Rawker of the Week

Iron Maiden

The Final Frontier

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[amtap amazon:asin=B003JTHESA] 30 years into a recording career isn’t usually the time most bands choose to create their most adventurous, unpredictable album, but Iron Maiden isn’t “most” bands. Despite having provided more than one of the blueprints for modern metal, these Brits continue to mine fresh terrain on their fifteenth studio album, The Final Frontier (released August 17 on Sony Legacy/Universal), which partially echoes their sci-fi obsessed late 80s work but goes a good deal further in sounding almost entirely un-Maiden-like, grafting interesting new features onto all the sturdy things that have made them one of the biggest, most beloved bands in the past quarter century.

The rumbling, Brazilian percussion flavored ambient intro is like nothing in their catalogue and the surprises keep on coming, with Maiden finding their inner boogie child on “El Dorado,” sounding like a beefier cousin to Montrose, and later conjuring an atmosphere one might find on a Radiohead record with “Isle of Avalon.” Throughout Bruce Dickinson sings with a melodic dexterity and carefully modulated force that singers half his age can’t muster, and the three guitar line has rarely sounded slinkier or more perfectly attuned to one another. It’s always amazing how uncluttered their collective playing is despite the extreme speed, volume and intensity, and they’ve given themselves more breathing room than ever on The Final Frontier – a move that accentuates all their positives AND spotlights new charms in this atmosphere of freedom, including some of the strongest, most accessible lyrics ever and the most complex, varied rhythm work of any Maiden release.

At every turn the band seems to have tossed away any preconceived notion about their sound and the result is both unmistakably Iron Maiden and a fully modern metal album fully capable of competing with contemporary creative heavyweights like Mastodon and Priestess. For the first time one can easily envision the Satriani/Vai crowd really digging into Maiden, and yet the album’s heaviness makes sure existing fans want for little, though some still hung up on the band recreating The Number of the Beast or even Powerslave may moan about “selling out” or some such baseless crap. Too often well-established marquee acts, especially in the metal realm, stick close to their signature moves. The Final Frontier is as bold as Metallica’s vaunted “Black Album” in it’s revisioning of a seemingly known quantity.