TeamRock+ Exclusive: Iron Maiden – How We Made The Book Of Souls
As Iron Maiden hit the top of the charts around the world, they reveal the story behind their new album
The new Iron Maiden album, The Book Of Souls, hit No.1 on the UK charts last week, almost a year after it was recorded – the delay due to singer Bruce Dickinson undergoing treatment for cancer.
Marking the 40th anniversary of the band’s formation, The Book Of Souls is Maiden’s first double studio album, and includes the longest track they have ever recorded – Dickinson’s 18-minute song Empire Of The Clouds.
Speaking to Classic Rock are all six members of Iron Maiden – Dickinson, bassist Steve Harris, drummer Nicko McBrain and guitarists Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers. They talk about the making of the new album and the creation of its key songs; including Empire Of The Clouds, the “mystical” title track, and a song partly inspired by the death of actor and comedian Robin Williams.
Now that The Book Of Souls is finally being released, how do you feel about it?
Steve Harris: The amazing thing for me is the way Bruce is singing on it. He sounds fantastic. It’s incredible to think that he did that while he was so ill.
**Bruce Dickinson: **A double album is kind of cool really. Nobody does double albums anymore. We thought that Maiden fans would absolutely love it.
Dave Murray: It’s great that we still have so much music in us after so many years. I’m blown away about that.
Adrian Smith: In these days where people are just downloading tracks and skipping and flitting from one thing to another, we can make an album like this because we have such a loyal fan base. And that didn’t happen by accident – we’ve been touring our arses off since 1980.
Janick Gers: We’ve put a 92-minute album out at a time when most people have the attention span of a gnat. But that’s Maiden. We’ve done lots of great albums in the past, but this one is heavy, it’s hard, it’s edgy, full of melody, it’s got all kinds of different moods in it. It’s just a pure Iron Maiden album.
**Nicko McBrain: **To me, The Book Of Souls is the ultimate Maiden album. I really think it’s the best album we’ve ever made. I always say that when we put out a new album. But I really am convinced that this one is a work of art. Some of the songs, like The Book Of Souls itself, are just monstrously heavy. The whole album is, in a word, majestic.
Making a double album, did it take you back to your teenage years in the 70s and the classic doubles of that era, such as Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway by Genesis?
Bruce: Oh yes! The thing is, back then, in my group of friends, we used to go to each other’s houses and we’d all sit and listen to it, two of three of us. We’d play one side and go, ‘Wow, what did you think of that?’ We’d talk about it, go down and have a cup of tea or something, and then go back in for round two.
Dave: It reminds me of when I was a teenager, buying Physical Graffiti. I love the whole feel of a double album, that warm 70s vibe.
Ninety-two minutes of new Iron Maiden music is a lot to take in.
Bruce: It is (laughs). After all that, you need to lie down in a dark room.
Steve: Even the last album (The Final Frontier) was pretty long – 72 minutes or something. But we knew Bruce wrote Empire Of The Clouds that this album was going to be really bloody long. We don’t seem to be able to condense what we do.
And you don’t want to?
Steve: Not necessarily. Having said that, there are some short songs on the album, Speed Of Light and Death Or Glory.
Bruce: After six songs we said, ‘Either we stop now, or it’s going to be a double album.’ Then we thought about all the possibilities for artwork – gatefolds and all that shit. Great! Let’s make it a double album. And of course the first thing Rod (Smallwood, Maiden manager) said was, ‘Oh no, it’s a pain the arse!’ I said, ‘Rod, it’s brilliant. I know the record company will possibly whinge, but Maiden fans will love it.’ So we won him over. Rod said, ‘Couldn’t you do Album 1 and Album 2?’ I said, ‘What, like [Guns N' Roses'] Use Your Illusion I and II? No, that’s bollocks. It’s one double album, and that’s what it should be.’
Adrian: It’s funny. On this album my idea was to get back to shorter songs. A couple of albums back, on Dance Of Death, I had a go at writing an epic with Paschendale. Just to challenge myself. This time I went for punchier songs like Speed Of Light, in the style of 2 Minutes To Midnight. Little did I know that this album would be the longest we’ve ever done, with the longest song we’ve ever done. Probably a good idea I didn’t write any epic. It would have been too much.