Not many bands can get away with releasing so many live albums so late in their career. Iron Maiden can. They can for three main reasons:
1: They still kick enormous amounts of ass.
2: Their setlist changes tour after tour and there will always be songs you won’t get to hear again.
3: See #1.
It doesn’t hurt that their new albums are as acclaimed as their old. Ever since Maiden’s 1999 reunion with Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith, we have been treated to an abnormally solid stream of brilliant records. Deal with the devil, perhaps? Faustian bargain #666?
The atmospheric and shadowy intro to “If Eternity Should Fail” is a perfect way to begin an Iron Maiden concert. This track is magnificent. It also serves as a dramatic way to open what is sure to be the greatest live experience on Earth. “Scream for me, Sydney!” yells Bruce to rile up the crowd. Yes, The Book of Souls: Live Chapter is taken from a number of different shows, which is a format Maiden have succeeded with before.
Another thing Maiden do successfully is top-load their live set with new songs. The first two songs here are the same two as The Book of Souls itself. Single “Speed of Light” really kicks up the excitement level. To go from the epic drama of the opener to the taut single immediately causes an energy surge. From there, we travel back to 1981 with “Wrathchild”. It’s like a time machine to the London stages that young Maiden once trod upon. Bruce’s scream is unholy.
Jump cut to Canada and “Children of the Damned”. Bruce speaks French for the raving Montreal crowd, a nice touch of respect for the province of Quebec. Maiden never sagged in popularity there. In Quebec, Maiden’s 1995 album The X Factor (with lead singer Blaze Bayley) went Top 10. Back to new material, “Death or Glory” is another energetic shorty. The triple guitar solo slays. Then it goes to epic, “The Red and the Black”, 13 minutes and the longest track on the album. Riff overload! Unabated, we launch into “The Trooper” and “Powerslave”, both old classics that remain as amped up as they were in the 80s. It is pure joy to listen. (Only qualm: backing vocals on “Powerslave” sound like tape.)
A pair of top-notch new songs, “The Great Unknown” and “The Book of Souls” kick off the second CD. These are not short tracks. In a way this is the “meat” of the set. It is a run of 17 combined minutes of epic Maiden, and it’s a lot to swallow. Savour every bite; this is prime stuff. And will they ever be played live again? Who can say?
You know the show is drawing to a close when you hear the opening chords to “Fear of the Dark”. This favourite has been in the set since 1992. It’s the crowd’s chance to really sing along and be a part of it. More favourites follow: “Iron Maiden” and “The Number of the Beast”. (Absent is “Run to the Hills” which is on plenty of other live Maiden albums of recent vintage.) “Blood Brothers” from the reunion album Brave New World seems oddly placed in the second-to-last slot. The crowd at Download festival are thrilled to sing along. On CD, you can hear Steve on backing vocals clearly, and appreciate how he and Bruce complement each other. Then finally, it’s a terrific “Wasted Years” from underdog favourite Somewhere in Time.
The mix here is just dandy. There are variances in sound from track to track and city to city, but these are minor and only natural. You can clearly pick apart the instruments in the stereo field, and it’s pure delight to do so. Once again, Iron Maiden have released a quality product. You cannot go wrong by investing in any version of The Book of Souls: Live Chapter.