REVIEW: Iron Maiden – The Final Frontier (2010)

Part 43 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

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IRON MAIDEN – The Final Frontier (2010, EMI)

Iron Maiden had a hell of an album to live up to when they recorded The Final Frontier.  2006’s A Matter of Life and Death was a total triumph, a complex driving metal masterpiece.  Witness:  Not one but two 5/5 star reviews here on LeBrain’s Blog alone.

The Final Frontier begins daringly, with an incredible piece of music unlike anything Maiden have ever attempted before.  The rhythmic intro “Satellite 15…” begins sounding like an improvised piece, but knowing Steve Harris and Adrian Smith who wrote it, it was anything but.  It has a looseness that sounds like improvisation, but then Nicko’s persistent drum patterns ground it.  Bruce’s plaintive vocals speak of “drifting way off course now” and trying to contact Earth, without success.    The piece is loaded with tension, which is released only as it breaks into the first actual song, “The Final Frontier”.

Continuing the lyrical theme, Steve writes of drifting through space, alone, unable to bid his family farewell.  Musically this is anthemic Maiden as Steve and Adrian have been known to write before, with a catchy riff and chorus.  Some of the guitar work is reminiscent of 1986’s Somewhere In Time.  I find it daring to team such a catchy metal tune with an abstract intro like “Satellite 15…”

Without letting up for a second, the lead single “El Dorado” gallops through the speakers.  And yes, it’s an actual vintage Maiden galloping start!  Written by the triumvirate of Steve, Adrian, and Bruce (who have written so many classics in the past), “El Dorado” careens through multiple sections all tied together by the effortless playing of the band.  Adrian’s catchy yet exotic solo is a highlight.  It’s not an obvious single at almost 7 minutes long, but this length is necessary to contain all the different riffs and sections.  None of them are extraneous; every bit of this song is as good as the last, although it sounds like Bruce is reaching for notes too high on the chorus.

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The heaviness lets up briefly for the start of “Mother of Mercy”, a brief but epic sounding track that could have fit happily on the Brave New World CD.  Yet it’s even more riff laden than anything on that album, continuing The Final Frontier‘s tendency to cram awesome guitar after awesome guitar into one song.  It’s a mere five minutes long, written again by Steve and Adrian, with another catchy chorus delivered with power by Bruce.  A song like this proves that Maiden can be brief yet still cram all of their power and talent into a catchy five minute number.  The lyrics question the deadly combination of war and religion.

How much more epic can you get?  None more epic than the chorus of “Coming Home”.  A Smith/Dickinson/Harris epic, the lyrics reflect Bruce’s love of aviation within one of the best choruses they’ve ever written.  By any other band this might be considered a “power ballad”, but at no point in its six minute length do I really consider it as such.  This is surely one of the best songs on The Final Frontier.  There’s even a bluesy guitar solo (probably Davey) to fit the melancholy mood of the song.

“The Alchemist” is the shortest song on the album, but the first that is a traditional fast Maiden scorcher.  It has a solid Janick Gers riff (who co-wrote it with Bruce and Steve) and Bruce spits out the quick verses.  Janick’s solo is his typical manic style, but as a song, this is the weakest on the album thus far.  It’s not as memorable or impactful as the four previous, but a fast one is required to balance out the more progressive material elsewhere.

And speaking of more progressive material, “Isle of Avalon”, written by Steve and Adrian, takes us back into that territory.  Nine minutes long, it is very different lyrically from anything Steve’s done before:  Celtic legends and mythology and all that.  And of course, it has multiple riffs, time changes and melodies to keep the listening entranced through the whole length.  It’s an effortless listen despite its complexity, simply because it’s loaded with great guitar parts.

One of my favourite tunes is next:  “Starblind”.  It’s another Bruce/Steve/Adrian masterpiece, and not too brief at almost eight minutes long.  It starts slow, but the main riff kicks in at 50 seconds. Be prepared to be pummeled!  Bruce delivers an epic chorus, while the lyrics seem to be another condemnation of corrupt religious figures (a traditional Maiden topic).  Nicko’s drum patterns are anything but simple; this is one more progressive Maiden masterpiece.

