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Album Review : Bruce Dickinson – The Mandrake Project

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Review by Ritchie Birnie for MPM

After 19 years the air raid siren is back with a new solo album and it not only lives up to the hype it wipes the floor with every solo album that has gone before.

The first thing to say about this album is with it being 19 years in the making and a lot of these songs being written some time ago they do not feel old. Remember GnRs Chinese Democracy? Those songs were stuck in the bands past and unlike this album the release was underwhelming.

Most of you will have heard opening track “Afterglow of Ragnarok” as it was the first single. I fell in love with it instantly, heavy as hell, a catchy and melodic chorus and some fizzing guitar work. I thought this would be the blueprint for the album and a continuation of Tyranny of Souls but sitting here now how wrong was I. This is definitely Bruce’s most diverse album to date.

Second track “Many Doors to Hell” has a real 80s Scorpions feel on opening and later breakdown. The song sits squarely in rock Roots and Bruce sounds incredible. Another catchy number full of melodic brilliance and Roy Z on fire again.

When I first saw the video for “Rain on the Graves” I was a full on nope, I am out guys but listening without the distraction of the hammy video I can see past the devil went to Georgia spoken parts and focus on the guts of the song. Once again Bruce sounds wonderful and it is impossible to not get sucked into the story and a chorus that burrows into your brain like a worm looking for post mortem brains.

Four songs in and we are four from four on totally different styles but on “Resurrection Men” nobody would have had a bet on there being a spaghetti western theme tune. The intro builds, folds and recreates before we have Bruce coming in with his vocal storytelling.

This song slips and slides and the vibe Roy Z lays down becomes heavy, gritty and Sabbath esche. You can see why there is a comic release with this album as the stories are so vivid, so compelling. These are not just songs, these are individual audio movies.

“Fingers in the Wounds” is a huge sounding song. The lyrics are outstanding and musically this is a sonic palette. The piano gives the song a life of its own and the chorus just takes to the skies which leads onto the breakdown which takes you away to a middle eastern bizarre. This is a short, sharp piece of magician-ship.

I am sure everyone reading this will be completely aware of “Eternity Has Failed”. I am sure since we first heard the song on Maiden’s Book of Souls we were wondering what it sounded like originally and we got a taster with the B side of the 7” single of Ragnarok but that was just a little insight.

There is no doubt that was one of the best songs on the Book of Souls and I cannot believe I am saying this as Maiden has been my favourite band since 1980 but Bruce and Roy Z’s version kills the Maiden one.

For one the production is outstanding as it is throughout the album. Roy Z should be in charge of all future Maiden albums in my opinion. More blasphemy from me as I think the guitar solos and bass lines are better, they fit the song more naturally. I also have a little vision in my head of Bruce in the sound box recording this for Maiden with a little smile on his lips thinking I am not giving my all on this recording as this one sounds so much fresher. This version is is like an operatic, metal wonderland.

The bass drives the opening of “Mistress of Mercy” and drives it into a sleazefest. More new ground for Bruce but it reverts to a catchy chorus without giving up that galloping chaotic plunge into the flames of hell. Roy Z takes that vision and puts it on a fretboard like the spawn of the devil.

Everything is slowed down on “Face in the Mirror” and as we know Bruce does not like the B word so I won’t say it but this is a slowed down track that is kicked of with piano and acoustic guitar. Bruce is on fire, his unhurried and unstretched vocal chords sees a retrospective feel which is what the song is all about. This is a very powerful and beautifully structured track.

A similar feel follows on “Shadow of the Gods”, Piano and a Bruce that is holding back the power and directing it into emotion. Like an opera singer during quiet reflection and searching out new depths and folds to their voice he holds, holds, holds until he lets rip and by this time you are so emotionally invested in the journey it is impossible to ignore that this man is one of the best vocalists we have or will ever have.

At over seven minutes this song has more twists and turns than your average whodunit and for me this track is just sublime, Bruce at his absolute best.

Closing track “Sonata(Immortal Beloved)” clocks in at over nine minutes so sit down and strap in for the ride of your life. A slow, atmospheric opening that that is so packed with sounds you will feel as if there is a full orchestra in the background. Bruce is sounding like a tripped out wanderer as he begs for a saviour. He sounds lost, he sounds confused and the desperation begins to seep out of his pores and you will feel every ounce of his pain.

The Mandrake project is everything I could have hoped for and more. It may have taken 19 years but it was worth every second of that wait. Bruce has never sounded better and this is the most complete album he has ever put his name to in a solo environment, his collaboration with Roy Z has brought forth so many memorable moments but this is an album to hang a career on.

The currently confirmed dates are below:
Bruce Dickinson – The Mandrake Project European Tour
18th May – Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow, UK
19th May – O2 Academy, Manchester, UK
21st May – Arena, Swansea, UK
23rd May – Rock City, Nottingham, UK
24th May – O2 Forum Kentish Town, London, UK
26th May – L’Olympia, Paris, FRANCE
28th May – 013, Tilburg, HOLLAND
29th May – De Oosterport, Groningen, HOLLAND
1st June – Barba Negra, Budapest, HUNGARY
3rd June – Arenale Romane, Bucharest, ROMANIA
5-8th June – Mystic Festival, Gdansk, POLAND *
5-8th June – Sweden Rock Festival, Solvesborg, SWEDEN *
9th June – Rockefeller, Oslo, NORWAY
16th June – Huxleys Neue Welt, Berlin, GERMANY
17th June – Grosse Freiheit 36, Hamburg, GERMANY
19-22nd June – Copenhell, Copenhagen, DENMARK *
24th June – Zeltfestival Rhein-Neckar, Mannheim, GERMANY *
25th June – Circus Krone, Munich, GERMANY
27-30th June – Hellfest, Clisson, FRANCE *
30th June – Rockhal, Esch-Sur-Alzette, LUXEMBOURG
3-6th July – Rockharz Open Air, Ballenstedt, GERMANY *
5th July – Ippodrome Delle Capannelle, Rock In Rome, Rome, ITALY *
6th July – Bassano Del Grappa, Metal Park, Vincenza, ITALY *
9th July – E-Werk, Koln, GERMANY
13th July – Hala, Zagreb, CROATIA
16th July – Kolodrum Arena, Sofia, BULGARIA
19th July – Kucukciftlik Park, Istanbul, TURKEY
* – festival performance

For more information regarding the tour click here

The Mandrake Project will be Dickinson’s seventh solo album. It will be released via BMG worldwide on multiple formats.

The Mandrake Project – tracklisting
Afterglow Of Ragnarok (05.45)
Many Doors To Hell (04.48)
Rain On The Graves (05.05)
Resurrection Men (06.24)
Fingers In The Wounds (03.39)
Eternity Has Failed (06.59)
Mistress Of Mercy (05.08)
Face In The Mirror (04.08)
Shadow Of The Gods (07.02)
Sonata (Immortal Beloved) (09.51)



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