Here are the things we love most about Bruce Dickinson's new solo album The Mandrake Project.

The nearly 20-year wait for the successor to 2005's Tyranny of Souls is finally coming to an end, with 10 new tracks spanning just under 59 minutes.

Musically, the record takes quite a lot of detours, but is still largely reflective of the metallic style that's been in play since 1997's Accident of Birth. In the works in earnest for about a decade, with some material here going back a quarter century, The Mandrake Project very much feels like the product of such a lengthy process.

It's some of Dickinson's most dense work to date, with layers of Roy Z's sludgy guitars conjuring emotive atmospheres against delicate piano melodies, providing a wide open foundation for the now 65-year-old's voice to showcase what it does best.

Of course, there's some speedier and rockin' tunes occupying most of those 59 minutes — he's not deviating far from his roots — and they're among the most immediately rewarding parts of the album.

On The Mandrake Project, Dickinson's creativity feels as inexhaustible as his onstage energy, complemented by the inspired, textured playing of his aforementioned longtime writing partner, Roy Z.

Now, let's get into what we love about this album!

That Big Riff in "Afterglow of Ragnarok"

When news of a new Bruce Dickinson album first dropped, it was accompanied by an audio teaser of the tense intro, revealing weighty, sludgy guitars with dark overtones.

Once the "Afterglow of Ragnarok" single dropped, we learned that this sinister mood gives way to a walloping riff that's actually quite bouncy and a bit jovial.

Dickinson's three previous solo records showcased the singer's voice against more muscular, rhythmic guitar parts, courtesy of his longtime writing partner Roy Z. With five Iron Maiden albums occupying the space between The Mandrake Project and Tyranny of Souls, it's quite refreshing to hear Dickinson in this musical context again. And Roy's burly riffs are all over this thing (along with some magnificent solos).

What an introduction and overture of sorts, setting fans up to expect a lot of different moods and textures.

And while we're on this track, let's give special attention to the splendor of the lyric and melody, "Across the shining seas / Eyes of creatures follow me." It might be the catchiest bit on the whole record!

The lyric "Take a pearl from an oyster and feed it to swine"

"Fingers in the Wounds" is actually about social media and deification of influencers. That context makes the cultural touches to this otherwise poignant power ballad (at least in structure, early on) feel a bit puzzling.

Regardless, it's a much better swipe at the ills of social media than most metaphorically bankrupt takes by rockers near or over Dickinson's age.

Among the very best lyrics is the cynical, "Take a pearl from an oyster and feed it to swine." It's almost like it's Bruce's version of Marie Antoinette's immortally tyrannical, peasant-mocking "let them eat cake" line (note: the quote attribute is disputed).

The Range of Influences

Sure, it's easy to point to a handful of parts and go, "There's that Deep Purple influence!" That's the most immediate quality Italian keyboard maestro Mistheria brings to The Mandrake Project, but there's a lot more present than some Ian Gillan and Jon Lord worship.

"There's bits of Johnny Cash in there lurking, especially on 'Rain on the Graves,'" Dickinson informs Loudwire, also noting how Mistheria brings a touch of Screaming Lord Sutch to the track as well.

Bruce Dickinson, "Rain on the Graves" Music Video

READ MORE: Photos + Video - Loudwire 'In Conversation' With Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, Celebrating 'The Mandrake Project'

As for the "Afterglow of Ragnarok" followup "Many Doors to Hell," Dickinson tells SongFacts, "It's got that Scorpions-type riff at the beginning." There's some rollicking organ too (there's that all-too-easy Deep Purple finger-pointing again).

During Loudwire's live Q&A with Dickinson earlier this year, the singer broke down the writing process with Iron Maiden vs. with Roy Z, musing, "'We've got this great idea for a track, Steve [Harris]. It involves Dick Dale surf guitar and bongos,' he'd go 'What the fuck? Have you lost your mind?' But for 'Resurrection Men' it works perfectly."

And it does. It's one of the most thrilling tracks on The Mandrake Project!

Hearing a Song for the First Time, But Already Knowing (Most of) the Lyrics

As we've known for years, "If Eternity Should Fail" (from Iron Maiden's The Book of Souls) was originally written for this long-in-the-works solo album. But Steve Harris liked it too much and it opened Maiden's 16th album.

Now, we're treated to different version (titled "Eternity Has Failed") of what is more or less the same song. Some of the lyrics are different, as is the instrumentation and arrangement, but there's no mistaking them as different tracks altogether.

It's just remarkably unique to be singing along to a song you're hearing for the first time. When else will you get that opportunity?

Album cover for Bruce Dickinson's 2024 solo album 'The Mandrake Project'

"Shadow of the Gods" — All of It

"Shadow of the Gods" was originally written for the Three Tremors project that never got off the ground. We'll just have to use our imaginations (or AI software) to piece together how this would sound with Dickinson, Rob Halford and Ronnie James Dio (or, alternatively Queensryche's Geoff Tate in place of Dio, as was part of the ill-fated attempt).

Instead, we get Bruce tackling all of the different vocal characteristics, which is a real treat. The song picks of from atmospheric and brooding to rollicking and Dickinson unleashes a gruff, gravely voice fans have rarely heard from him before.

When the part intended for Halford emerges, Dickinson cries out, "I NEED a necromancer!" Those necromancers are rarely an extraneous luxury, huh? Pesky necromancers, always hard to find right when you need them most...

Jo Hale, Getty Images
Jo Hale, Getty Images

Clocking in at just a hair over seven minutes in length, "Shadow of the Gods" feels even more epic than the moody closer "Sonata (Immortal Beloved)," which is just shy of 10 minutes.

Bruce's First Guitar Solo!

While Dickinson's live guitar playing may have been limited to some strums on an acoustic guitar during "Revelations" (before Iron Maiden was equipped with a trio of guitar players), he's probably a better guitarist than you realize.

He has written a bunch of songs on his own, but one thing he has never done is play a guitar solo, at least on a recording.

That changes on the tender, piano/acoustic guitar track "Face in the Mirror." With Roy Z encouraging him to give it a go, Dickinson was under the impression his soloing was just for a demo version. Lo and behold, it made its way on The Mandrake Project.

It's a simple acoustic solo — nothing flashy — but it conveys quite a lot of emotion, a perfect complement to this plaintive song.

It's Not a Full Concept Album, But That's Okay

We've been here before, right? Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is often regarded as a concept album — and it mostly is — but it's not a completely conceptual release across every track.

That holds true again with The Mandrake Project and, thankfully, we'll be treated to the rest of the story across 12 comics that will form a graphic novel trilogy, released through Z2 Comics.

Iron Maiden, Bruce Dickinson, The Mandrake Project
Nathaniel Shannon

Get your copy of The Mandrake Project, out on BMG.

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