nicko mcbrain

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – En Vivo! (2012 CD, blu-ray)

Alas, the end:  Part 45, the final chapter of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

In case you’re new to LeBrain’s blog, you may as well go back and start here.  I have covered every album, every EP, every single, every rarity that I have had access to.  I don’t know if a more comprehensive review of Maiden material can be found on the web.  Enjoy.

It’s been a slice.  Without further delay, here’s the final part.  En Vivo!

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IRON MAIDEN – En Vivo! (2012 CD, blu-ray, EMI)

Once again, Iron Maiden have followed a studio album with a live album.  Unlike the last one, Flight 666, this time Maiden released a set representing the tour for their last studio platter, the excellent Final Frontier.  For the first time, you will have a chance to own live versions of songs like “El Dorado” and “Coming Home”, mixed with a standard set of Maiden classics, recent and vintage.

The splendid set starts with a pre-recorded version of intro “Satellite 15”, which melds directly into “The Final Frontier”, an excellent Maiden rocker with a chorus built for the live experience.  This version brings to the forefront Maiden’s melodic guitar goodness, along with Bruce’s powerful pipes.  Adrian Smith rips the solo to absolute shreds, only to be followed by an energized Dave Murray.  What a start.  It’s an absolutely flawless start, and the Chilean crowd goes wild.

Just like the album, the band then seamlessly moves into “El Dorado”, which is superior here to its album version.   More guitars, faster pace, more backing vocals, a more lively lead vocal…what more could you want?   Even the most cynical fans, only there to hear “Run to the Hills”, would be blown away if they only opened their ears.

“2 Minutes To Midnight”, which was also available on the Flight 666 and Rock In Rio CD’s, is next.  This one, I probably could have done without, after hearing it on two prior live albums, not to mention A Real Dead One and the immortal Live After Death!  It is a great song, no doubt, and there’s nothing wrong with this version.  But why not throw in something else, like “Icarus” maybe?

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Then back to new material:  a haunting “The Talisman” and the anthemic “Coming Home”.  “Coming Home” in particular seems perfectly designed for the live concert environment.   Both songs bring forth all the complexity and passion of The Final Frontier, with the crowd supplying ample backing vocals.  Clearly, Chilean fans don’t mind new songs.

One of my personal favourites of more recent vintage is next:  “Dance of Death”.  I love Bruce’s Hamlet intro:  “There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”   The vocal is a tad more shaky than the version on Death on the Road, but once the song gets going, Bruce finds his footing.  He has the crowd in the palm of his hands the whole way.

“The Trooper” only makes the ecstatic crowd that more crazy.  Unlike “2 Minutes”, this is a song I never tire of.  The solo just smokes, the Three Amigos blasting through.  Then onto “The Wicker Man”, a song not heard on a live album since Rock In Rio, although some fans (like me!) are lucky enough to own a 2002 version on the Japanese “Rainmaker” single.  “The Wicker Man” is a modern classic, a song that I believe belongs up there with “The Trooper”.   Once again, Adrian performs a flawlessly melodic solo.   One more track from the Brave New World album follows it, “Blood Brothers”.   I was a bit surprised to see this slower one resurrected live, but like the other songs, this one was perfectly built for a live audience.  Bruce wouldn’t even need to sing on the chorus, so loud is the audience.

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The last of the newer songs is next, the amazing “When the Wild Wind Blows”.  Not brief at 10 minutes, this is one of my favourite songs from The Final Frontier.  The crowd is on board for every moment, every riff, every section, every emotional breath from Bruce’s mouth.  Truthfully, if Maiden were not a band with over 30 years of classics in the back catalogue, this song would be considered a standard, never to be missed.  But when you could easily play a 6 hour set of nothing but classics, it’s hard to squeeze them all in.  All I can say is, I hope this song makes future tours, but at 10 minutes, don’t be surprised if it’s left out in favour of older classics.

And speaking of older classics, get ready for a whole slew of them:  “The Evil That Men Do” (so much more powerful with three guitars!), “Fear of the Dark”, “Iron Maiden”, “The Number of the Beast”, “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, and “Running Free”.  “Running Free” contains the usual band intros (Nicko being described as “the indescribable, the inevitable, the inimitable, the uneatable”), and the crowd goes wild once again.

