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Songs We Love: Iron Maiden, 'The Book Of Souls'

Iron Maiden.
Iron Maiden.

Can we just take a moment to appreciate that there is a new Iron Maiden album in the world? That vocalist Bruce Dickinson kicked a cancerous tumor's ass? And that the British band still makes some of the most glorious heavy metal ever, 40 years later? Few artists have that longevity and consistency; and even fewer have refused to become a "legacy" act. But this is heavy metal, dammit, made to be played by gnarled bones and bodies.

<em>The Book of Souls</em> is album number 16 from Iron Maiden.
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<em>The Book of Souls</em> is album number 16 from Iron Maiden.

Mortality informs, but doesn't necessarily engulf, Maiden's newest and 16th album, The Book of Souls. Even the band's mascot, Eddie the Head, looks a little more mummified than usual, starkly and stunningly illustrated by Mark Wilkinson, inspired by the Mayan belief of the soul living after death. Much has been made about the album being a double-disc, when, in fact, pretty much every Iron Maiden release is a lengthy tome. But the sequencing is key, and after songs like the barn-burner "Speed of Light" and the chant-along "The Red and the Black," the title track bookends the first disc (or side three of six on the triple-vinyl) with the group in full theatrical mode.

Co-written by guitarist Janick Gers and founding bassist Steve Harris, "The Book of Souls" is not quite Maiden at its proggiest (skip on over to the divisive, if not admirable, 18-minute "Empire of the Clouds" for that), but it does reflect the band's penchant for exploration ever since Dickinson rejoined in 1999. If anything, the first half of the song is most akin to 1990's "Mother Russia," weighted by keyboard strings and a drama punctuated by stadium-sized power chords, as well as a truly remarkable vocal performance. Age has, no doubt, changed Dickinson's voice, but it's almost like he hears the high notes of the resounding chorus as a challenge, reaching for the sky when he sings, "Prophecy of the sky gods, the sun and moon / Passing of old ways will come true soon." A guitar echoes that melody on the second pass with a tenderness that brings sweet tears to these eyes. Then, without breaking the moment, Maiden kicks into a speed-metal gear with a series of melodic and thoughtful solos and twin-guitar leads that have come to define its three-guitar attack. There's a sacredness to "The Book of Souls" that, like Iron Maiden's respect to its roots, also looks forward with wonder, forever upping the irons.

The Book of Souls is out now.

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