derek riggs

GUEST REVIEW: Dream Theater – The Number of the Beast (by Uncle Meat)

GUEST REVIEW by:  Uncle Meat

ST NUMBER BEAST_0003DREAM THEATER: The Number of the Beast (2002 Ytsejam Records, Covers Series)

For the most part, Dream Theater is a band you either love or you hate. Some Metal fans are put off by the keyboards perhaps, while many others find Dream Theater hard to listen to because of the effeminate tone to the voice of singer James LaBrie. On the other hand, music fans who are not into the sensibilities of progressive music would label Dream Theater as “pretentious,” or which have you. Most music fans though can appreciate the musical talent of everyone involved. They are also a very busy unit, often branching out into different projects between DT albums and tours.

While still in the band, and then after his departure from DT in 2010, Mike Portnoy has been the busiest of all the DT members. So much so, that while researching to do this review of Dream Theater’s Official Bootleg: The Number of the Beast, I was blown away with how many projects Portnoy has been a part of that I truly love. Simply said, Mike Portnoy comes off as the biggest music fan in the music business. On top of his resume of original music, his obsessively accurate tribute projects can only be pulled off by someone who is an authentic “music geek super fan”. Sound familiar, LeBrain? So yes, this review has morphed itself into a bit of a Mike Portnoy love fest. Check out this list of his accomplishments outside of Dream Theater.

LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT – The two studio albums with John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess and Tony Levin are fantastic albums. Their self-titled CD is one of my favorite progressive rock albums. With three subsequent live albums with that lineup and two albums with a name change to Liquid Trio Experiment, that makes seven albums with the great Tony Levin alone.

TRANSATLANTIC – Four studio albums and four live albums with this Prog super group along with Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings), Neal Morse(Spock’s Beard, Flying Colors) and the bassist from one of my favorite bands…Marillion…Pete Trewavas.

AVENGED SEVENFOLD – After the death of their drummer, Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, during the writing of a new album, Mike Portnoy stepped in and played drums on their 2010 CD titled Nightmare. He also joined them for a few shows over in Iran and Kuwait for American troops overseas.

ADRENALINE MOB – Two albums with this band consisting of members from Symphony X and Fozzy. I honestly do not think I have heard it so can’t say much really.

FLYING COLORS – One studio album and one live album playing with my favorite musician of all time… Steve Morse. Consisting of Neal Morse again and others, including the incredible Steve Morse Band bassist Dave LaRue. Maybe you should just read LeBrain’s review of this band right “here”.

WINERY DOGS – With a more straight ahead rock and roll approach, the Winery Dogs is his current gig with bassist Billy Sheehan and guitarist Richie Kotzen.  [Check out Jon Wilmenius’ excellent review hereLeBrain]

And that’s just the original music he has been a part of. He has gone to great lengths to put together live shows recreating the concerts of, and playing the music of, his favorite drummers. He has arranged one for Led Zeppelin called Hammer of the Gods. He has also done one for Rush called Cygnus & the Sea Monsters. I actually learned about these while researching the review that I haven’t even got around to yet (yes this has become a much larger project than initially thought), so I am curious to search these out. You should be as well. The one I can comment on is his Beatles tribute called Yellow Matter Custard, named from a lyric within the song “I Am the Walrus”.

Consisting of Matt Bissonette, Paul Gilbert and Neal Morse and himself, this unit recreates what it would have been like to see The Beatles live. A lot of the songs were never played by the Beatles live. I listened to this with a good friend of mine who himself is a great musician and huge Beatles fan. Listening to it brought the Beatles super-fan out of him, most especially loving the somewhat obscure tracks performed live by the band. I highly recommend checking this out if you are a Beatles fan. So that pretty much means everyone.

 

 

ST NUMBER BEAST_0002I can’t believe I am now just starting the intended review, but here goes. In 2002, while touring for the album Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, Dream Theater went on a short club tour in Europe where they played a different album in its entirety, track for track. Among the albums covered in this tour were Master of Puppets – Metallica, Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd and Made in Japan – Deep Purple. (Who covers a live album? And one of my favorite live albums of all time? Dream Theater does, that’s who).

On October 24, 2002 DT played a small club called La Mutualite in Paris, France. The album on the menu that night was The Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden. From the sound of the enthusiastic crowd you can clearly hear throughout the album, this was a well-appreciated re-creation of one of the greatest Metal albums of all time.

The show starts off with album opener “Invaders”. My first impression was how great it sounded. Lively version and a thick guitar sound. Another thing I quickly realized is this: say what you want about James LaBrie and his effeminate style. Not many singers, including Bruce Dickinson himself can sing these songs live. I have seen Iron Maiden play several of these songs live, and even in a reduced key it is a struggle for Dickinson to sing the songs how they are recorded on the album. The opening track just left me looking forward to the rest of the set.

“Children of the Damned” was a joy to listen to, again mostly because of the vocals. This is probably his best singing on the album. Bruce Dickinson would have to get himself on a Lance Armstrong-like drug program to ever have a chance of singing this song in this key again. This song is also where I first really noted one of the truly great and original things about this album. Iron Maiden is a classic two-guitar fueled machine. DT is doing this with one guitar and a keyboard. Check out the twin guitar/keyboard solo in this song and hear throughout as the guitar and keyboard trade solos. A magnificent treat for the ears and surprisingly seamlessly done.