And the listener is exhausted, after over 2 hours of regal metal classics performed by one of the best, if not the best, heavy metal band in history.  The best?  Well, I don’t want to open that debate.  But after revisiting the entire catalogue these past few months, I’ve definitely gained a new respect for a band I already loved.  The growth of this band, not always appreciated, has been steady with integrity.  And the live experience is still one that tops bands less than half their age.  En Vivo! proves this.

A blu-ray release provides the same concert experience with stunning visuals, plenty of space-age Eddies, and a manic Bruce running to-and-fro, while the rest of the band defy age.  There’s also a great bonus feature:  88 minutes of documentary footage called “Behind the Beast”, chronicling the creation of the Iron Maiden live show.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – From Fear To Eternity (2011)

Part 44 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

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IRON MAIDEN – From Fear To Eternity (2011 EMI)

One thing that you need to be aware of:  If you’re a Maiden die-hard, From Fear To Eternity was not designed for you. This, much like Somewhere Back In Time, is for new fans only. (Although a bone was thrown to us die-hards, more on that later.)

This is a decent compilation.  The reason I bought it was to “complete the collection”, and of course the great cover art (by Melvyn Grant once again). The cover pays homage to Maiden album and single covers of the past 20 years. The only one I didn’t see represented in some way was The X Factor, but see if you can spot a clue.

This collection is a joy to listen to from start to finish. I won’t go over the details with a fine-toothed comb, but there are plenty of fan favourites here: “Passchendale”, “Benjamin Breeg”, “The Clansman”…and these are not short songs, folks! Of course there were the hits, all big in Europe if not here in North America: “Bring Your Daughter”, “Wicker Man”, “Different World”, “Man On The Edge”, “Afraid To Shoot Strangers”, “Tailgunner”. There are also a slew of personal favourites such as “Be Quick or Be Dead”, “For The Greater Good of God”, and “Where The Wild Wind Blows”. Really it is very hard to find fault with this collection, or the running order.

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In fact my only beef is the lack of inclusion of the ballad “Wasting Love” which I still have a soft spot for. Also I was surprised that “From Here To Eternity” is not on here, not a personal favourite song, but it did lend its title to this album!

Finally, one touch that I enjoyed was substituting the Blaze Bayley era songs for live versions with Bruce singing. After all, Maiden are out there touring now, and new fans don’t need to be confused by a different singer. This means that you’ll get the live version of “Sign of The Cross” from the Rock In Rio album. But what’s really cool is that the live “Man On The Edge” was only released as a B-side to “The Wicker Man” single, so this is its first album release. A little extra bonus for the Maiden die-hard who may have missed that single a decade or so ago.

I strongly recommend this collection to new Maiden fans, as there is really not a bad song in the bunch, and it’s a great listen from front to back. For die-hards, you already have (most of) these songs, so if you feel like picking it up for the cover art like I did, it’s still an enjoyable listen.

3.5/5 stars.

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REVIEW: Iron Maiden – The Final Frontier (2010)

Part 43 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

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IRON MAIDEN – The Final Frontier (2010, EMI)

Iron Maiden had a hell of an album to live up to when they recorded The Final Frontier.  2006’s A Matter of Life and Death was a total triumph, a complex driving metal masterpiece.  Witness:  Not one but two 5/5 star reviews here on LeBrain’s Blog alone.

The Final Frontier begins daringly, with an incredible piece of music unlike anything Maiden have ever attempted before.  The rhythmic intro “Satellite 15…” begins sounding like an improvised piece, but knowing Steve Harris and Adrian Smith who wrote it, it was anything but.  It has a looseness that sounds like improvisation, but then Nicko’s persistent drum patterns ground it.  Bruce’s plaintive vocals speak of “drifting way off course now” and trying to contact Earth, without success.    The piece is loaded with tension, which is released only as it breaks into the first actual song, “The Final Frontier”.

Continuing the lyrical theme, Steve writes of drifting through space, alone, unable to bid his family farewell.  Musically this is anthemic Maiden as Steve and Adrian have been known to write before, with a catchy riff and chorus.  Some of the guitar work is reminiscent of 1986’s Somewhere In Time.  I find it daring to team such a catchy metal tune with an abstract intro like “Satellite 15…”

Without letting up for a second, the lead single “El Dorado” gallops through the speakers.  And yes, it’s an actual vintage Maiden galloping start!  Written by the triumvirate of Steve, Adrian, and Bruce (who have written so many classics in the past), “El Dorado” careens through multiple sections all tied together by the effortless playing of the band.  Adrian’s catchy yet exotic solo is a highlight.  It’s not an obvious single at almost 7 minutes long, but this length is necessary to contain all the different riffs and sections.  None of them are extraneous; every bit of this song is as good as the last, although it sounds like Bruce is reaching for notes too high on the chorus.

