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Iron Maiden - "The Final Frontier" (CD)

Iron Maiden - "The Final Frontier" CD cover image

"The Final Frontier" track listing:

1. Satellite 15....The Final Frontier
2. El Dorado
3. Mother Of Mercy
4. Coming Home
5. The Alchemist
6. Isle Of Avalon
7. Starblind
8. The Talisman
9. The Man Who Would Be King
10. When The Wild Wind Blows

Reviewed by on August 24, 2010

"Though 'The Final Frontier' doesn't find Iron Maiden heading where no band has gone before, at its best, it shows off the band's finely honed prog-metal skills to near-perfection. "

With "The Final Frontier," Iron Maiden continues the winning streak the band has been on since the dawn of the 21st century. It's a mostly excellent 70-plus minutes of metal, with plenty of twists and turns both lyrically and musically. It's also got some notable flaws, one of which — unfortunately — launches the album.

"Satellite 15... The Final Frontier" has an overly long instrumental intro that, while initially interesting, soon bleeds a lot of the energy from the song, despite Nicko McBrain's engaging drum part. Then, as Bruce Dickinson begins singing of a space traveler "blown off course," it begins to feel like a heavy metal version of David Bowie's "Space Oddity." When the second part of the song finally kicks in, it's with a riff that strikes me as a little more Judas Priest than Iron Maiden. It's pretty rare that the lyrics rescue a song, but in this case, there's a great twist in which we discover that the titular "final frontier" isn't just outer space, it's the hereafter that our doomed spacefarer is heading into.

Just when I started to worry that the band was going to drift away from their core sound, "El Dorado" kicked in, with a "Wasted Years"-style guitar line and Steve Harris' trademark bass gallop kicking into full gear. It's an excellent stomper with lyrics about a thief looking to deceive you with visions of "pyramids of gold." Bruce Dickinson is absolutely amazing in the song's chorus and the guitar solos — well, this is an Iron Maiden album, do I really need to finish that sentence ... ?

The war tale "Mother Of Mercy" and "The Alchemist" also feature classic Maiden sounds, though "Mother" is a little more reminiscent of the band's more recent work. If you're looking for prog-rock symphonies that will keep you hanging on every note, you'll find them in both "The Talisman" and the apocalypse tale "When The Wild Wind Blows."

On the other hand, there are tracks like the Celtic legend-laced "Isle Of Avalon" that, despite some interesting instrumental interludes, feel a little bloated. That said, the slow "Coming Home" is the one track that failed to hold my interest, though it clocks in at a comparatively short five minutes, 52 seconds.

Janick Gers, Dave Murray and Adrian Smith's guitars are, as always, a multilayered pleasure to listen to, though it often seems that the band doesn't really take complete advantage of the options that a third guitarist affords. The rhythm section of Steve Harris and Nicko McBrain takes some interesting — and frankly funky — turns in the mid-section of "Isle Of Avalon" to great effect.

Producer Kevin Shirley more than earns his keep, with a warm sound that gives every instrument ample room to breathe, while never covering up Dickinson in the slightest. I especially like the drum sound, which has a nice resonance to it, without being either tinny or overblown.

Though "The Final Frontier" doesn't find Iron Maiden heading where no band has gone before, at its best, it shows off the band's finely honed prog-metal skills to near-perfection. This disc is deservedly going to be on a lot of metal reviewers' "best-of" lists at the end of this year.

Highs: "El Dorado," "Mother Of Mercy," "The Alchemist" and "The Talisman."

Lows: "Coming Home" and the overly long "Isle Of Avalon."

Bottom line: An excellent disc that continues Iron Maiden's 21st century winning streak.

Rated 4.0 out of 5 skulls
4.0 out of 5 skulls


Reviewed by on August 24, 2010

"'The Final Frontier' is worth picking up if you want to “Up the Irons” and are already a die-hard Maiden fan like myself. However, the last three albums are without a doubt written and sung way better."

"The Final Frontier" was hyped up to be Iron Maiden’s last album, as Steve Harris was quoted as having the desire to complete fifteen studio albums. However, this later proved to be a false rumor. Iron Maiden has not worked together on an album since 2006, which marks the longest gap between records. Also, the length of the album clocks in at an unprecedented 76 minutes. This is by far the longest musical endeavor in the thirty years Iron Maiden has been in the business.

Is this necessarily a good thing or a bad thing? “A Matter of Life and Death” previously held the record for the longest Iron Maiden album, and was met with much positive reception. Naturally, you cannot blame the band for riding the coattails of their previous masterpiece. Where “A Matter of Life and Death” was not as catchy as the last two albums of the “comeback years” ("Brave New World" and "Dance of Death"), it was quite epic and beautiful. Constructed with complex instrumental trackings and lyrics that were reflecting the attitudes and issues of 2006, the album grew on me. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for "The Final Frontier." "The Final Frontier" is neither catchy nor epic, despite its length.

