Iron Maiden, is one of the greatest heavy metal bands of all time.
In September 2015, they released, “The Book of Souls”. The press release had something like this, “the album features eleven epic tracks, including the 18-minute-long “Empire of the Clouds.”
“The Book of Souls” takes its inspiration from several sources, including the Mayan civilization and the ancient Aztec mythology. Talking about the inspiration behind the album, Iron Maiden’s bassist, Steve Harris, said, “We all love exploring the myths and legends of different cultures around the world, and I think fans will really enjoy seeing how we’ve taken these ideas and turned them into something new and exciting.”
The album is also known for its successful chart performance, reaching number one in several countries worldwide.
The album’s tracks are not typical radio-friendly tracks; instead, they are epic journeys that take the listeners on a ride.
If Eternity Should Fail
Written by Bruce Dickinson. The song is played in drop D tuning and it originally had been written for one of Dickinson’s solo albums.
As Dickinson explains in a Kerrang interview;
The demo was done and the band just copied what Roy [Z, along time Bruce collaborator] and I did in his bedroom. In fact, the little keyboard bit in the beginning is me in Roy’s bedroom.
In a Rolling Stone interview, Dickinson described the song being about a machine designed by the evil Dr. Necropolis that steals the souls of men.
After the effects laden Intro, it really kicks into gear at the 1.32 mark.
Dickinson is at his best here, with each word and syllable clearly pronounced.
What the hell does “reefing a sail” mean?
I had to look it up.
Waiting in line at the ending of time if eternity should fail
It is open to interpretation.
The idea of a final judgment or reckoning, where all souls must wait in line to be judged, even if eternity itself were to come to an end.
Or it could be the idea of waiting for something that may never come, even in the face of eternal time. This interpretation could speak to the human experience of waiting for something unattainable or out of reach, despite the seemingly infinite amount of time available.
At the 5 minute mark it kicks into overdrive, classic Maiden. At 5.45 we get the harmonies.
I could have done without the demonic voice at the end.
Speed Of Light
Written by Adrian Smith and Bruce Dickinson.
Nothing super original about this musically as it is a track with alot of Deep Purple swagger mashed up with “From Here To Eternity” from the “Fear Of The Dark” album.
Shadows in the stars, we will not return, humanity won’t save us, at the speed of light.
It’s not just words to fit the music. There is a lot to unpack here.
“Shadows in the stars” could be interpreted as a metaphor for the human condition of feeling small and insignificant in the face of the vastness of the cosmos.
“We will not return” suggests a finality, perhaps implying that humanity is on a one-way journey towards some unknown destiny or fate.
“Humanity won’t save us” suggests a lack of hope or faith in the ability of human society to solve the problems facing us. This could be interpreted as a commentary on the current state of the world, where many pressing issues such as climate change, political instability, and inequality remain unresolved.
And the phrase “at the speed of light” suggests a sense of urgency and the idea that time is running out. This could be interpreted as a warning that we need to act quickly and decisively if we want to avoid a catastrophic future.
It conveys a sense of resignation and a lack of hope for the future. It suggests that we may be on a collision course with some form of disaster, and that there may be little we can do to avoid it.
The Great Unknown
Written by Adrian Smith and Steve Harris.
It reminds me of “Aerials” from System Of A Down. And I like it.
But it doesn’t lift off after the Intro and Dickinson is hard to decipher vocally.
But make sure you stick around for the harmony solo which kicks in at 4.11, before the main solo.
Overall if the great John Kalodner was sequencing the album, this song would be left off or it would be heavily edited to a 4 minute song.
The Red And The Black
Written by Steve Harris.
This song confuses me. It’s sort of a classic but it’s not. But depending on mood it is. Hear me out.
After the bass doodling, the whole Intro is classic Maiden.
We hear the vocal melody played on the guitar before the first verse kicks in. And it’s excellent. But the singing that comes next is way too busy and indecipherable. Even Harris has said in various interviews that Dickinson freaked out at singing this because there are so many words.
Lyrically it’s based on a 1830 French book called “Le Rouge et le Noir”.
The story is about a man trying to rise up the social ladder via working hard and then abandoning his ambitions as he spirals down with mental illness.
See myself in the hall of mirrors
A different shape every step I take
A different mind every step of the line
But in the end they are all mine
The idea of self-reflection and the complexity of one’s identity.
The “hall of mirrors” is a metaphor for the mind or the self, as we look inward and see different versions of ourselves reflected back.
Our perception of ourselves is constantly changing.
At 2.26, they start the woh-oh part.
At 2.58, the song moves into another section. The lead guitar plays the vocal melody and it works this time around.
And they move back to the woh-oh part.
Chance your luck a four leafed one
Success is uncertain and one must take a chance or a risk in order to achieve it. The “four-leafed one” emphasizes the idea that success or good luck is rare, like finding a four-leaf clover in a field of three-leaf clovers.
When the chorus kicks in it’s in major key territory.
At 6.34, a harmony section kicks in and then an excellent lead. I think it’s from Janick Gers. And there still another 6 minutes to go.
Another excellent lead kicks in at 8.38.
And the piece d resistance is the lead break that starts at 9.40. You need to stick around for that. It continues to the 11.53 mark.
It’s only fitting that it ends with the woh-oh part.
When The River Runs Deep
Written by Adrian Smith and Steve Harris.
How good is the riff that kicks in at the 35 second mark?
But the vocal melodies don’t do it justice.
The Book Of Souls
Written by Janick Gers and Steve Harris.
A baroque like intro from Janick Gers gets things started.
At the 58 second mark it goes into an Arabic feel, more “Powerslave” Ancient Egypt like than Aztec/Inca.
