Iron Maiden fans are renowned for their commitment — but that can have a downside.
One example popped up in 2010 with the release of The Final Frontier. People remembered bassist Steve Harris saying previously that the band would record 15 LPs before splitting. And the follow-up to 2006’s A Matter of Life and Death would hit that number.
“We knew when we picked [the t**le] that it would wind a few people up,” frontman Bruce Dickinson told Kerrang ahead of the album’s launch on Aug. 16. “I actually came up with [it] before we’d written any songs.” Around the same time, Harris himself told Noisecreep, “People are gonna think [it’s our last], I suppose, because the band has had a really long career, and who knows when it’s gonna stop? But we don’t feel like we’re there yet.”
Instead, Maiden set out to explore a frontier of their own — the constant challenge of trying to capture their live feel in a studio. They returned to Compass Point in the Bahamas for the first time since the ‘80s, noting that the decor and most of the equipment hadn’t changed. However, it gave the six-piece, plus producer Kevin Shirley, the chance to work together in the same space. Most modern studios are built with the idea of layering in mind; Compass Point was laid out so that, with headphones, the creators could perform at the same time and react to each others’ movements.
In another bid for urgency, the metal icons went into the studio having prepared less than they had for any previous project. Harris admitted the results were “unusual,” but, in his view, all the better for it. “I think the opening song [“Satellite 15… The Final Frontier”] — I won’t say it’s going to shock people — but it’s quite different,” He told The Aquarian. “You can get 10 people in a pub discussing Iron Maiden songs and they’ll have ten different ideas about this and that anyway. You can’t really worry about it, really; we just do what we do. And hopefully people like it.”
Iron Maiden – “The Final Frontier”
While the band took less time than usual to create the record, many fans found it took more effort than usual getting into it. Along with the expanse of musical approaches, the tracks themselves were longer — the shortest was “The Alchemist” at 4.59, running up to “The Talisman” at 9:03, “Isle of Avalon” at 9:06 and closing epic “When the Wild Wind Blows” at 10:59. But Harris argued, “I think it’s a very interesting album; it’s quite diverse, and there’s a lot going on. It’s a long album, hour and a quarter, so it’s a lot of music.” And while some listeners had detected a concept running through the work, the bassist rejected the idea. “There are only two or three songs kind of around [one] sort of subject,” he said, outlining lead track “El Dorado” as an exploration of “greed and drawing people in… Imploring them to sort of do whatever and giving them the once over afterwards.”
Maiden’s three guitarists — Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers — noted that they made a concerted effort to properly share out duties since Smith’s return to the band in 1999. “[W]e kind of let things go, which I felt could be a bit sloppy, quite frankly,” he told Guitar World. “There is a tendency where, if you don’t watch it, the original riff can get lost, because everybody’s got a different way of playing it. So this time, even though we were basically recording live, we probably spent a bit more time trying to narrow the riffs.… I want the riff to come out. If I ain’t playing the right shit, I don’t want to be hard-headed and say, ‘I want my guitar on there, loud!’ Whatever’s good for the song, you know?”
Iron Maiden – “El Dorado”
Gers observed that their latest approach to record live complemented their focus on strong songwriting. “For us the most important thing, no matter how involved the songs are, is melody. And I think a lot of metal bands forget that. They’re looking for the hard-edged thing,” he said. “Without the melody on the top, it doesn’t cut it. And all the great artists had that. Hendrix had it. Zeppelin had it. Even Black Sabbath had it. When you talk about heavy metal, Sabbath are probably the birth of the whole thing. But if you listen back, there are some tremendous melodies there.”
The Final Frontier arrived in its 77-minute glory to generally positive reviews, with a space-themed cover by Melvyn Grant and a No. 1 placing in 28 countries. It reached No. 4 in the U.S., their highest-ever chart placing in the territory. For many fans, the record settled into the higher middle region of the band’s canon — and with its layered, prog-tinged style, it showed how far they’d ventured their first frontiers. “Some of the songs are very proggy, especially the ones toward the end of the album,” Harris told Noisecreep. “It’s weird because if you talk about one song, it doesn’t really represent what’s on the rest of the album. It’s so diverse, which I think is good. It’s one of the things that make the album enjoyable for me.”
Iron Maiden – “Isle of Avalon”