The crowd revs up as the classic Patrick McGoohan intro to “The Prisoner” plays as it is on the album. Chanting along with the intro just before Portnoy launches into the classic Clive Burr drum beat, this makes for a great listen, hearing the energy of the crowd and their appreciation of this show. Awesome version as well I must say.

“22 Acacia Avenue” is another track that is a treat to hear live. Live favorites “The Number of the Beast” and “Run to the Hills” follow. These two Heavy Metal anthems go over with the crowd extremely well as you would think they would. A case could be made that these back to back songs are the two most popular Iron Maiden songs of all time. Agreed? Discuss….

Coming next is their amazing version of “Gangland”. This is easily the most ambitious moment of the show. Kind of making the song their own, they begin the song off as a piano ballad and then make a left turn and turn it into a progressive, almost jazz fusion-ish groove as the song closes out. Absolutely brilliant and is probably my favorite track on the album. The show ends with a perfect version of “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, and the performance is over.

This is not just re-hashing of a great album. This was a well thought out and rehearsed celebration of this album, allowing true Maiden fans to hear what these songs may have sounded like when the album was toured in the 80’s. A friend of mine scoffed at the idea of DT covering this album and I may have shared some of his trepidation before I heard this recording. After listening to it now several times it has become obvious that this is not only a very relevant capturing of Number of the Beast, but it makes a very simple statement. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the players in Dream Theater have a higher level of musicianship than really any of their peers in popular music. And as listed earlier, it seems that everything Mike Portnoy does comes from the heart of just another music fan like you and I. So who is gonna come along and play one of Dream Theater’s albums track for track? Well Dream Theater of course. Who else possibly could? Good luck with that, Three Days Grace.

5/5 stars

Gallery: Iron Maiden’s EDDIE (2012 Neca figure)

This one goes out to FanFigureZero and his jaw-dropping site.

In downtown Kitchener last night, I dropped in at the great store Lookin’ For Heroes, to pick up the lastest issue (#94) of Transformers Re-Generation One.  Unfortunately I was a week early, but they did have Eddie!  Several different Eddies.  I decided to start yet another Iron Maiden collection!

I already had the old McFarlane figures from a long time ago, but this new series has seven figures in it.  And I plan on getting them all!

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Maiden England ’88 (2013 CD reissue)

“LIKE” the LeBrain Facebook page for sneak previews and additional content!
MAIDEN ENGLAND FRONT

IRON MAIDEN – Maiden England ’88 (2013 CD reissue)

It only took 25 years, but Iron Maiden have finally released a complete 2 CD edition of their legendary Maiden England recording.  A video was released in 1989, and a truncated CD version in 1994.  These were great, but less than 100% satisfying.

The first thing you notice is the striking cover art.  This is by somebody named Hervé Monjeaud.  It resembles Derek Riggs’ Eddies enough to fit in fairly seemlessly with the 1988 era.  I wish they used the original motorcycle cover art by Derek Riggs, but at least they credit him inside as the original artist.

Also checking the credits, I was pleased to find that the audio was not remixed.  This is the same mix that Martin Birch produced at the time.  The three unreleased songs are freshly mixed by Kevin Shirley, but there’s no tampering.  This is the authentic Maiden England.

Last year when I reviewed every Maiden release in a row, I discussed Maiden England.  Please check that review out if you’re looking for a more comprehensive review of the songs and content. Back then, I gave it 4/5 stars.  I found the sound a tad muddy, I complained about the brief running time, and I didn’t like that the CD did not include every song from the VHS version.  The missing songs were “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and “Can I Play With Madness”.  This edition restores them to the running order, and even adds three more songs that were cut completely from the original release!  So right there, two of my beefs have been addressed.

What about the sound?  Bloody great!  Whatever it was about the first CD release, the flatness of it, is gone.  It’s like when you take your car to the wash, how it shines.  Maiden England ’88 sounds so much better than the original CD.  And of course there’s a nice substantial booklet with photos and lyrics.  No notes from Steve or anybody else, disappointingly.  I always like those “producer’s notes” or what have you.  But that’s window dressing, this is really such a pleasure to listen to, I assure you.  As I wrote these words, Dave Murray was wheedly-wheedly-ing in my ears.  And I liked it.

With the added material and fresh sound, Maiden England ’88 takes its place alongside other Maiden classics such as Live at Donington or Rock In Rio.  Of course it cannot usurp Live After Death, nothing ever will.  Maiden England ’88 has some really awesome Maiden material that didn’t make Live After Death, such as “Still Life”, which remains dramatic and stunning.  “Killers” and “Sanctuary” are two other songs that were not on Live After Death.  Not to mention, by 1988 Maiden had two more albums to draw from.  That means you’ll also hear “Wasted Years” and “The Clairvoyant”, songs that stand strong among the old stalwarts.

The three unreleased songs are “Run To The Hills”, “Running Free” and “Sanctuary”.  These were the encores.  They are not mixed onto the end of the show, but follow a pause and have a noticeably different sound.  It’s hard to describe how the sound differs, but you can hear a change.  I’m not sure why these weren’t included on the original VHS.  Surely not for quality reasons.  The running time of the original video was 95 minutes.  Would another 15 have bumped them into a higher, tax, uhh, you know?  (120 minute tapes were common back then too.)

