Music Review: Iron Maiden – The Final Frontier [Universal]

Sometimes it’s good to be the Reverend.  Such as when a treat like this comes in the mail (albeit late due to a mix-up at the originating Marketing firm).  Still, it was well worth the wait as Maiden has served up another impressive, heaping plateful of sonic goodness (76 minutes worth, to be exact)!

As has become trend with the bad boys from Leyton, this 15th outing has it’s share of lengthy pieces – only 1 song out of the 10 is less than 5 minutes & 5 are over 8 minutes each!  Apparently, radio airplay is still not a concern.  Kinda respect that, actually.

Overall, the album has a futuristic, prog rock bent reminiscent of “Somewhere in Time” and many of the later-day Maiden releases.  Let’s face it – the original, defining Maiden song formula was probably never gonna be any more perfected than “Hallowed Be Thy Name” or “Fear Of The Dark”, so something had to give.  Undoubtedly some fans will find it distressing that they’ve continued down this road.  Me, I’m thrilled that a group with this level of experience & talent can still find compelling ways to create WITHOUT pulling a “Load” debacle like ANOTHER well known band (I’m still pissed off about that one, incidently).

But speaking of mistakes, this does bring me to my first complaint; song 1 “Satellite 15 . . . The Final Frontier” is actually two songs, and in my opinion should’ve been tracked that way.  “Satellite 15 is rather monotonous & overlong whereas “The Final Frontier” is a return to the arena anthems the Maidens did so well in the 80’s.  It’s a fitting tune to bring in those of the younger generation who may not be familiar (does such a child exist? I hope not!).

First single “El Dorado” is too similar to “Wasted Years” & “Run To The Hills” for my taste, but is still a nice rocker all the same.  Would be a blast to see live, I guarantee.  I also really liked the more traditionally Maiden sounding “The Alchemist”,  “Coming Home” (which bears the mark of Bruce Dickinson’s solo efforts),  “Mother Of Mercy” and “Isle of Avalon” – both of these later pieces nicely retrofitting elements of the band’s classic sound with fresh  perspective & execution.

But to me, the second biggest surprise of the disc aside from the title song  is the final monster epic, “When The Wild Wind Blows” with it’s folkish interludes, excellent storyline lyrics and decent pacing – yeah, even at damn near 11 minutes the song moves along nicely.  In fact what amazes me the most, even after all the time I’ve spent listening to Iron Maiden releases, is their versatility in incorporating softer moods with deft guitar pyrotechnics, galloping bass runs, echoing solos and literate use of imagery in the lyrics.  Thankfully, none of that has changed with this release as well.

Vocally, Bruce Dickinson can still belt’em out better than 99.9% of all rock singers & the band as a whole still definitely have their chops intact.  I see no reason for them not to release another 15 or so albums. Please do!

Ultimately, I really liked this release and can see myself throwing it into the player every time I wish to combat the plethora of butt-rock & radio banality that permeates our culture today.   I encourage you to do the same!

Music Review: The New Czars – Doomsday Revolution [Samson Records]

After playing this CD entirely through more than a few times, I’ve decided that The New Czars are possibly the most difficult band to categorize I’ve ever reviewed; mixing elements of Hard Rock, Jazz Fusion, Psychedelic, Blues and Funk (yes, FUNK), The Czars remind me of the experimental acts of the 70’s (such as Todd Rundgren or King Crimson) with their unusual chord progressions, strange key signatures & guitarist/singer Greg Hampton’s muffled, swaying vocalizations. Fearlessly forging their unique sound like something arisen from the smoke ridden backroom of 1,000 highway saloons, The Czars get credit for artistic expression first – commercial viability second.

Joining Hampton in this endeavor are bassist Paul Ill and drummer David “Chilli” Moreno; collectively representing a musical resume that includes Alice Cooper, Lita Ford, Bootsy Collins, Buckethead, Reeves Gabrels, Bruce Dickinson, Puddle of Mudd, Courtney Love, Pink and more. To take this further, several songs also include the 6 string wizardry of the legendary Adrian Belew. With such pedigree, the Czars have taken years of hard earned chops & gone completely on safari with it. From driving intros that plummet headlong into squealing guitars & down-tuned harmonies (“Brush With The Devil”), to soul-laden fuzz tones (“Desperate”), echoing Pop riffs & Latin stylings (“Only Dreaming”) and even a few bizarre instrumentals thrown in for good measure (my favs being “Funky Detour” & the amusingly named “Crotch Critters”).

Clocking in at well over an hour (16 tracks), the musicianship & artistry being captured on this disc are undeniable. But honestly, this is probably too avantgarde for me – and I’m not a fan of Greg Hampton’s vocal style. This is definitely recommended however for the listener who appreciates the craftsmanship of Zappa or Beck while still insisting on the sophistication of a modern recording act.

Gentlemen, I give you The New Czars.