The Parchment – Iron Maiden

It’s safe to say it was big news when Iron Flappin’ Maiden revealed they would be releasing an album in 2021. What started as a tease evolved into a barrage. By the time album launch day hit us Eddie was in shop windows, supermarkets, all over social media and the massive album, T-shirt, beer bonanza was unstoppable. Indie record stores sold out of the vinyl on the first day. The CDs flew off shelves anywhere that still had the ability to sell physical music and the streams flowed like a mighty river.

Forever the establishment outsiders it seemed Iron Maiden were now an undeniable phenomenon everywhere. Even in the mainstream U.K. media where they have sought to ignore them for decades. It is a wee bit of a shame though that Abba kinda stole their thunder on release day by turning up live from inside Tron and playing digital gigs in London… My head was not turned.

So each Maiden album has a thing about it. From raw street heavy metal on the Debut to the Mary Shelley meets Poe tinges and the theatrics via Hammer House of Horror on Number Of The Beast. The refining of their template from Piece Of Mind to Somewhere In Time took on all sorts of twists and turns. The concept album Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son with its synths (heresy) and then latter day back to basic era like No Prayer For The Dying seemed to demonstrate the band’s limitations… In the last century.

Since 2001 Bruce has been back in the fold and the output just keeps growing in expanse with each release. Brave New World to A Matter Of Life And Death saw the prog really set in. Since The Final Frontier and then Book Of Souls their whole MO has been ‘even bigger than last time, every time’. Still we beg the question what does Senjutsu sound like?

Well, the album starts with its shortest tracks front loaded on the first disc/discs. Many a blogger has made note that the track times get longer as it goes on. Track one is a sprightly eight minutes. The opening act begins with big spacious battle drums and two wordy melodies for Bruce to do battle with. Final Frontier was the last time Maiden opened an album with the title track but it had all that techno bobbins wasting your first ten minutes waiting for the band to turn up (and turn up). Why are we talking about Turnips? Oh yeah. Feudal Japan!

The churn of guitars threatens to go all Iron Maiden on you for almost three minutes before a solo that sounds more UFO than Eddie the Ead’s Lads fuzzes away. It’s Nicko who is making his presence felt all over this one. Nicko vs Bruce. Bruce vs Nicko over and over as the three guitars just leave chords open hanging in the air. It’s a pretty impressive opening but not really an Iron Maiden song. It’s trying to appear all inventive for a band who always sound exactly like track two on their new album all the time. So is it just Satellite 15 with guitars?

Second preview track Stratego is up next for side one of this epic journey of a record. It sticks with the Soundtrack to a video game set in feudal Japan theme of the title track, but I don’t think we’re getting a concept album as such. Put simply it is totally Iron Maiden in every way. If you like Stratego and it’s galloping guitars. There’s also keyboards imitating church organs and lyrics of derring do. Dig all that, you will enjoy the album. That is… If, you got to the end of track two and thought “I’ll have that ten times over please, but I really want the songs to be longer every time”. There’s also a rather arty animated video for it which is nice.

The Writing on the Wall was the perfect single choice to showcase this album. I’ve also discussed it elsewhere. The only thing I’d add at this stage is that since (SFTD regular supporting character) Vincent the Van Driver (yes he’s a goth) started singing “have you seen Knight Rider?” To the lyrics I can’t hear Bruce singing anything else. Oh that Vincent!

Lost In A Lost World starts off all vocal effects barely hiding a Pink Floyd fetish. The first couple of minutes feel like a different song to what happens when the band arrive. Those track times are creeping close to ten minutes and we are only four tracks in. It’s groggy, froggy and proggy. It’s less Prog Rock as in “progressive” and more Frog Rock as in it identifies with the idea of hanging around waiting to be kissed by a princess. Look I’m saying it’s had a bit of a run in with the old ugly stick. But that’s OK.

