I’ll let the video do the talking. It’s a big one: Iron Maiden’s Dave Murray and Janick Gers went live with Teresa Roncon to divulge the details of the new album, Fear of the Dark. Live calls are answered, new artwork is discussed, and Bruce’s new son is named!
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:
BRUCE DICKINSON – Balls To Picasso (1994, deluxe edition)
I remember working at the record store, and a guy asked to listen to Balls To Picasso, by Bruce Dickinson. I put the disc on the player and he slid on the headphones.
About 2 minutes later, he took off his headphones. “You put on the wrong CD. This isn’t the right one.” I went over and checked — Balls To Picasso. Sometimes, though, CD’s could be misprinted with the wrong music, so I put on the headphones. “Nope, this is it. This is the right album,” I told the guy.
He responded, “It can’t be. I know this singer. That’s not him.”
Just one of many reactions to Bruce’s second solo album (and first since leaving Maiden)!
Regardless of the weird title and cover, Balls To Picasso is an album that I loved immediately. Right from the opening grind of “Cyclops” and its vicious lead vocal, I was hooked. Yeah, it does throw me from time to time (rapping, on “Shoot All The Clowns”) but this is a solid album by Bruce. Fans have grown to appreciate it more over the years. And you can’t fault its lineup, Bruce’s first album with Roy Z, Eddie Casillas, and Dave Ingraham from Tribe of Gypsies.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYu1tCuLNqA&w=560&h=315]
The album had a torturous birth. He started it once using the British band Skin, and aborted. He tried again with Keith Olsen. I suspect that this is the “very different” Peter Gabriel-type album he’s spoken about. It is very different, with a lot of drum programs and keyboards, and very lush, polished production. To me it is very Fish-like. It is definitely not metal in any way, which is fine, but for whatever reason, Bruce opted to shelve this album. Then he finally completed the task with Tribe of Gypsies, the only song making it to all versions of the album being “Tears of the Dragon”.
The end album sounds like alterna-metal, the kind of thing that a lot of metal artists were doing at the time to stay relevant. It is bass heavy, 90’s sounding, and not very Maiden at all until you get to “Tears of the Dragon” itself, which could have easily been on a followup album to Fear of the Dark.
While not every song here was universally loved by the fans, there are many that were. “Change of Heart”, “Cyclops” and especially “Tears” are now considered fondly by Maiden fans. Tribe of Gypsies were a latin-flavored rock band, and they really lent Bruce a cool vibe for this record. There’s a lot of nice percussion stuff going on, and the occasional bit of flamenco guitar thanks to Mr. Z.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QO2tIqkBMfY&w=560&h=315]
I think “Change of Heart” is the best tune on the album. Perhaps it reflects Bruce’s feelings on leaving Maiden. Perhaps not. Either way it is a side of Bruce we’d never seen before, and he shows it with depth and taste.
“Tear of the Dragon” has got to be about Maiden. It seems so on the surface:
Where I was
I had wings that couldn’t fly
Where I was
I had tears I couldn’t cry
The remastering job on this 2 CD deluxe is stellar. I can hear some percussion parts on songs that I didn’t know existed before. I’ve played this album a hundred times in the past, and this time it sounded really fresh.
And of course the real reason I buy this stuff: a second CD of B-sides. I really love it when somebody puts out a quality reissue like this. They have gone to the care of putting on a complete set of every B-side associated with this album. Present are the tracks for the CD singles, as are the tracks that were exclusive to 7″ and 12″ vinyl.
I would have had to buy 8 singles total in different formats to get these songs. Thus far I’d only managed to get 4. So I’m cool with this. The B-sides were songs from the Keith Olsen album, live stuff featuring his new band Skunkworks, and remixes.
Also seen below: A rare 1994 promo CD featuring a “Shoot All The Clowns” club mix. (!)
…but what you hungry readers are really waiting for is the next Maiden. Well the wait is over. Next time, we’ll get X rated…
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 One. A 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.
|1. Be Quick Or Be Dead|
|2. From Here To Eternity|
|3. Can I Play With Madness|
|4. Wasting Love|
|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|
Part 15 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!
