Bruce Dickinson - The Mandrake Project
Heavy Metal
10 songs (58:49)
Release year: 2024
Bruce Dickinson, BMG
Reviewed by Goat
Major event

Quite how much enjoyment you will receive from a Bruce Dickinson solo album in 2024 depends entirely on your expectations, because oh boy - nearly nineteen years it has taken since 2005's good but not great Tyranny of Souls, and if you expect genius based merely on that time, disabuse yourself now! Sure, the man has been busy since then, not least with four Iron Maiden albums but also everything from getting remarried to dealing with cancer. Yet considering The Mandrake Project has been brewing for such a long time, no-one would blame a long-term fan of Bruce's solo material for being a little disappointed to receive an album that is, basically, fine, if no rival to his best work in Accident of Birth and The Chemical Wedding. The ballad-heavy vibe and aged sound are tough to get excited about, both feeling like they are from a release of ten or even twenty years ago. And your mileage may vary, yet more damage is done here thanks to the distinctly sub-par production courtesy of usual collaborator Roy Z that does its best to spoil certain songs, making them sound as though they were recorded separately from the others.

Some will feel more strongly about that than others yet it is curious how at certain points Bruce sounds terrific and other places less so - perhaps he recorded some of his vocals years ago? No issues there at all if it is true, except that it can't but make the album feel like more of a B-sides (or odds 'n' sods) compilation rather than the concept piece that the strange title would suggest. There is a related comic series (available here) but without that it does seem like the songs are only loosely connected at best. Opener Afterglow of Ragnarok suffers the most from a very cloudy-sounding mix, a shame since it's one of the best-written songs present, big and bold doom-tinged heavy metal with a progressive edge that nearly drowns Bruce beneath layered synths and guitars. The following Many Doors to Hell is much clearer and closer to hard rock than metal with a ballad-esque vocal performance - but even with some kind of effect on his voice on the chorus, the performances throughout are much, much better than on Senjutsu.

And although generally songs are drenched in effects and keyboards and such, there is a charging directness and catchiness that makes this far less of a chore to get through than that recent Maiden epic. First single Rain on the Graves, for instance, is far from Bruce's best work but it has a solid set of riffs and the sort of effortlessly epic chorus that we all know and love from him. There's plenty of songwriting imagination here, the flamenco guitar in Resurrection Men and the Sabbath-esque riffs partway through just one example. And the two epics that end the album are superb, Shadow of the Gods a piano-backed ballad turned grooving stomper with lyrical and instrumental references to The Chemical Wedding that immediately rockets it to the top of the best songs list, aided by a genuinely great performance from Bruce who hasn't sounded this good in years. The nearly-ten-minute Sonata (Immortal Beloved), conversely, is a Tears of the Dragon-esque moody ballad that is extremely drawn-out and self-indulgent but somehow very gripping thanks to, again, Bruce's fantastic performance!

It seems foolish to say for a solo album... Yet even the good material here is utterly elevated by him and he more than saves the rest. Of course, there are songs that could and should have been left off this near-hour-long album, such as Middle Eastern-enhanced ballad Fingers in the Wounds, feeling like an idea that needed more tinkering, or Eternity Has Failed, another version of the song later gifted to Maiden as If Eternity Should Fail, here a shorter (near seven minute) piece that's slightly different but not really enough to warrant inclusion other than a curiosity. Again, it helps the album feel like a compilation, particularly as the following Mistress of Mercy is very different in style with its driving Accident of Birth-esque intensity. And ultimately those who love Bruce and his voice, and his unique place in the metalsphere, will get a lot from this, even with otherwise unremarkable acoustic ballads like Face in the Mirror padding out the tracklisting. Just like current Maiden, the man is badly in need of an editor yet the creative juices are still very much flowing and regardless of the long wait there's a lot to like about The Mandrake Project. It may not ultimately rank high in Bruce's solo discography and at times feels like a collection of cut-offs from previous albums, true. But so godly is that voice we all know and love that we're desperate for more, and on that at least, The Mandrake Project delivers.

Killing Songs :
Resurrection Men, Mistress of Mercy, Shadow of the Gods, Sonata (Immortal Beloved)
Goat quoted 70 / 100
Other albums by Bruce Dickinson that we have reviewed:
Bruce Dickinson - Balls To Picasso reviewed by Goat and quoted 79 / 100
Bruce Dickinson - Accident of Birth reviewed by Goat and quoted 92 / 100
Bruce Dickinson - Skunkworks reviewed by Goat and quoted 80 / 100
Bruce Dickinson - Tattooed Millionaire reviewed by Ben and quoted 69 / 100
Bruce Dickinson - Anthology (3 DVDs) reviewed by Marty and quoted no quote
To see all 9 reviews click here
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