There’s a DVD too, but I don’t have that yet.  One thing at a time!  Send me a copy, EMI, and I’ll be happy to review it!

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Eddie’s Archive (2002)

Part 30 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

IRON MAIDEN – Eddie’s Archive (2002, limited edition)

Eddie’s Archive was released simultaneously with another (!) greatest hits compilation called Edward The Great.  We’ll talk about that one next.  This is the real meat of it all!

This box set defines limited edition. I’m not sure how many copies were made, but the first printing with blue inlay was sold out nearly immediately. That’s the version I have. It was soon reissued with a red inlay to differentiate it, but even it is long out of print.

Inside you will find three individually packaged jewel cases, each containing 2 CDs for a total of 6 discs. These three “double albums” (for lack of a better term) are:

BBC Archives
Beast Over Hammersmith
Best of the B’Sides

The main reason to buy this set are the first two albums, BBC Archives and Beast Over Hammersmith.  To me, the Best of the B’Sides only scratches the surface of the treasures to be found on the numerous Iron Maiden singles and EP’s.  And as loyal LeBrain readers know, I’ve talked about ’em all.

BBC Archives contains numerous goodies. It starts off with a rare four song session by an ealy version of Maiden featuring Doug Sampson (drums) and Tony Parsons (guitar). Listening to “Sanctuary” as an example, you can tell it’s a guitar player you’re not familiar with. This is Parsons’ only recording with Maiden, but “Sanctuary” was previously released on the very rare NWOBHM compilation that Lars Ulrich put together.  I love the pure fire and raw youth of these early recordings.  “Transylvania” feels very different from its album incarnation.  You can tell it’s a different drummer.  And of course since it is the BBC, they are expertly recorded.

From there it’s a scorching ’82 set with Dickinson at Reading. Then back to 1980 for a Di’Anno Reading set, and finally to 1988 for a Seventh Tour of a Seventh Tour (Donington) recording. All of these are pure smoke and it’s great to hear Bruce in peak voice. Unfortunately, on this album alone, you will hear “Iron Maiden” four times!  It is what it is.  You wouldn’t want them to leave any tracks out, would you?

Next disc has the ’82 Hammersmith show. A couple tracks from these were issued as B-sides on the “Run To The Hills” single from Rock In Rio. Anyway, like the BBC discs, this is pure smoke. It is a pleasure to finally have a full concert with Clive Burr on drums and Bruce in top form. Of course you will hear “Iron Maiden” and numerous others again. With a box set of this nature it’s inevitable. If you’re a Maiden fan, you don’t care.  Do you?

Finally, the B’Sides.  Everything here has been made available before on singles.  There is nothing truly “unreleased” here as far as Maiden goes. There’s also nothing that is previously unreleased on CD unfortunately, like Maiden Japan or “I Live My Way” from the “Man On The Edge” 12″ single. For me, these discs are more just a “best of”. There are some cool tracks here such as the Montrose cover “I’ve Got The Fire”. (Maiden chose Dickinson’s version rather than Di’Anno’s, which is fine.) Other highlights include the pop metal goodness of “That Girl” and “Reach Out”, as well as originals such as “Burning Ambition” and “Invasion”. The covers that Maiden selects are mostly obscure enough (Nektar? Marshall Fury?) that they may as well be originals.

Then you get some of Maiden’s little-known jokey material: “Sheriff of Huddersfield” for example. I’m not sure how well it works as an overall listen. I prefer the singles in their original context, personally. As I mentioned, this is far from a complete set, and you can argue all you like for what you would have included. Certainly you can make solid arguments in favour of the Thin Lizzy cover “Massacre” or the rare “I Live My Way”.

Each CD jewel case features its own extensive booklet with photos, Derek Riggs cover art, and liner notes, with the exception of Beast Over Hammersmith. That one contains a booklet which is a reproduction of the original tour programme! Works for me! Otherwise, there is no book for the box set itself.

What you do get includes a neat scroll with the Iron Maiden family tree on it, wrapped inside a metal ring. (I’m sure this family tree is loaded with errors like the previous one included inside A Real Dead One, I’ve never bothered to check.) You also get this cool shot glass with Eddie’s face in the bottom. A cool treat. The box itself is a shiny tin masterpiece. It snaps shut securely and it is very detailed and cool looking.

What are you willing to pay for this set? That’s entirely up to you, but if you don’t have it, expect to pay through the teeth. Personally, to me it’s all about the music. Decide how much you’re willing to pay for approximately four discs of previously unreleased Maiden and purchase accordingly.

For me? 4/5 stars!

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Brave New World (2000)

Part 29 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

IRON MAIDEN – Brave New World (2000)

Ed Hunter tour complete, the returned Bruce Dickinson and the boys hit the studio.  Steve had already begun writing several new songs while Blaze was still in the band.  Several of these made it onto the new album, with Bruce singing them instead.

Brave New World features the brand new three guitar lineup of Gers, Murray and Smith (aka “The Three Amigos”) for the first time in the studio. Steve Harris had flirted with a three guitar lineup very early in Maiden’s career. The original Iron Maiden lineup consisted of two guitar players named Terry Rance and Dave Sullivan. Neither were standout solists, but Dave Murray was. Harris’ concept was to bring in Murray as a third guitarist to solo over the other two. The other two didn’t like that idea and they split. Since then, fans have wondered what Maiden would sound like with three guitars. Wonder no more.

