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Bruce Dickinson 'The Mandrake Project' review: Prepare to enter The Bruce Dickinson Multiverse

It's been 19 years since Iron Maiden frontman and all-round polymath, Bruce Dickinson released his last solo album. To be fair he's had quite a bit on including fighting and beating cancer, brewing beer, flying planes and keeping the good ship Maiden propped up. Even so this pilot needed another solo voyage, but it was always something he had on the boil. 

Iron Maiden have flirted with conceptual albums before: Seventh Son, The Book of Souls along with increasingly grandiose stage productions and musical arrangements (that song from Book of souls), so it's not surprising that The Mandrake Project is filled with similar flourishes. 

I should point out that The Mandrake Project isn't actually a conceptual piece of work despite the videos that have been released.

At its very loosest The Mandrake Project represents a battle between religion,  ancient mysticism and the occult in a battle to gain immortality. If you go scratching for links between the songs, you'll probably find some, but it was never engineered that way. With the comic books that will accompany the album, it's part of a wider concatenation from the singer.

From Faustian pacts to vampires and drawing on literature for inspiration the album pulls us in with 'Afterglow of Ragnarök', it has the feel of a NWOBHM track, but the rest of the album is a welcome departure from what we are used to. It has more in common with The Chemical Wedding tonally, but it allows Dickinson the flexibility to play and the freedom to delve into darker tones and experiment vocally. You'll hear him strum a guitar and play the bongos on 'Resurrection Man' and even leave the air raid siren behind on 'Face in the Mirror.’ There’s also plenty of piano underscoring tracks too, like the excellent deep cut 'Finger in the Wound'. 

Maiden fans will notice 'Eternity Has Failed' appeared on the band's 2015 The Book of Souls album. This is a chance to hear the original version before Steve Harris and co repurposed it with a slightly more optimistic tone. Dickinson and Roy Z embellish the track with a choir and orchestral arrangements that result in the track being even more beefed up and tonally epic. The brooding ‘Shadow of the Gods’ also dates back to the early 00s - further proof that this album has been a long time in the making. 

The record gains momentum and feels that it grows into its skin the longer it goes on and continues it's experimental path of twists and turns. It's certainly an album full of musical variety and surprises. Album closer Sonata (Immortal Beloved) takes an intriguing progressive route, but sags midway due to Dickinson's disappointingly underconfident vocal and the lack of musical variety to make it truly progressive. The track does redeem itself in the closing minutes with Roy Z's majestic guitar solo. It's more of a 'To be Continued...' style interlude, rather than a full stop to an otherwise stonker of an album. 

'The Mandrake Project' is an enchanting journey through a variety of musical soundscapes from a man who is creatively unpredictable. Dickinson feels like a man uncaged and his exuberance bursts from every track.  After nearly two decades in the making that The Mandrake Project' is ready to be unleashed. 


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