The first two tracks, "Satellite 15…The Final Frontier" and "El Dorado," are also the only singles on the album. "Satellite 15…The Final Frontier" has a lengthy (almost four-and-a-half minute) intro that is highly unique. You can clearly hear the banging as Nicko McBrain pounds the hell out of his drums, but you also hear an electronic-like synthesizer capturing the illusion of a long trip into space. The intro is unique, but the song falls apart from there. Bruce Dickinson, who gave one of his most memorable vocal performances on “A Matter of Life and Death,” especially on “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg,” has digressed immensely on “The Final Frontier.” Right away, you can tell that Bruce’s voice is the focal point of the production, trying to rejuvenate an aging voice; even so, Bruce has an absence of any of the trademark operatic falsettos that made him famous.

In addition, where are the catchy and unforgettable choruses? I don’t think chanting “It’s the final frontier!” over and over qualifies as a well-planned chorus on the same level as “The Wicker Man” or “Wildest Dreams.” This one seems so ungraceful. The song that has an entertaining and catchy chorus is “Starblind,” which is a stronger track with a riff similar to “2 Minutes to Midnight.” The most unusual track is definitely “Isle of Avalon.” This is the track that I’ve been waiting for. It has the highly dark and creepy atmosphere that was much appreciated. However, this track takes time and patience to truly appreciate. It is undoubtedly the best song on the album, just not at first glance.

On songs like “The Talisman,” and “Isle of Avalon,” some of the transitions are pretty interesting. It seems that Iron Maiden wanted to take a progressive approach on some of the material by blending in fast tempos and slower tempos into the mix. Each song has its own unique sound and beat to it. This is commendable, but does not really give the album justice in the long run, or makes the album anything stellar for that matter.

For instance, on “When the Wild Wind Blows,” the song starts out with a promising intro, as the listener is immersed with this “wild” gust of wind coming in all directions from the speaker. Initially, I thought this might be the song that really rocks my proverbial socks off. To my dismay, this was unmoving to say the least. The song, while lengthy, is incredibly boring. If you think this is even remotely close and resembles the quality of “Sign of the Cross” and “Rime of The Ancient Mariner,” you are in for a rude awakening. I was expecting a similar feel on par with the above mentioned, but where all the other songs have somewhat of a clean transition, this one does not change tempo at all. This left me to question why this song was over ten minutes in the first place. What’s even more disturbing is Dickinson talking during a hefty duration of this song.

I can go on a track-by-track micro review analysis of what is a major turn-off of each song, but the bottom line is that Dickinson is unable to scale his voice, and gives a feeble attempt in songs like “Mother of Mercy” and “Satellite 15….The Final Frontier.” It is almost as if Dickinson did a complete 360 degree turnaround, reverting back to the “No Prayer For The Dying” and “Fear of the Dark” days. Interestingly enough, the songs sound like they can come from "The X Factor" sessions with Blaze Bayley because the lyrics and melodies are more suited to his vocal style.

“El Dorado” is the first single released, and is actually enjoyable. The galloping bass line and guitars mimic a western adventure. Harris’s bass work is put in the front this time. Anyone can clearly hear the pounding bass at all times, which compensates for the poor vocal performance by Dickinson. Like “Fear of the Dark,” Harris gives a memorable bass performance on the majority of the tracks, but this cannot compensate for the lackluster guitar riffs and poor songwriting. Like “A Matter of Life and Death,” the solos are not riveting either. However, “A Matter Of Life and Death” compensated for that with hypnotizing pieces on “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” and “These Colours Don’t Run.”

I think there is a reason why on the “Final Frontier Tour” Iron Maiden decided to only play one track ("El Dorado"); none of the tracks are quite memorable. I do concede the fact that the last album, at first glance, was a bit of a downer. However, as time went on, it left a growing impression on me. Maybe with time this can be viewed the same way. After already listening to “The Final Frontier” four times, I still am quite disappointed with the album and cannot help but feel that Iron Maiden rushed this one in the studio. “The Final Frontier” is worth picking up if you want to “Up the Irons” and are already a die-hard Maiden fan like myself. However, the last three albums are without a doubt written and sung way better.

Highs: The bass lines from Harris and the pairing of "The Alchemist" and "Isle of Avalon."

Lows: Bruce Dickinson's aging voice. A sense of a lack of musical cohesion put forth by the band.

Bottom line: Definitely my least favorite of the albums since Bruce Dickinson returned.

Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls
2.5 out of 5 skulls


Key
Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)