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The heaviness lets up briefly for the start of “Mother of Mercy”, a brief but epic sounding track that could have fit happily on the Brave New World CD.  Yet it’s even more riff laden than anything on that album, continuing The Final Frontier‘s tendency to cram awesome guitar after awesome guitar into one song.  It’s a mere five minutes long, written again by Steve and Adrian, with another catchy chorus delivered with power by Bruce.  A song like this proves that Maiden can be brief yet still cram all of their power and talent into a catchy five minute number.  The lyrics question the deadly combination of war and religion.

How much more epic can you get?  None more epic than the chorus of “Coming Home”.  A Smith/Dickinson/Harris epic, the lyrics reflect Bruce’s love of aviation within one of the best choruses they’ve ever written.  By any other band this might be considered a “power ballad”, but at no point in its six minute length do I really consider it as such.  This is surely one of the best songs on The Final Frontier.  There’s even a bluesy guitar solo (probably Davey) to fit the melancholy mood of the song.

“The Alchemist” is the shortest song on the album, but the first that is a traditional fast Maiden scorcher.  It has a solid Janick Gers riff (who co-wrote it with Bruce and Steve) and Bruce spits out the quick verses.  Janick’s solo is his typical manic style, but as a song, this is the weakest on the album thus far.  It’s not as memorable or impactful as the four previous, but a fast one is required to balance out the more progressive material elsewhere.

And speaking of more progressive material, “Isle of Avalon”, written by Steve and Adrian, takes us back into that territory.  Nine minutes long, it is very different lyrically from anything Steve’s done before:  Celtic legends and mythology and all that.  And of course, it has multiple riffs, time changes and melodies to keep the listening entranced through the whole length.  It’s an effortless listen despite its complexity, simply because it’s loaded with great guitar parts.

One of my favourite tunes is next:  “Starblind”.  It’s another Bruce/Steve/Adrian masterpiece, and not too brief at almost eight minutes long.  It starts slow, but the main riff kicks in at 50 seconds. Be prepared to be pummeled!  Bruce delivers an epic chorus, while the lyrics seem to be another condemnation of corrupt religious figures (a traditional Maiden topic).  Nicko’s drum patterns are anything but simple; this is one more progressive Maiden masterpiece.

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The heaviness of “Starblind” is replaced by the acoustic intro of “The Talisman”.  Yet another eight minute epic track, “The Talisman” was written by Steve and Janick.  2 1/2 minutes in, you’re assaulted with the next in what seems like an endless stream of  incredible Maiden riffs.  Bruce wails away of a treacherous ocean journey.   Steve has written some of his catchiest melodies yet, with plenty of twists and turns.  Yet another classic.

“The Man Who Would Be King” also starts slow, before moving into a classic sounding Maiden guitar harmony riff.  This one was written by Steve and Dave Murray.  Again, it’s not brief:  Over eight minutes of riffs, melodies and changes.  Lyrically, it doesn’t seem to have any great connection to the book or movie, The Man Who Would Be King.  Musically, it’s another complex amalgam of amazing parts acting as a whole.  Songs like these, there is no way to fully appreciate them after just one listen.  Even now I’m finding new appreciation for “The Man Who Would Be King”.  It has some sections that sound more “vintage” Maiden than anything else on The Final Frontier, but they’re over in a blink and onto the next section!  This is a hell of a song to digest, must like the rest of the album.

Finally, the end of your journey into The Final Frontier:  the epic track “When The Wild Wind Blows”.  This is my personal favourite song, ten minutes of non-stop drama.  This is the Harris album epic; the song that lives up to the legacy set by previous epics such as “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”.  Lyrically, it’s an end-0f-the-world scenario, as they huddle in their bunkers waiting for apocalypse from the sky.  When the world doesn’t end, they are found dead anyway, having consumed poison.  Once again, the song has many different sections, each one more powerful than the last, all wrapped in those trademark Maiden guitar melodies.

There is no denying that The Final Frontier is a challenging listen.  It is also a rewarding listen, a complete journey with a start, middle and ending.  Very few bands can manage an album like this fully 30 years into their recording careers.  Maiden have managed to do so, and not only that, but with their strongest lineup intact strong as ever.  With the production talents of Kevin Shirley, the band managed a crisp sound that strikes a balance between polished and live.

