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Even after 40+ years and roughly two dozen records, Bruce Dickinson has lost very little of the voice that made him a metal god to virtually all genre fans. True, it’s been a long time since his last LP (2005’s Tyranny of Souls); yet, his consistently stellar performances on the four Iron Maiden LPs that came out after it showcased his timeless vivaciousness and talent. So, too, does Tyranny of Souls‘ long-awaited follow-up, The Mandrake Project. Although it’s occasionally uninvolving, the vast majority of it finds Dickinson returning to his solo side with as much engrossing power and panache as when he left.

Actually, The Mandrake Project is likely one of the most ambitious, well, projects Dickinson‘s even done since it includes not only the album but also a comic series. In fact, it’s been in development since 2014 and sees him collaborating once again with producer/bassist Roy “Z” Ramirez, drummer Dave Moreno, and keyboardist Mistheria. Conceptually, he’s said that it centers on “a guy who is looking for his identity, Dr. Necropolis. He’s an orphan, he’s a genius, and he hates it, and he hates life, but he’s involved in [nefarious scientific venture] The Mandrake Project.”

From start to finish, the journey feels appropriately solemn and significant, and it kicks off with arguably it’s most epic track: “Afterglow of Ragnarok.” Named after the cataclysmic Norse myth, its moody atmosphere and slow-built tension evokes not only classic prog metal Iron Maiden but also the grand theatricality of modern Steve Hackett and Marillion. Beyond its engaging instrumental transitions and multilayered singing, it houses a simple but undeniably catchy chorus. Most importantly, it establishes both the record’s overarching tone and the enduring charisma and pipes of Dickinson.

Later, “Many Doors to Hell” is fairly straightforward but coded with gripping melodies, impassioned guitarwork, and ethereal keyboard veneers. It truly sounds like it could’ve come out in the mid-80s, too, as does the relatively sludgy and raw “Resurrection Men”; the mystically operatic “Fingers in the Wounds”; and the multifaceted behemoth that is “Shadow of the Gods.” Originally intended for a project that never got goingThe Three Tremors – its complex structure and majestic scope make it an instant classic in Dickinson‘s catalog.

While there aren’t any out-and-out misses here, there are some things that hold the LP back. For instance, some lyrics are basic and amateurish (“I am your very soul / The one you do not know / I am the truth that’s playing hide and seek / And I will not be free / I cannot choose to be / ‘Til my creator takes the chains off me” from “Afterglow of Ragnarok”). Plus, “Many Doors to Hell” is a bit too run-of-the-mill in most ways, and whereas closer “Sonata (Immortal Beloved)” is a wonderfully affective and sophisticated ballad, “Face in the Mirror” is slightly schmaltzy and bland.

Even so, The Mandrake Project was easily worth the 10-year gestation period and the 20-year wait since Tyranny of Souls. Not only is Dickinson singing about as well as ever, but his voice is complemented by some top-notch songwriting and arrangements. Honestly, the LP often captures the magic of his greatest works – solo, with Iron Maiden, or otherwise – ensuring that his reign is far from over (even if it sometimes takes a while for him to reassert his supremacy).

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