REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Best of the Beast (1996 2 CD edition)

Part 22 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

IRON MAIDEN – Best of the Beast (1996)

I’m not sure what prompted Iron Maiden to put out their first greatest hits disc in 1996, but at least they did it in style.  Originally available as a limited edition 2 CD book set, it was pretty extravagant packaging for the time.   My only beef is by the nature of such packaging, the paper sleeves will always scratch your discs, 100% of the time.

This album was also available in a standard edition single disc, with the songs in a different running order.  I don’t have that one so I’m not going to talk aboot it.

The 2 disc version, perhaps to emphasize that Blaze Bayley is the current Maiden vocalist, starts at the present and then rewinds all the way back to the beginning, closing with The Soundhouse Tapes!  An interesting approach indeed.  As a listening experience I’m not sure that it works that well.

Since we’re starting at the present, the album kicks off with a new song.  “Virus” is 6:30 of same-old same-old X Factor Maiden, but not as good as anything on that album.   It drags and drags for three minutes before finally kicking into gear, but it is otherwise repetitive and boring until then.  Lyrically, it is another attack on the sicknesses in society, much like “Be Quick Or Be Dead” and “Justice of the Peace” were.

Then back in time one year, to “Sign of the Cross”, the dramatic 11 minute epic from The X Factor, as well as “Man on the Edge”.  (I would have preferred “Lord of the Flies” to “Man on the Edge”, but perhaps “Man” was the bigger single of the two.)

To bridge into the Fear of the Dark album, a new live version of “Afraid To Shoot Strangers” is featured, with Blaze Bayley singing.  It’s a good live version, but it’s immediately obvious that Blaze is no Bruce.

Bruce takes over on the next track, “Be Quick Or Be Dead”, and we’re back in the saddle.  Singles (including the popular live version of “Fear of the Dark”) and album tracks are counted down from 1993 to 1986’s Somewhere In Time album, ending disc 1 with “Wasted Years”, a great closer.  My beef here:  I would have preferred the single “Stranger In A Strange Land” to the album track “Heaven Can Wait” (but I know the Heavy Metal OverloRd doesn’t agree with me!)

Disc 2 is the glory years, if you will, everything from Live After Death to the beginning.  It begins with the epic “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, a ballsy move for a greatest hits album, and the live version at that.  Chasing it is the live single version of “Running Free”.  Then we count them down, all the singles from Powerslave to “Run To The Hills”, plus “Where Eagles Dare” and  “Hallowed Be Thy Name” thrown in for good measure.

Then it’s the Di’Anno years, which are given an unfortunately brief expose.  “Wrathchild”, from Killers  is one of the best songs from that era, but the only included track from that album.  Maiden’s first epic, “Phantom of the Opera” and the single “Sanctuary” represent the debut Iron Maiden.  Finally, an unreleased track from The Soundhouse Tapes sessions (“Strange World”), and the rare Soundhouse version of “Iron Maiden” close the set.  To read my review of The Soundhouse Tapes and these tracks, click here.

There was also a 4 LP vinyl edition available, with 7 extra tracks:  “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”,  “The Prisoner”, “Killers”, “Remember Tomorrow”, an exclusive live version of “Revelations” from the Piece of Mind tour, plus the final two songs from The Soundhouse Tapes, “Prowler” and “Invasion”. You can read a story about the 4 LP edition by clicking here.

And there you have it, Maiden’s first greatest hits set, with lots of the hits and plenty of rarities thrown in for the collectors.  I confess that I don’t listen to it often, and this time for this review was the first time in roughly two years.

The cover art was once again by Derek Riggs, doing a sort of mash-up of his (and nobody else’s) Eddie’s.  It’s a suitably glorious piece of art for such a monument of metal.  The inside of the book is loaded with concert dates, lyrics, liner notes, and chart positions, as well as more Eddie’s and photos!

I still want to talk about the single, “Virus”, but I think that it should get an article of its own.  Check back soon for that!

Curiosity: the cover features an ad for the never-to-be Iron Maiden video game, Melt!  Maiden did eventually release a video game, but we’re not going there yet….

For the 2 CD edition of Best of the Beast:

4/5 stars

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16 comments

  1. I purchased this as well as Maiden did not have a greatest hits set available ,only 75 live albums though…hahahahaha….Virus to me seems like a leftover track from the X Factor sessions…it was cool to have just to finish out the collection,nice looking package ,put together well,but once again the Virus track did have me a little troubled as it seemed to take forever to get going like u said Mike. Afraid to Shoot Strangers was alright but man the bar that Bruce set with his vocals u know the next guy was gonna have trouble competing and I think it kinda shows here……

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  2. You’re right Deke and I think it’s obvious that no live albums were going to come out with Blaze singing. A track or two — sure. A whole album? The comparisons to Bruce would be so obvious. Priest did two live albums with Ripper during this period. Ripper could hit the notes and sing the songs. They might as well show off the new singer. Maiden didn’t do that, they didn’t put out a live album and show off the singer. Think about it — like you said they have like 75 live albums! Just before Blaze joined the band they released 3 live albums. Then Bruce comes back and they release a live album after every single studio album!

    But we’ll get there…

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  3. Hi, the Heavy Metal OverloRd here! I’ve not got this or heard it so I can’t really contribute much to a discussion. But… I actually agree! You know I LOVE Heaven Can Wait but I do agree that Stranger in a Strange Land was a better choice for this. It was def a highlight of Somewhere in Time and one of the great Maiden singles. And what a solo! Heaven Can Wait would have been too long and would have sounded out of place.

    Just to be a contrary bugger… I normally hate Afraid To Shoot Strangers but I really enjoyed the version here. Thought Blaze’s voice suited it. Kind of ragged in a Fish-esque way and sang with feeling. And the band sound mighty.

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        1. You guys are so funny, don’t wanna step on any toes! hell man, fire away! You don’t like a song, you don’t like it! Other guy does, good on ’em! Call ’em as you see ’em, boys. It’s all good. ;)

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  4. OK, so I finally checked this out. Yes, I am WAY behind. I still have two albums proper to get through too!

    I only have three things to say about this hits collection:

    1) This is (mostly) the songs just about everyone would pick. Natch.

    2) I HATE HATE HATE when they put live versions of songs on hits collections. I know Mike says sometimes live versions become the accepted version of the song (wasn’t there a KISS track?). I get that. So go make a Greatest Hits Live! CD and stop putting live tracks on these compilations. Man I HATE that.

    3) Has anyone else noticed that the first few bars of Number of The Beast, after the talking is done and he starts singing, sounds like When The Saints Go Marching In (with an extra beat)?

    Now you can’t un-hear it.

    You’re welcome.

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    1. As for point number two: it’s a greatest hits collection. What if a greatest hit was a live single? EG- running free. You can’t put the album version on because it’s with Paul an didn’t chart as well as the live version.

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  5. You’re quite harsh on Blaze with that “it’s clear he’s no Bruce”. Personally I thought Blaze nailed the song so much better than Bruce ever did. And the soloing on the Blaze version is so much more clearer and better than the album version.

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