When I first heard that The Wizards Of Winters’ guitarist Fred Gorhau was going to be putting together a project that would allow him to leave the ‘Christmas Time Only’ cocoon I was elated. I was also in a bit of anticipation of the unknown. To be honest I had only heard him in The Wizards Of Winters and Trans Siberian Orchestra. With his new project Dark Sky Choir it is a return to force of quality old school prog related heavy metal with a very modern and contemporary twist to it.
Make no mistake about it Dark Sky Choir are NOT a reflection or a re-visitation of what is now termed ‘Hair Metal’. I mean back in the day we all had hair whether we were thrash, glam, death, power, progressive or black metal with the exceptions of Rob Halford, Graham Bonnet or UDO Dirkschneider ex- Accept. If there is any visitation of the past with Dark Sky Choir it is the mentality of when bands were out drawing and designing their own fliers to have them wrapped around the local telephone poles of the vicinity of the local club or venue for the show promoted.
‘To you millennials who only know of and rely on photo-shop there was a time when we actually hand drew up fliers and printed them out in mass.’ We did not sit at home on a computer and hope people would show up.’
Dark Sky Choir also is a legitimate reminder that no matter how metal changes and evolves it will always return to its roots. Joining Fred Gorhau on this run are Hollywood How – Vocals, Joe Stabile – Bass and Mike James Sakowski – Drums. There is also a certain creative democracy going on with the album because the listener can hear every instrument come through where they properly need to. This may be a new concept to those millennials who have bought into a cheapened form of compressed music for entertainment. The guitar, the bass and the drums are all allowed to breathe and be heard. Hollywood How -Vocals is also allowed to be heard and tell a actual story with the lyrical content instead of it only serving as background noise or instrumental elements. Yes the album is a return to common sense straight away metal performed with a hint of the progressive.
Yes this is a album that is also a triumphant return to the verse/bridge/chorus/solo that metal enjoyed in the 1980’s and early 1990’s here in America. It is also a return of the style of music you would see on MTV instead of shitty and cheesy reality programs that make no sense whatsoever. Now some brief highlights from every track.
Death Of A Nation
The track Death of A Nation is both a track laden with progressive tendencies met with some heavy social commentary. Hollywood How – Vocals soars up into ranges that are explored by Rob Halford, David Coverdale and Primal Fear’s Ralph Scheepers. Fred Gorhau – Guitars shows us a entirely other dimension of his playing. This is a dimension that is more straight away progressive hard rock/heavy metal than what we have been accustomed to hearing in his other outfit The Wizards of Winter. There is also some powerful spoken word element on this track as well.
Like It Or Not
This track fades in a frenzy of a heavy distorted rhythm based chord progression. It has the signature verse/bridge/chorus with great raunchy heavy instrumental passages in harmony with the high end vocals. The guitar solo really shines through with a wonderful melody from the rhythm section.
Walking By Myself
This track here is the standard ballad. For those who were not there or this is still alien to you, the power ballad usually showed up on a album around the second, third or fourth song into the album. It standard ballad fashion this opens up with a beautiful lush acoustic guitar to create a more classical chord progression. The band does a great job painting a beautiful guitar oriented atmosphere for the ballads lyrical content. The guitar solo is spot on with the instrumental off the atmospheric layers.
Die Young (Maybe He Wanted To)
This one is almost a straight away power metal track. Its charging and galloping guitar in harmony with a rather fast bass/drum rhythm section really establish it as one of the faster and heavier songs on the album. In the midst of the fast chord progressions there are some breaks to take the song into a heavier layer. The guitar solo reminds me a lot of Uriah Heep meets Iron Maiden. There are some layers of progressive metal sprinkled throughout this track. The backing vocals serve more as a echo vocal than melodic vocal.
This one starts off on a more old school doom metal chord progressive passage. It contains some very heavy handed and deep doom like rhythm section between the bass/drum/guitar. Even the lyrical content reminds me more of a Black Sabbath Children Of The Grave. The guitar channels Tony Iommi quite well. The bleak instrumental definitely works in perfect harmony with the brooding lyrical material. Part of me feels like I am listening to Trouble meets Iron Maiden on this one. This is definitely a unique tribute of original material to Black Sabbath.