Brave New World is also the first full Maiden album produced by Kevin “Caveman” Shirley (he did the “Wraithchild” promo single prior to this), and features cover art partially done by original Maiden artist Derek “Dr. Death” Riggs. Anticipation ran high!

I was not disappointed.

Starting off with “The Wicker Man”, the first single, you can instantly hear all of Adrian’s  style and substance.  It’s such a welcome sound.  “The Wicker Man” has a slightly-“Two Minutes To Midnight”-styled riff, which leads into this short catchy blast of awesome.  “Your time will come!”

From there, it’s the slow and heavier “Ghost of the Navigator”, an equally strong song. Then, the title track “Brave New World” has chiming guitars, and soft verses with heavy choruses. It suffers from Repetive Chorus Syndrome, something that has really dogged Maiden since The X Factor.  Lyrically it seems to be an environmental theme, continuing with the real-world based style of writing from the previous albums.

Steve Harris’ “Blood Brothers” is next, which once again suffers from the repetitive chorus. Otherwise, a strong song. “Side 1” of the vinyl version ended with the lethal “The Mercenary”, fast and deadly.

“Side 2” kicked off with an epic track, “Dream of Mirrors”. Clocking in at nearly 10 minutes, it’s one of Maiden’s greater epics.  I would place this one pretty low on the list, especially with the repetitive chorus of  “I only dream in black and white, I only dream when I’m alive, I only dream in black & white to save me from myself.” OK then.

“The Fallen Angel” is next, and even though Bruce didn’t write it, I find it somewhat similar to some of the stuff on his Accident of Birth album. Then, another 9 minute epic! “The Nomad” is slightly middle eastern in sound, something they previously explored on “To Tame A Land” and “Powerslave”.  It is not, however, a standout track.

Second single “Out of the Silent Planet” is a cool sci-fi track about alien invasion. This is a fast one with one of those Dickinson choruses that you never forget. It was written by Bruce with Janick and Steve.  I’m quite fond of this song

The album closes with “The Thin Line Between Love and Hate”, almost 9 minutes in length and an underrated classic. I love the sparse ending to this song. You can really hear the guitars.  And Nicko’s outro!  “I fucking missed it!”

I love the three guitars.  It was a brilliant idea to have Adrian come back, but nobody else have to leave. Adrian Smith is the melodic one who writes his solos out in advance. Janick Gers is the manic, spontaneous one whose solos frequently sound out of control. Dave Murray is somewhere between the two, with melodic, but barely-in-control trademark Maiden guitars. With this mix, the solos are deliciously diverse and you can identify each player.

Shirley did a fine job on production, lending Maiden a powerful modern sound with big, big drums and clear, sparkling guitars.

There were of course singles to collect.  And collect them I did.  The fine cover art (some of the Maiden’s best in my opinion) was done by Mark Wilkinson, of Marillion/Fish fame.

 

1. “The Wicker Man” singles, parts 1 & 2 which featured the cool “Wicker Man” video, as well as several live tracks from the reunion “Ed Hunter” tour.  Of note were several Blaze era songs with Bruce singing.  This is the only place you can hear Bruce belting out “Futureal” and “Man on the Edge”.  They are also home to two smokin’ versions of the classics “Powerslave” and the awesome “Killers”.

2. “Out Of The Silent Planet” single, which had that video, and two more tracks from the “Ed Hunter” tour:  “Wasted Years” and “Aces High”.  With Adrian back in the band, this version of “Wasted Years” is superior to the one on the “Hallowed By Thy Name” single.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Virtual XI (plus singles, 1998)

Part 26 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

IRON MAIDEN – Virtual XI (1998)

For the first time in a long time, there was this vibe of, “new Maiden?  Meh.”

I recall seeing this listed in our distributor’s catalogue and ordering one for myself.  We didn’t even order it in for the store.  Think about that!  The catalog had the title listed as Vartual Xi, which made me wonder what the hell I was buying.

Virtual XI is the 11’th studio album by Iron Maiden.  It is the second with Blaze Bayley on lead vocals and second to be co-produced by Nigel Green.  It is also the second to feature cover art by Melvyn Grant, this time an improvement on his Fear of the Dark work (but only barely).

You’ll notice the Iron Maiden logo was changed — the jagged bits lopped off!  It is this logo that Maiden used almost exclusively going forward.  I prefer the original.

I was living with T-Rev when the album came out, early ’98, and both of us were heavily into the Nintendo 64 classic Goldeneye.  One Saturday night when he was out working his second job at the Waterloo Inn, I stayed home with Virtual XI, Goldeneye, and enough junk food to last the weekend.  I was set.  And my feelings on Virtual XI largely go back to that night and the great fun it was to play the Statue Park level whilst rocking out to “When Two Worlds Collide”.

As highly as I rate the two Blaze albums, I will be the first to admit that he was the wrong singer for this band. His voice lacks the range.   As I argued in my review for The X Factor, I think Blaze’s voice suited the mid-90’s and the darker tones that Maiden were taking.  I remember cranking Best of the Beast in my store, Dickinson wailing away, and two kids laughing.  Context is important!  In the 90’s, tastes had drifted and so had Maiden.  And don’t lie to me — you owned one of these five albums:  Ten, Nevermind, Superunknown, Purple or Dirt.  I know you did!

