrending emotion that is genuinely brilliant and a real surprise. Loosely based on the horribly depressing When The Wind Blows graphic novel by Raymond Briggs, it tells the story of an elderly couple awaiting nuclear annihilation with stoic Britishness, leading up to a terrible dénouement. Bruce’s performance is excellent, switching from foreboding storyteller to tender, funerary mourner with his usual expert grace, bringing a tear to these cynical eyes and making the album’s length completely worth it.

In summary, a less forgiving fan than I would see this album as a real missed opportunity to expand the band’s musical borders – why no actual Space Rock on the first track, where a bit of Hawkwind would leave you truly starry eyed? Why no dips into Dream Theater-esque solo-trading, truly progging out indulgently? Iron Maiden are most definitely playing it safe for the most part, staying on earth where they could have soared and truly knocked us all of our feet, yet whilst I find that disappointing I won’t let it spoil my enjoyment of what is otherwise a solid album from the band. The stunning When The Wild Wind Blows especially moved me, and proves that whilst Bruce and the boys are unwilling to move too far away from what is now their core formula, they do it so damn, damn well that there’s really little reason to complain. I know that some are disappointed with The Final Frontier, yet doubtless with time and real familiarity with these songs (hey, there’ll be a live album out soon enough that releases their real epic value!) those in doubt will learn to like this album. Personally, I can’t pretend that The Final Frontier is my favourite Maiden album of the 00s (putting Brave New World and Dance Of Death on after this as a palate-refresher, the sheer energy and drive of the earlier duo put this to shame) but it is a good album that any fan should enjoy, with several excellent tracks that raise the overall quality a lot. Just avoid that special limited ‘Mission Edition’ metal tin, everything I’ve heard suggests that the bonus content isn’t worth the extra cash.

Killing Songs :
El Dorado, Coming Home, The Alchemist, The Talisman, When The Wild Wind Blows
Goat quoted 83 / 100
Other albums by Iron Maiden that we have reviewed:
Iron Maiden - Senjutsu reviewed by Goat and quoted 60 / 100
Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls reviewed by Goat and quoted 73 / 100
Iron Maiden - Flight 666 DVD reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Iron Maiden - Killers reviewed by Thomas and quoted CLASSIC
Iron Maiden - Iron Maiden reviewed by Thomas and quoted CLASSIC
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