IRON MAIDEN – Fear of the Dark (1992, 1996 bonus disc)
I remember staying up late one night, listening to Q107, waiting to hear the new Maiden track. They promised it, and after airing “Burn” by Deep Purple, they debuted “Be Quick Or Be Dead”.
Nice riff, I said. The song took a while to grow on me, because Bruce was still growling a bit too much for my taste. If there was one thing I disliked about Maiden’s previous, No Prayer for the Dying, it was Bruce’s growl. I’d rather hear him sing. He was growling the verses, and singing the choruses. And Nicko was doing some serious steppin’! It was the Maiden writing debut of Janick Gers (with Bruce), and it was a rant on big business. Maiden were the 99% in 1992! I thought it was one of the best songs from the new album, Fear of the Dark.
The second track, “From Here To Eternity” featured the return of Charlotte! Harris wrote this one alone, and it too was a single. It has a shout-along chorus, but too much rinky-dink bass way up high in the mix. This song wouldn’t make my road tape, I never particularly cared for it.
Much, much better is “Afraid To Shoot Strangers”. Steve wrote this one for the men and women who served in the Gulf War, who as Bruce said, “never wanted to kill anybody.” I consider this song to be the birth of the “new” Iron Maiden. The gentle guitar, with the melodic bass in the background, the keys…is it a ballad or an epic? It’s both. Then it picks up with some of the catchiest guitar parts Steve’s ever written. There would be many many Maiden songs that followed this blueprint on albums to come, especially The X Factor. (My friend Andy and I beat this song by a year. In 1991 we wrote a Maiden-inspired tune called “Unleashed in the Middle East” about the Gulf War. Fortunately, it remains unrecorded to this day.)
Did you also noticed Maiden getting more topical? Big business…the Gulf War…it was the 90’s.
The Zeppish “Fear Is the Key” is next. Bruce and Janick wrote this one, but again, I’m not too fond of it. It has a great hook, and it’s technically accomplished, but Maiden and Zep don’t always mix. I don’t think they ever played it live. Do I hear a slide?
“Childhood’s End”, written by Steve, doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the Arthur C. Clarke novel. It is rhythmically complex and melodic and powerful with a soaring guitar melody. I don’t consider this one of Maiden’s greater songs in the canon, but it is one of the better songs on Fear of the Dark.
The triumphant ballad, “Wasting Love” closes side 1. This one may have thrown people for a loop, both by the title and the music. Maiden, singing about love? More Scorpions sounding than Maiden, this one came from Bruce and Janick.
Maybe one day, I’ll be an honest man
Up til now I’m doing the best I can
Long roads, long days
of sunrise to sunset, sunrise to sunset
The song seems to be a reflection on infidelity on the road, but was there more between the lines? “Maybe one day I’ll be an honest man…”
Yes, it’s a ballad, but it is not wimpy. The guitar harmonies evoke mellow Thin Lizzy. I think “Wasting Love” is among the three best songs on Fear of the Dark. “Afraid to Shoot Strangers is another one, and we’ll get to the third in due time.
Side 2 opened with Steve’s “The Fugitive”. It takes a long time to build. It’s OK, nothing special. Again, I doubt it was ever played live. I don’t know if The Fugitive really needed to be made into a song, but Steve beat the movie adaptation by a year!
Bruce and Davey’s “Chains of Misery” follows. I think it’s another OK song, again nothing special and again I doubt it was ever played live. Nice shout-along chorus.
Another Zeppish song is next: “The Apparition”. Steve wrote this one with Janick. See above comments: OK song, never played live. The lyrics start with promise, a ghost story perhaps, but then it turns into a series of pieces of advice from the apparition to the living. Stuff like “You can make your own luck,” etc. And Bruce is doing that annoying growl vocal!
Thankfully, “Judas Be My Guide” gets us out of this slump! Ironically I always found this one to sound kind of Priest-like! I like this tune. Bruce wrote it with Davey, and to me this is the kind of song that Adrian Smith used to bring to the table. Melodic, powerful, anthemic, sing-along metal. I don’t think it was ever played live, but to me this one would have been single material. I would have picked it over “From Here To Eternity”.