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The heaviness of “Starblind” is replaced by the acoustic intro of “The Talisman”.  Yet another eight minute epic track, “The Talisman” was written by Steve and Janick.  2 1/2 minutes in, you’re assaulted with the next in what seems like an endless stream of  incredible Maiden riffs.  Bruce wails away of a treacherous ocean journey.   Steve has written some of his catchiest melodies yet, with plenty of twists and turns.  Yet another classic.

“The Man Who Would Be King” also starts slow, before moving into a classic sounding Maiden guitar harmony riff.  This one was written by Steve and Dave Murray.  Again, it’s not brief:  Over eight minutes of riffs, melodies and changes.  Lyrically, it doesn’t seem to have any great connection to the book or movie, The Man Who Would Be King.  Musically, it’s another complex amalgam of amazing parts acting as a whole.  Songs like these, there is no way to fully appreciate them after just one listen.  Even now I’m finding new appreciation for “The Man Who Would Be King”.  It has some sections that sound more “vintage” Maiden than anything else on The Final Frontier, but they’re over in a blink and onto the next section!  This is a hell of a song to digest, must like the rest of the album.

Finally, the end of your journey into The Final Frontier:  the epic track “When The Wild Wind Blows”.  This is my personal favourite song, ten minutes of non-stop drama.  This is the Harris album epic; the song that lives up to the legacy set by previous epics such as “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”.  Lyrically, it’s an end-0f-the-world scenario, as they huddle in their bunkers waiting for apocalypse from the sky.  When the world doesn’t end, they are found dead anyway, having consumed poison.  Once again, the song has many different sections, each one more powerful than the last, all wrapped in those trademark Maiden guitar melodies.

There is no denying that The Final Frontier is a challenging listen.  It is also a rewarding listen, a complete journey with a start, middle and ending.  Very few bands can manage an album like this fully 30 years into their recording careers.  Maiden have managed to do so, and not only that, but with their strongest lineup intact strong as ever.  With the production talents of Kevin Shirley, the band managed a crisp sound that strikes a balance between polished and live.

Melvyn Grant has returned to do the cover; easily his best cover with Iron Maiden.  An alien Eddie searches a derelict alien vessel for some kind of key.  I don’t get it, but I don’t care.  I’m a sucker for the alien motif.  Two of my favourite things combined at long last — Iron Maiden, and aliens!

For the first time ever, there are no B-sides to discuss.  There was only one single, which was “El Dorado”.  Dan Slessor from Kerrang! magazine sent me a promotional copy of the single, a really nice collectible in a 7″ sleeve (with even printed “wear marks” to make it look like a vinyl single is inside)!  It can be seen below for your enjoyment.  Disappointingly though, it is merely a CD-R, not an actual factory pressed CD.  I guess the old days have finally passed.  Why send out an expensive promo single when everybody else is simply sending electronic files?

Lastly, there was a deluxe “Mission Edition” of this album made available with interview footage conducted by Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen; unfortunately this content was not compatible in Canada so I never bought it.  My copy did come with a cool Final Frontier sticker though.

5/5 stars

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26 comments

  1. I was a bit worried about this album at first. I didn’t think El Dorado was very strong when I first heard it being streamed online. I thought it was a bit weak but it works much better on the album than as a single, and it’s a grower too. Thankfully, on release day I heard the album playing in a shop and it sounded great.

    Brilliant album again. Totally agree with all your points. Love the artwork for the album and single. I stuck with the normal edition, the “Mission Edition” was too expensive compared to the normal edition over here and I didn’t like the tin packaging very much.

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    1. The tin packaging was a tad disappointing. I know they could have done better. I’d rather see a big giant Eddie on the cover, than a small one in a tin.

      Maiden now have quite a series of albums to top. It probably won’t be a couple years before we see album #16, but I think it’s safe to say that expectations will be higher than ever,

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      1. Yeah the tin thing was pants. They’ve definitely given themselves a bit of a challenge following these two! The good thing for them is that they can afford to take as much time as they like and come up with good material. It’s amazing that a band of their vintage is still taking chances though, you never quite know what to expect from Maiden albums now!

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        1. Pants?

          One of the reasons that Bruce seemed to cite for leaving in the first place was that Maiden were just doing the same thing over and over. Now it’s clear that nothing is really off limits. They’ve done acoustic, they’ve done orchestras, and the lyrics get very personal. I think Bruce had to leave and come back for them to get to this point!