The Sails Of Charon
This one opens up with a blistering down tuned guitar passage. There are breaks in between the rhythm section and the lead guitar. Those breaks allow the song to breathe and grow into itself naturally. A lot this track reminds me a lot of Savatage’s Hall Of The Mountain King both instrumentally and lyrically. The vocals even soar like Jon Oliva’s at times.
Cry For The Legions
This opens up with a blistering thunderous frenzy of layer upon layers in the chord progressions. This track is very heavily progressive induced with the way it builds various layers upon layers on the instrumental half of this. The chorus takes a slight anthem form with the backing vocals. This track is definitely one of those that is designed for fist pumping.
Show No Mercy
This another track that opens up with the galloping Iron Maiden style rhythmic progression. This also is a track that builds layers upon layers. It carries both traditional heavy metal elements with light progressive metal elements. It does take a few breaks to allow the song to breathe so the listener can digest it. The guitar solo is one raunchy beast driving straight away which works very well for the soaring vocals.
This is the final song on the album and subsequently the end of the journey for now. This track is half a ballad style track and half a straight away traditional metal track. This is also the only instrumental on the album. The rhythm section and stringed sections still do a wonderful work telling their own story throughout the instrumental composition. Some of the elements we have come to know of Fred Gorhau from The Wizards of Winter project shine through on this track more so than the other tracks on the album.
I approached this album with some reservation and caution. It exceeded all of my expectations. This is definitely not a clone of The Wizards of Winter nor does it sound dated where it can easily fall through the cracks and branded as a nostalgia album. This does visit a era of metal many have forgotten about but maintains very modern and updated elements. The updated elements definitely prove this album is not your father’s metal but is also very modern to be your metal as well. With this project Fred Gorhau now has something he can work with on a year round basis without being pigeonholed to a specific time of year like he does with The Wizards Of Winter. I give Dark Sky Choir Dark Sky Choir a 4.5/5.
Towards my preparation in writing the retrospective of this ‘Classic Masterpiece’, I struggled with the fact of where to start. After all Deep Purple’s Machine Head is the band’s sixth album and third album under the classic ‘Mark 2‘ lineup that would cement their place in both rock n roll history and heavy metal history. I even debated whether to even write it at all giving into to my own delusions that this album has been over explained through the last 45 years. However the more I thought about it the more I felt that it still needed to be revisited due to its concrete significance in the history of recorded music in general. Therefore pull up a cup of coffee, cuppa tea or even a pint of ale because you are about to embark on a journey, a retrospective that is Deep Purple’s Machine Head.
Though not without its moments, 1971’s Fireball described something of a non-descript holding pattern for Deep Purple. Not a bad album as such it was, artistically at least, a curious underachiever compared to 1970’s In Rock. What they needed was something with as much impact and which delivered them new standards to ensure their upwards path. With not a lot of spare change in the pocket as far as new material went, the recording session was a fraught affair. Yet out of such adversity, Purple dug deep into their reserves producing their strongest and most consistent set.
The band at this time decided a change of scenery was in order and decided to go to Montreux, Switzerland, and record through out the entire month of December in 1971. The band’s main reasons for a relocation to Switzerland was basically economical. The band could avoid paying some serious recording taxes as none existed in Switzerland much like they had back in England. They were also seeking solace as a band for creative reasons. Third and final reason they relocated there to to having no distractions that home would of provided.
The name Machine Head was inspired simply by the adjustment knobs and the head they rested on with Roger Glover’s bass. All the head at the top of the neck with the knobs has always been a simple machine. Thus the name Machine Head stuck. Released in 1972, Machine Headbecome the benchmark against which everything that followed would be judged against. In the canon of heavy rock this is an album replete with classic tracks. Concise in nature, killer punches are only ever a minute away no matter which song you play. Vocalist Ian Gillan excels himself on “Highway Star,” and “Never Before”, the latter an excellent single, released ahead of the album covering both pop, rock and some righteously funky turnarounds. Blackmore dominates the album turning in some of his most understated and reflective playing on “When A Blind Man Cries” (the b-side to the single and not included on the original album) and of course, “Smoke On The Water.”
