When EMI Records told me that they wanted me to spend a week in Dallas, Texas with Iron Maiden, one of the biggest selling heavy metal acts of all time, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I had the chance to listen to the band’s new CD, The Final Frontier, ten weeks before it was released, interview the band and catch the opening night of their 2010/2011 world tour.
After 30 years and over 100 million albums sold, Iron Maiden has proven time and time again that they are not afraid to take chances. This new Iron Maiden CD is no different as it opens with a track, “Satellite 15ÉThe Final Frontier” that is one of the most unusual and striking songs that they have ever recorded. The first part is an eerie almost industrial intro, cold and space like complete with robotic sounding drums. This leads straight into the real meat of the song, a fast paced classic sounding hard rock track with a simple but effective guitar riff and a chorus that sticks to you like glue.
“Basically that was an idea that Adrian had," says Iron Maiden bassist and founding member Steve Harris. “He did this demo and I heard it and thought it was just brilliant for like an intro or whatever. Then he followed it like right into the melodies. I thought it was a great track for opening of an album but also an opening of a show. We won't use it for this part of the live show because that the album is not out. But it is very different. It's very different. It's almost like a film theme kind of vibe.”
“It was just a piece of music that I had written at home” says Iron Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith. “Preparing the album, Steve came out to my place and I played it and he liked the idea. He took it from my studio and put it straight on as it was. It does sound different, and then the second song comes in. It’s more like an intro track that just sets up the album. It’s got the whole space thing, lost in space.”
”That song it’s quite dynamic and quite different from the rest for the album as well," adds guitarist and Maiden co-founder Dave Murray. “It takes you down this path, it doesn’t really sound like Iron Maiden in a way. It’s very different. I played it for a few friends and they were like, what? They said it in the nicest, most positive way. But then suddenly it clicks in and then you are like, oh yeah, OK I get it now. In a way, it’s good. Psychologically it takes you somewhere else, it sets you up. It takes you back and then OK, there’s Maiden, that’s the comfort zone. You are back in the Maiden vibe. Then you get into the melodic and heavy songs. It sets up the whole of the rhythm pattern.”
“Adrian was the first one that I got to write with a lot this time, same as last time really," adds Steve. “I ended up using a lot of basic ideas from him. And a lot of that evolved into the album. It's good because it keeps everything fresh, you know? It's like if I write, I wrote just about everything in the early days, which is great. But when you get on working with other people, it takes you other places. I've got a stylistic way of writing and I've got so many ideas, it's not like I'm running out of ideas. I've got bags of tapes with ideas, like you've got on this recorder there. I would probably never get through them all. I think its good; it's refreshing when someone comes up with a basic idea and you take it somewhere that you wouldn't have gone with it.”
“Overall, I think it’s a really interesting album, at least I think it’s an interesting album” laughs Steve Harris. “I do think you will need a few listens to it. I think there are probably a few tracks that hit you straight away and there are other ones that you think you might never hear the end on that one. But overall I think it's a really strong album. When it's that strong it makes it a difficult to choose what to play next year.”
The metal community was stunned recently at the loss of legendary singer Ronnie James Dio. The Dio lead version of Black Sabbath, known as Heaven and Hell, was supposed to play dates in Europe with Iron Maiden this summer. I asked Iron Maiden leader Steve Harris how this great loss affected the band.
"Well obviously it affects us directly because Heaven and Hell were supposed to do some shows with us this summer," he answers. “So from that side, yeah, it does affect us. But they have done some shows with us in the past and we knew him well. Ronnie James Dio was a top guy, I mean he really was. People tend to say things after someone has passed away and that’s true, but he was a really, really nice guy. It’s sad for everybody, but basically he’s a legend. And a legend has now passed; it’s just really sad all around.”
Iron Maiden manager Rod Smallwood told me that they will be on the road for two or three years with this new release. But the boys in the band seemed to disagree with that statement when I tell them what their manager said.
“Oh please, three years," laughs Adrian Smith sarcastically.
“Well I’m surprised to hear that," laughs Dave Murray. “We could never tour for two or three years straight or even do ten month tours anymore. There would be a mutiny.
We do have 15 studio albums and there are some songs that we have never played live. We could do that and still incorporate a new album. With this new stage production and this new Eddie, it’s pretty spectacular. I think we probably could tour for two or three years, but that’s news to me, thanks for the info," laughs Dave.
The new Iron Maiden CD, The Final Frontier is in stores now via SONY Legacy Records. For up to date information, including future tour dates go to www.ironmaiden.com.
Interview by Christopher Alo¯