The mellow “Weekend Warrior” is one of the oddest on the album. Bruce does his growl vocal (again!) but the song goes from acoustic section to electric section to acoustic again, and it’s quite unlike most Maiden songs. The lyrics seem to be about football hooliganism. I’m not sure if this was a topic that Iron Maiden needed to delve into, but there it is.
Finally, we have the Steve epic you have been waiting for: “Fear of the Dark”. It’s a little simple and repetitive compared to past epics, but it’s solid and has remained in the live set tour after tour after tour. It is a fan favourite worldwide, and I think it’s great. Although it’s simpler musically, I think in a lot of ways it’s one of Steve’s best epics. It’s absolutely perfect live, it begs to be sung along with, and it goes from peak to valley so well! I like big gothic opening riff. The mellow sections, again, would serve as a blueprint for the next era of Iron Maiden. Steve’s melodic bass, backed by quiet keys…
And that’s the album, a fat 12 songs, and although many are in the 3 minute range, there are several over 5 minutes this time. It was a generous slice of studio music from Maiden, never before had they crammed so many songs onto a record. It was also released on DAT, cassette, and CD. The vinyl was a double, and very hard to find. Vinyl was an import here in Canada: Capitol stopped pressing vinyl here in early 1990.
As I mentioned, there are moments here that musically look into Maiden’s future. But changes were already afoot, and in a real way, Fear of the Dark is the first album of the new Maiden. For the first time ever, Derek Riggs’ artwork was absent. Maiden instead chose a painting by Melvyn Grant. Gone were the Riggs trademarks, and a lot of fans reacted negatively to the new art. Eddie looked more Nosferatu than Eddie, and the idea of Eddie being reborn from a tree was…weird?
This was also to be Martin Birch’s final production effort. He retired after Fear of the Dark. Happy retirement, Martin! What can you possibly say bad about the man who produced Machine Head? Nothing. I will say though that this album, recorded digitally for the first time, sounds very thin. I think it was immediately noticeable and this was rectified on future albums.
My 1996 reissue has a bonus disc chock full of B-sides.
“Be Quick Or Be Dead” came with the piano-infused joke boogie tune, “Nodding Donkey Blues”, an ode to plus-sized ladies. It’s actually really great fun. “Ahh, there should be some kind of guitar solo here!” says Bruce before the piano kicks in.
Also from the same single is Montrose’s “Space Station #5” – Sammy Hagar’s first and only writing credit on an Iron Maiden disc! Maiden of course kick this song in the nuts. What an awesome riff. But wait — don’t turn it off. The hidden track “Bayswater Ain’t A Bad Place To Be” is yet another hilarious roast of manager Rod Smallwood!
Second single, “From Here To Eternity” was an oddity of sorts, one of the few Maiden singles to not feature Eddie on the cover. It’s B-sides included a Chuck Berry cover/ode to roadie Vic Vella called “Roll Over Vic Vella”. There were also two live tracks from the previous tour: “Public Enema Number One”, and “No Prayer For the Dying”. Nice to have live versions of these songs, as I doubt they were played again after that tour.
“From Here To Eternity” also supposedly featured a remixed A-side — a “Triumph Mix”. (The name “Triumph Mix” is only printed on the disc itself and not the back cover.) I can’t tell the difference, so don’t get excited. I also haven’t attempted to do a detailed comparison, so if you know more than I do, please comment.
The third and final single was “Wasting Love” which unfortunately had a terribly boring music video. It’s just too 90’s! It had three more live tracks, all from the previous tour: “Tailgunner”, “Holy Smoke”, and “The Assassin”. Same comment as above: Nice to have live versions. But note, none of these songs are on the 1996 reissue with bonus disc! Not one! And this is one of the rarest of Maiden singles. Took me a while to find a copy at a decent price.
There was one bonus included on the 2 CD edition of Fear of the Dark, in lieu of the above: “Hooks In You”, also live from the previous tour. Probably my most hated of all Maiden tunes. It’s actually from a later single, and I’ll get to that when I get to that album.
This was the last of the ten Iron Maiden 2 CD reissues from 1996.
