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by Martin Popoff
www.martinpopoff.com

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Fresh Metal

IRON MAIDEN - The Final Frontier
(EMI)

Hard getting past the kiddie colours of the cover art, but once assimilated or rationalized, there's lots of substance to munch into here. Crazy opening sequence, as in crazy daft, not genius, but then the title track kicks in with no need to impress but seeping into the memory circuits all the same. Advance single 'El Dorado' is where this long dong of a trip really heats up, Adrian (lots of credits for him on this album) turning in a full-bodied gallop that is heavier than the rickets we usually get, strongly NWOBHM, Nicko grooving like nobody's business. 'Mother Of Mercy' wastes the typical minute before rocking with swagger like something off of Holy Diver. By this point, it's really starting to kick in how pleasing yet strange the production is. By ruthlessly lopping off the high end, Kevin Shirley has given the record an intense, warm feeling that helps the heaviness, Maiden often gravely in need of such help given the usually clacky bass out of Steve and Nicko's dumb fills and just as cheap drum sound - the two form a sturdy, dependable rhythm section here, as evidenced by stirring proggy ballad 'Coming Home'. Next is old school Maiden rocker 'The Alchemist', the shortest song on the album at 4:29. The butt end, butt of the joke of this record? Five tracks at nine, eight, nine, eight and 11 minutes snooze-o-fectively. Nah, just kidding - it's actually boldly going, although those ridiculous intros... please guys, you have dozens of these now and they are a horrible waste of all our times. The hourglass, the sand, dribbling... you know the drill: hold down forward (or slide the rule) to the two minute mark, literally on all five of these. But no, once into it, Maiden find cool syntheses of metal, melody, prog and invention which again, recalls those trips embarked upon by NWOBHM bands with a scant single to their name, mystical and proto-power metal. Only closer 'When The Wild Wind Blows' feels like a clunker from the Blaze records, with all the rest of them holding interest, again, aided by an uncommonly creamy alchemy applied by the Caveman.
Rating 8

BLACK LABEL SOCIETY - Order Of The Black
(E1)

Back in black, Zakk's screaming for vengeance after his near death experience and subsequent doctoral admonishment to lay off the sauce forever. Makes for a pissed-off record, Order Of The Black slamming track to track, with Zakk's vocals being the most histrionic and best of his career, really youthful, less nasal, yellin' up a hell-raisin'. Sweet booklet as well to this digi-pakker, which really helps, 'cos much of the graphics in the past really caused one to ponder why the production had always been mired in mids. Ha! And same thing happens here, with Zakk emphasizing guitar over a good (still thirstily desired) thudding bass drum, which, as usual, causes the impression that we're still dealing with some sort of second tier indie band here. Strange, and maybe kind of fitting for a self-deprecating underdog. Another cool thing, something about the swaggering metal on here sets it apart from past spreads, many of which plodded doomfully. I mean, if Ozzy is to be believed to be the author of such insights, he did say that his albums were starting to sound like BLS albums, which, through the mirrored obverse, underscores my sludgy point. Also good fun are Zakk's committedly, admittedly maudlin ballads, built around his Elton John piano playing rather than acoustic guitar - I'm actually glad there's this soft spot, rather than Zakk using that quiet space for funereal dirges. Highlight: 'Godspeed Hellbound', which is just so undeniably kick-ass, ya gotta lift weights while drinking beer.
Rating 8

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