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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Another Final Frontier review? With references to Goldeneye? Where do I sign up!?

Hey there, friends! It's me, FunOnABun! While Alex is out cashing his fat advertising check he received from Google, I'll be subbing with a topic I've been meaning to write about for a long time. What follows is my personal review of Iron Maiden's latest (and implied by band founder Steve Harris possibly their last!) effort, The Final Frontier.

Preface: I realize this album has already been reviewed by Alex, but because I intentionally avoided reading it (to avoid altering my opinions after possibly gaining new insight after reading his review), I'm not sure how detailed he went into his review. That being said, I wrote a track-by-track review of the album, along with a summary of the entire album, a numerical rating for the album, and an award for each song along the lines of the N64 game Goldeneye. It's fairly obvious I'm a big Iron Maiden fanboy, but I tried my best to beat the fanboy within me to death and take a reasonable approach to each track instead of saying "AHMAHGAD BEST SONG EVER!" but if any of that seeps through, I apologize.

Satellite 15...The Final Frontier:
Award: Best Build-up
The first thing I have to mention is that I really enjoyed this as an opener to the album, but I think the transition from the first half to the second (the division of each half is quite obvious and near the middle of the song) was terrible. If I were a part of Maiden, *drool* I would have split this song in two, calling the first half Satellite 15 and the second The Final Frontier, because there is very little--if any--similarities between each half. The only reason I can see the two being combined is that the first half leaves the listener waiting on the edge of their seat for the climax of the build-up, and what follows is a classic little Iron Maiden groove of roughly four minutes.

El Dorado:
Award: Most "fun"
As the award states, this song isn't too serious, which is a welcome relief from their previous gloomy and war-themed album, A Matter of Life and Death. This song is upbeat, has a unique intro (reminds me A LOT of Hit the Lights by Metallica), has a classic Maiden gallop to the rhythm, and has some "Ha's" and "Hey's" scattered throughout that simply lighten the mood of the song. If I had to take a guess, I would bet that this song was the most fun for the band to make, which might explain why this was the first official single off the album; it just seems like an injection of life and sunshine that the band needed to stop writing so many dark songs (let it be known that I like the dark songs too, but a change of pace once in a while never hurt anyone). This song has become one of my favorites off the album, despite the fact that I had my doubts when I first heard the song a few months ago before the album was released.

Mother of Mercy:
Award: Best Lyrics
The intro riff to MoM was one of the first things that caught my attention on my very first listen through the album; simple, but somewhat haunting. If I were to have my way, the entire song would have stayed in this introductory pace instead of increasing the pace about a minute and a half later, but who knows if this would have lasted long enough? One slight problem I had with this song is the way Bruce sings the actual words "Mother of Mercy," especially "mother." This is one of the few times his mortality sneaks through for me, as I know a younger Bruce would have been able to go higher more consistently. I'm not exactly sure why I like the lyrics so much, I guess I just like the contradiction shown through the guise of whomever is claiming to be "a holy man," "all around is death and cruelty." I could be way off, but this song seemed like some weird hybrid of an anti-war/anti-religion song, as some of the holy motifs throughout point to a religious song, while the main character seems to be fighting in a war which has an unknown cause. Though this song pales in comparison to the controversy Starblind would have caused back in the 1980s (see below).

Coming Home
Award: Best Chorus
I don't know how to describe it, but the feel and the mood of the chorus instantly captivated me as sort of a despair being overpowered by a ray of hope. I originally thought this song was about a soldier "Coming Home" (hey, that's the name of the song!) from war, flying away from the horrors and seeing the runway lights of his home country, but now I think the loose lyrics can apply to anyone coming home from anywhere. When I bought this album, I was about two days away form a trip to Oklahoma, and I listened to this album almost exclusively in airports and on planes, and this song simply touched on the fact that I was returning home after being gone for a mere week, amplifying the good feeling of returning to where the heart is. Does coming home from a week of drinking and doing nothing compare to coming home from numerous months in hostile wartime territory? No, but either scenario could fit the theme of this song, as each person in the previous scenarios missed their home, and the hope/gloom fusion of this song makes the feeling even more powerful.

The Alchemist:
Award: Most 80s Sounding Track
It might have been the lightning-fast tempo (relative to recent Maiden songs), but this song felt like it was extracted from Piece of Mind or Powerslave and preserved 25 years so it could instill energy on a group of guys in their 50s. Interesting side note, this is the only song on the album where the title of the song is not part of the sung lyrics, and the catch here is that the words at the end of each chorus are "strange alchemy" rather than alchemist. Nit-picky, yes, but trivia like that can be interesting and fun for some. This song and El Dorado go hand-in-hand in making sure this album is not another Debbie Downer.
Author's note: I think I'll take this moment to say that, while I do think it's their darkest album, A Matter of Life and Death as a whole is probably my favorite Maiden album since Seventh Son. I've been doing nothing but bashing the album thus far, so I thought I would just remind you, the reader, that there is a large difference between "dark/gloomy album" and "bad album."