Melvyn Grant has returned to do the cover; easily his best cover with Iron Maiden.  An alien Eddie searches a derelict alien vessel for some kind of key.  I don’t get it, but I don’t care.  I’m a sucker for the alien motif.  Two of my favourite things combined at long last — Iron Maiden, and aliens!

For the first time ever, there are no B-sides to discuss.  There was only one single, which was “El Dorado”.  Dan Slessor from Kerrang! magazine sent me a promotional copy of the single, a really nice collectible in a 7″ sleeve (with even printed “wear marks” to make it look like a vinyl single is inside)!  It can be seen below for your enjoyment.  Disappointingly though, it is merely a CD-R, not an actual factory pressed CD.  I guess the old days have finally passed.  Why send out an expensive promo single when everybody else is simply sending electronic files?

Lastly, there was a deluxe “Mission Edition” of this album made available with interview footage conducted by Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen; unfortunately this content was not compatible in Canada so I never bought it.  My copy did come with a cool Final Frontier sticker though.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Flight 666 (2009 CD, DVD)

This is part 42 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!  And we still ain’t done!

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IRON MAIDEN – Flight 666 (2009 CD, DVD)

In lieu of releasing a live album from the A Matter of Life and Death tour (where Maiden played all of the new album live front to back), they instead chose to document their Somewhere Back In Time tour with a movie, directed by Canada’s own Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn (Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage).   A live soundtrack was released not long after the film.

My buddy Peter and I got our tickets and got in line to see the movie the one and only time it played in town.  Turns out that Tom and Meat were there too.  Of course they were — who would want to miss this?

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The film itself documents Maiden’s massive undertaking of the tour — resurrecting the Powerslave stage and a lot of the old songs.  More important than that, it chronicles the logistics of singer Bruce Dickinson doing all the piloting himself, aboard the private charter jet lovingly known as Ed Force One.  23 concerts, 5 continents, from Mumbai to Toronto.  Nobody had ever done that before.  Due to regulations about a pilot’s rest time between flights, this is something that will probably never happen again.

Regardless of historical nature of this tour, some people bitched and complained.  Another Maiden live album?

Yes, another Maiden live album, and this one with classics available on Live After Death and elsewhere.   It’s still relevant.

Ever since Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith returned to the band in 1999, I feel Maiden have never been stronger. The way the three guitars of Smith, Dave Murray, and Janick Gers have meshed is something to behold. I really enjoy listening to the three-guitar version of Maiden, and once again producer Kevin Shirley has provided a strong mix where you can hear every nuance of those three guitars. Not to mention Bruce’s vocals, Steve’s bass, and Nicko’s steppin’! In other words, this album sounds great.

As for the track listing itself, it sure is great hearing all 13 minutes of “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” once again. I never thought Maiden would ever play “Moonchild” or “The Clairvoyant” again either. “Powerslave”, “Wasted Years”, “Heaven Can Wait”…so many classics! As Steve Harris notes in the liners, some of these songs may never be played live again, so it’s great to have this document. Some fans will wish there were more old tunes such as “Flight Of Icarus” or “Running Free” instead of more common songs like “Fear Of The Dark”. Another tour, perhaps?

Worth mentioning, each song is taken from a different live gig from the Somewhere Back In Time tour. There’s some fade-in and fade-out between songs. Don’t let that bother you though.  The whole idea was to give fans the sense that, “Hey, I was there!”

When Flight 666 was released on DVD, it went to #1 in Canada and almost every other country it was released in.  The DVD is a great package, mixed in 5.1 by Kevin Shirley, but also including a hell of a bonus feature.  Just in case you wanted a straight Maiden live DVD without the songs being truncated by the documentary, it’s all here.  Every song from the movie can be viewed complete, in sequence, on the bonus DVD.

It would have been nice to see a new Eddie painting on the cover…but if you look closely he’s still there.

5/5 stars (both CD and DVD)

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Somewhere Back In Time (2008)

Welcome back.  This is part 41 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!  As mentioned when we talked about The Essential Iron Maiden, we are now in the compilation years.  I won’t spend as much time on these hits discs as I did studio albums.

