I’ve been holding off on reviewing this for a while, because I wanted to soak it in, get a feel for it, make sure I didn’t miss anything. And I’m glad I did. The first couple of times I listened to this, it didn’t really grab me. There were a couple of songs that stood out, but for the most part, I found it to be a bit boring. Some songs just didn’t seem to have that special something that the Maiden classics of yore had. But I listened to it more. And then I realized…This album is just fantastic. No, really. Expanding upon the more elaborate arrangements of “Brave New World”, adding in a bit of the harder feel of the oldschool stuff, and throwing a few surprises our way, “Dance of Death” proves to be a very strong release. It’s one of their most diverse and musically ambitious albums to date. Why didn’t it register with me before? Well, I really have no idea. I suppose the album is one you’ve just got to become acquainted with. You’re not going to just pop it in, and form an opinion right away. It’s gotta sink in a bit, and sink in it did.The great songs abound. “Rainmaker” and “Wildest Dreams” are fast-paced and melodic, with the kind of vigor that the band hasn’t exhibited in years. “Montsegur” has a killer riff, and a performance from Bruce that proves he’s still got it. “New Frontier” has a sort of “Somewhere in Time” feel, with a great chorus. There are also a wealth of great epics here, such as “No More Lies”, “Pashendale”, “Face in the Sand”, and the title track. Some of these songs were the ones that took a few listens to get into, but when they finally hit me, they hit hard. My favorite from the album is probably “Age of Innocence”. Featuring a brutal staccato riff on the verses, and an overwhelmingly catchy melodic chorus, this is one of their best songs to date. The politically oriented lyrics are also a bit of a departure from their usual lyrical arsenal. The album ends on a great note with the acoustic “Journeyman”. This album as a whole is difficult to describe, because there’s just so much cool stuff going on. The guitar work is excellent (as usual), and there’s even the occasional string section here and there to enhance the killer melodies. This is the first time the band has used actual strings (until now, they were done on a keyboard), and they really work well. I would actually like to see them go into an even more symphonic direction on subsequent releases. Might not get the best reaction from the purists, but I think it’d be great.If there’s one thing I can complain about here, it’s that the production is a bit weak. While it does give the album a rawer, more oldschool feel (as opposed to the more slick and lush arrangements of BNW), it also leaves some of the music a bit pushed back in the mix. Nicko really doesn’t stand out like he should. On BNW, he was brought much further up into the mix, and it was easier to focus on what he was doing, but you’ve really gotta strain a bit more to make out the intricacies of his drumming. Steve’s bass doesn’t stand out quite as much either (although, admittedly, his basslines have been better). I’m hoping that maybe they’ll remix this album some day, but I kinda doubt it. Anyway, despite taking some time to appreciate, this is a great new release from the kings of metal. Not many bands that have been around for 20 years or more are still making music this good, so it’s a real relief to still have Maiden in the business. I caught them on their last tour, and it was possibly the best show I’ve ever seen. The youthful exuberance that these guys display in their mid to late 40’s is just amazing. I have the feeling these guys still have a few good years ahead of them.I highly recommend this to all of the fans. It may take a few spins, but it’s worth the effort.