Bruce is hollering now. Nicko and Steve Harris are firing up the engine. Adrian Smith and Yanick Gers set about lamping each other with giant vampire wiffle bats over more powerhousing from the puppet master on the drum kit. Lyrically the last verse becomes potentially somewhat xenophobic considering the singers Brexit stance. Let’s try and assume it’s all in the realm of fantasy and about some ancient land and CGI armies at the foot of mountains and less about not wanting foreigners working in your local high street shall we?

Days of Future Past starts things off much more metal than any of this strumming and lamenting we’ve had so far. Much more like it. Stack it next to Stratego and WOTW and it might be suitable for the live arena. It’s this albums Death Or Glory and the shortest track here at a conventional four minutes long.

The Time Machine comes with the most promising title on the album for historic literature meets B-Movie japes. It’s not a misstep that they spend the first minute sounding like Tenacious D (Just a Tribute perhaps) but it goes all Powerslave on you and the tones in the dueling gallops are so nostalgic you can’t help but make the horns with your fingers as Yanick & Adrian dance around Dave’s rhythm like midgets in robes towering over Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge. It’s pushing the run time back up but only to seven minutes. Morlocks? More like Lesslocks amiright? (no, you’re right. That was terrible. Sorry)

Is Darkest Hour a musical retelling of how Gary Oldman learned to flick the Vs? Well yes it is about Churchill. Again. I’m starting to wonder if Iron Maiden and I are at odds about more than Brexit when it comes to politics… Melancholia saves it from being about sovereignty and blue passports. Like Motörhead’s 1916 or Tom Waits A Soldiers Things it counts the death toll as a terrible price while noting that in war there are no winners. I’m back on board. This is quite stirring and beautiful in places. Yes. Beautiful (I’ve accused them of ‘Doing Beautiful’ before). Unlike Empire Of The Clouds there is no plaintive piano intro. It remains entirely in it’s lanes as a big slow heavy metal song. Aside from a wild track of the coast which can be assumed was recorded by Seagulls off the white cliffs of Dover, the only genre bend are the huge bluesy Rory Gallagher style guitar solos that take it to the end.

Death of the Celts. Oh it’s a biggie. That trusty old comparison of Heavy Metal to Opera is perpetuated by stuff like this. You’re well over the hour mark here. Halfway through CD number two or onto side five of the vinyl. Yikes! There’s a clear pattern on the long songs visible (no, audible) now. The first two minutes are a kind of guitar hero tutorial from another era. Bruce begins the tale in a sort of nursery rhyme sing-song melody before the metal work kicks in. It seems 2021 Iron Maiden have given up on choruses now and just read literature over increasingly urgent guitar work.

Confession time, I’m not entirely clear what a Ren Fair is. Nor do I understand why women wear elf ears to them. However, the fallout sections on this put me in mind of funnily dressed LARPers all dancing in a mock formal manner to Iron Maiden while their rubber ears wobble about.

There’s a huge instrumental section. Bruce can go and get his breath back. Maybe return the leather bound books to the correct shelf in the library. Meanwhile the sort of thing everybody paid to hear is happening all around. Widddle de dee, didddly dee, diddly diddly diddly dee. Right before the end Captain Dickinson comes back from the west wing of the castle. You says the title, you wins the prize! In the last 20 seconds Bruce pulls it all into focus.

The track we have come to praise today is The Parchment*. It all begins with slow moody bass effects and a keyboard hum. The tune is simple enough for the intro. A minute of a beastly heartbeat played with settings to Dio. There’s a slow build but a nice sear to the guitar tones. Bruce pips in with more melancholy wordyness. But he’s taking it a bit slower. This one has a riff you can sing. Clocking in at 12 minutes plus it’s a lumbering beast of a tune with moss and trees growing on it’s back. A sad tale of impending war, forever foretold. History repeats. So do Steve Harris bass lines. This Juggernaut marches on. This track sums up the whole new album in a mere dozen minutes. It’s the one I keep coming back to in order to feel where the new Iron Maiden record is at. I don’t often have time for albums over an hour long. It’s why The Book Of Souls remains on the shelf for as long as it does. I can do Fear Of The Dark and Killers in that time. This is great though. Majestic and melancholy. Maiden sit at the head of the Metal table triumphant but aware of the cost of that triumph. I’m not suggesting they slaughtered millions to get there. But gravitas Goddammit! Another Bring Your Daughter (To The Slaughter) would not cut it in 2021.

