Yet another live album from Iron Maiden? If you’re keeping score, The Book of Souls: Live Chapter marks the English septet’s fifth such release since 1985’s quintessential Live After Death—and sixth if the soundtrack to Flight 666 gets factored into the equation. Few artists enjoy the luxury of issuing a live record to coincide with every-other jaunt on which they embark. Then again, only a handful of acts claim the group’s rabid international following. And fewer still muster an enthusiasm onstage that allows even evergreen favorites manage to retain freshness and energy.
Indeed, the primary difference between this 15-track live document and, say 2005’s respectable Death on the Road or 1993’s contract-fulfilling A Real Dead One, relates to its contagious spirit and go-for-the-throat vitality. That bassist Steve Harris took the time to allegedly listen to every one of the shows Iron Maiden played on its 39-country 2016-17 trek in order to handpick the finest performances for a definitive sonic tour portrait also weighs heavily in its favor. The resulting coherency and momentum-keeping spark serve as the fruits of Harris’ labors.
Frontman Bruce Dickinson’s efforts should not go overlooked, either. Returning from a bout with throat cancer that sidelined him for several years, the Human Air Raid Siren sings with renewed vigor—a fact not lost on his mates, which respond with controlled fire and galloping fury. As has long been Iron Maiden’s tradition—and one from which most veteran acts recoil, choosing pure nostalgia instead—the band embraces its most recent material and makes a case for its relevancy. Six strong songs from The Book of Souls—including the Usain Bolt-quick “Speed of Light,” assertive “Death or Glory,” and stadium-chant-tailored epic “The Red and the Black”—anchor the setlist.
Throughout, the crowd’s presence remains apparent, with the “seventh member” of the group helping raise tension on the haunting “Fear of the Dark” and approaching the signature “The Number of the Beast” as a national anthem. At no point does Iron Maiden go through the motions. Older songs such as the slashing “Wrathchild” and thundering “Powerslave” retain dynamic immediacy. “Blood Brothers” brims with grand flair, sweeping drama, and a lift-all-boats tidal wave of a chorus. The music points to a permanence no concert t-shirt or other souvenir can match.
Adorned with eye-popping photographs and Eddie-themed graphics, the 3LP’s excellent tri-fold gatefold packaging serves as an unexpected bonus. Ditto the clean vinyl pressing and likeable production co-helmed by Harris and Tony Newton. Nicko McBrain’s romping percussion provides an unshakeable foundation further shored up by Harris’ robust, thick bass. Dickinson’s vocals largely cut through the mix akin to a steel scalpel. Sure, the level of audience noise occasionally borders on overkill, but overall, it’s difficult to expect better from material captured in enormous stadiums that hold upwards of 100,000 fans.
Last chance to change your mind...