As I sit typing this, Iron Maiden is currently embarking on their Legacy of the Beast tour. Legacy of the Beast is Iron Maiden’s mobile game. If you didn’t know, Iron Maiden rule the world. So because their Los Angeles show is coming up; what better time to write a review of all sixteen of their albums leading up to it. Their show is Saturday, September 14th at the Banc of California Stadium. So every work day (including one day with two), there will be a song-by-song Iron Maiden album review. We had our double duty day with Eddie and Iron Maiden. It was the superb A Matter of Life and Death and the equally as fantastic Dance of Death. Next up is the impossibly long, The Final Frontier.
Background on The Final Frontier
After A Matter of Life and Death, Iron Maiden toured the world in support of that album and then went on another tour titled the Somewhere Back in Time World Tour. This just so happens to be the first time that I had seen or heard Iron Maiden other than their most famous songs. Iron Maiden went another four years without a studio album, but in early 2009 Nicko McBrain let it slip that they had booked studio time in 2010. Their next album, The Final Frontier was announced on March 4th, 2010. The artwork, tracklist, first single, and release date were announced on June 8th. “El Dorado” was given a special single release and was the first taste Maiden fans had of the new album.
The actual album would release on August 13th, 2010 around the world. It was the longest Maiden album up to that point. Clocking in at a total of 76:34. It was a mammoth album from the band. Steve Harris had famously said that he envisioned the band having a total of fifteen studio albums. This scared the crap out of Iron Maiden fans because of the title of the album. Would this be the final shot for Iron Maiden? Or was The Final Frontier just a smokescreen? Let’s find out as we go through the album track by track.
Track 1: Satellite 15….The Final Frontier
We’ll take this song in two parts because that’s what it is. For the first 4:36 of the song, it’s an opening complete with feedback, hard guitar riffs, slamming drums from Nicko McBrain, and Bruce Dickinson blasting out commands from his derelict space ship. The first half of the song refers to space as the final frontier in the Star Trek kind of way. When you get to the second half it’s referring to our final frontier as a living being, death.
“The Final Frontier” half of the song is the one that speaks more about our astronaut from the first half. He knows that death is coming and he espouses about how he’s had a good life and that he wouldn’t change anything. The only thing he wants is to give his family one last goodbye. For an album opener, it’s not just a throwaway speedy song to get the crowd or listener going. This one has some oomph to it and it sets the tone that Iron Maiden still aren’t relenting in their quest to blow your ears off with hard and heavy music.
Track 2: El Dorado
“El Dorado” was the first track off this album that I heard. Iron Maiden released it on my birthday of all days in 2010 (June 8th). They played it on their first leg of the Final Frontier World Tour as the only song off the album. It uses the backdrop of the myth of El Dorado to critique the 2007-08 financial crisis that crippled many people. People were buying into snake oil, get rich quick, and other schemes. Just like those old folk tales, people were sold on high loans with even higher interest rates. Overall it’s a good one that was a solid way to sell the album and what it would sound like.
Track 3: Mother of Mercy
“Mother of Mercy” starts off slow and sounds like it’ll be a different song but by the time you get to the 1:30 mark, you’re galloping along with Steve Harris’s bass guitar. A song about a soldier repenting for his war crimes during a holy war as he dies. “Mother of Mercy” is one of the heavier songs on the album that echoes a sound similar to A Matter of Life and Death. The wars going on in the world seem to have ulterior motives behind them. The soldiers fighting for those in power are sent to kill and not to question. Our narrator went to fight to make money and benefit from it and he realizes the evil and violence he’s brought upon. A truly heavy track in every sense of the word.
Track 4: Coming Home
A beautiful song from Bruce Dickinson about a pilot flying and landing a plane after a long trip. In only the way that Iron Maiden could, they made a wonderful sounding almost-ballad about flying planes. Bruce Dickinson is a registered airline pilot, so while you’re flying in the UK during their off time, you might have Bruce as your captain. The band always tries to perform their last dates of a tour in the UK, so they can get that same “Coming Home” feeling. A soft song was needed after the battering heaviness of “Mother of Mercy”.
Track 5: The Alchemist
This one sounds like it could fit on Piece of Mind or Powerslave. A truly vintage sounding Iron Maiden song. “The Alchemist” sticks out on this album filled with longer more technical songs. It just has a classic vibe to it. A song that has a mythical sound and lyrics but is actually about the British mathematician John Dee. He lived a strange life that the song goes through. Overall this one is the most simple and short of the songs on the album.
