Photo courtesy of Iron Maiden
Earlier today, Iron Maiden made an announcement that sent the Metal Internet into a frenzy of excitement. Not only will the British heavy metal gods be releasing a new record later this year (on September 4, to be exact), they'll be marking a new milestone in their storied career by putting out their first-ever studio-recorded double album. Clocking in at 92 minutes, The Book of Souls will feature eleven new songs, including an 18-minute closing epic entitled "Empire of the Clouds."
That's a whole lot of Maiden, and fans are pumped. Ever since iconic vocalist Bruce Dickinson announced that he'd be undergoing treatment for cancer earlier this year, the band's future seemed to hang in the balance, but this new announcement makes clear that Bruce ain't going down that easy. His doctors have given him the all-clear, and according to the band's official website, "Due to Bruce’s illness the band had to delay touring plans but promise to be out on the road again early next year, giving time for Bruce to make a full physical recovery to be ready for the rigours of Maiden live performances."
The prospect of a new Iron Maiden album has resonated deeply with their many fans around the world. While news of upcoming new albums from even established veterans like Black Sabbath, Slayer, and King Diamond are routinely met with suspicion from fans who've lost the faith (or wised up to the fact that some bands just can't hack it anymore), there's something truly heartening about seeing the overwhelming excitement with which this new album has been greeted. It's almost surprising, too, given that Iron Maiden's first album came out in 1980, a full 35 years ago; its members are well past middle age, and this latest effort will mark the band's sixteenth studio album. They're not pushing boundaries anymore (I mean, shit, they drew the goalposts the begin with); they're not extreme, or nihilistic, or brutal, and are most certainly not "hip" (no matter how many times Miley Cyrus is spotted wearing their shirts). They play the same kind of music that they've always played, and save for Bruce Dickenson's temporary absence between 1993-1999 and the back-and-forth between guitarists Adrian Smith and Janick Gers, have kept a fairly stable lineup since the '80s. So why are people still so excited about this new album? Why do people still care?
Because it's Iron fucking Maiden, that's why.
Simply put, Iron Maiden rules. They're one of the original heavy metal bands, and still one of the absolute best. They were a leading light of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that propelled those galloping guitars and lusty wails into the waiting ears of scores of angry, lost kids across the globe; a thinking person's metal band who pepper their rousing epics with hyperliterate lyrics and bombastic theatricality; the best damn live band you'll ever see, and the people who brought the coolest mascot ever, Eddie, to life. They've always seemed larger-than-life, and their catalogue is incredibly rich, varied, and honestly, timeless. Even their more lackluster latter-day albums retained the ambition and energy that made their earliest classics so compelling, and there's no reason under the sun why The Book of Souls would fall flat. Will it top The Number of the Beast or Powerslave? Perhaps not, but it will still be good, because Iron Maiden isn't the kind of band that would allow itself to release anything but a solid effort—and a solid effort from Iron Maiden is still leaps and bounds ahead of what most younger bands could ever hope to pull off on their best days.
Heavy metal still places a huge amount of significance on its past, in part because of the genre's own relative youth. It's not like the blues, or electronic music, or even rock'n'roll, whose histories has become just that—history. The first metal bands are still active, still kicking, and hell, Black Sabbath—widely regarded as The First Heavy Metal Band Ever—toured recently and is prepping a new album. Our history still walks out on stage and grabs the mic each night. The old guard is still standing, even as the ravages of time begin to take a toll. Our gods of war are beginning to show the cracks in their armor, their frail mortality becoming less of an idea than a fact. We're already haunted by the ghosts of heroes gone too soon, like Ronnie James Dio, Cliff Burton, Jeff Hanneman, Darrell "Dimebag" Abbott, and it's not a trend that shows any sign of slowing down.
If we count back from the earliest rumblings of Black Sabbath in 1968, heavy metal itself turned 47 this year. Allowing that most people start their first bands as teens or young adults—Tony Iommi was 20 in 1968—it's far from shocking that the past few years have seen an uptick in press releases about the medical problems plaguing our elder statesmen. Judas Priest's air raid siren of a vocalist, Rob Halford, has undergone multiple surgeries for his back and hips. Motorhead have had to cancel a slew of dates because of Lemmy—who's as close to God as most metalheads would ever want to be—and the health issues that persist even though the legendary hellraiser has cut back on his beloved white lines and Jack Daniels. Iommi, the iron man himself, was sidelined by a bout of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2012, and while he's back in action for now, his prognosis isn't as rosy as anyone would like. In 2011, King Diamond underwent open heart triple bypass surgery after a series of severe heart attacks; he's back in fighting shape now, but this and other stories underlines the stark reality that our heroes are getting old. Despite the bravado and the power and the sheer might that is heavy metal, these men are made of flesh, not steel, and as their bodies start to fail them, we cling even harder to their myths. They have quite literally devoted their lives to heavy metal, and someday, they will die.
It will be sad, and we will mourn, but you know what will live forever? "Run to the Hills" will live forever. "Sweet Leaf," and "Raining Blood," and "Rainbow in the Dark," and "Cemetery Gates," and so many, many more will never be forgotten. A classic is a classic whether it's being heard for the first time or the five thousandth. Iron Maiden will never die, and neither will heavy metal, so bring on the new album. Bring on the new tour. Bring on a new Eddie shirt design, and new videos, and more photos of Bruce flying his fucking airplane. Bring on the metal.
Up the irons, now, tomorrow, and until the final note rings out.