I personally enjoy the dreadfully-titled Virtual XI. I bet Steve Harris wishes he could take that title back. It is not as strong as the powerfully dark X Factor album. This is Iron Maiden trying to relax a little more, be more comfortable in their new sound, and trying to lighten up a bit after an entire album of dark thoughts and suicidal tendencies. Witness “The Angel And The Gambler” which is as close to a good-time rocker as Iron Maiden get.  Its problem (and the problem with a few songs on the album) is length:  At 10 minutes, it’s not an epic, it’s too repetitive.  I could also do without Steve’s boppy keyboard line.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The album kicks off with “Futureal”, a short fast rocker akin to “Man On The Edge” or “Be Quick Or Be Dead”, but with plenty of melody to spare.  Harris wrote this one with Blaze.

Up next is “The Angel And the Gambler” which I guess Steve was hoping would sound like 70’s UFO or something like that.  A classic Davey guitar solo keeps it in Maiden territory.  It had a good video, very Star Wars cantina, funny with dated CG!  The video however doesn’t do much to make Blaze Bayley’s case as a frontman.

Then, back to the darkness that marked the last album. “Lightning Strikes Twice” is a decent song with quiet verses and a powerful chorus.  It takes a while to build unfortunately, since it’s only 5 minutes long.

Side one ended with “The Clansman”, continuing the Maiden tradition of basing songs on movies and historical events!  This was the epic of the album, and one that they performed into the Dance of Death tour.  You’ll be chanting, “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” by the end. This one sounds very traditional Iron Maiden, especially the fast parts.

Side two kicked off with a personal favourite, “When Two Worlds Collide”. Here’s Maiden’s take on the whole Deep Impact/Armageddon thing:

Now I can’t believe its true
and I don’t know what to do
For the hundredth time
I check the declination
Now the fear starts to grow
even my computer shows
There are no errors in the calculations

Kinda cheesy, kinda nerdy-cool at the same time.  Have you ever seen the word “declination” in a heavy metal lyric before?   This is the first and only collaboration between Steve, Blaze and Dave Murray.

Another dark and moody one is up next, “The Educated Fool”, another one I like quite a bit due to its delicate guitars.  At this point Maiden were no longer trying to simply assault you aurally, now they were introduced in a smoother sounding guitar sound.  But the song does kick in soon.  There’s a line reflecting some of Steve’s personal inner pain, “I want to see my father beyond.”

This is followed by “Don’t Look To The Eyes Of A Stranger”. These songs are good tunes, but by this time we’ve already had several dark and moody ones with repeated choruses. The repetition was getting a bit much.  Even the previous song, “The Educated Fool” suffers from repetitive chorus syndrome.

Last up is the closer “Como Estais Amigos”, translated as “How are you my friends”.  It was written by Blaze and Janick.  This one has an epic vibe to it as well, with its anthemic chorus of  “No more tears, no more tears. If we live for a hundred years, amigo no more tears.” It is as if Maiden are saying, “We have been through some rough patches but better times are up ahead.” And yes, Maiden really did go through rough times, Steve Harris in particular.

And that is it, a mere 8 songs.  Brevity this time unlike the previous two albums.  No B-sides were recorded, either.  The only B-sides were live.  Let’s have a look at ’em!

 

“The Angel And the Gambler” was released in two parts, one with cover art by Derek Riggs, one from the forthcoming new Maiden video game, Ed Hunter.  They wisely included a single edit on the second one.   The B-sides were live takes of “Blood On the World’s Hands” and “The Aftermath”, which if you recall are two of the songs I ranked poorly on The X Factor.

“Futureal” was the second single, with more Ed Hunter cover art.  Inside, a poster featuring Derek Riggs’ far superior artwork.  The live tracks were were “Man On the Edge” (another one I’m not fond of) and “The Evil That Men Do”, from Seventh Son of a Seventh Son!  This is one of the few official versions available of Blaze doing a Bruce song.  My take?  His “Come on!  Come on!  Come on!” intro fails to inspire me, but the band is playing it fast and great.  Vocally this one is well suited to Blaze’s voice.  He does an excellent job.  (He does screw up the lyrics in the same place that Bruce used to, too!)  It was recorded in 1995, which makes sense.  Everything I’ve heard from that tour sounds great.  Everything I’ve heard from the Virtual XI tour, however…

Well, see for yourself.

I think after this album the vibe was generally one of “Who cares what Maiden do next?”  I still would have loyally bought it.  I had just given up on the idea of Maiden being a huge band that mattered again.  I didn’t expect albums that would impact me the way that Piece of Mind or Powerslave or even The X Factor did.  Maiden seemed to be coasting, at a time that Bruce Dickinson was forging forward with superior solo albums.  In general though, it seemed metal was done, Maiden pretty much with it, and all that was left were unremarkable studio albums and tours.

Oh, how wrong I was.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – Accident of Birth (1997) Man of Sorrows EP (1997)

Part 25 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

BRUCE DICKINSON – Accident of Birth (1997)

As mentioned in the last chapter, Bruce Dickinson was eager to get back to metal, and he brought Roy Z with him.   Together they forged a great modern steel beast of an album.  But there was an additional surprise in store:

Bruce had also teamed up with his old Maiden alumnus Adrian Smith!  The classic writing partnership was back, and Adrian was playing those trademark melodies again.

