From lonely female vampires who long for death to a reworking of an Iron Maiden classic, The Mandrake Project proves that Bruce Dickinson really can do anything

The Mandrake Project is a bold return for Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson

Bruce Dickinson: The Mandrake Project cover art
(Image: © BMG)

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When Bruce Dickinson quit Iron Maiden in 1993 to pursue a full-time solo career, it was a catastrophe for the fans. As the charismatic frontman was comically wrestled into an Iron Maiden and killed off theatrically at the end of his final concert with the band on the BBC that year, it felt like the death of Maiden‘s golden years as we knew it. 

In hindsight, exiting off the back of the success of the Fear Of The Dark album wasn’t a bad way to go. More importantly, it enabled Dickinson to maximise his solo potential as he hammered out four impressive records in the space of as many years, while also managing to sneak into an under-siege Sarajevo to perform a now legendary concert. 

Following his return to Maiden in 1999, Dickinson squeezed in one more solo record with 2005’s Tyranny Of Souls. Unfortunately his throat cancer diagnosis in 2014 and lockdown hampered plans for any further records. Now, nearly 20 years on, album number seven, The Mandrake Project, finally sees the light of day, and with it comes a whole comic collection created by the Maiden man.

Epic opener Afterglow Of Ragnarok sets out Dickinson’s grandiose vision from the outset, swelling with Roy Z’s gnarly riffs before giving way to an infectious Sabbath-like chorus, which finds the singer at his operatic best. Many Doors To Hell, meanwhile, which tells the tale of a lonely female vampire who longs for death, is drenched with rousing guitars and a thumping drum beat that drives this tragic story brilliantly.

Mistress Of Mercy is far heavier than anything you’ll find on a Maiden album, throbbing with hefty guitars as Dickinson yet again delivers another huge chorus. The closest thing you’ll find to anything by Maiden here is a reworking of 2015’s If Eternity Should Fail. Retitled Eternity Has Failed, this new twist on the track sees Dickinson opting for more soothing woodwind instruments as he strips out some of the original synth production, allowing his vocals to breathe more powerfully in the process. Towards the end of the record, Dickinson veers into more ballad-driven territory, the pick of which is the piano-flecked Face In The Mirror

It may have been a long wait, but The Mandrake Project is easily one of Bruce Dickinson’s boldest projects, and it goes to show there is almost nothing that this band frontman/fencer/pilot/author can’t turn his hand to.

Damian Jones

Freelance journalist for Classic Rock, NME, Sky News, Bandcamp Daily, The Sports Network (TSN), NewsBreak, Uncut Magazine, Festival Flyer, The British Music Digest.