Iron Maiden are on top of the metal tree; pricking about the world on Flight 666, speeching up their gigs like they’re campaigning for something indefinable, and now, against some of the odds, a number one album. Problem is, their own hype is coming to define them. Allow me to explain.
Nobody can deny that Maiden have achieved a level of success about which most noise-making fucks can only dream, at least on this side of the Atlantic. It’s all a distraction, though, from the crucial question: Is The Final Frontier actually any good? The fact that it’s on the album chart at all might give you a clue that I tend to think not.
Listening to this record has actually been a chore. A Matter of Life and Death was a formulaic trudge through Iron Maiden’s standard set of ideas, and while The Final Frontier is a bit better, it is not, to my mind, worthy of the critical gushing it has prompted. Admit it, most of you like it just because it’s Iron Maiden.
What of it? Well, for a start it’s 75 fucking minutes long, nearly twice as long as any album needs to be. It’s full of proggy digressions that aren’t bad, taken on their own, but together, add up to a load of overlong waffle. Six out of ten tunes clock in around nine minutes, and it was a similar story with Matter. It’s almost like they’re chucking shit at a wall, trying to outdo Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The Maiden-hype says their epics are the best, so lads, lads. Got an idea. Why not do absolutely everything as an epic?! Thus, we traverse the looking glass.
Similarly, the record seems to be drowning in reverb, presumably because expectations say Maiden’s sound is like, massive and brutal. And Bruce Dickinson is going at full bore almost constantly, belting out every single song from somewhere in the vicinity of his bowels, because that’s just what he does now, I guess. But I know I’m not the only one who misses the dynamic shifts, both subtle and massive, the shade and light heard on To Tame a Land or Out of the Silent Planet. The Talisman seems to be the only song here where he’s prepared to rein it in a bit, and even that doesn’t last longer than a couple of minutes.
First single El Dorado is a competent enough variation on the standard Maiden gallop, and the best thing on the record’s first half. Way too long, though. Starblind is actually alright, mainly because of the chorus melody, the use of synths, and because of Nicko McBrain’s off-kilter drumming, which offsets the bog-standard cantering riff nicely. Still, I’m bored by the end of seven minutes. Isle of Avalon isn’t bad either, but it’s too long, and I’m getting too long in the tooth here to bother trying to describe it.
On the other hand, Mother of Mercy is the song the word ‘generic’ was coined for. The Alchemist is just annoying filler, much like Coming Home, and When the Wind Blows has got a rubbish title. Also, it sounds like something else. I invite you to try and spot it.
Ultimately, the progressive elements of The Final Frontier are both the best and worst things about it. The record unquestionably picks up in the proggier second half, but at the same time, taken in totality, it seems bloated and overcooked. By the time you reach the end, you’re so exhausted you might as well have wasted an hour listening to Queensrÿche or Dream Theater instead. Iron Maiden’s final frontier is apparently self-parody, and they’re heading for it with all the celerity of a Boeing 757 with both engines a-Blaze Bayley.