And then, just to stick it in Steve Harris’ nose, Bruce hired on Derek Riggs to do the cover art.  He came up with a mascot:  Edison!  Get it?

The opening track, “Freak”, slams the listener right in the face with a modern metallic riff before the classic Bruce wail forces you to admit this is the kind of music he’s best at.  And while it’s not the same as Maiden, you will be delighted to learn there are guitar harmony parts once again.

You have to give Roy Z credit where it’s due, the guy is great at writing metal riffs.  He’s also a great soloist and a nice contrast to Adrian.  Also not slouches are the badass rhythm section:  Eddie Casillas (bass) and David Ingraham (drums), both back from the Balls To Picasso album.

“Starchildren” is an absolute stunner, a fucking brilliant song that combines programmed samples with traditional metal riffery.  I also love that Bruce has continued on with the sci-fi lyrics, something he’s quite good at.

Although “Taking the Queen” is another great song, it is overshadowed by the epic track “Darkside of Aquarius”.  At almost 7 minutes long, “Darkside” combines multiple parts together with guitar harmonies into one cohesive, stomping whole.  This to me is the jewel on a fine album.  I think this would have made one fine Maiden number (finer than what Maiden were releasing at the time).

Then, “Road To Hell”, a co-write between Bruce and Adrian.  You can tell by the catchy guitar parts and singalong chorus.  It is followed by the anthemic ballad “Man of Sorrows”.  This one was chosen for release as its own EP later.

The single “Accident of Birth” is next, yet another great tune, but also a standout among great tunes. Once again the samples are back, blasting this piece of sheet metal into a pulp.  The guitar melodies ground it in familiar territory as Bruce’s wail assaults the listener.

Why is Ingraham wearing that pilot hat?

“The Magician” comes somewhat awkwardly afterwards, as it is more upbeat than the previous material.  But “Welcome to the Pit” (also co-written by Smith) sinks deep into a sludgey morass.  “Welcome to the Pit” is filler, the first obvious such track on Accident of Birth.

The US edition of the album was elevated by another Smith co-write, the Maiden-esque “The Ghost of Cain” which restores the melody and guitar harmonies to the forefront.  The UK edition skipped this track but made it available on a single (which we’ll get to).  But it is a song like “The Ghost of Cain” that reminds the listener of the kind of magic that Iron Maiden lost when it lost Adrian Smith.

“Omega” and “Arc of Space” form a sci-fi duo.  The sun is about to go all red-giant on Earth’s ass, and most people have left.  But many remain behind.

Now it’s Omega-Zero day
The red star shines its last rays
The sun that gave us life yesterday
Is now the sun that takes our lives away

It’s this kind of lyric that gets my nerd-blood pumping.  Arthur C. Clarke would have been proud.  I’m sure Bruce has read The Songs of Distant Earth.  But even musically it’s a winner.  At first it sounds like a ballad before the band hits the gas and it turns into a blazing rocker with twin guitar harmonies.

And finally “Arc of Space”, an acoustic number (with cello!), and a perfect ending to a fine album.  The choruses soar.  Roy Z’s acoustic solo is perfect.  The album ends as a triumph.

 

There were also singles to be had:  “Accident of Birth” parts 1 and 2.   Part one added “The Ghost of Cain” to the lineup for those who didn’t get it on the UK album.  Both parts contained demo versions, basic stripped down recordings of “Accident of Birth”, “Taking the Queen”, and “Starchildren”.  It sounds like these were most likely recorded using drum machines.  In the case of “Accident of Birth” itself, in a lot of ways I prefer the more mechanical demo!

The Japanese even got their own exclusive EP from the albums called Man of Sorrows.

BRUCE DICKINSON – Man of Sorrows EP (1997)

Man of Sorrows is an awkward 5 song collection, essential only to the obsessed or the lucky ones able to find it at a good price.   It has three versions of the title track:  A radio edit, an orchestral mix, and a Spanish version (on a CD released only in Japan.)  The orchestral version just mixes those instruments in higher.  The Spanish version, “Hombre Triste”, is especially poor since the backing vocals in the chorus are still in English.  You can also hear edits, as if the vocal recording was probably spliced together piecemeal line by line.

The saving grace to the EP (but not worth the $30 price tag to the average collector) are two more demos:  “Darkside of Aquarius” and “Arc of Space”.  Much like the other demos, these are fully fleshed out arrangements.  “Darkside” features that drum machine again, but “Arc of Space” sounds like Bruce and Roy just doing the song live in a room.  The liner notes reveal that Roy Z plays all the instruments on the demo versions.

Incidentally, all these songs plus the “Accident of Birth” single B-sides are now available on the deluxe edition of the album.

Bruce made a hell of a comeback on Accident of Birth, showing up Iron Maiden, and proving that he was built to sing heavy metal music.  The cynical said that Bruce was just cashing in, but the next album would prove to be an even more powerful statement.  Stay tuned.

For Accident of Birth:

4.5/5 stars

For Man of Sorrows:

1.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – “Virus” (1996 single) / Metal For Muthas (1979)

Part 23 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!  Continuing where we left off with Best of the Beast, we’re also taking a glance back to the past…

IRON MAIDEN – “Virus” (1996 two-part CD singles)

Last time, I was talking about Maiden’s first-ever greatest hits set, Best of the Beast.  But there was also the single to be had, “Virus”.

