Iron Maiden: The Book of Souls (4 stars)

Iron Maiden: The Book of Souls

Epic double album from the heavy metal legends

Black Sabbath may have invented heavy metal but Iron Maiden personify the genre, tirelessly committed to double guitars, massive solos, bombastic singalong choruses, fantasy lyrics and non-stop gigging. They might seem like part of the old guard but Iron Maiden have never been a heritage act; they've never stopped touring and recording for 40 years. And amazingly their 16th studio album, The Book of Souls, is amongst their strongest work.

Surprisingly for a band with such grandiose ambitions it's their first ever double album (clocking in at an impressive 92 minutes). After a slightly dated synth intro within 90 seconds 'If Eternity Should Fail' launches into Maiden's trademark galloping guitars, underpinned by Nicko McBrain's powerhouse drums. Lead single 'Speed of Light' is a punchier supersonic slice of hyper-speed rock with a ridiculously catchy chorus you can already imagine being screamed out by legions of fans packed into stadiums and arenas across the globe.

The double album format means the Irons have the time and space to flex their muscles. 'The Red and the Black' is the high point of the first disc. It rises and falls over 13 minutes packed with killer solos and Bruce Dickinson's signature 'woahs'. The title track closes out the first CD, opening with a flamenco flourish before a heavy chug of riffs. There's space for the classic guitar led romp of 'Death or Glory' and Steve Harris' tribute to Robin Williams, 'Tears of a Clown', but it's all rounded off by 18 minutes of 'Empire of The Clouds'. It's the longest track Maiden have ever recorded, starting with Dickinson's piano refrain it just builds and builds into a cinematic mini-metal opera concerning the R101 airship disaster of 1930.

Iron Maiden are beyond fashion. They haven't rewritten the rulebook but on Book of Souls they've refined and honed their sound into near-perfect metal that dares to be truly epic.

The Book of Souls is out now on Parlophone.

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