Isle of Avalon
Award: AC 10 Award
A song about the fabled mystic island of Excalibur's creation was an instant attraction for me, but something did not click for me with this song. To me, this is truly the longest track on the album (although technically the second longest), because the intro just drags ass and it seems to take forever to get to the actual meat of the song. With that being said, Isle is probably my least favorite song on the album. I like the middle fast-tempo portion of the song just fine, but the intro, outro, and instrumental simply take too long and are too lacking to keep my attention before I consider skipping to The Talisman. My favorite part would have to be the last main guitar riff (starting roughly at 7:20), which just rocks!

Award: Biggest Feather-Ruffler
If this song was put on The Number of the Beast album, I think the church would have hung the Maiden boys for controversy overload (Maiden was branded Satanic time and again throughout the 80s for tNotB, both the album and the song). I inferred the title "Starblind," after listening to the song a few times, as a way of explaining how people are blinded by the promises of a spiritual life, never truly given a choice in life. Upon reading the lyrics, I felt this might not be singling out any religion in particular, but rather just a depressing song about no one up above will save us when the dance of death unites us all. Just like with any song ever written on the planet, this one is up to interpretation, and this review may simply be a reflection of my recent thoughts on the topics brought forth. *shrug* As for the feel of the song, which is in sync with the lyrics, is a dark song reminiscent of the Life and Death album. Not one of my favorites, and sometimes skipped after listening to the Alchemist because I just want to hear The Talisman--which leads me to the next song quite conveniently.

The Talisman
Award: Favorite Song
This song, on first listen, reminded me very much of the closing track from Life and Death, The Legacy, and numerous parallels can be drawn for the songs. Because the intro is so quiet, each song's introduction could be labeled similar, but the bulk of each song is unique and amazing in its own way. While this track is almost the same length as Avalon, Talisman manages to keep me interested clear and intriguing tempo changes, and yet another upbeat theme/feel. Any other positive remarks I could make can simply be summed up by saying "this is my favorite track on the album," but the small part that kills me on every listen is using the word "thee," the Old English word for you, to forge a rhyme during the intro, when not a single other allusion to Old English is made anywhere else in the song. Ah! Why couldn't they just use the word "Free" "Decree" or "tree?" Rabble! Great song, though!

The Man Who Would Be King
Award: Where's the Ammo?
If Life and Death taught me anything, it's that the boys in Maiden like to start slow and build up gradually (eight of the songs could be claimed as having slow or quiet starts), and this song is no exception. To me, Dave Murray's only composed song is the Switzerland of the album: no exceptionally awesome or terrible features about it, I have not skipped it yet when listening to The Final Frontier, simply put, a good mid-level manager. I wish I could indulge more about this song, but I just don't feel strongly either way other than to say it's "good," so tell my wife "hello" and let's move on to the closing track on the album.

When The Wild Wind Blows
Award: Best Riffs (9:04 is my favorite, but there are several outstanding riffs)
The only solo composition of Mr. Harris on the album and the longest track length, I had huge hopes for this song (Fear of the Dark, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Alexander the Great, Hallowed be Thy Name, Sign of the Cross, To Tame a Land, and several more are all solo compositions for Harris and the longest songs on their respective albums, and if you know your Maiden, you know those songs are the majority of Maiden's best ever). I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm dissatisfied with Wild Wind, I do, however, think it's missing "that thing" (I sent it) that classifies it as a song that will be remembered as one of Maiden's best. Once again, I had an odd idea to cut the song in half, with an instrumental in one corner and a song going of the tone and feeling at about 2:13 and 5:00 (my favorite sections of the song, please refer to your LEGALLY PURCHASED copy of The Final Frontier for clarification). Yes it could definitely be a train wreck, but in my mind, it would play out as two middle songs, meaning the Talisman would need to take over as the closing song.

Award: Most Ambitious Effort
In general, The Final Frontier showed me that the members of Maiden are far from done composing and performing, as this album is a tough listen, but has quickly become my new favorite post-millennium album, and currently, it's definitely my favorite Maiden album of this decade.
For die-hard Iron Maiden Fans: give this album a couple tries; I will be the first to tell you that this album was not well received by me on my first listen.
For casual fans: you will probably like songs like El Dorado and Alchemist, but again I advise giving the album a few listens before giving up.
For non-Maiden fans/new listeners: run. Run far away--back to the 1980s--and start there. This song requires a fairly hefty understanding of Iron Maiden's style to be truly appreciated, and doesn't have many "hooks" for a new listener. Try Piece of Mind or Number of the Beast first.

My ranking of the tracks:
1. The Talisman
2. El Dorado
3. Coming Home
4. When The Wild Wind Blows
5. The Man Who Would Be King
6. Satellite 15...The Final Frontier
7. The Alchemist
8. Mother of Mercy
9. Starblind
10. Isle of Avalon

Numeric grade: 9/10, nearly another perfect Iron Maiden album!

I'm not sure if Alex asked this on his review, but how do you feel about the album? Do you have any counterpoints to my points? I'd love to hear more takes from level-headed people who have more to say that "MAIDEN RULES/SUCKS!" Sorry about the dreadful length without any videos or pictures to give your mind a break, but I trust that if you do get overwhelmed by the length, you will skim to the review of the song that intrigues you the most.


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