Album review: Bruce Dickinson – The Mandrake Project

Hear the Mandrake scream! Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson unveils his most ambitious and best solo work to date on seventh extracurricular offering…

Album review: Bruce Dickinson – The Mandrake Project
Nick Ruskell

Bruce Dickinson is often at his best when he’s bitten off so much that not only is it a challenge to chew, he’s actively having to guide the whole piece into his mouth, cramming and stuffing it all in with both hands. He is a man who thrives on big ideas, often ludicrous ones. And though the detailing of his life and pointing out that fronting Iron Maiden is just one string to his bow alongside pilot, author, fencer, presenter, businessman, dad and train enthusiast has become dulled through repetition, this reputation as metal’s Indiana Jones still speaks of someone who jumps into life with both feet. Any normal person would need thrice the years to live quite so much.

Here, Bruce has approached his first solo album in 19 years with all the gusto you’d expect. Musically, The Mandrake Project is a beefier beast than Maiden – more down-tuned, heavier riffs – but it’s in Brucie’s world-building that it becomes a genuine achievement, rather than a downtime plaything. With a narrative so massive it’s spilled over into a multi-part graphic novel in which the opposing forces of magic and science lock horns for ultimate control of life and death, even on (literal) paper, it’s a colossal idea. That these 10 tracks are equal to their brief while also having space to find their own groove in the world says everything about the way in which the man carries out his work.

Teaming up once again with previous partner in crime Roy Z, it is a record filled with otherworldly drama and theatre. Even if you don’t follow the plot, songs like Resurrection Men and enormous lead single Afterglow Of Ragnarok deal in enough cinematic excitement to pull you into Bruce’s world. He sounds great, his voice properly doing the rounds through the narrative, as the beefy riffs – much more so than in Maiden – and gritty production add a layer of their own.

It’s a broad church as well. Halfway through Resurrection Men, Roy suddenly busts out a slow riff that could have come from Soundgarden or Corrosion Of Conformity, while Many Doors To Hell finds him kneeling at the altar of Ghost. Eternity Has Failed, meanwhile – attached to If Eternity Should Fail from Maiden’s 2015 stonker The Book Of Souls – puts a foreboding slant on the more familiar version.

Whatever Bruce Dickinson does, you should expect him to go all the way with it. But far from making a rod for his own back, it’s more that he doesn’t seem to be able to help himself. The Mandrake Project is a colossal idea carried out by an artist who revels in snowballing ideas and having to work hard to cram it all in. It’s the most Bruce Dickinson of all Bruce Dickinson’s solo works. It's also the best.

Verdict: 4/5

For fans of: Iron Maiden, Ghost, King Diamond

The Mandrake Project is released on March 1 via BMG

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