a real live one

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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REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Live At Donington August 22nd 1992

Part 18 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

“Satan’s work is done Donington!” – Bruce Dickinson

IRON MAIDEN –  Live At Donington August 22nd 1992 (1993 CD, 1998 remastered edition)

I imagine if Bruce remained in the band, Maiden probably wouldn’t have released three live albums in one year.  But they needed time to regroup and figure out what the hell to do next.  In the meantime, as if to say, “We’ll be back!” Maiden released Live At Donington August 22nd 1992.

A much better recording than its two predecessors (A Real Live One and A Real Dead One), it’s a very special set.  It’ll never be Live After Death (that’s impossible) but this is one of the finer Maiden live albums to come down the pipe.  I mean, just look at the first three songs!  A smoking “Be Quick Or Be Dead”.  An absolutely devastating “Beast” (I like that they threw it in early).  A surprising “Wrathchild”, one of the best Maiden songs of all time.

Then I get a little disinterested — “From Here To Eternity” is not a personal fave, and “Can I Play With Madness” is flat sounding again, just like on A Real Live One.

“Wasting Love” is better.  The dual guitar harmony is a little off, but it’s live, what you hear is the way it was.  Bruce pushing his voice to the breaking point.  The mix is nice here.  You can hear Nicko’s drums beautifully and both guitars clear as a bell.

A fiery “Tailgunner” takes us out of ballad territory and back into traditional Maiden:  pumping guitars and lyrics about good ol’ WWII.  I like when Bruce sings, “No more bomber just one big bomb, hey hey, whooo!  Pussshhhttt!” as if to imitate the sound of a bomb going off!

Then, “The Evil That Men Do” lives on and on.  Bruce urges Donington to scream for him; they do and he responds with a solid “Fuck yeah!”

Incidentally, does anyone know why Bruce always seems to sing the words to this song wrong, live? This album and A Real Live One, he sings:

“And I will pray for her,

Someday I may return,

I will bleed for her,

If I could only make her learn.”

The actual lyric on the album is:

“And I will pray for you,

Someday I may return,

Don’t you cry for me,

Beyond is where I learn.”

Anybody?

Bruce then introduces the modern war ballad, “Afraid To Shoot Strangers”.  I think this is one of Maiden’s greater songs, at least once it gets going into that awesome guitar melody…and then another one after that!

The first CD of Donington closed with “Fear Of The Dark”.   Interesting — playing this one halfway through the show, and not the end!  How things would change, as this song became more and more of  a classic.  The Donington version is great, I love Janick’s pinch harmonics.  The remastered CD loaded four more songs onto disc one from here, freeing that space off disc two for video content.  I’m only mentioning this because depending on which version you have, your disc may end on a different song.  But I think “Fear Of The Dark” may as well close the disc, as it’s a perfect place to pause!

“Bring Your Daughter” was up next.  I can always pass on this song, although the redeeming factor are the wild and crazy guitars!  I could do without the singalong intro, but the fans at Donington are sure into it!

The brilliant “Clairvoyant” pumps the crowd up once again.  Once again, Janick crazies-up the guitar work making the whole thing more manic.

“Heaven Can Wait” of course was the big singalong song, I just wish they’d play something else from Somewhere In Time instead of this number.  Although I do like it when Bruce allows Nicko to have a word.  “Oiiiyyyeeeee!”  This is followed by “Run To The Hills”, which indicates we’re getting closer to the end.  Personally I’m tiring of this song, and the guitars sound too thin.

“2 Minutes To Midnight” serves as a reminder of the great tunes that Bruce and Adrian used to write together.  Great riff (even if poached from “Wildfire” by Budgie), great song.  Funny:  As a kid, I loved “Hills” and didn’t really like “2 Minutes”.  Now, I really love “2 Minutes”, but I’ve heard “Hills” just too many times.

Then:  four classics in a row.  “Hallowed”, “Trooper”, “Sanctuary”, and “Running Free”.  “Hallowed” is still one of the very greatest Maiden tunes of all time, and in many ways I think it’s better live.  In particular, the Live After Death version is great.  But Bruce sings his teeth into this one too, and it’s just that much better for it.  Once again, I can hear some tasty pinch harmonics in the opening.  Is that you Janick?  Guess I’ll have to wait until this show comes out on blu-ray in 2013….

