At a time when music consumption (or at least journalism about it) is focused on the fleeting sensations of streaming audio, a la carte downloads, and overnight sensations, the notion of Iron Maiden marking its 40th year with its first double-disc studio album seems quixotic, possibly reckless. Even for devoted followers, a 92-minute set dominated by long cuts — including the iconic metal band's most expansive to date, the 18-minute Bruce Dickinson epic "Empire of the Clouds" — is a lot to ask. But to hell with expectations and conformity: "The Book of Souls" is a triumph, packed with instantly memorable songs and riffs, vocal heroics, triple-guitar fireworks, and vital, committed performances. "Speed of Light," the cowbell-goosed initial single, is as punchy and catchy as anything in Iron Maiden's storied career; "The Red and the Black" adds to bassist Steve Harris's enviable tally of chugging sing-along anthems; and "Empire" merits its drama-soaked duration. Even for a band so dependable, this is an extraordinary achievement.
ESSENTIAL "Speed of Light"
Steve Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nightafternight.