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REVIEW: On Iron Maiden’s 15th studio album, The Final Frontier, the veteran heavy metal band, 35 years into their career, pull off something extraordinary that could very well be revolutionary (made all the remarkable given their age): they reinvent themselves - whether they know it or not, whether that was the plan or not - and in the process, challenge the notions of what of heavy metal, or at least their contributions to the genre, can be.
In 2010, that’s heady stuff. Who was expecting Iron Maiden, pioneers of the late ’70s/early ’80s New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, to turn the art form on its ear once again? Answer: not many, except perhaps their fans, and even they might be taken aback by the group’s splendid zenith here.
More aggressive than 2006’s A Matter Of Life And Death but every bit as experimental, the Kevin Shirley-produced The Final Frontier (recorded at Compass Point in the Bahamas, where such seminal works as Piece Of Mind and Powerslave were tracked) has been described by some as 'demanding'. This is misleading to some degree, for music, as in cinema, functions best when rules are broken, when accepted practices are abandoned. Iron Maiden have put a new fork in the well-trodden heavy metal road, and they might have altered the course of the art form for good. Perhaps the fans really weren't expecting that, but that's what they're getting.
Think about it: How many times have you watched a film or listened to a record and you knew exactly what was going to happen from one moment to the next? Way too many times, and you feel cheated and ripped-off - used. But how many times have you said to yourself, 'Now, where in the world is this going?' - and yet, you were positively riveted? Hardly ever. But on those rare occasions when that does happen, you’re going to come back, fascinated, perplexed, turned on. Art that can provoke such reactions, more often than not, can stand the test of time.
Now in their fourth decade as a band, Iron Maiden have created a work full of hypnotic excitement, unconventional structure (it’s a shape-shifter all right, from song to song and sometime during the course of individual songs) and dizzying vision. So if 'demanding' means you might not understand it (and that may have been the point here) but you’ll certainly feel it, then the group have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.