Review | Bruce Dickinson – The Mandrake Project

BMG Music

Soaring vocals like in his prime, Bruce Dickinson kicks the new album into action with ,,Afterglow of Ragnarok”. His long running partnership with guitarist, composer Roy Z immediately lays down the right chops for Bruce to bring his typical vocal range and echo to the plate with towering precision.

It is the tune kicking his 7th solo record `The Mandrake Project’ into gear, focusing on more classic hard rock and heavy metal styles and ingredients. Shaking off the tailor cut tight fit Iron Maiden formula, Dickinson embarks on a journey rejuvenating his spirit. I hear the man enjoying himself more than ever before, much like during the last Maiden tour, closing chapters and celebrating his career, and life itself.


There’s a twist of German metal on ,,Afterglow of Ragnarok”, fusing the most epic moments from the Maiden days onto a unique carcass full of memorable hooks and dominant vocal exercises. He belts out his most fierce and soaring vocals, pitching high if needed. The longevity of his voice is extraordinary and he channels the vocals directly into your head. On top Roy Z feeds the charismatic frontman with muscular heavy riffs larded with tons of melodies and licks. It is the trademark Maiden vocal-sound blend with German power metal (Avantasia-style), overthrown with a U.S. Power metal sauce. It checks all the boxes of pristine quality, as does the rest of the album. 

This epic tone is further explored on the ravishing ,,Fingers in the Wounds” with its varied instrumentation. String arrangements and piano are in fine balance with the heavy thumping drum and bass, Roy’s guitars picking and plucking, unleashing short storms of metal onto which Bruce belts out his best performance of the last decade(s). There’s a modern metal twist with a pompous midsection full of dense strings and guitars, and tribal percussion works amidst the powerful groove. You almost see Floor Jansen enter to take over the leads. 


,,Many Doors to Hell” is pumped forward by nesting hooks and riffs casting off of the pumping organ, injecting a Deep Purple vibe over which Dickinson belts out loudly and with tremendous stride. He hits the highs like never before, in the meantime shifting back onto a more narrative telling vocal that is spot on. The heavy metal potion is oiling the gears of the heavy ,,Mistress of Mercy” on which Bruce Dickinson rejuvenates his entire register biting his lyrics with a grin (reminiscent to ,,Two Minutes to Midnight”). The chorus is absolutely marvellous with the fronter belting out an amazing register full of power and appeal. Radiant as the vocals is the guitar solo with licks (I strongly recommend to do the homework on the melody) transcending into a piercing heavy solo. 

Barring back on the heaviness Bruce taps into the Black Sabbath catalogue to unleash a slow-paced heavy throb that crawls in between Z.’s jaw dropping jagged Iommi -reminiscent riff-carnage and more Uriah Heep-tinged sections full of keys and ‘uhs’ atop the ‘aahs’. Roaring out loudly, Bruce swings it into action vocally, making the potion a blend of all styles. This variety is spread all over the album which is strongly held together by Bruce’s typical vocals, making it all gel together extremely well. 


A song like ,,Face in the Mirror” only works because of the recognizability of his vocal tone, uniting Mick Box (Uriah Heep) structured with a low droning backbeat and subtle (acoustic) guitars. The solo is almost flamenco in style and tone, but also touches with classical music easily. Bruce Dickinson sings in campfire tenure, again right into your heart. Simple, subtle, downplayed on all registers, until he lays down extra layers that come spooking up into the mix and revise in the Maiden soar. 

Toning down he also brings ,,Shadow of the Gods” to the front. Undisputable in style of Savatage’s ,,When the Crowds are Gone”, Bruce and Z blend it with the benchmark ingredients of the singer. Colorful orchestration before going all in with the instrumentation. Touching vocal discharge of a side Bruce Dickinson only rarely exposes, intimate and powerful, clean and warming. Powering up in the epic chorus the vocals and instrumentation are multi-layered, symphonic, and then… suddenly…. Z’s guitar starts to open the gas and a jagged riff is unloaded over the grooving ponderous drum and bass. Bruce brings his haunting vocals to the front, almost grunting and displaying another new side of his register and persona. NWOBHM in the Priest vein is weld onto a U.S. power metal raw grudge-laden sound that resets to its original stage without losing the metallic heaviness just injected. 


,,Eternity has Fallen” opens with ethereal Celtic pieces and the singer roaring a narrated chant that morphs as the song starts to flourish. The growling bass is dominating the low end and the backbone of the song is powerful, yet sober. The song’s chorus is pumped up with keys and strings while the vocal melody immediately gels. It is sticky and memorable, heavily influenced by Maiden as the song breaks into its solo duel with bass growling its guttural drive. The speed and urge intensify and Z displays his impeccable skills soloing atop a constantly shifting rhythm. Awesomeness 2.0!

Dickinson and Z. even dare to take a turn leaving the heavy rocking paths to embark onto a spaghetti-western driven journey to reset their creative beacons on ,,Resurrection Man”. Bruce echoing with heavy wail, grit spitting up high and the bass dominates as much as the guitar tracks. 


This diversity is what makes `The Mandrake Project’ work with Bruce as the binding factor. The blend of hard rock and metal styles finds laurels on the closing ,,Sonata (Immortal Beloved)” that is set in motion with plucking guitar melodies and colorful drum patterns intersected by O’Callaghan’s (Whitesnake) growling low bass licks and chords. The interplay is astonishing and the song meanders on only gradually building tension. It feels like it will combust anytime soon, but only dies out with weaver bluesy guitar licks that make it gravitate in the end.

All held together by the wonderful melody and slow pace it is Bruce’s vocal execution that stands out. He belts his natural register and ensures you will be on the edge of the chairs for the (almost) ten-minute ride. Baffling as it suddenly dies out, one is bound to hit repeat to check in what we exactly missed, just to be strung up to the song again… and again…


`The Mandrake Project’ marks Dickinson’s most creative album to date, fusing together the widest array of hard rock and heavy metal styles. Influences from all eras and fields tied together by rock solid tracks, extremely well composed and with nesting hooks and melodies. Topping it off are Bruce’s excellent and timeless vocal executions making the songs go down easily. As varied as the styles offered, Bruce displays his most extreme ranges and ensures some jaw dropping moments. More than once I had a ‘What-the-hell’ or a ‘how-the-f*ck’ memento as to where this register suddenly comes from. I have never before heard the master brings such a colorful palate of styles and octaves to the plate. All the more important is the compositional and creative cooperation between him and Roy Z. that is sheer brilliant. Just splendid!

But wait, there is more!

`The Mandrake Project’ will also see the light as a comic and it is called out as the maddest and funniest idea ever to have been cooked up by anyone in a 5-decade spanning career. `The Mandrake Project’ will come as a 12-issue comic book centered around mad metaphysical stories full of occultism, trans-dimensional travels and life after death. So, keep your eyes skinned for this treat also…

Release date: 1 March 2024



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