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IRON MAIDEN – Somewhere Back In Time (2008)

Once again, Maiden have geared a hits disc to the newbies who have never bought anything by the band before.  The overall concept was cool.  As they did on the Eddie Rips Up the World tour, Maiden chose to take a look somewhere back in time, and only play songs from a certain era.  This time, the band brought back the Powerslave imagery, and chose only to play songs up to Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (and cheating by also playing “Fear of the Dark”.

I personally felt this was a very smart move, since many fans (whiners) had complained that on the A Matter of Life and Death tour, the band had played that entire album.  You want oldies?  Well now you got them so stop yer whinin’.

To promote the tour, Maiden issued this Somewhere Back In Time disc.  All songs feature Bruce Dickinson on lead vocals, so that means live versions where the old Di’Anno material is concerned.  Like it or not, you can at least understand Maiden trying to promote the singer that the newbies were going to be seeing live.

I loved the touch of kicking off the album with “Churchill’s Speech” as I don’t think they have ever devised a better way to open a Maiden concert.  Then, into the Live After Death version of “Aces High”.  It seemed an odd choice for opening a hits album.  From there, you’re into a non-stop onslaught of Maiden classics.  “Two Minutes”, “The Trooper”, “Wasted Years”, even “Children of the Damned” and “Phantom of the Opera”!  I can’t find too much fault with the overall track selection, or sequence.  Those who dislike live versions are getting four:  three Di’Anno songs, plus “Aces High”.

Sure, you could argue for certain inclusions.  “Where Eagles Dare” or “Heaven Can Wait”, perhaps?  “The Clairvoyant” is also missing.  These are nitpicks.

The album also comes with full lyrics, descriptive liner notes, and even a cool poster with new artwork on it.  The poster I have is for the Canadian tour — don’t know if other countries got their own posters, or none at all?  It’s hard to fit the poster back into the jewel case once opened.

Good value for new Maiden fans, old fans only need to own if they’re looking for “the complete collection”.  But even for new fans, this is really only a starter.  Eventually you should really get the albums.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW/GUEST SHOT: Iron Maiden – A Matter of Life and Death (by Meat)

Photo0637This one arrived too late to slide into the schedule when I posted my own review of A Matter of Life and Death.  Better late than never!  Here’s the infamous Meat with his take on the album.  A more seasoned take, perhaps.  Enjoy!

That’s the Meat Man on the left, in case you didn’t know.

He’s a pretty big Iron Maiden fan…

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IRON MAIDEN – A Matter of Life and Death (2006)

The Reincarnation of Iron Maiden

To semi-quote a good friend of mine,  “I have seen Iron Maiden live…I have seen Iron Maiden live…a lot”

  • November 30, 1984 –Maple Leaf Gardens- World Slavery Tour (Twisted Sister opening)
  • July 20, 1999 – Massey Hall – Ed Hunter Tour
  • May 5, 2003 – Molson Amphitheater –  Give Em’ ‘Ed Til I’m Dead Tour (Motorhead and Dio opening)
  • August 3, 2005 – Air Canada Center – Eddie Rips Up the World Tour
  • October 16, 2006 – Air Canada Center – A Matter of Life and Death Tour
  • March 16, 2008 – Air Canada Center – Somewhere Back in Time World Tour
  • July 13, 2012 – Molson Amphitheater – Maiden England World Tour

I was 15 when I first saw Iron Maiden live.  I remember standing outside Sam the Record Man downtown Kitchener to get the tickets. Took one of those party busses up to Toronto for the show. When I saw Maiden this last July, it was hard to believe that the first time I saw them was 28 years earlier.  While there are specific memories from each and every one of those shows, the aforementioned A Matter of Life and Death Tour holds a special place in my concert-loving heart.

Having seen Maiden four times previous, I was obviously excited for another great show, but was also expecting another “greatest hits” tour with a dabble of new material.  What I and the other 15,799 concertgoers got was something else. I have seen a shit load of concerts.  But never have I seen a band come on stage and literally play their new album to a sold out crowd… from track 1 to the end.  I didn’t really even know the album that well going into the show.   But it was one of my favorite concert experiences ever.  I can imagine that rehearsals for this tour were quite extensive.  It’s one thing for them to get together and polish up “The Prisoner” or “Clairvoyant”. It’s another thing to rehearse all your new material and get it  ready for touring.  And this album especially…for these reasons…

  • The shortest track on the album is 5:08  (“The Pilgrim”)
  • This may be the band’s most progressive album, song-structure wise.

