We speak to Iron Maiden's Adrian Smith and Dave Murray about their new double album, The Book Of Souls, as the band officially return in style with storming single, Speed Of Light, and its brand new video.
It's the first taster of Maiden's 90-minute double album, The Book Of Souls. An album packed with the signature Maiden harmonies, solo duels and huge choruses fans love, with weighty epics (the album closes with an 18-minute opus) and punchier songs like Speed Of Light that recall their classic anthems. And it turns out, when it comes to the latter, Adrian Smith and Bruce Dickinson played an active part in songwriting proceedings.
"This time I did a couple of things with Bruce too," he explains to Total Guitar. "I thought I'd try writing shorter songs, like Two Minutes To Midnight and Can I Play With Madness, with just Bruce and I. We haven't done that since I've been back in the band [Smith rejoined Maiden with Dickinson in 1999]. Maybe with Wickerman we did it [from 2000's Brave New World]. So that was different. He came over before we started recording and we wrote Speed Of Light and Death Or Glory."
Fans, and guitarists especially, might notice a strong Thin Lizzy feel in Speed Of Light's catchy bridge guitar melody. It's actually the result of Adrian still keeping his ears out for new inspirations, and refining his craft as a musician, even after all these years in one of the world's most successful metal bands.
"That is a lead scale I'd been messing around with," he reveals. " I've sort of rediscovered the pentatonic [scale] and I was listening to a lot of really good players, and I noticed a lot of them were using these scales; even Eric Johnson and people like that. But if you do them in a certain way they can sound really good and really to the point. So I was messing around with that and it's a variation on a pattern, I got that little riff out of it."
© John McMurtrie
But it turns out Adrian's preprepared songs with Dickinson are actually fairly atypical for an album he admits was 'very, very spontaneous'. As Dave Murray, Adrian's childhood friend and fellow guitarist alongside Janick Gers, explains, Maiden were flying by the seat of their pants in the studio for this one…
"On previous albums we've usually gone into a rehearsal room for maybe a couple of weeks and maybe have four or five songs under our belts. Then we'd go into the studio and start recording, and the rest of the material would be written while we were there. But this time we went in there with a blank page and a bunch of ideas.
"It was a really fun experience because it keeps you on your toes," adds Dave of Maiden's rapid fire working method with producer Kevin Shirley. "You have to be really sharp. We're scribbling guitar chords down, melodies and harmonies, changes… basically we were flying by the seat of our pants because we never knew what was coming next. But it was wonderful how things kept flowing."
Things flowed so well, Dave is only half joking when he says they could have done a triple album… "We stopped there but there were probably some other things that were floating around, otherwise we would have been in for three or four albums!"
© John McMurtrie
Even 16 albums into an incredible career, Maiden are still throwing in surprises alongside their signature strengths, and the biggest one comes at the end of The Book Of Souls. Frontman Bruce Dickinson was the chief driving force behind the striking 18-minute finale to the album and spent a lot of his time at Guillaume Tell Paris studios working on what would become Empire Of The Clouds. It's Maiden's longest ever song, and most orchestral moment we've ever heard yet from the metal legends…
"He was working on it for about a month on his own," reveals Adrian. "Every single day we'd be in the studio blasting out stuff and he'd be in the soundproof glass booth playing piano. Like Beethoven with his ear to the piano, concocting this masterpiece. I think he wrote every single note in it.
"We interpreted it and we did it in sections. Kevin and Bruce would be in the control room and say, 'That's too bluesy, can you make it a bit more classical sounding?' He recorded all the piano from start to finish and then we played along to that. Then I think they put on all the orchestration afterwards. It's a bit of a story on its own that one."
With The Book Of Souls arriving on September 4, and touring to follow next year, things are looking good for Maiden fans again. Especially with the news that Bruce Dickinson has recovered from the head and neck cancer he was diagnosed with after the recording for The Book Of Souls was completed. Dave tells us their vocal powerhouse is now getting back to 'tip-top shape'; "The band is stronger than ever, and Bruce has always been the fittest and strongest guy in the band anyway. So we've got no problem going out and touring this album next year.
It seems that The Book Of Souls is a fitting testament to the happiness within Iron Maiden right now, as Adrian explains; "At the time in the studio, before we knew anything about Bruce, we were saying how great it had been and what a good experience it was. Sometimes you dread going to do an album, and it can be a bit tense sometimes and kind of hard work, but this was just so enjoyable. We were having a good time together in the studio and the songs were flowing… it couldn't have been any better really."
The Book Of Souls is released on September 4. Look out for more from Adrian and Dave in future issues of Total Guitar and Guitarist magazines.