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Bruce Dickinson “The Mandrake Project” album review by Bill Feltovic

Bruce Dickinson scaled

Bruce Dickinson is nothing if not a man of contradictions.  At once the disciplined, cerebral man that can professionally pilot some of the world’s biggest aircraft (including Iron Maiden’s own “Ed Force One”) he is also the wild, visceral man that is widely recognized as one of the greatest heavy metal frontmen of all time.  Those contradictions extend to his musical output as well; the primary architect of Maiden’s 18-minute historical epic “Empire Of The Clouds” is also to blame for the lascivious, barely concealed double entendre that is “Dive! Dive! Dive!” (from his first solo album).

Contradiction” is also exactly what comes to mind when listening to Bruce’s new solo album “The Mandrake Project”.  His first solo album in almost 20 years is a conceptual tour de force, spanning at least three different media, but to be honest, it’s a struggle to understand what the objective is here.  The “concept” is not yet fully realized; referred to regularly as a “project” as opposed to simple a solo album, the deluxe version of the record has an excerpt from a comic book that is expected to unfold its story over 12 quarterly issues. Given only a smattering of the story makes the overall arc of the record somewhat hard to follow.  Famously, Bruce “took” the song “If Eternity Should Fail” from his project and used it on the Iron Maiden album “The Book of Souls”.  As a standalone track the song was evocative and open to interpretation as the listener saw fit, but it did have a cohesive narrative line. Here, as part of a bigger picture – and reimagined as “Eternity Has Failed” – the vision is less clear.

Musically, though, and this is the contradiction, the album is a taught, relatively straightforward ten songs, powered by long-time partner Roy Z’s fluid guitar (Z also co-wrote six of the ten tracks and produced the record), and accompanied by Dave Moreno on drums and Mistheria on keyboards.  As individual creations, the songs are strong, and the melodies, particularly on the album opener “Afterglow of Ragnarok” and the excellent “Mistress of Mercy”, are well crafted.  “Rain On The Graves” has a strident chorus, and “Resurrection Men” is almost epic in its scope (and part of the story, as it lyrically calls back to “eternity having failed”).

The album doesn’t necessarily explore much new territory, though there are some musical surprises.   That’s okay here, though, because it’s another opportunity to see and hear Bruce’s images and words unfiltered instead of through a band dynamic. Nevertheless, it can never be said that Bruce Dickinson phoned it in, or didn’t put in the work.  Recorded over the years in between Maiden albums and tours and the singer’s well-documented battle with throat cancer (according to Bruce, “two thirds of the record was done 14 years ago”) the songs are remarkably consistent and even those places where the music is unexpected – the relatively keyboard heavy “Face In The Mirror” and the first half of “Shadow Of The Gods” – it’s less departure than evolution, and by the end of “Shadow…” Bruce is back to familiar ground.   

Where the album suffers, though, is best exemplified by the album closer “Sonnata (Immortal Beloved)”.  The longest song on the record (and in his entire solo discography), the song itself falls victim to the burden of the concept.  It’s a fantastic closer or wrap up to an epic story, but that story never really solidifies on the record and so any of the resonant emotional closure – the song is about love, loss and redemption – seems dissipated. It’s a shame, too, because the extended guitar solo by Roy Z is a monumental piece of work.  Maybe it will all be clearer when the story is completely told, and perhaps the song will take on new life on tour (Bruce will begin touring the record in the spring). In typical Bruce fashion, he demands a lot from his audience, and it may be that we have to put in the effort to realize the full extent of this work.   

This is a solid album from top to bottom; it is too early to say whether this is a solid concept from top to bottom. That will take time, so for now, we can only enjoy what we have, and what we have is a well constructed record made with integrity, and overall a worthy addition to the singer’s solo canon. 

Songwriting: 8

Musicianship: 9
Originality: 10

Production: 8
Overall:  8

Oorder “The Mandrake Project” HERE.

Bruce Dickinson album

“The Mandrake Project” track listing:

  1. Afterglow Of Ragnarok (05.45)
  2. Many Doors To Hell (04.48)
  3. Rain On The Graves (05.05)
  4. Resurrection Men (06.24)
  5. Fingers In The Wounds (03.39)
  6. Eternity Has Failed (06.59)
  7. Mistress Of Mercy (05.08)
  8. Face In The Mirror (04.08)
  9. Shadow Of The Gods (07.02)
  10. Sonata (Immortal Beloved) (09.51)

Released By: BGM
Release Date: March 1st, 2024
Genre: Hard Rock / Metal

Band Members:

  • Bruce Dickinson / Vocals
  • Roy Z / Guitars
  • Dave Moreno / Drums
  • Mistheria / Keyboards

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