Deep Purple’s Machine Head would go on to be consider a prototype album for the origins of a new yet unidentified genre of heavier edged rock. The title would ultimately come to be known as Heavy Metal. Machine Head would also go on to give many current progressive metal bands some very fluent inspiration as well. Bands like Dream Theater, Iron Maiden, Dimmu Borgir and Arjen Luccassen with (Ayreon & Star One)to name a few, would all take elements away from Deep Purple and Machine Head decades later. Now without any further delay let’s either go down memory lane for those of you that were there or be introduced to one of the top 10 classic hard rock albums in Deep Purple’s Machine Head.
This song is about a man and his love for his high-powered car, which he says can out-race every other car. This was written by Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Ian Paice, Jon Lord, and Roger Glover. It may have been inspired by Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild,” and along with “Radar Love” is one of the most famous driving songs in rock.
According to Roger Glover, they wrote this song on their tour bus on the way to a gig at the Portsmouth Guildhall (in the UK), on September 13, 1971, where they debuted the song. They wrote it because they were getting sick of their opening number, “Speed King,” and “Highway Star” became the new opener for their shows. The song evolved through live performances, and was recorded for the Machine Head album in December 1971.
Many people consider this the first “Speed Metal” song, a division of Heavy Metal and a genre later popularized by bands such as Venom, Motorhead and Metallica.
The guitar solo in this song was ranked #19 in the List of 100 Greatest Guitar Solos by Guitar World magazine. This has been featured in several episodes of That ’70s Show.
Maybe I’m A Leo
Roger Glover says:
“I wrote the riff to “Maybe I’m a Leo” after hearing John Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?”. I liked the idea that the riff didn’t start on the down beat, like 99% of riffs do. Most of the songs on Machine Head were from the first take, or not long after.”
Singer Ian Gillan is a Leo (born 19 August), the only group member at the time with that astrological sign.
The song was rarely played by the band live, but three live recordings of it have been released on albums, Deep Purple in Concert, recorded in 1972, Live at the Olympia ’96, and Live at Montreux 2011.
The SACD version of Machine Head has an alternative guitar solo on “Maybe I’m a Leo”.
Pictures Of Home
According to Classic Rock Magazine Review:
“Pictures of Home” is Deep Purple at their most poignant, a driving rhythm topped by sweeping vocals pushing out deep lyrical motifs, all accented by the distinct, distorted Hammond organ of John Lord. Glover even gets a short bass solo in the middle section before Blackmore warms for lift-off before a surprising false stop and comeback makes the song all the more interesting”.
Ritchie Blackmore says that he was inspired by a short wave radio channel, “probably from Bulgaria or Turkey” when writing the main riff. Ian Gillan’s lyrics were a result of studio paranoia and home sickness.
It is the only song from Machine Head that was not performed live during Deep Purple’s 1972 tour
A song by Deep Purple, which appears as the fourth song on their 1972 album Machine Head. It was also released as a single and reached #35 in the UK. A promo video was made for the song in 1972. The single version of the song is an edit of the album version and lasts 3:30.
The guitar riff in Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do” bears a strong resemblance to this song. “Never Before” has rarely been performed live. The only live recording of this song appears on Deep Purple in Concert, which was recorded at the time of the single release, a week or so before Machine Head was released.
Deep Purple performed “Never Before” on tour in 2004, when they played the whole Machine Headalbum.