With all due respect to Dance of Death and Brave New World, I believe Iron Maiden had not released something this relevant since 1988’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. A Matter of Life and Death sees Maiden finding a seamless way to connect hooks within unpredictable progressive grooves. This band has always been linked with Thin Lizzy in several ways, but never more than this album.  There are moments where you start to actually appreciate Thin Lizzy more by listening to it, which I suspect may have been a conscious or sub-conscious goal in the creation of this album.

There is not a weak track on this album. There are several A++ songs. The opening track, “Different World” is as such and is and was a great song to start off a show.  “For the Greater Good of God”, the longest track on the album, sees Maiden showing heavy chops while somehow staying bluesy. “The Longest Day” might be the most progressive Iron Maiden track of all time. Also my favorite track on the album, “Brighter Than a Thousand Suns”, hypnotically kicks  ass with melody. Hey, that pretty much defines the band itself doesn’t it?

A Matter of Life and Death is indeed “Brighter Than a Thousand Suns”; one of the most important albums in the Maiden canon.

5/5 stars

Meat.

Thanks to regular reader Deke for showing me this video!

 

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg” / “Different World” singles

Part 40 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

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IRON MAIDEN – “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg” / “Different World” (CD, vinyl, DVD, download singles)

There were a lot of B-sides made available for A Matter of Life and Death, so let’s talk about ’em all, shall we?  It’s the last time we’ll have a chance to do so, as since this time Maiden haven’t released any B-sides at all.

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“The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg” (CD, 10″ vinyl)

This awesome song was made available in two formats.  Both had BBC Legends sessions.  The CD has a great version of “Hallowed By That Name”, which is also the iTunes bonus track.  If you’re like me, no doubt you prefer a physical format to a bunch of 1’s and 0’s floating invisibly on your hard drive, yes?   If that is indeed the case, then the CD single is where it’s at, and it’s a corker.  I love the sound of the three guitars on this one.  Not one, but two playing the melody, with one playing the rhythm.

There’s also a beautiful 10″ vinyl, with a sticker.  Clear 10″ vinyl, very cool.  The vinyl had two more songs from this session:  “The Trooper” and “Run to the Hills”.  Now, if you’ve been following along, then you’re already aware there are plenty of live versions of all three of these tracks on the various Maiden live albums, not to mention previous B-sides, and the Eddie’s Archive box.  What’s the difference?  Well, if you want all the power and breakneck energy of a Maiden live performance without crowd noise, this is the way to hear it.  It’s live in the studio.

CD

  1. “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg”
  2. “Hallowed Be That Name” (Radio 1 ‘Legends’ Session)

10″ vinyl

A. “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg”
B1. “The Trooper” (Radio 1 ‘Legends’ Session)
B2. “Run to the Hills” (Radio 1 ‘Legends’ Session)

5/5 stars

“Different World” (US CD single, UK CD single, DVD single, 7″ single, download)

This is where things start getting a little crazy.  Yes, you had to buy five different formats to get all the tracks.  Incredible.  It’s stuff like this that makes me miss the simpler old days of collecting!  Let’s go through these, one by one.

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US CD

This one was redundant if you already own the “Benjamin Breeg” singles.  This one repeats “The Trooper” and “Hallowed” from that single, leaving “Run To The Hills” as a vinyl exlusive.

  1. “Different World”
  2. “Hallowed Be That Name” (Radio 1 ‘Legends’ Session)
  3. “The Trooper” (Radio 1 ‘Legends’ Session)

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UK CD

Europe had their own exclusive CD B-side, however.

  1. “Different World”
  2. “Iron Maiden” (Live in Copenhagen on the A Matter of Life and Death tour)

So, yes, I shelled out for a live version of a song that I already have numerous live versions of!  (4 versions on the BBC Archives album alone!)  Life of a collector.  How does it differ from other live versions?  Shit, I don’t know.

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DVD single

DVD singles seemed to be a passing fad, somewhat.  I hope so anyway.  I don’t like ’em.  I don’t see the point of 1) putting out a single that you can’t play in some countries due to region codes, and 2) putting out an audio track on a video format.  This being Maiden though, I made sure I bought this, from the UK Amazon site.

  1. “Different World”
  2. “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg” (Live in Copenhagen on the A Matter of Life and Death tour)
  3. “Hocus Pocus”

At least the music has some value to it!  A live version of “Benjamin Breeg”, the first and thus far only live release of that song.  And as per Maiden’s usual high standards, it’s freaking great.