“The Trooper” is of course pummeling as ever,  and “Sanctuary” a welcome rarity from the earlier punkier days.  I like when Bruce introduces Nicko as “old Flatnose himself”.

“Running Free” though was very special indeed, and a harbinger of things to come.

Adrian came out and joined the band for this one, a special appearance at a special gig.  For years I had no idea:  It’s not like you can really understand what Bruce is saying when Adrian comes out, perhaps overcome with emotion!   This really was a preview of the most beloved, long-standing Maiden lineup of all time:  Bruce, Steve, Nicko, Davey, Janick, and Adrian.  It would be seven years before they played together again, but here’s the first.

The cover art and packaging was decidedly bootleg:  A plain white cover with a Maiden logo stencil and the title in sloppy typewriter font.  No booklet at all.  Thankfully, this was rectified with Mark Wilkinson’s poster art, used for the remastered cover art.  The remaster did indeed feature a full booklet packed with photos, and some live video stuff that may or may not work on your current machine.

And thus ends Live At Doningon, and thus ends the last album with this lineup.  It would be uncharted waters forward, as Maiden began the audition process for a new lead singer for the first time in a decade.

But there would be one more special show.  One more release to talk about:  Not an album, but a video.   Next time, we’ll talk about Bruce’s final show, called Raising Hell, featuring the decapitation of the band’s lead singer!

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – A Real Dead One (1993, plus single)

Part 17 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!  NOTE:  This album was later reissued as part of A Real Live Dead One.

IRON MAIDEN – A Real Dead One (1993)

When Maiden hit the road for what was to be Bruce’s farewell tour, it did not go as the band intended.  There were some positives:   Because this was Bruce’s farewell, the band decided to pull certain older tracks out of the box, and record them for the next live album, A Real Dead One.  But three of the four other Iron Maiden members (Janick Gers being the sole holdout) have accused Bruce of sabotaging that last tour.  I’m sure this is all water under the bridge now, but Maiden were furious that Bruce seemingly stopped trying, barely sang, and underperformed on certain stops on the tour.  Only the big gigs, with the cameras and the press, did Bruce put any effort into singing, claimed the band.

Whatever the case may be, Bruce did turn up for the tracks on A Real Dead One.  And Maiden stacked the deck with great tracks, stretching from the first album to Powerslave.  And those older seldom heard tracks that Maiden pulled out of the box?  Yeah!  You get classics like “Remember Tomorrow”, “Where Eagles Dare”, and “Prowler”.  None of those songs were on the immortal Live After Death (neither was “Transylvania” or “Sanctuary”!) so that brings added value to this album, as a companion piece of sorts.

But it could never live up to the legacy set by Live After Death, and although it’s certainly better than A Real Live One, I can’t say I play this too frequently.   The band are on fire and playing as furiously as ever.  The solos are nothing if not sublime.  Steve and Nicko gallop forward driving the whole thing.  That’s all well and good.  The vocals don’t seem mixed high enough to me.  Bruce’s voice is also obviously wearing with age.  It happens.  I think the album has a better overall sound than A Real Live One however.

I don’t think “Remember Tomorrow” needed backing keyboards, although Dave and Janick’s guitar work is beautiful.  I love Janick’s noisy chaotic solo that still somehow fits the song.  I also love Nicko’s drum work and fills.

“Hallowed By Thy Name” appropriately closes the album, and was also the album’s single.  The fantastic cover art shows Bruce being killed by Eddie, a trick they would try live for their final gig (and more on that when I get to it).  “Hallowed” had two unique live B-sides:  “Wasted Years” and “Wrathchild”!  Both are worth having.  “Wrathchild” probably could have been on this album, and “Wasted Years” definitely should have been on A Real Live One.

Derek Riggs came back for the cover art.  DJ Eddie seems to be spinning discs in hell, at 666 FM!