Smoke On The Water
This song took inspiration from a fire in the Casino at Montreux, Switzerland on December 4, 1971. The band was going to record their Machine Head album there right after a Frank Zappa concert, but someone fired a flare gun at the ceiling during Frank Zappa’s show, which set the place on fire. Deep Purple was in the audience for the show, and lead singer Ian Gillan recalls two flares being shot by someone sitting behind him which landed in the top corner of the building and quickly set it ablaze. Zappa stopped the show and helped ensure an orderly exit. Deep Purple watched the blaze from a nearby restaurant, and when the fire died down, a layer of smoke had covered Lake Geneva, which the casino overlooked. This image gave bass player Roger Glover the idea for a song title: “Smoke On The Water,” and Gillan wrote the lyric about their saga recording the Machine Headalbum.
The band was relocated to the Grand Hotel in Montreux, where they recorded the album using the Rolling Stones mobile studio. They needed one more song, so they put together “Smoke On The Water”using Gillan’s lyric and riff the guitarist Ritchie Blackmore came up with. The result was a song telling the story of these strange events just days after they happened – the recording sessions took place from December 6-21. Frank Zappa, who is mentioned in the lyrics, lost all his equipment in the fire. He then broke his leg a few days later when a fan pulled him into the crowd at a show in England. This prompted Ian Gillan to say “Break a leg, Frank,” into the microphone after recording this for a BBC special in 1972. Deep Purple bass player Roger Glover had some doubts about the title: he knew it was great but was reluctant to use it because it sounded like a drug song. Ritchie Blackmore has an affinity for renaissance music, which he writes and performs in his duo Blackmore’s Night. He says that he first took an interest in the form in 1971 when he saw a BBC program called Wives of Henry VIII, and that there is indeed a trace of Renaissance in “Smoke On The Water.” “The riff is done in fourths and fifths – a medieval modal scale,” he explained on MySpace Music. “It makes it appear more dark and foreboding. Not like today’s pop music thirds.”
The band did not think this would be a hit and rarely played it live. It took off when they released it as a US single over a year after the album came out. Talking about the song’s merits as live material, Roger Glover said in Metal Hammer, “I think ‘Smoke On The Water’ is the biggest song that Purple will ever have and there’s always a pressure to play it, and it’s not the greatest live song, it’s a good song but you sorta plod through it. The excitement comes from the audience. And there’s always the apprehension that Ritchie (Blackmore) isn’t gonna want to do it, ’cause he’s probably fed up with doing it.”
When we spoke with Steve Morse, who became Deep Purple’s guitarist in 1994, he talked about performing this song live. “On a tune that I didn’t write like ‘Smoke On The Water,’ I try to tread a line between homage and respect and originality,” he said. “So, say, on the solo, I take it a out a little bit and do it my way for a little bit, and then bring it back to more like the original, and wrap it up with a lick that everybody would recognize. That’s about as much as I can suggest somebody do because there’s ingrained memories of the song in peoples’ minds.”
“Funky Claude,” as in the lyrics “Funky Claude was running in and out pulling kids out the ground,” is Claude Nobs, a man who helped rescue some people in the fire and found another hotel for the band to stay. He is the co-founder of the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival.
Nobs explained to Gibson.com how this song arose out of the ashes: “Deep Purple were watching the whole fire from their hotel window, and they said, ‘Oh my God, look what happened. Poor Claude and there’s no casino anymore!’ They were supposed to do a live gig [at the casino] and record the new album there. Finally I found a place in a little abandoned hotel next to my house and we made a temporary studio for them. One day they were coming up for dinner at my house and they said, ‘Claude we did a little surprise for you, but it’s not going to be on the album. It’s a tune called “Smoke On The Water.'” So I listened to it. I said, ‘You’re crazy. It’s going to be a huge thing.’ Now there’s no guitar player in the world who doesn’t know [he hums the riff]. They said, ‘Oh if you believe so we’ll put it on the album.’ It’s actually the very precise description of the fire in the casino, of Frank Zappa getting the kids out of the casino, and every detail in the song is true. It’s what really happened. In the middle of the song, it says ‘Funky Claude was getting people out of the building,’ and actually when I meet a lot of rock musicians, they still say, ‘Oh here comes Funky Claude.'”
The B-side of the single was another version of the song, recorded live in Japan.