But the real cool thing is “Hocus Pocus”, a cover of, yes, the song by Focus!  Lead vocals…sort of…are by Nicko.  No yodeling though.  Just Nicko’s usual nonsensical ramblings in the background! Worth having for sure, but as a cover…what’s the point without the yodeling?  As a cover version, it’s disappointing.  Nicko yodeling?  That would have been awesome.

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7″ single

A picture disc, and a sweet looking one at that, this one has a live version of “Fear of the Dark”.

A. “Different World”
B. “Fear of the Dark” (Live in Copenhagen on the A Matter of Life and Death tour)

Once again, it’s a B-side that we already have lots of live versions of, nothing wrong with it, but nothing especially different either.

different world mp3

mp3 download single

  1.  “Different World” (Live in Aalborg on the A Matter of Life and Death tour)
  2. “Interview with Steve Harris on A Matter of Life and Death”

And another brand new live track!  Once again, this one has yet to be released on any live albums, so it truly is an exclusive.  It was available via the official Maiden site.  It’s cool to hear Steve and Adrian joining Bruce on the chorus, it sounds great.

The interview with Steve, 10 minutes long, I do not have.  Interviews are not high on my priority list for collecting, and it is no longer available.  It was only made available to those who pre-ordered the mp3 single, which I did not do.  There was also an interview disc made available with the Eddie’s Head box set, which I do not have.  Not a big deal to me, the music has always been what I’ve aimed to collect.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – A Matter of Life and Death (2006 CD/DVD)

Part 39 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

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IRON MAIDEN – A Matter of Life and Death (2006 CD/DVD)

“Majestic” is the best word I can think of to describe A Matter of Life and Death, the 14th studio album by Iron Maiden (and 3rd of the “reunion era). That, and “classic”! This truly is classic Maiden: Most songs running between 7 and 9 minutes long, recorded virtually live off the floor, raw and epic. I truly believe that this represents the absolute peak of Maiden’s creativity. While not a concept album like Seventh Son, it does indeed follow themes: war, religion, humanity.

Anybody who thought Dance of Death sounded tired had better get ready to be blown away by a revitalized band. This is the best album of the reunion era, my favourite from the sextet period, and a shining moment in the Maiden canon.  10 songs, over an hour of music.  If you’re not a fan of long-winded Maiden, then perhaps this one’s not for you.

While “Different World” starts the show in a fast and furious way, similar to “Wildest Dreams” from Dance of Death, this is no re-tread. This time, melody is at the forefront, especially when Bruce lets rip in the chorus.  To boot, there’s a great dual guitar solo before Adrian (the master of melody) takes one of his own.  This one was written by Steve Harris and Adrian Smith, which almost always proves to be a ferocious, melodious combination.  But it is also the shortest number on the album, and not in any way indicative of the challenging songs to come!

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As if the opening was not good enough, “These Colours Don’t Run” is next.  Going through multiple tempos, from that slow-burn Maiden opening that they’d become known for, to a pounding march, this is another winner.  It is a seven minute epic with many changes, never getting dull, dueling guitars and complex rhythms, always sounding like Iron Maiden.  Producer Kevin Shirley says that Bruce laid down all his vocals live off the floor.  If that’s the case, it explains why there is so much magic in his voice.  This is incredible.  The lyrics reflect an older, wiser Maiden.  No longer satisfied with simple war epics, there is a sadness here now.

Far away from the land of our birth
We fly a flag in some foreign earth
We sailed away like our fathers before
These colours don’t run from cold bloody war

“These Colours”, and the next song, “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” were written by the triumvirate of Bruce, Steve and Adrian, which has produced so many Maiden classics in the past.  The lyrics for “Thousand Suns” reflects religion, war and the atomic bomb.  I’m a big fan of Bruce’s lyrics.  There is even a subtle reference to Robert Oppenheimer:

Whatever would Robert have said to his God?
About how he made war with the sun
E equals MC squared, you can’t relate
How we made God with our hands

This song is not as immediate as the first two, and the chorus still has that repetition that had plagued previous albums, but its melodic quality and epic solos allow it to rise above.  It’s 9 minutes long, probably could have been shorter, but aside from a couple repeated lines of chorus, I don’t know what I would cut.  I like it all.

