Review: Bruce Dickinson – ‘The Mandrake Project’

Almost 20 years after releasing his last solo album (2005’s ‘Tyranny Of Souls’) Bruce Dickinson returns with the hugely ambitious multi-media solo project known as ‘The Mandrake Project’. Lead single ‘Afterglow of Ragnarok’  – released earlier this year as a stunning 7″ single that also featured a comic book in the centerfold – hinted at how grandiose the project was. That was nothing though compared to the limited editions (vinyl & CD) of the album itself that come with a comic that acts as a taster of the comic series, created by Dickinson, scripted by Tony Lee and stunningly illustrated by Staz Johnson for Z2 Comics, which will be released as 12 quarterly issues that will be collected into three annual graphic novels. A larger-than-life project for a larger-than-life artist. What? You were expecting the first Bruce Dickinson solo album in 19 years to be a low-key affair?

Described as “…a dark, adult story of power, abuse and a struggle for identity, set against the backdrop of scientific and occult genius.” (the credits in the inner booklet include tipping the hat to legends of the Horror genre Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing, along with masters of the macabre: William Blake, and Bram Stoker) ‘The Mandrake Project’ see’s Dickinson reunite with guitarist, songwriter and producer, Roy Z (“…the brother I never had.”) and Z’s Latin-influenced Tribe of Gypsies touch is prevalent throughout the album (the opening to ‘Resurrection Men’ is particularly gorgeous). Ultimately, ‘The Mandrake Project’ is dark and gothic, with the atmospheric keyboard touches of the top-hatted Mistheria being crucial to the overall sound of the album…see the majestical pair of ‘Rain on the Graves’ and ‘Fingers in the Wounds’ for evidence of how crucial he is.

Thanks to the guitar sound from Roy Z (some big-ass down-tuned moments), ‘The Mandrake Project’ is, at times, heavier than an Iron Maiden album, ‘Mistress Of Mercy’ being a prime example. Roy Z delivers some Iommi-sized moments here and there (gnarly opening track ‘Afterglow of Ragnarok’ for one) and he is the perfect right-hand-man for Dickinson, and that’s one of the great charms about the album; it’s Dickinson’s name on the cover, but it’s very much a band project rather than a name surrounded by faceless, session players. Dickinson describes Dave Moreno as “…a rock at the heart of this record…so much more than a drummer.” and that trust and admiration transfers to the album with Moreno playing his heart out and almost stealing the show on moments such as the 80’s hard-rock commercial feel of ‘Many Doors to Hell’.

And Dickinson’s voice – one of the most distinct in metal music history – is flawless and the 65-year old sounds as powerful and as enthusiastic as ever. Compare his reworking of Maiden’s ‘If Eternity Should Fail’, retitled ‘Eternity Has Failed’, with the 2015 original, it’s more vast and adventurous (a little bit of flute, anyone?) and sounds fresh. Bizarrely, it’s when he reigns in the vocal acrobatics, and goes with more organic tones, that highlight how strong his voice still is. ‘Face in the Mirror’ is a pleasant surprise and while you could call it a ballad, it’s anything but formulaic.

The end of the album features 2 tracks and 17 minutes of music. First up is ‘Shadow of the Gods’ which twists and turns many times. The gentle opening few minutes soon give way to something heavier, and the track features Dickinson’s full range. ‘Sonata (Immortal Beloved)’ is the 10-minute, slow-burning epic that closes out the album. Roy Z’s solo from 07:41 onward is Gilmour-like in places and packs some gorgeous tones. Close your eyes and it’s easy to play out in your head how this one is going to look and sound when played live.

Lot’s to admire about ‘The Mandrake Project’; it’s scale for one, the high-quality of the material and playing, for another. Although it is a heavy album, it is also melodic and accessible. Maiden fans will naturally lap it up, but perhaps more importantly, those who for whatever reason don’t get Maiden, will find plenty within to enjoy.

Available now via BMG worldwide. Purchase HERE.

Review – Dave

Bruce Dickinson – The Mandrake Project Tour
15th April – The Observatory, Santa Ana, CA, USA
18th April – Diana Theater, Guadalajara, MEXICO
20th April – Pepsi Theatre, Mexico City, MEXICO
24th April – Live Curitiba, Curitiba, BRAZIL
25th April – Pepsi On Stage, Porto Alegre, BRAZIL
27th April – Opera Hall, Brasilia, BRAZIL
28th April – Arena Hall, Belo Horizonte, BRAZIL
30th April – Qualistage, Rio De Janeiro, BRAZIL
2nd May – Quinta Linda, Ribeirao Preto, BRAZIL
4th May – Vibra, Sao Paulo, BRAZIL
16th May – The Halls, Wolverhampton, UK
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
6th June – Mystic Festival, Gdansk, POLAND *
5-8th June – Sweden Rock Festival, Solvesborg, SWEDEN *
9th June – Rockefeller, Oslo, NORWAY
11th June – Grona Lund, Stockholm, SWEDEN
13th June – House Of Culture, Helsinki, FINLAND
14th June – Noblessner Foundry, Tallinn, ESTONIA
16th June – Huxleys Neue Welt, Berlin, GERMANY
17th June – Grosse Freiheit 36, Hamburg, GERMANY
19 – 22nd June – Copenhell, Copenhagen, DENMARK *
21st June – Graspop Metal Meeting, Dessel, BELGIUM *
22nd June – Summerside Festival, Grenchen, SWITZERLAND *
24th June – Zeltfestival Rhein-Neckar, Mannheim, GERMANY *
25th June – Circus Krone, Munich, GERMANY
26th – 29th June – Resurrection Festival, Galicia, SPAIN *
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 Roma, Rome, ITALY *
6th July – Bassano Del Grappa, Metal Park, Vincenza, ITALY *
9th July – E-Werk, Koln, GERMANY
11th – 14th July – Masters Of Rock Festival, Vizovice, Czech Republic *
13th July – Hala, Zagreb, CROATIA
16th July – Kolodrum Arena, Sofia, BULGARIA
19th July – Kucukciftlik Park, Istanbul, TURKEY
21st July – Release, Athens, GREECE *

* – festival performance

For more information regarding the tour click here
For more information on the comic series click here

Photo Credits: Both – John McMurtrie

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