The Final Frontier
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/29/2010
Thank God for Slayer.
After an anemic showing in the ‘90s, it seemed like the general consensus was that metal was a young person’s game. After all, most metal relies on two things that, in most cases, decline with age: speed and aggression. But then Slayer roared back in the early part of last decade with God Hates Us All. And since 2001, the band hasn’t faltered.
It seems Slayer’s critical success may have lit a fire in Iron Maiden’s creative engines. Like Slayer, Iron Maiden had less than stellar decade in the ‘90s. But the Irons reemerged with 2006’s A Matter Of Life And Death. Though some fans weren’t as receptive as many critics, it was a strong enough album to stoke some heated critical debate (unlike the near-universally panned Fear Of The Dark, The X-Factor, and Virtual XI).
The goodwill gained with A Matter Of Life And Death is not wasted on The Final Frontier. The album is the musical equivalent of a person going all in on a high stakes poker game. It’s a concept album in the thinnest of terms, dealing with outer space, isolation, and returning home. But the biggest gamble on the album is the length – a whopping 75 minutes – making it the longest album (not including live) in the band’s career.
As a metal lover, when I hear the term “75-minute album,” the first band that pops into my head is Tool. All of their post-Undertow output has involved complex time shifts, dense themes, and a general understanding that the album will require multiple listens to even partially absorb. And to be honest, Iron Maiden isn’t exactly a “75 minute” album kind of band. Some of their best albums, namely Powerslave and The Number Of The Beast, log in between the 40 and 50 minute mark. And as good as those albums are, the prospect of hearing another 30 minutes of Maiden after the last song on each of those albums, isn’t exactly a welcome thought.
So let’s start with the good. If you are a fan of Iron Maiden’s longer songs, such as “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” or “The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner,” The Final Frontier is the Iron Maiden album you’ve been waiting for. Ten songs, 75 minutes – you do the math.
For a good number of tracks, the pacing works. On “The Isle Of Avalon,” the beginning builds to a charged middle and ends on a spectacular note. Steve Harris’ bass playing remains first rate on tracks like this and on “The Alchemist,” the most straightforward “rocking” song on the album.
Unfortunately, age does creep into the album. Bruce Dickinson’s vocals sound almost painfully strained on “Mother Of Mercy.” The leadoff track that features the chorus “The Final Frontier” sounds just like what you’d expect an Iron Maiden song to sound like if you were to ask them to write a song called “The Final Frontier.” And not to obsess about the length, but the album has an unfinished quality that works to its disadvantage. Tons of rock and even some metal benefit from having such an unpolished sound, but when you’re writing an epic album, a bit more emphasis on perfectionism would have been welcome.
Final Frontier has racked up some impressive critical reviews. As a metal album, it’s one of the better releases of the year. And it does reward with repeated listens. But the Irons’ previous successes mar the impact of this album. The Final Frontier is a fine album, but if fans are asked to spend almost 90 minutes listen to Iron Maiden, chances are most will opt to visit their past triumphs.
|'God Hates Us All' was one of Slayer's most poorly received albums, second only to Diabolus In Musica. And I doubt any of Slayer's successes had anything to do with Maiden's creative output, since most of their releases have received great feedback from fans since 2000, a year before the obvious masterpiece from Slayer.|