Even though this was Maiden’s second live album of 1993, it was not their last!  Stay tuned…

3.5/5 stars

Below:  Note Bruce promoting his cousin Rob Dickinson’s new band, Catherine Wheel!  Also seen, the CD for the combined A Real Live Dead One release.

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – A Real Live One (1993, plus single)

Part 16 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!  NOTE:  This album was later reissued as part of A Real Live Dead One.

IRON MAIDEN – A Real Live One (1993)

And then the bombshell hit.  Just as Iron Maiden were releasing their next live album, Bruce Dickinson was leaving the band.

It was another in a string of major metal singer departures:  Vince Neil and Rob Halford in 1992, and now Bruce Dickinson.  Not to mention Dio splitting with Sabbath, again.  It was a very demoralizing time to be a metal fan.

Tattooed Millionaire was a big enough success to warrant a sequel.  On the advice of Maiden manager Rod Smallwood, Bruce was encouraged not to just do a half-assed sequel, but to really throw himself into the creative process.  What he came up with was very different and intriguing; Bruce likened it to early Peter Gabriel.  This triggered some soul searching.  What if this direction was to pursued?  What then?

Bruce approached Smallwood.  “As you can see, the music is very different, that’s the good news,” he started.  “The bad news is I’ve decided to leave the band.”

As a compromise, Bruce agreed to do the next tour, promoting the live album A Real Live OneA Real Live One was a document of the Fear of the Dark tour, and after it was mixed the band planned to hit the road again for a second leg.  Bruce did not want to jeopardize the tour, and Steve Harris agreed to do it as a farewell.  This was a decision that all parties would regret, but more on that later.  In the meantime, Maiden had a live album to promote, with a distinct black cloud over it.

Maiden had chosen to do two live albums.  First came A Real Live One, which covered music from 1986-1992.  Then, post-tour, A Real Dead One covering the early years was scheduled.  Splitting the live album into two may have proven to be a mistake, as it meant A Real Live One was lopsided and full of songs that many in North America did not care about:  “Heaven Can Wait”, “From Here To Eternity”, “Bring Your Daughter”, but nothing of the beloved earlier period previously covered on Live After Death.

And how do you top an album like Live After Death?  You can’t, so A Real Live One was doomed to be deemed inferior from the start.

Making matters worse, not only were Maiden releasing a live album that summer, but so did Kiss, Ozzy, and Van Halen.

The production seemed a little muddier (the first without Martin Birch since the early days).  The performances were fine, as expected, Maiden are nothing but professionals.  I don’t listen to this album often.  Later live albums that cover this material are superior, and it would have helped if the album had pre-1986 classics on it.  Although A Real Live One had four albums to draw upon, that period of Maiden is not the golden era, and the albums are undeniably less classic than the pre-’86 period.

I can understand their reasoning of doing the release like this.  I’m sure they felt that a live album without overlap with Live After Death was better value for the money.  And if you wanted those songs, you could get A Real Dead One later on.  But still, a Maiden live set without “The Trooper” or “Hallowed” or “Number” was a lopsided Beast indeed.

Worthy:  “Fear of the Dark”, “Afraid to Shoot Strangers”, “The Evil That Men Do”, “The Clairvoyant”.

Ugh:  a flat “Can I Play With Madness” & “From Here To Eternity”.

Missing:  “Wasted Years”.  That would have been a worthy addition to the set.

Derek Riggs returned to do the cover art for this and it’s a fun striking painting.  Nothing special, just another cool Eddie.

The single was the awesome “Fear Of The Dark”, live (which had a better cover than the album).  This had become a concert classic already, with a massive fan singalong.  The B-side was “Hooks In You” from the No Prayer album and tour.  I’ve never been a fan of this song, but I have no problem with Maiden issuing live B-sides of songs that are rarely aired live.  It’s good for documenting history.  It’s also available on the Fear of the Dark bonus disc edition.

2.5/5 stars

1. Be Quick Or Be Dead
2. From Here To Eternity
3. Can I Play With Madness
4. Wasting Love
5. Tailgunner
6. The Evil That Men Do
7. Afraid To Shoot Strangers
8. Bring Your Daughter…To The Slaughter
9. Heaven Can Wait
10. The Clairvoyant
11. Fear Of The Dark