Prophecy of sky gods
The foretelling made by deities associated with the sky. In many cultures, the sky is seen as a domain of the gods, and so predictions made by them would be considered especially significant.
The sun and moon
Passing of old ways will come true soon
A prophecy of change and transformation. The sun and moon are often seen as powerful symbols of change and cycles of renewal.
But the song could have done with some editing.
Death Or Glory
Written by Adrian Smith and Bruce Dickinson who bring pack the power of the first three Maiden albums.
Lyrically it continues Dickinson’s love affair with aerial combat, which he covered in “Aces High” and “Tailgunner”.
Musically, the whole solo section is definitely worth pressing play for.
Shadows Of The Valley
Written by Janick Gers and Steve Harris.
An intro reminiscent of “Wasted Years” and “Paschendale”. And I’m hooked.
And musically the song is great. Melodically it is great. Lyrically it’s not so great.
Tears Of A Clown
I love the groove on this, written by Adrian Smith and Steve Harris, the song is praised by Dickinson as his favourite track and it is based on comedian Robin Williams’ depression and suicide in 2014.
Tomorrow comes, tomorrow goes
But the cloud remains the same
Wonder why he’s feeling down
Tears of a clown
A façade of happiness, even though the person is struggling with inner turmoil or sadness. Hiding their true emotions, just as a clown hides their true face behind a mask or makeup.
The Man Of Sorrows
Written by Dave Murray and Steve Harris. An arpeggiated Intro with a lead. Perfect.
Then the vocal melodies come in and Dickinson is crystal clear.
And when the Chorus kicks in, it brings back memories of “Wasting Love” from the “Fear Of The Dark” album.
Looking through a mist of truth
That we believe an elusive cloud
We perceive reality as hazy or unclear, and we struggle to discern what is true and what is not. Truth may be difficult to perceive clearly, perhaps because of personal biases or limited information. We see truth as something that is difficult to grasp or pin down.
The things we find are hard to say now
That we live through day to day
Do you struggle to articulate your thoughts and experiences. You may feel overwhelmed by the complexity of the world around you, or you may be grappling with difficult emotions or circumstances.
Find it hard to force the reasons
Why we find it hard to die
A feeling of hopelessness, reflecting on the mystery of human mortality and the meaning of life.
As we look to see the man of sorrows
Passing knowledge to those who don’t know
Is the “man of sorrows” a reference to Jesus Christ, who is often depicted as a figure of suffering and compassion in Christian theology?
The line suggests that this figure is offering guidance or insight to those who are open to receiving it.
As we watch all our friends passing over
As they pass through the edges of time
The passage of time and the inevitability of death.
Steve Harris had to deal with a loss of a family member and a close friend during the writing and recording of this album.
The passing of friends and loved ones, has led Harris to contemplate the meaning of life and mortality.
From the Thin Lizzy like harmonies to the lead breaks the whole solo section is excellent.
Empire Of The Clouds
It’s long. 18 minutes in length but this song will be seen as a masterpiece if it isn’t seen that way already.
Written by Bruce Dickinson.
The track tells the story of the “British R101” airship, which crashed in northern France on 5 October 1930 during its maiden voyage.
Over the course of various interviews during the album’s release, we found out that the song was written entirely by Bruce Dickinson, who initially intended it to be about “World War I fighter aeroplanes.”
Dickinson abandoned the idea after using the same theme for the song “Death or Glory,” also from The Book of Souls.
At the time of recording, Dickinson was reading “a big, sort of encyclopedic crash report” of the R101, entitled “To Ride the Storm”.
It took Dickinson about a month to compose the song during the recording sessions.
The track features Dickinson’s debut on piano and the rest of the band had to play along to this piano track while following instructions from Dickinson and producer Kevin Shirley.
And how good is that piano riff and melody. It sounds like it’s out of sync with the metronome but that’s what makes it sound even better.
And when Dickinson starts singing with the catch cry “to ride the storm”, you stop and pay attention.
To ride the storm, to an empire of the clouds
To ride the storm, they climbed aboard their silver ghost
To ride the storm, to a kingdom that will come
To ride the storm, and damn the rest, oblivion
At 6.35, the guitars play the Intro piano melody and at 7.00 the song changes tact. The Instrumental section starts with all playing SOS Morse Code.
Then the best part of the song. A melodic lead in a Major Key kicks in at about 7.10 and I’m stopped in my tracks.
These harmonies continue to 10.04, when the first of the individual leads kicks in.
At 10.35, the song changes feel and tempo. And the riff.
Wow. It gets the foot tapping and the head banging.
At 11.00 it goes back to one of those harmony riffs.
And like Chekov’s Gun, they bring back that riff from 10.35 with a vocal melody at 12.31.
Anton Chekhov is a Russian playwright and he famously said that “if a gun is introduced in the first act of a play, it should be fired by the third.”
This riff is like the gun.
And at 13.00 it changes tact again, more operatic and cinematic. And progressive.
But at 13.40, that riff is fired again.
The empire of the clouds, just ashes in our past
On 11 March 2016, the band announced that the song would be released as a 12″ picture disc single for Record Store Day limited to 5,500 copies, using the front cover of the Daily Mirror from 6 October 1930 as the cover artwork. The single’s B-side features an interview with Dickinson and McBrain, entitled “Maiden Voyage”, in which they recount the song’s creation.
In conclusion, “The Book of Souls” is an album that showcases Iron Maiden’s musical brilliance, passion, and maturity.
The songs are not to formula as they don’t have the weight of MTV or label pressures to do that. What you get is an album that allows the musicians to follow their creative muses.
I wouldn’t walk out of a concert if any of these songs came up in the setlist and for that, this album has aged well.