Released: August 17, 2010
After waning over the last couple of albums during Bruce Dickinson’s first stint, two ill-conceived releases with Blaze Bayley and a lackluster return for Dickinson on Brave New World, Iron Maiden stormed back to life with their last two albums and an outstanding tour documentary. Perhaps no other band in their third decade could raise such high hopes for a release, particularly after a four year layoff from the studio.
Right from the start, it’s pretty clear that The Final Frontier is not going to follow the formula of the last two albums. Throbbing, tribal drums and airy guitars make for a spacier tone and even as the intro moves into the more traditional body of the song, it, like the album as a whole, is both distinctly Iron Maiden and very much its own album. Overall, there are moments where they bring passion, excitement and technical prowess together as only they can, but few songs maintain that throughout. “Coming Home,” for instance loses some of its intensity in the chorus and the leads are too dull to justify their three guitar attack. While “The Talisman” is a bit of a slow-starter, it makes up for a lot over it’s nine minutes as it gets Maiden closer to chaos than perhaps ever before and they still shine like no other metal band. To lesser extent, “The Man Who Would Be King” does the same and this is a welcome new angle to the Maiden sound.
Their last album, 2006’s A Matter of Life and Death, got more than its share of flak for its “epic” songs. It was an unjust attack considering that, despite their length, none of the songs felt long, so it was a pleasant surprise to see that it didn’t deter them from keeping most of the tracks over the seven minute mark. Few bands have mastered Maiden’s art of going over five minutes without meandering through filler and this set, despite a few tedious moments, did nothing to disprove that.
In many ways, this album has some points in common with 1986’s Somewhere in Time. Both follow a run of outstanding albums (though the recent run is half as long) and, while remaining musically challenging, the fire that sets Maiden apart from any other band at their technical level burns just a little bit dimmer. Both albums’ biggest problem isn’t their content, but the incredibly high bar set by their predecessors. For any other metal band, The Final Frontier is an outstanding record. For Maiden, it’s merely very good.
Although Maiden would still be great even if the albums came in a blank sleeve, there is no denying that the album art is a big part of who they are. Since parting ways with Derek Riggs, nothing has been quite the same. While The Final Frontier cover isn’t their worst (see 2003’s Dance of Death which looks like CGI from about ten years earlier), it’s definitely not up to par. I mean, I guess the alien is Eddie, but it’s a stretch. C’mon guys, patch things up with Derek so that the cover art once again matches the music inside!
If you’re curious about my rating system, it’s explained here.