There's a silent majority of us out here in IRON MAIDEN fandom. Sure, we're happy when Steve Harris warms up a plate of reheated past glories, hires a community college dropout to whip up some artwork (that "Dance of Death" cover… sheesh!) and graces us with another increasingly clunky, bloodless, self-important MAIDEN album. It's kinda like going to see a big summer movie sequel — think "Jurassic Park 3". Sure, you plunk down your money, and it's okay. But are you excited about it?
We save our real enthusiasm for the BRUCE DICKINSON solo albums. When the Air Raid Siren collaborates with Roy Z, the results are seldom less than stellar — for my money, "Accident of Birth" and "The Chemical Wedding" are both better albums than anything under the MAIDEN name since "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" back in 1988! There's a hunger here — Bruce sounds like he gives a shit about the subject matter at hand, and about singing. There's also a conciseness — long songs can be cool, but if you've got four minutes worth of ideas, here's a novel concept — say it in four minutes. Roy and Bruce are masters of efficiency — songs rarely overstay their welcome or feel bloated and dull.
"Tyranny of Souls" boasts a somewhat heavier sound, but also veers off into impressive detours. The acoustic "Navigate the Seas of the Sun" is a laid-back, almost sedate ballad with understated strings and a bridge that's classic Dickinson. "River of No Return" is moody and sinister, with a menacing and infectious guitar riff, but when the chorus comes around, it's all Bruce, soaring into the arena rafters with one of his patented hooks. This man just owns choruses — I don't know what the "river of no return" is, nor do I care, but I'll be singing that damn line for the next three weeks.
Barn-burners like "Power of the Sun" may lack the bwonging upfront bass lines of Harris or Nicko McBrain's clattering fills, but they swell with exactly the metal spirit and sheer exuberance that I wish MAIDEN still possessed. The soloing is inspired, the riffs meaty, and the songs actually hit that “classic, yet modern" mark so often mentioned (and so rarely attained) by aging musicians. The mood of the album shifts frequently, from the sinister snarl of "Believil" to the epic title track, to the more summery rock and roll feel of "Devil On a Hog" (a nod back to Dickinson's early '90s solo efforts). Through it all, however, runs this sense of urgency, an aggressive passion for the music that really brings each track to life.
"Tyranny of Souls" marks three in a row for BRUCE DICKINSON (four if, like me, you thought his "radical departure" on the SKUNKWORKS album was another fine metal record). Ten more classy, heavy, high-quality songs from one of the all-time great voices of metal (and one of its most underappreciated guitarists/producers) — what more could you want?