When a band has been around for 30 plus years, there usually aren't going to be many surprises in their sound, and with each successive album, it becomes more difficult to avoid repetition. And while The Final Frontier fits firmly in the Maiden sonic pantheon, there are enough twists and turns to set it apart and give it a distinct identity.
One of those twists is the opening song “Satellite 15...The Final Frontier.” The beginning is an interlude of sorts, with guitars piercing bombastic drums before Bruce Dickinson starts singing about 2 and a half minutes in. It continues building before finally kicking into Maiden mode about halfway through. “El Dorado” is a straightforward song, catchy but still with plenty of depth.
It's a long album, with the 10 songs clocking in at nearly 80 minutes. 8 plus minute epics alternate with more traditional 4 or 5 minute songs. “Coming Home” is a ballad, with singer and pilot Dickinson singing about seeing the runway lights. The pace picks back up with “The Alchemist,” the shortest song on the album and one of the catchiest.
The second half of The Final Frontier is really strong. “Isle Of Avalon” is my personal favorite song on this CD. Its 9 minutes ebb and flow in tempo and intensity, with singalong choruses alternating with more complex and progressive sections. “Starblind” is another standout, with some great guitar work. Dickinson's voice is as potent as ever, which is evident throughout. On “The Talisman” he croons at the beginning and belts it out with power and range for the rest of the track.
Things wrap up with the 11 minute “When The Wild Wind Blows,” an atmospheric and textured epic with a mellow beginning that transitions into a groovy mid-tempo song with plenty of room for showcasing Maiden's musicianship. The Final Frontier is definitely a grower. Some of the songs are immediately accessible, but others take a while to fully unfold and appreciate. When a band has recorded some of the classic metal albums of all time, new material has a lot to live up to. Iron Maiden meets or exceeds all those expectations.
(released August 17, 2010 on Universal Records)