"The Final Frontier"

By Colonel Angus

Well, it's been four years since the mighty Maiden unleashed some new material on its fans. Of course, I'm not counting the soundtrack to "Flight 666" which came out last year. For some I reason, I felt there was more of a "buzz" about this release than the previous couple of records, so I was hoping the hype wouldn't oversell this CD. I'm happy to announce that all the pre-release hype was justified. The band's really produced something special, though I'm not too sure about the Eddie on the cover.

There are many facets to this record that I think will satisfy Iron Maiden fans. For those of us who like something new thrown in, then you'll love the "Satellite 15..." part of the opening track. I would not have known that it was Maiden except for the fact I had the disk in my hands. If you're like me, then you've been enjoying the progressive elements that have been slipping into albums since "Dance of Death". Songs like "Isles of Avalon" and the closing tune "Where the Wild Wind Blows" have the unmistakeable Maiden sound but they throw in progressive elements to great effect. Gone are the days of "Running Free" and "Prowler". Some folks may long for those days (Yours truly being one of them for sure--Old Man Mality) but they were pretty much over when the band recorded "Number of the Beast". There are no short "single" tracks on offer. Most of the songs are in the 5-8 minute range. That being said, "El Dorado" has all the makings of a hit, albeit a slightly longer one.

And for the Iron Maiden purists, there are plenty of spots where the guys just settle back and do what they do best. The aforementioned "El Dorado" and "The Alchemist" are prime examples of Iron Maiden just being Iron Maiden. Both tracks are great but there is a kind of effortless feel about both. Even on auto pilot, the band can still churn out great tunes.

One of the issues I had with "A Matter of Life and Death" was that all the tracks seemed to start with slow bass picking and mellow singing before launching into heavy riffing metal. That problem is corrected somewhat here. Some tracks like "The Talisman" still start the way, but not all of them, which helps give the album a more varied feel. Don't get me wrong, I love "A Matter of Life and Death" but looking at both albums back to back, "The Final Frontier" does show a little more variation. There is more of a vibrant feel about this record whereas the last release seemed very grey. This CD also requires more than one listen. I have spun it at least a dozen times and the more I listen, the more I like it. My one recommendation for "The Final Frontier" is: don't give up on it after one play. Give it a few listens and I think you will find it is one of their better releases.

There has been a lot said about the album title and whether or not this was going to be the last studio outing for the band, but according to Steve Harris, the title was strictly coincidental. Either way, this is a great album. If they decided to call it a day, then they have ended their careers on a high note.