So there you have it: Fear of the Dark. It’s superior to No Prayer, I believe. Both the good songs and the filler are superior. It pointed the way to some interesting new directions, mixing light and shade, and it proved that Janick Gers was an able songwriter in Iron Maiden. He had also begun to gel with Dave Murray as guitar player. Yet the album also had much filler, it would have been stronger at a traditional 9 or 10 tracks. I still have a fond place in my heart for Fear of the Dark, for it was one of many albums that helped me get through the 90’s.
But if you thought the last couple Maiden albums were controversial among fans, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Alright folks, strap yourselves in and get ready for the ride. After the positive feedback from my series of Kiss reviews, I’ve decided to go with popular demand and do all the Iron Maiden next. We’re going to talk about every studio album, every live album, every compilation, and every rarity that I have access to. But why not start off with a Record Store Tale? Here’s how I acquired rare editions of the crucial first 10 albums….
RECORD STORE TALES PART 116:
IRON MAIDEN’s Gonna Get Ya…No Matter How Far!
My love of Maiden is well documented. The very first blog here at LeBrain’s Record Store Tales, Part 1, was called “Run To The Hills”. It describes the first time I ever heard the band. I don’t need to explain to you why I love Iron Maiden. If you’re reading this, chances are that you already understand. Iron Maiden are more than just a band. They are a passion. With a band like Maiden, the fans strive to own everything.
The setting: Early 1996, when we still carried new CD stock. One of our suppliers dropped off a brand new catalogue. Inside, was a new listing. An exciting new listing!
Iron Maiden were reissuing their first 10 albums in 2 CD editions, with a bonus disc of B-sides! Picture discs! Iron Maiden, Killers, The Number of the Beast, Peace of Mind, Powerslave, Live After Death, Somewhere In Time, Seventh Son, No Prayer, and Fear of the Dark! Knowing that Maiden usually released a minimum of two singles per album, with a minimum of 2 B-sides per single, this was a MUST for me. I didn’t have all the Maiden singles. Not even close. Some of these songs, like “Burning Ambition” and “Invasion”, I’d never even heard before! Now I was going to have the chance to own them on CD.
The discs were expensive, even with my staff discount. But there was absolutely no way I was missing these. As an added incentive, I didn’t even own all the Maiden albums on CD yet. Most of these albums I still only owned on cassette or vinyl! So really, it was a win-win situation. Not only was I getting the B-sides, but I was also getting all the Maiden albums on CD with a minimum of overlap with my existing collection. Plus, these were picture discs with Derek Riggs’ singles artwork. Picture discs were something of a novelty at the time. Today, most CDs are picture discs and nobody cares if they are.
My boss warned me: “If you order these, you better make sure you buy them all.” There was absolutely no question of that, I’m surprised he even mentioned it, knowing what a collector I am. It’s too bad we didn’t order more, for stock. The rarity of these discs has shown that we could have sold them quickly, or better yet, hung onto them for a couple years and jacked up the price once they were out of print.
The supplier we were ordering from, the name of which escapes me, was a small-time supplier, and usually couldn’t get everything we ordered. They had about a 50% success rate. Yet he listed all these European imports that our main supplier usually shied away from. The Maiden reissues were all from Europe. I crossed my fingers. I wanted all 10. Not “some”, but all! “Some” would not do it!
A week later, the first five Maidens arrived! The following week, another chunk of Maiden shipped! They only failed to get me one disc: Fear of the Dark. Resolving to get it somehow, it turns out I didn’t need to worry about it. Two weeks later, even that one arrived. Total expenditure: About $300 with taxes! I had all 10. My Maiden B-side collection: almost complete! [Note: When I go through the Maiden reviews, we’ll cover all the B-sides, including songs that are not on these deluxe editions.]
I settled in for some long, long nights of listening. I made a compilation tape of all the B-sides that I had (including up to the current album, The X Factor), and it ended up being 3 tapes, 100 minute cassettes, which I still have. To knock so many songs off my wishlist in one fell swoop like this was the kind of thing I lived for. This was the perk of working in a record store. What a score! Today, I don’t know anybody else who has the full set of 10.
Be sure to check back in the coming days and weeks for all the reviews, starting with The Soundhouse Tapes, to the present day…