Much like other UK singles, “Virus” was released in two parts each with its own B-sides and cover art.  If you bought the first, you also got a box with 5 postcards and space to store the second disc.

The first disc contained the (unadvertized) single edit version of “Virus”.  I can happily live without the slow, boring, goes-nowhere first three minutes of that song.  At least the single edit only has the up-tempo part of the song.  I recall when the single came out, a few of us had grumbled that Maiden seemed to be losing it…

The B-sides on this first single were the previously released covers, “My Generation” and “Doctor Doctor”.  You could get these tracks on the previous single, “Lord of the Flies” from The X Factor.  Having said that, these are great versions, among the best covers Maiden have ever recorded in this writer’s opinion.  “My Generation” is of course the Who classic.  Maiden breathe their original punky sensibilities into this one, and it rocks like nothing that actually made it onto The X Factor!  “Doctor Doctor” is a beefed up version of the classic UFO song, and my preferred version.

The second disc was the really, really special one.  It had the album version of “Virus” (all bloody 6:15 of it, ugh) but it also has the ultra rare “Sanctuary” and “Wrathchild” from the 1979 compilation album, Metal For Muthas! When I had first picked up the single for “Virus”, I didn’t even know these recordings existed.  Collectors rejoice!  These tracks were previously unavailable anywhere else but Metal For Muthas, and this is the first CD release.

“Sanctuary” and “Wrathchild” both feature Paul Di’Anno on vocals, and are from the short-lived Maiden lineup of Di’Anno, Steve Harris, Dave Murray, Tony Parsons, and Doug Sampson.  This represents one of Maiden’s earliest recordings.  There are more from this lineup, but we’re not going to talk about those for a while yet…

Do I need to mention that these two tracks are just pure smoke of the early-Maiden variety?

A quick glance at Wikipedia reveals that there is a 12″ single release of “Virus” as well, this one with the two missing Soundhouse Tapes tracks that weren’t on the Best of the Beast CD.  Adding to “want” list!

I found the cover art of the “Virus” single to be a little lacklustre, particularly the one in the petri dish.  Like, really?  It didn’t scream to be made into a cool poster for my wall.  There were some cooler things on the postcards including one by Derek Riggs.

4/5 stars

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

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988, 1996 bonus CD)

Part 11 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

Seven deadly sins…

Seven ways to win…

Seven holy paths to Hell and your trip begins…

IRON MAIDEN – Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988, 1996 bonus CD)

Maiden finally did it.  After years of denying that their albums had been concept albums, Maiden went ahead and wrote a concept album!  The circumstances were coincidental. The album was to be their seventh.  Steve Harris had already written his album epic, the title track “Seventh Son of Seventh Son”.  Meanwhile, Bruce had written down lyrics such as “Seven deadly sins, seven ways to win…”  Seizing this serendipitous moment, Maiden plunged forward with the tale of a boy born with healing powers and the ability to see the future…everyone’s but his own.

A boy born as the seventh son to a seventh son, in some folklore, was prophesied to have such powers.  But the inability to foresee his own fate was a cruel joke by none other than Lucifer himself.  In the story, the sides of good and evil battle for the soon-to-be-man’s soul, hoping to bend his powers to their will.

If Bruce was a basket case on the prior album, Somewhere In Time, he had bounced back by Seventh Son.  With no less than four writing credits out of eight songs, Bruce must have been satisfied that Maiden were incorporating acoustics, and keyboards.  It was all in the name of texture and light & shade.  Bruce had hoped that one day Maiden would make their Physical Graffiti and perhaps this is it.

I recall when it came out that there was some backlash:  Some Maiden fans did not take too kindly to the obtuse lyrics, acoustic guitars, and softer more progressive direction.  When you listen to both albums back to back, on a whole I think Seventh Son is heavier than Somewhere In Time, by a hair.  Yet compared to Powerslave or Killers, clearly this was new and different.  Some didn’t like that, while others took the time to get to know and love Seventh Son.  I can recall being perplexed by the lyrics, struggling to figure them out, and wondering if the symbols written on the lyric sheet were clues.

At the same time that Maiden were exploring new directions, so was cover artist Derek Riggs.  No longer wishing to draw Eddies with axes in people’s heads, he came up with something very different that suited Maiden’s more mystical musical direction.   Here’s another one I wish I had on vinyl!  Clearly no longer on our plane of reality, but still with his cybernetic implants, Eddie seems to be giving birth to a new generation of Eddies!  On the back, the Arctic ice forms seem to represent past Eddies.  Altogether, seven of them…

The acoustics and keyboards are evident right from the get go as they form a major part of “Moonchild”, written by Bruce and Adrian.  It’s a strong opener, quickly getting up to speed, with lyrical angels and demons swooping upon you as Bruce spits out the words.  I recall Bruce saying in a Canadian interview that he enjoyed playing multiple characters on the album, and when singing as the Devil, he drank “a couple cups of tea.”

Steve’s “Infinite Dreams” begins slow, in line with past Maiden ballads, the sound of precious Fenders caressing your ears as our protagonist emerges from a nightmare.  Soon the tempos change (more than once!) and Bruce lets loose a scream from hell.  (As kids, this is the first time we noticed Bruce losing some of the smoothness and range of his high voice.)