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        2. Sorry… pants as in rubbish!

          I think time has proven Bruce had a good point about a lot of things Maiden-related. It’s shame that it took a split for them to get there but that’s how it goes I suppose. It’s all ok by me if they can keep putting out albums as good as these,

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        3. Yeah, agree. Sometimes a split (or just a break) is a really good thing. Plus the return of Adrian, let’s not overlook that. The guy is so melodic, and such a fantastic writer. This reunion would NOT be the same without Adrian, just look at the writing credits.

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        4. 100% yes! Adrian is a genius songwriter, it ripped the heart out the band when he left. That was one of Bruce’s reunion criteria too wasn’t it?

          Credit where due also; Janick has came into his own as a writer since the reunion too.

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        5. No, I believe that came 100% from Steve. Steve missed his writing chops and said, “Let’s see if we can get Adrian back too.”

          And yes I love Janick. But he and Adrian are very different, and the balance of the writers is really strong now. It was really a stroke of genius keeping all three guys in the band.

          How many bands attempted this and succeeded?

          Europe tried to do a lineup with both Kee Marcello and John Norum, but Marcello wasn’t into it. The Crue wanted to do a lineup with Vince Neil and John Corabi, and that didn’t happen either. And of course the Yes “Union” lineup didn’t last long.

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        6. Rick Wakeman used to call that lineup “Onion” cause it brought tears to his eyes! Hahahah

          That’s great! I always thought (maybe assumed?) that was a Bruce idea. Kudos to Steve then, the man’s not daft.

          There wasn’t any takers for a Bruce and Blaze lineup though was there?!

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        7. No takers! In fact I can’t think of anybody else except Clive that anybody would really like to see back in Maiden. And Clive unfortunately can’t do that. Sad.

          Paul’s a joke…his US tour got cancelled. He probably can’t get a visa from all his convictions.

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        8. Steve Harris seems great at keeping the old members part of the Maiden family so I think a big one-off with as many members as possible would be great! Paul Di’Anno’s a bit of a mess now but I still think it would be exciting to see him back in the band for one show. I just don’t think Steve can be bothered with that sort of nostalgia but he’s getting on a bit so who knows?

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        9. I wonder. I kind of doubt it would ever happen, but you never know. One thing for sure, it’s Steve’s call.

          I think the majority of fans would be happy to see Bruce front the band from here to eternity.

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        10. If not ALL the fans… but as a guest appearance for a few songs I think most fans would love to see Paul and others back on stage with the band. Even Blaze! Why not, just for a few songs? Like what Metallica did with their anniversary shows.

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        11. Me personally, I wouldn’t be too excited to see Paul get up on stage for a couple songs. Just my preference. I think the guy’s a bit of a joke now personally.

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        12. Fair enough, I wouldn’t argue with that. I could take it or leave it ultimately! I’m not going to lose any sleep if it never happened! Haha… But a show like that can bring out the best in people. I’d be interested to see what he could do… it’s a bit a Fantasy Football sort of chat though! It’s so unlikely to ever happen!

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  2. Adrian is a huge clog in the Maiden scheme of things. We all know his song contributions up to No Prayer,and how the material faltered after til his and Dickinsons return.
    Final Frontier is a great rock/proggy album,I mean I purchased the live album en vivo just to hear how the songs came across live….good time to be a Maiden fan I say….

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    1. I think these songs are just as good live. Unlike some bands, Maiden can always pull it off live.

      I can’t wait to get to En Vivo, but I’m sad it’s all over!

      I don’t know when I’ll jump into another series, so in the meantime I’m just going to showcase rarities.

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  3. Hey mike I just read that a deluxe version of Purples Slaves And Masters is coming out,u know I dug that cassette at the time but man to me it was more Rainbow than Purple but that figures considering there were three Rainbow dudes in Purple….
    Of course u know all of this already just thought I would pass it on…….

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    1. Hey Deke!

      I looked into this…I will not be buying it. I already have all the tracks (Love Conquers All on a single, Slow Down Sister on a box set) but they actually forgot two tracks!

      There’s a King of Dreams edit that I have on another single, and another song called Fire Ice & Dynamite that they released on a DVD called New Live & Rare. It’s fully fleshed out complete songs from these sessions.

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