British heavy metal pioneer Iron Maiden can always be counted on to release new music in times of dire need. With 16 studio albums under its belt since its 1980 self-titled debut and a 17th — Senjutsu — arriving this September, Iron Maiden’s six-year break following 2015’s The Book of Souls has spawned not only a new album but a new, somewhat experimental musical style. “The Writing on the Wall,” the first single off of the anticipated release, finds Iron Maiden tapping into a folksy, desperado-style vein, which doesn’t pay off as well as it could.
Beginning with an ominous guitar plucking that bears the same powerful energy Iron Maiden has wielded for decades, the song’s intro doesn’t reveal the composition of the rest of the instrumentals, instead shrouding the song in an air of beauty and mystery. But the gentle nature of the song doesn’t last for long before the triple guitars of Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers burst onto the scene, saturating the track with the classic heavy metal sound Iron Maiden has made its signature. “The Writing on the Wall” gets off to a solid start, but the magic fades rather abruptly soon after.
As the song progresses, something about the tempo and riff structure feels off, not quite packing enough of a punch to fully draw you in. While lead singer Bruce Dickinson’s voice is as strong as ever, as if transported straight from the ‘80s, his screeching through the guitar chords is too masked by the intensity of the instrumentals to properly command listeners’ attention. Each individual component of the song is great, but when put together, they sound rather lackluster and leave you wanting more substance. “The Writing on the Wall” may have all the tidings of a typical Iron Maiden song, but the moving parts of the track don’t quite click together.
It would be unfair to solely compare the more toned-down “The Writing on the Wall” to Iron Maiden’s more fiery tracks. But even among the band’s softer songs and power ballads, the song still falls short of greatness. The lovely guitar solo that creeps up near the end of the song, a feature that’s normally enough to make an Iron Maiden song spectacular, simply isn’t able to elevate the song to be on par with the rest of the band’s immense discography — though it does make for an excellent two-minute ending to the six-minute song. The solo, in fact, does end up being the song’s only redeeming quality.
“The Writing on the Wall” may not be Iron Maiden’s strongest work, but it undeniably has many of the qualities that the band has mastered over the years, including stellar technical composition and deep, thoughtful lyricism. The single sounds like quintessential Maiden but is dampened due to the amalgamation of conflicting genres failing to work together. However, Iron Maiden undoubtedly has the potential and skill to transform a country or folk song into a robust metal track, and the band’s efforts to experiment with its sound must be lauded. Iron Maiden simply wasn’t able to achieve this success with “The Writing on the Wall.”