BRUCE DICKINSON – The Mandrake Project (Album Review)

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1984 is generally regarded as the greatest year in metal. The release of Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave,” Dio’s “The Last In Line,” Judas Priest’s “Defenders of The Faith,” Saxon‘s “Crusader” are only a few examples of how great it was. Just a few months later, in January 1985, the Rock in Rio festival would open the doors of South America to heavy music, creating an everlasting bond between the bands that played there and the audience.

Fast forward to 2024, and the metalheads that enjoyed the establishment of metal as a force to be reckoned with in the music industry are now older, and wiser, but with many of the bands that enriched that scene in the 80’s still delivering high-quality albums. Saxon‘s “Hell, Fire and Damnation” and Judas Priest’s upcoming “Invincible Shield” are only a few examples to prove the point that metal is alive and well. When it comes to Iron Maiden, they’re still doing the “Future Past Tour”, playing songs from “Somewhere in Time” and their latest release, 2021’s “Senjutsu.” In addition to that, a few Maiden-related releases will see the light of day this year: Blaze Bayley’s “Circle of Stone” (which we discussed with Blaze himself) and Bruce Dickinson’s “The Mandrake Project.”

While metal is alive and well – whether or not the old school fans acknowledge it, Ghost, Sleep Token, Spiritbox, and others are carrying the torch of heavy music into the new age – it takes a new album from an industry titan to REALLY shake the metal world. Take last year as an example – a year with incredible releases from many bands, but Metallica’s “72 Seasons” dominated most of the conversation in the headbanger roundtables. When it comes to this year, it’s almost guaranteed that Bruce’s “The Mandrake Project” will cause a stir in the industry, and we’re here to tell you why.

Bruce’s last solo album, “Tyranny of Souls” was released almost twenty years ago, and that only adds to the anticipation for “The Mandrake Project”. Teasers about “Mandrake” were made as far back as 2015, when the song “If Eternity Should Fail”, included in Maiden’s “The Book of Souls” was revealed to be meant for a solo effort. It took a few years, multiple tours, a pandemic, and several accomplishments by Bruce in non-music related fields (and sadly, a cancer diagnosis which he managed to beat), but finally the stars are aligned and we’ll now be able to witness this come to fruition.

“The Mandrake Project” Album Artwork

In true Bruce fashion, “The Mandrake Project” is not just an album, but a multimedia experience. In parallel with the album, the singer worked on a comic series of the same name, with acclaimed British writer Tony Lee and illustrator Staz Johnson. Together, they wrote a sci-fi occult adventure-turned-tragic cosmic whodunit, of which the first volume has already been revealed. The album itself was recorded at LA’s “Doom Room”, with long-time collaborator Roy Z pulling double duty as producer and guitarist/ bassist, and returning “Tyranny of Souls” personnel: keyboard maestro Mistheria and drummer (& part-engineer in what is his own studio set up) Dave Moreno.

The “Air Raid Siren”, as he came to be known in Maiden circles, has covered a lot of ground in his solo career: from the pure hard rock feel of “Tattooed Millionaire”, to the more experimental side of metal on “Balls to Picasso”, through the grunge on “Skunkworks” and a welcome return to pure metal on “Accident of Birth” and “Chemical Wedding”. “Tyranny of Souls” also contained several of his musical interests, and in that sense, “Mandrake” is no different. The album was done over the course of several years, but picks up exactly where “Tyranny” ended.

From a promotion standpoint, Bruce kicked things off by showcasing to us the first song on the album, “Afterglow of Ragnarok”. An ominous and slow guitar gives way to a plodding riff which is pure bliss for metal fans. The man’s vocal prowess is showcased on the bridge and on the chorus, which will stay in your head for days on end. This one is followed by “Many Doors to Hell”, with a hard rock vibe that would fit in like a glove on “Tattooed Millionnaire”. The keyboards here remind us of Deep Purple, and there’s something on the bridge that is reminiscent of Maiden’s “Brighter Than a Thousand Suns”.

Coming up next is the second single, “Rain on the Graves”. Detuned and sludgy guitars accompany Bruce, who raps on the verses and uses his operatic delivery on the chorus. Influenced by the words of William Blake (just like most of the lyrics on “Chemical Wedding”), this is one of the most theatrical songs the man has ever done in his career, and living proof of that is the video for the song, which you can check out here. Note that on the video we can already get a taste of the live shows of his upcoming tour because the touring lineup is shown in costume.

“Resurrection Men” starts with acoustic guitars painting a desolate landscape, and evolves into an alt-rock track that would fit in well in a Wim Wenders movie, before reaching the metal realms on the chorus. This one goes into different heavy riffs in the mid-section, and returns to the acoustic beginning, ending on the strong chorus. It’s followed by the piano-driven “Fingers in the Wounds”, with Middle Eastern scales appearing halfway through and a captivating chorus.

In 2015 Bruce had doubts if eternity would fail, as proclaimed in the song of the same name. Now, having stared death in the face after beating cancer and going through the woes of getting older, he’s sure that “Eternity HAS Failed”. Going through a debate over which version is better – Bruce’s or Maiden’s – is fruitless, and there are a lot of fresh ideas for fans to enjoy on this one, with Roy Z and Mistheria absolutely shining. “Mistress of Mercy” is a fast-paced track, which could easily be on a Maiden album – one can definitely hear Adrian Smith doing the guitar part on the chorus. Another high point of the album which will sound great in a live setting.

“Face in the Mirror” is a contemplative ballad, in the same vein as 2005’s “Navigate the Seas of the Sun”. It’s followed by another slow-paced track, “Shadows of the Gods”, which halfway through brings in some nasty riffing and a menacing and raspy delivery from Bruce, as he sings “this is my world / world of the dead / this is my life / world of the dead”.

“Sonata (Immortal Beloved)”, the song that ends the proceedings, will be quite divisive in the fanbase. It starts slow and involves the listener in a maze with a hypnotic guitar part on a minor scale. The lyrics talk about lost love and the search for salvation in the arms of a queen who will make the protagonist whole again. Or will she? It’s hard to say, because towards the end it states that “love has brought you here and love will tell you apart”. A beautiful and dramatic song, but it could maybe be replaced by something more up-tempo to end the album.

Overall, it’s incredible to see Bruce taking stylistic risks on “The Mandrake Project”, in contrast with taking safer routes in Maiden. He might not get it right in every track and in every moment throughout this release, but this is a breath of fresh air in a sea of bands that only replicate what they did before and refuse to take risks. This album covers a lot of musical ground and directs the listener through a sonic rollercoaster. The bottom line is that the man still has it, and he’ll be on the road in 2024, at the age of 65, to show a new generation how it’s done

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

“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)

Pre-order “The Mandrake Project” HERE.

8.0 Great

Bruce Dickinson’s restless, barrier-pushing personality comes across in “The Mandrake Project”, an album that sees him take stylistic risks and explore different avenues of his songwriting. Singing as good as ever, and elevated by the tasty riff of Roy Z, metal’s favorite polymath brings us an album with an extensive musical vocabulary that will definitely please thousands of fans

  • Songwriting 8
  • Musicianship 8
  • Originality 8
  • Production 8

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