The first single, “Can I Play With Madness” is third.  It too was controversial in a way:  The music video didn’t have Iron Maiden in it!  Aside from some Powerslave footage playing on a TV in a catacomb, the video starred Monty Python’s Graham Chapman and a certain Mr. Eddie.  The mystical video did little to enlighten us kids on the meaning of the lyrics!  Musically, it’s another anthemic Maiden hard rock single, but perhaps the most commercial one yet.

The second single, “The Evil That Men Do” closed side one.  Like the previous song it was written by the triumvirate of Steve, Bruce and Adrian.  It boasts a powerful singalong chorus and some great guitar melodies.  Lyrically, our protagonist has now “slept in the dust with his daughter,” and I think you can guess who’s daughter he’s referring to.  This song represents one of the very few times Maiden sing about love, albeit in this case it’s a sub-plot of a concept album.

Side two opened with Steve’s 10 minute epic, “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” which essentially sums up the plot so far.  It’s not as dynamic as some past epics as “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, nor as riffy.  It is still quite an excellent epic, slow and meandering but of course with ample changes and parts to keep your attention.  Like “Rime” it has a slow spoken word section in the middle.

“The Prophecy”, written by Dave Murray and Steve Harris, continues the story.  The seventh son has foretold a disaster and the village is doomed.  The townspeople do not believe him.   Yet disaster does strike while “Lucifer smiles, looks on and waits,” and the town blames him for bringing a curse!  Musically this is not the best song on the album, and it comes close to filler territory.  Yet the end of it is an intricate medley of sad acoustic guitars, weaving an ancient-sounding melody.  It is moments like this that are a great example of Maiden and acoustic guitars working together appropriately. The third single, “The Clairvoyant” begins with some of Steve’s patented rinky-dinky bass melodies before the dual guitars crash in.  This melodic winner, written alone by Steve, is one of the best.  Not only are the verses soaring, but it is taken to a whole higher level when Bruce digs into the choruses. Nicko’s drum fills are exactly perfect (as they always are) punctuating the right moments with thunderclaps and rain.  It ends with a bright note though:  “As soon as you’re born, you’re dying…to be reborn again!”

Does that happier fate befall our protagonist?  Spitting out disgust at the society that rejected him, he indicts them for their crimes.  “So I think I’ll leave you, with your bishops and your guilt.  So until the next time…have a good sin.”   Yet he finds that to be reborn again might not be a good thing after all, Bruce throwing in a hinting snicker at the end…The name of the song is “Only the Good Die Young”, and it is a great Maiden closer.  One of the best.  And you just have to love that ending!

Yes, Seventh Son is indeed a triumph.  I think the reaction to it at the time was more indicative of the times.  People feared for Maiden losing their edge, as Priest seemed to do (Turbo), while newer heavier bands citing Maiden as an influence gained some traction.  If Maiden had gone even softer after Seventh Son, then I think that a portion (a minority) of fans would have given up on them.  Maiden seemed to be aware of this, though…

I find Martin Birch’s production to be a tad muddy…just by a hair though.  I’d like it a little brighter personally.  Minor nitpick.

For the first time, fans had four singles to collect!  “Infinite Dreams” was thrown out there as a single at the end, right around the time of release for the new live video, Maiden England!

Singles breakdown is below.  For whatever reason, although the other nine songs are included, the 1996 2 CD reissue of the album excluded “Heaven Can Wait”.  Too bad.  There was room on the disc.

“Can I Play With Madness” included the comedy song “Black Bart Blues”.  Please allow Bruce to introduce you to Black Bart, a suit of armor that rode on the back of their tour bus!  On the heavier side, Maiden throw in an authentic cover of “Massacre” by Thin Lizzy.  As I kid I was amazed it was  cover, because it seems custom made for Maiden once you hear this version!

“The Evil That Men Do” (besides having the best cover art, that folded out into a Monsters of Rock poster) had two great B-sides:  Re-recordings of old Maiden classics, with Bruce singing!  In fact neither Bruce, nor Adrian, nor Nicko were in the band when “Prowler” and “Charlotte The Harlot” were originally done.  The new versions, dubbed “Prowler ’88” and “Charlotte The Harlot” ’88 are captured nice and raw, much like the originals but with better production values.  Bruce really nails it on “Prowler ’88”

“The Clairvoyant” was released a a live single surprisingly, in gatefold sleeve no less.  It contained live versions of “The Prisoner” (finally, since it wasn’t on Live After Death!) and the aforementioned “Heaven Can Wait”, complete with “whoah-oh-oh” singalong.

“Infinite Dreams”, which coincided with the new live video, was also live.  It was backed by awesome live versions of “Killers” and “Still Life”, two more songs that weren’t on Live After Death.  A CD version of this video didn’t come out until 1994 so for a while this was the only place you could get them.

The Seventh Tour of a Seventh Tour portended some changes.  The stage productions had gotten so large that the band were afraid of being lost in it all.  Bruce complained on Canadian TV that he’d sweat buckets on stage only to have a fan approach him and ask him something about the “fucking crystal ball”.  But deeper problems were afoot.  Bruce seemed creatively revitalized, but Adrian was clearly unhappy on stage.  The band knew it.  But in the meantime, Steve Harris had a live video to edit, and Bruce had plenty of time off for solo activities…

5/5 stars

1996 2 CD reissue:  4/5 stars – knocking off a point for excluding “Heaven Can Wait” live.