Former Arsies champions Iron Maiden go first, but their album The Book Of Souls is not exactly a proper folloup to 2010's The Final Frontier. Instead, the album is more akin to a faux-live double album, intentionally raw in production and well paced in song sequence. The album's bright spot is the title track, and along with a handful of other tracks like The Red And The Black, will make for great new blood in the band's live repertoire. The problem is that there's just so much other material on here, all of it patently and nostalgically Maidenesque, but also universally begging for editing and paring down. While this is perhaps a predictable complaint to make of a double album, there are more than a few questionable moments on The Book Of Souls that warrant it. All of that said, points have to be given to Maiden for the principle of this album at the very least. While other bands with this kind of multi-decade tenure seem content as heritage bands, Maiden clearly intended to throw out their own playbook on this record. While not every swing is a hit, they are to be feted for putting out their largest album ever (and their single longest song in the epic closer Empire Of The Cloud.
And then there's Intronaut. The LA prog band's latest album The Direction Of Last Things is quite simply the best recording of their career. Fast Worms is a jawdropper of an album opener, and the perfect way to establish the level that the band are playing at now. In brief, what ultimately doomed 2013's Habitual Levitations was a lack of an appropriate editor (both in terms of songwriting and production quality). But with The Direction Of Last Things, the band have pared back their songs ever so slightly... which has made all the difference. And Devin Townsend's mix elevates everything here; the improvement in sound is comparable to the transformation that Tool underwent from Undertow to Ænima. With those two problem areas summarily handled, Intronaut earn enough latitude and interest to push the listening experience in new directions, an opportunity they purposefully exploit more on this album than on the last few. Their influences are still clear, but better integrated into a unified sound on tracks like Sol Ponticello. And so it's particularly bittersweet that Maiden is tripped up by what doomed Intronaut last time (and what the latter have tackled aggressively). Intronaut takes the day!
Tomorrow, we end our second week with Minsk versus Soilwork!