Deep breath. We’re almost done. Just a quick short cut through the Underworld and we’ll have you home in time for tea. Final track Hell on Earth spends it’s first two minutes bathing you in gentle noodle soup. These long string picking and synth intros make sense at this stage. The album is so long the audience are exhausted. The band must be too. Advancing in years they probably can’t gallop all the way across six sides of vinyl anymore than their oldest fans can. They’ve become contemplative and mellow in their age. Good for them. Running Free was along time ago. They want to gird their loins before the last gallop of the whole journey. You can also use the two minute intros as a bathroom break if need be and miss none of the boys own adventure stuff. Hell On Earth wants to deliver a very Maiden finish with a lot of keyboard emphasis behind the usual stuff. The solo’s literally divebomb in around the six minute district and as it’s the final track on the album they’re throwing in all the stuff not used from the trick bag so far. I’d say nobody makes rock music like Iron Maiden but that’s simply not true. There are entire scenes of bands doing this sort of thing. Iron Maiden do it better than most of them though, because it’s their genre to define. Metallica went one way. Priest another. Both bent their steel to trends and paid the cost. Iron Maiden delight and amuse themselves first. Their audience (of whom I am most definitely one) check in on what they are doing and take from it what they need. A band unswaying to fashion or media spotlight. Iron Maiden is as Iron Maiden does. Long slow fade out and all.

Let’s hope there’s another Maiden album a bit sooner than 5 years from now or it might all be too late. I’ll take a single disc ten tracker with no song over five minutes next time though.

*what bullshit this is blatantly an entire album review

18 thoughts on “The Parchment – Iron Maiden

  1. I’m not looking forward to reviewing the new Maiden album, to be honest! It’s a good album, but the songs are so dang long that I wouldn’t know how to describe each track. I don’t know how the heck the guys will play these songs live, but it is what it is!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The trouble I see here is they either play the whole album live and advertise it as such or fans will be disappointed in a set that contains Hell On Earth and Death Of The Celts. They could have had half a dozen hits in the time that takes

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Maaaaaan this is the one. When folks ask me about this album, I’m sending them here. I laughed and agreed and smiled the whole damn time. This is real, in the trenches reportage. Better than my own gibbering effusiveness about it (admittedly I rushed it, writing it in real time ON RELEASE DAY). Naturally. Sigh.

    Funny, too, Brother Wilf just texted me yesterday saying The Parchment was his favourite on the album. ‘Twas the solos at the end that were doing his head in. Great stuff.

    Personally, I like their long-bombers. I like to settle in and just let the band play with sounds for extended periods, so this album makes Aaron happy. There’s a lot of meat on those bones, and having a lot to chew sustains me on the cold Canadian winter nights.

    You need to play Book Of Souls more. It’s worth your attention, in every way. Even just play one disc at a time, with space between ’em. So good.

    Yup, folks, this is the one!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Man that’s a great track. I even got the Record Store Day LP single of that, the picture disc (drools). But that album, man, so many great tracks. I even grew to love Tears Of A Clown after seeing that tour and hearing that song in person, so if I can manage that, you can play a couple of tracks here and there… until it grows on you… like a fungus…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I played it loads when it was new. Red and The Black and Death Or Glory were favourites. Loved seeing the tour too. That was the last time I saw them at Donington. They were amazingly good. Opened with If Eternity Should Fail. Love that one too.

        Like

      3. I’d imagine the setlist was the same we saw n Toronto, near enough. I loved that record when I first heard it, then seeing it in concert cemented it. The Live Chapter is a great document too!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great writeup and spinning your review a different way in keeping the writing fresh. I find it harder and harder to say “what an awesome solo” in print. How many times can you say that lol
    Awesome stuff Steve

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s