In 1989, Former members Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Gillan released a new version of this with Robert Plant, Brian May, and Bruce Dickinson, Alex Lifeson. They called the project “Rock Aid Armenia,” with proceeds going to victims of the Armenian earthquake. I have included a video of the extended cut specifically done for charity at the time.
Homer is heard crooning to this song in an a episode of The Simpsons in which he uses medicinal marijuana.
Pat Boone covered this on In a Metal Mood. On the album, he performed heavy metal songs with string instruments, pianos, etc., but in this case kept the famous guitar riff and even allowed the guitarist a solo. Otherwise, it’s a very jazzy cover.
The famous guitar riff is performed in the 2003 Jack Black film School Of Rock.
On June 3, 2007 in Kansas City, Kansas, 1,721 guitarists gathered to play this song together and break the record for most guitarists playing at one time. The entire song was played, though only the one lead guitar played the solo. Guitarists from as far as Scotland came out for the event. The event was organized by radio station KYYS.
It’s hard to compete with outsourcing, however, and the record was beaten on October 26, 2007 when 1,730 guitarists gathered in Shillong, India to perform “Knocking On Heaven’s Door.”
This was used in commercials for Dodge trucks. The song plays on a jukebox that a guy is eyeing in an antique store. His wife gets her way and they take home a piece of furniture instead – the point being the large payload capacity of the truck.
According to an interview with Ian Gillian on VH1’s Classic Albums: Machine Head, the band did not have much money when recording this album and were renting a recording studio. They stayed past when they were supposed to get out. As they were recording this song, the police were knocking on the door of the studio to kick them out.
In a 2008 survey of students from music schools across London, this topped a poll to find the best ever guitar riff. Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came second and Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” third.
According to the London Times newspaper, Ritchie Blackmore was embarrassed to present this song to his fellow members of Deep Purple because it was such a Neanderthal tune for a guitarist of his caliber to come up with.
The lyrics, “Swiss time was running out” meant that their visas were going to expire soon. They wrote the songs and recorded them in a matter of weeks.
Many beginners try to play this when they pick up a guitar, and they usually play it wrong. Here’s how: Use the open G and D strings as the starting point and you pluck the strings with a finger each, not a pick. Lots of people play this from the 5th fret of the A and D string, which is wrong. Smoke On The Water ranks up there with icons like Stairway To Heaven LedZeppelin, Freebird, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dream On Aerosmith and even Tom Sawyer Rush. .
Fender.com asked Ritchie Blackmore how he came up with the song’s famous riff. He replied:
“Ian Paice (Deep Purple drummer) and I often used to jam, just the two of us. It was a natural riff to play at the time. It was the first thing that came into my head during that jam.”
Most definitely not to be confused with the Irving Berlin standard of the same name, this album track is actually quite an uptempo number. Although basically a blues based ego trip for lead guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and keyboard wizard Jon Lord, vocalist Ian Gillan also chips in on harmonica.
The song’s most noticeable feature is its riff, the words are largely superfluous:
You’re lazy, just stay in bed, You’re lazy, just stay in bed, You don’t want no money, You don’t want no bread.
Etc. “Lazy” was co-written by all five members of Deep Purple Mark II (ie Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord and Paice); group compositions being a trademark of this particular line up.
The studio version runs to 7 minutes 23 seconds and was recorded for the Machine Head sessions at Montreaux, Switzerland in December 1971. Being a track that lends readily to improvisation – as well as the aforementioned ego tripping – on stage it would often be spun out for considerably longer. A quarter of a century after it was released, Ritchie Blackmore’s “Lazy” guitar solo was voted number 75 of all time by a readers’ poll for Guitar World magazine.
It is the seventh and final track on the Machine Head album. Its lyrics talk of space travel and it showcases the vocal abilities of singer Ian Gillan and powerful drumming of Ian Paice.