Track 6: Isle of Avalon
Now we get to the real metal of this album. The next five songs span nearly 44 minutes. “Isle of Avalon” is a lengthy song that speaks about the mythical island of stories long ago. The song itself is a long, prog rock sounding song that has multiple tempo changes and solos. Lyrically the song is filled with mysticism and references to various legends about the Isle of Avalon. It’s not my favorite song on the album as I feel like it runs too long. But it’s not a bad track. Probably the weakest on the album.
Track 7: Starblind
Another song that focuses on the final frontier of life, death. “Starblind” is a song that challenges the views of various religions when it comes to the afterlife. In this song, someone of faith dies and is surprised when they get to the afterlife that it’s not the one that their religion described. They devoted their entire life to faith but in the end they should have just believed in themselves and let life take them wherever. Their energy is transferred into the cosmos as they slip into the afterlife. A song that combines the various themes of space and religion in a very non-preachy way. Another progressive one that has tempo changes and Bruce Dickinson wailing away like a banshee, it’s a great song.
Track 8: The Talisman
This is a special one on the album. “The Talisman” is about a voyage on the sea in search of a new land. A talisman leads the ship and it’s crew. As the song goes on for it’s 9 minute run time, as the currents and waves get more and more dangerous the song gets heavier and faster. It matches up the music with it’s lyrical content in a way that reminds me of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. Like most of the songs on this album, the theme of homesickness or journeying to unknown lands is prevalent. The narrator dies before his voyage is over, having gone through the hardest part and not reaching his goal.
Track 9: The Man Who Would Be King
What could be the pinnacle in Iron Maiden’s new prog-rock sound, “The Man Who Would Be King” is an epic song. It tells the story of a man who has killed another and how he goes through his life regretting it. The lyrics don’t speak about a man actually becoming King, but lamenting on what he could have done in his life had he not taken another life. With more tempo changes and solos than any other song on the album. It’s a complex song that requires multiple listens to really get what it’s all about. Musically the song lets Janick Gers, Adrian Smith, and Dave Murray stretch out their playing and complement one another perfectly.
Track 10: Where the Wild Wind Blows
The world is supposedly ending. According to those in power in the government and news media, the apocalypse is imminent. A couple prepares for the worst, making a fallout shelter. The song ends with a rare British earthquake. Families panic and start running around like the world is ending. The couple referenced goes into their shelter and waits out the supposed fallout of nuclear bombs that never really dropped. It ends slowly and beautifully with rescue crews finding the couple together having poisoned themselves, rather than facing the disaster that wasn’t really awaiting outside.
A song about the sensationalism and exaggeration of disaster in our world today. People are duped by news coverage of events that are horrible but not completely catastrophic. In the end of the day, even if there’s some horrible event, like the song ends with, it’ll just be another day “where the wild wind blows”. This is my favorite song off the album and takes all the progressive elements of Iron Maiden’s sound and puts it together with a well-painted story. A true classic in every sense of the word.
Final Thoughts and Score
Many people thought that Iron Maiden would retire after this album. “Where the Wild Wind Blows” feels like a swan-song from the band. In classic Iron Maiden fashion, the title was misleading. Bruce Dickinson thought of it much before the album released as a way to get fans riled up. The Final Frontier is an album that requires a patient fan to listen. The first half is a breeze while the second half of the album is where you need to be rigorous with listening. It’s prog-rock at it’s core and that is just what Iron Maiden’s sound is like now. For huge fans, this one is a great treat. But for the rest of people it might sound like a slog. It rewards you for multiple listens, finding new meaning in the lyrics or a guitar riff that you didn’t quite hear the first time around.
I give The Final Frontier an 8/10. It’s not quite as good as the previous two albums but it rewards multiple listens. As for Iron Maiden, they would continue their Final Frontier World Tour with other songs off the album including: “Final Frontier”, “The Talisman”, “Coming Home”, and “Where the Wild Wind Blows”. Maiden fans would have to wait even longer than any album previously for their follow-up. Five years would bridge the gap between The Final Frontier and the Mayan themed, The Book of Souls. Check back tomorrow for the finale of Iron Maiden-A-Thon!
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All images and audio are courtesy of Iron Maiden.