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Iron Maiden: The Final Frontier
You’d have to have lived under a rock for the last thirty years to be unaware of British Heavy Metal stalwarts Iron Maiden. Still, Iron Maiden have a sparse existence in mainstream media, so metal novices could be forgiven for struggling to name even a handful of their songs. Having sold over 80 million records worldwide since their East London beginnings in 1975, there seems to be no sign of letting up with The Final Frontier as their fifteenth studio album.
The opening number is every bit as wilfully theatrical as you’d expect. After a two and a half minute instrumental introduction, ‘Satellite 15...The Final Frontier’ flashes into a crescendo that lives up to the billing of the title track. ‘I try to call the Earth's command/desperation in my voice/I'm drifting way off course now/with very little choice.’
For those who are unfamiliar with Iron Maiden, their slight but methodical versatility is what has sustained them for so long, and stood them a head above their heavy metal peers such as Venom, Saxon, and the ultra popular Motorhead - all of whom formed in the late 70s and helped pioneer the new wave of British heavy metal.
‘Mother of Mercy’ and ‘Coming Home’ provide a surprising pace to the album with a slow brooding climb to more archetypal songs such as ‘The Alchemist’ and ‘Isle of Avalon’ which will jolt you right back to the stage show that is The Final Frontier.
Bassist and founder Steve Harris has said in interviews that the 2010 release is as complex a record as any they’ve made – and it shows. The longer songs such as ‘The Talisman’ and ‘When the Wild Wind Blows’ can sound tedious, but taking the time to listen carefully pays off. All the intricate melodies and layers show that Iron Maiden are, and always have been, true masters of their art.
It’s been said that classical music is timeless because it was not made for a market; meaning there were no deadlines, no sales targets, and no pressure. We can imagine the same applied to the making of The Final Frontier in a perverse way, as it oozes its own brand of rock-sophistication. This is a very precise and measured record that compromises nothing, and lets each song stem organically.
One of the shortest tracks on the album is ‘DMT Song’. Created with the help of bassist/vocalist, Thundercat, it is the most vocally dense song on the record. Slow and dreamy, with high-pitched, slightly dissonant, vocals, it's a good intro to the next track, ‘The Nightcaller’. Aptly titled, this song features a groovy dance bass underneath a synthesizer melody that sounds ideal for waving your arms around on the dance floor.
‘Getting There’, with vocals by Niki Randa, is reminiscent of Massive Attack. Not only because of the elongated vocals, but the muffled bass beat and dreamy bell sounds could certainly also have spawned from the brains of 3D and Daddy G. The same goes for ‘Hunger’; a song that sounds like it was recorded underwater and also features Randa. Its spacious melody is broken up by a bridge with echoing vocals and harpsichord-like keyboards.
Erykah Badu is the only vocalist to appear on the album that Flying Lotus hasn’t worked with previously. Her vocals work really well on the African sounding track ‘See Thru To U’ - hopefully, Badu will become incorporated into Ellison’s fixed team of vocalists.
‘Putty Boy Strut’ sounds like a broken toy gone mental, with a catchy musical theme that returns in the deeper layers of ‘Me Yesterday/Corded’.
‘Electric Candyman’ features vocals by Radiohead frontman, Thom Yorke, and is a slow track with male and female vocal melodies mixed together in a way that almost sounds disorienting. Yorke’s voice is hardly recognisable, which seems like a waste considering his great, and highly distinguishable, vocal abilities.
Having released no new material for almost a decade, Metallica finally return to the scene with their latest album Hardwired… to Self-Destruct. Written mostly by James Hatfield and Lars Ulrich, this is the first album that doesn’t include any song writing contributions from Kirk Hammett since he joined the band in 1983; when the album was being written, he lost his phone in a Copenhagen airport which included 250 riff ideas so he had to start from scratch.
The two disk album has 12 tracks in total with 6 on each that still retain the thrash metal vibe that Metallica has come to be known for. Following the same fast pace, the first song ,‘Hardwired’ starts with a steady drum and guitar riff that will get you head banging and tapping your feet in no time.
With strong songs like ‘Moth into Flame’ and ‘Halo on Fire’, the first disk has the familiar thrash tropes that make it what it is; it’s fast, it’s hard, it’s in your face and has an attitude, which is what makes Metallica so awesome.
However, the first disk is not without fault; the fifth song ‘Dream No More’ feels out of place musically as its rhythm and guitar work doesn’t feel cohesive with the rest of the songs on the disk, as if it was supposed to be on a different disk or in another album as it goes from fast then slow and conflicting itself.
The second disk, on the other hand, starts on a different note with songs like ’Am I Savage?’ and ‘Here Comes Revenge’ following a slower tone than the rest of the album, though ’Spit out the Bone’ might be the fastest song on the whole album and will surely make you feel like you need to catch your breath afterwards.
As a whole, the album sounds like one huge song, especially the first disk which feels fluid and, in a way, follows a rhythmic pattern; however, the second feels a bit tamed and toned down, as even though it has some fast-as-lighting guitar work, it still lacks some oomph to it. Still, it offers a level of satisfaction for diehard fans who have waited for eight years for new material.
All in all, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct is a great addition to the band’s discography; the band members have given it their all, while not showing their age. We just hope it doesn’t take them another eight years till the next one