The intro was featured on the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati on the episode “The Airplane Show” (later issues of the episode replaced this track with generic music). The song is featured as a downloadable track for the Rock Band series of music video games as of 30 December 2008.The song appeared in the film Lords of Dogtown, the documentary Warren Miller’s Dynasty and video game Guitar Hero: Van Halen.
The 1997 remix of the song was featured in the first episode of Ash vs Evil Dead.
Several cover versions of Space Truckin’ would be done over the years. These are the most notable cover versions throughout the last 45 years.
Dream Theater covered this and the whole Made in Japan album.
Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One covered the song during their 2002 European tour, as seen on the Live on Earth DVD.
American thrash metal band Overkill included a cover of the song on their 1999 album Coverkill.
Serbian hard rock band Cactus Jack released a cover on their 2003 Deep Purple Tribute album.
American industrial metal band Ministry include their version of the song in the all-covers album Cover Up. Tesla’s version is the first track on their album Real to Reel.
American thrash metal band Vengeance Rising covered the song on their 1990 album Once Dead.,
William Shatner covered the song on his album Seeking Major Tom.
Iron Maiden’s cover of this song appeared on the tribute album Re-Machined: A Tribute to Deep Purple’s Machine Head, which was released in September 2012.
Kraus covered this song in 2011.
Original Extended Live Performance by Deep Purple on Made In Japan.
As I said at the top of this retrospective it was a debate whether I was still going to do this here at Power Of Prog as planned. On this day in 1972 Deep Purple unleashed a tempest and monster with Machine Head. As a matter of fact and I will end this here, Machine Head went immediately to No. 1 in the U.K. and remained on the charts for weeks, aided by singles including “Never Before,” “Lazy”and “Highway Star.” Machine Headwas more of a slow burn in the United States, partially because “Smoke on the Water” wasn’t released as a single until May 1973. The song became Purple’s most successful U.S. single (hitting No. 4 on Billboard, as did 1968’s “Hush”) and pushed its parent album to No. 7. In all, Machine Head spent more than two years on the American charts, as Deep Purple become hard rock heavyweights known around the world. Four and a half decades later, it remains the band’s biggest album.
I come to you with the heaviest of hearts. At the time I was in process of reviewing this album, I never realised it would be part album review , part eulogy. Unlike people such as Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead or a Warren Zevon where they made their illness and potential passing public, David Bowie decided to make it a more covert private affair. It was due to the desire for privacy that would make his final album Blackstar so potent in both its melodic and lyrical foundations.
Blackstar is considered by many as a ‘Parting Gift’ to the fans. That can be justified easily. One can question whether or not Blackstar was a self fulfilling prophetic and creative statement. If it was and I stress ‘IF’ it was , David Bowie made one of the most profound of last statements on a musical and creative level I ever heard in my life. One can only imagine how his health effected his songwriting during the creation of Blackstar as well.
Throughout the span of a 51 year career David Bowie was one of those artists who never ever did the same thing over and over again yet was still able to not only make something relevant but to create something genre bending at the same time. Musical genres included in the 51 year career run the spectrum from Art Rock, Progressive Rock, Glam Rock, Jazz, Blues, Pop Rock, etc .. David.Bowie always managed to change his sound totally with every new release without abandoning his fan base. Blackstar is the complete package of all those genres mentioned above with serious introspection and self reflection.
In this 51 year career David Bowie had a uncanny ability reading the tea leaves and sensing the sea changes of the music industry. I believe this contributed to his uncanny ability to make a different style and genre of record he had released to the global fan base. I also see this ability as reason why his fan base never dwindled and progressively grew from generation to generation. Whether you are a Baby Boomer, Generation Xor even a Millennial, David Bowie managed to make a quality and unique project that spoke to any generation. While some of his peers and contemporaries in the music industry experienced lulls or even periods of inactivity, David Bowie seemed to roll with the changes and adapt to the culture at any time. I will not do a typical breakdown of each track of the album like I normally would. With that said here is a summary of Blackstar as I observe it.
Blackstar has many dark ambient elements. There is some great jazz undertones that run side by side with the rhythm section with lush vocal atmospheres. Blackstar also presents elements of eclectic progressive rock in a minimalist setting. There are some blues portions as well. Blackstar was written as if David Bowie was reflecting of his 69 years here on Earth. I also see David Bowie going out on his own terms musically the way he always operated when he was with us in the flesh.
He wrote, recorded, performed, toured all on his own terms. It is perfectly fitting that the ‘Parting Gift’ of Blackstar was his own Eulogy. Many will write commentary on this Genius’ life however the best commentary is from himself on Blackstar. Although David Bowie did not go out on his own terms he certainly left us one last recording on his own terms. With the passing of David Bowie, I believe we are now truly in a time where An Era Is Ending. Ziggy I will look for your star shining down upon us from the heavens tonight. Thank you for the music and film you left for us and for many generations to come.
2015 marks the 40th Anniversary of one of the most influential, prolific, and global heavy metal bands of all-time Iron Maiden. With very little radio and MTV video type airplay, Iron Maiden’s grassroots efforts have led the band from going to selling out arena’s of 20,000 people to major open air festivals in Rio De Janeiro Brazil where they played to almost 250,000 people. In my 38 years in metal success has never been measured by how many hits on Billboard top 200 you have nor how many platinum albums one band can sale. It is measured more on a supply and demand basis.
Iron Maiden have certainly made very quality music on the supply side of the business and have been rewarded richly on the demand half of the business. I can not ever remember going to a heavy metal, progressive rock or any other genre in heavy metal and hard rock where I did not see quite a few in Iron Maiden t shirts or a patch sewn to a vest of some kind. No matter how segregated the heavy metal genre in its 30 sub-genres, Iron Maiden have been the most consistent act that both the fans and their peers in the music industry have come to agree upon. They have been the glue to hold it all together over 40 years, even more than your Sabbath’s, Zeppelin’s, Purple’s Priests and they contemporaries from the New Wave Of BritishHeavy Metal.
Now in 2015 more than 40 years after their creation they continue to solidly their position as the band we all can agree upon and their newest album The Book Of Souls is certainly no exception to this rule. The Book Of Souls is Iron Maiden’s first ever double conceptual album and their first concept album since 1988’s Seventh Son of A Seventh Son. The Book Of Souls also demonstrates that Iron Maiden are as tight as ever never having any writing or recording rust whatsoever. The Book Of Souls also taps heavily into Iron Maiden’s progressive rock influences like Yes, Genesis, KingCrimson, ELP, etc… Especially with the 18+ minute epic Empire of the Clouds replacing their current record holder 1984’s 13+ minute epic , Rime of the Ancient Mariner off 1984’s Powerslave. Let’s now explore The Book Of Souls.
If Eternity Should Fail a rare killer intro with a keyboard creating an atmosphere much in the vein of early Rainbow and Tony Carey especially Stargazer. Then Bruce Dickinson’s voice perfectly compliments it with a echo effect perfectly executed by producer Kevin Shirley. Thereafter the track takes the traditional Iron Maiden galloping signature led by the very distinctive signature bass work of Steve Harris combined with the drums of Nicko McBrian. The tracks ends with a very unusual spoken word passage.
Speed Of Light fires up in the traditional Maiden/NWOBHM fashion. With killer guitar work between Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers, in tandem with the signature rhythm style between Harris and McBrain and Dickinson’s traditional soaring vocals Speed Of Light suffices the audio pallet of for the long time listener and introducing a new generation to the traditional Iron Maiden sound.
The Great Unknown begins rather eerie with a heavy bottom rhythm section that reminds me of earlier Maiden tracks like The Number Of The Beast, Powerslave in the like. At the 1:37 mark it kicks in with Bruce’s soaring vocals and a traditional Iron Maiden signature. Adrian Smith has some great solo work within the track.
The Red And The Black opens up with a deep heavy acoustic bass that has not been heard on recent Maiden works. The Red And The Black has elements of Rime Of The Ancient Mariner combined with Alexander The Great from Somewhere In Time. The background vocals make this one anthem in nature with a more chant like vibe employed as a instrument. The Red And The Black also contains a very heavy keyboard atmosphere that is noticeable yet subtle at the same time. This is a one of the many tracks heavily bathed in progressive rock elements incorporating certain passages that Rush and King Crimson used in the 1970’s but with a modern sensibility.
When The River Runs Deep has a blistering guitar intro. It soon has a break and goes into a heavy rhythmic section. The backing vocal adds a nice accent to the main vocal. This track is a very traditional NWOBHM with up tempo passages. It is a little on the thrash metal side in scope. There are definitely various guitar solos being trading off and on going in and out complimenting the composition perfectly.
The Book Of Souls the title track of the album begins with a sweet acoustical guitar passage with keyboards. Then the track takes a heavy rhythm turn before the keyboard once again kicks in and creates a sort of backbone for Bruce’s soaring vocals. The track has a very blistering galloping middle with some wonderful guitar solo’s
Death Or Glory carries rhythmic elements like Where Eagles Dare from 1983’s Piece Of Mind in the intro. The standard Iron Maiden signature is in full effect here in all its integrity the long time fans have come to expect. The solo’s remind me a lot of The Evil That Men Do from Seventh Son OfA Seventh Son.
Shadows Of The Valley definitely opens up as if it were a sequel to Wasted Years from Somewhere In Time. You can tell Adrian Smith is very present in the intro. After the intro the track takes a turn with elements in the vein of Fear Of The Dark album. This track has some powerful backing vocal chants as well.
Tears Of A Clown was written and inspired by the life and last days of late comedian and actor Robin Williams. Lyrically it contains elements of a person feeling isolated and lonely feeling hopeless. These emotions ultimately result into the unthinkable suicide that frankly nobody expected.
The Man Of Sorrows begins with a semi electric guitar passage almost like a solo. The guitar lays back and the vocal comes to the forefront. It has a vibe that the band may of recorded this live old school in the studio. The composition takes a progressive turn into a modern fresh yet traditional Maiden sound. The vocals and solo’s once again soar in typical Iron Maiden fashion without the appearance of sounding dated.
Empire Of The Clouds opens up with something new in the Iron Maiden arsenal that of BruceDickinson’s piano work. Frankly I would of never expected a straight up piano passage in a IronMaiden song. This is a testament of the band’s growth and maturity in song writing over the oast 40 years. Between the piano and guitar the band managed to in fact bring a orchestral element to Empire Of The Clouds. Nicko McBrian has some very nice orchestral drum vibes that serve a more subtle melodic instrument than a percussive beat. This is also a new element for the band. The song structure in of itself leaves the listener with anticipation of how it might sound in a live version.
Empire Of The Clouds is heavily steeped in progressive elements that are a reminder of early Yes compositions like Close to The Edge or Genesis’ Suppers Ready. At the 8:35 mark the track settles in and takes the more traditional Iron Maiden approach yet with some heavy progressive solo’s that take the listener on a journey of musical significance. At the 10:00 mark it has another hook with a guitar solo that is followed up by a nice rhythmic balance. About the 11:00 mark it has a beautiful keyboard synth underbelly before going into another powerful guitar solo at the 12:05 mark. Bruce sounds just as good or better than he ever has. At the 13:00 mark it trades off from a 5/8 signature to a 4/4 running side by side of one another. The 14:00 mark highlights the wonderful piano work of Bruce Dickinson. Empire Of The Clouds has very lush and beautiful instrumental harmonies laced and laid perfectly throughout its 18+ minutes.
Iron Maiden certainly surprised me in more ways than one with The Book Of Souls. This is by far the most ambitious project they have ever taken on. It is also the most progressive in nature and the first ever studio double album in Iron Maiden’s 40 year history. The Book Of Souls is also the bands most mature album as well. Although rumors are spreading this could be the bands last album, I find that hard to believe due to the tightness and detail to The Book Of Souls. This gets a rating of 5/5 and in ‘heavy metal’ circles could be Album Of The Year of 2015.
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