A shorter one (but still over 5 minutes), “The Pilgrim”, was written by Steve and Janick.  Religion and war are the themes here, seen through the eyes of Steve.  Musically it starts with a stomp, similar to a section of “Afraid to Shoot Strangers”, but then they release the brake and accelerate, culminating into another melodic chorus.  Short songs like this help balance the longer material, although the previous songs are superior.

“The Longest Day” begins ominously, like a landing craft gliding quietly through the water.  Once again, Steve, Adrian and Bruce have written a war classic.  Something about Bruce’s lyrics, they’re never simple.  They always have layers to them, and “The Longest Day” is like that.  He spits the words out like a rifle, and the song is spellbinding for its entire 8 minute length, guitar harmonies intertwining with Nicko’s relentless war march.  And that ends side one.

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“Out of the Shadows” begins side two on a somewhat mellow note, acoustic guitars mixed with electrics, and a slower tempo.  Bruce wrote this one with Steve, a rare pairing.  It is probably a good thing to sequence a slow song somewhere in here, as the relentless pounding of the previous five may well have left your brain nothing but mush.  Fortunately there is an epic chorus here to keep us firmly in Maiden-land.

And oh-my-God, if you happened to sleep through “Out of the Shadows”, then Benjamin Breeg has arrived to wake you from your slumber!  I’ll say it again:  the rare occasions that Dave Murray writes a song, it usually produces gold.  “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg” is a monstrous epic, and even though it starts slow, that riff will make the dead rise from their graves.  “Benjamin Breeg” is certainly one of the most immediate songs on the album, no mean feat for a song that is 7 1/2 minutes long!  That time goes by in a blur so quickly, you’ll want to hit the back button on your player of choice and see what you may have missed.  Awesome song, and a very brave choice as first single.  There is no question:  This one would make any Iron Maiden mix tape that I put together, hands down.

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And as if that wasn’t enough, almost 10 minutes of “For the Greater Good of God” follows.  Another condemnation of the combination of religion and war, “For the Greater Good of God” is the only song written solely by Steve.  That too is a rare thing, as in the past he usually provides half an album on his own.  A Matter of Life and Death truly is a collaborative effort.   Twisting and turning through many sections, light and shade, this song too would fight for space on any Maiden mix CD that I make.  I have heard criticism that its flaw is Steve trying to cram too many syllables into one line during the choruses.  After a few listens, you don’t really notice anymore.

If you still have any life left in you after that pummeling, then prepare to meet the “Lord of Light”.  Yet another Smith/Dickinson/Harris composition, it too exceeds 7 minutes.  Starting quietly, it soon turns into a relentless pummeling, the three guitars behaving as one, Bruce soaring overtop.  Nicko and Steve drive the whole Beast forward, this is probably the heaviest song in many respects, with a great chorus and many changes in tempo.

And finally, “The Legacy”.  Almost 10 minutes long, “The Legacy” is very different for Maiden.  It is a Steve/Janick composition, mellow, and lyrically devastating.

Sent off to war to play little games
And on their return, can’t name no names
Some strange yellow gas
Has played with their minds
Has reddened their eyes, removed all the lies

As if the acoustic “Journeyman” from the last album injected a new dose of courage into the band, “The Legacy” is a daring way to end an album this heavy.  It begins acoustically and takes a little while to start cooking.   When it does kick into gear, it is a relentless rhythm, and a total triumph.  One of Maiden’s more challenging but rewarding epics.

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The sound of this album is the perfect mix of heavy and raw with just enough polish. The sound straight from the mix was so hot, the band and Kevin Shirley chose not to master this album.  The CD on the shelves is straight from the mixing desk, an unusual choice in mainstream music.  I can’t name another album that wasn’t mastered!  But the sound is perfect, I can’t fault this choice.  It has an immediate, lively, vital sound.  Certainly Bruce’s vocals are a highlight, and if they were live off the floor then more power to him.

(Hey, what happens when they eventually remaster the Maiden catalogue?  What will they call this album?  Just “mastered”?)

As far as the direction goes, the tempos are more “march” and less “gallop”, and that’s fine.  It’s not about repeating the past, it’s about making a great heavy metal album, and Maiden have done that.  Did I miss “the gallop” on this album?  No more than I did on previous Maiden platters like Brave New World.  The album is riff laden, complex, and layered.  You can’t “get” it in just a couple listens. A Matter of Life and Death demands that you devote a great deal of time to it, but when you do, it will pay you back a hundred fold.

Even the cover art is a vast improvement over Dance of Death. Even though Eddie is in the background this time, it’s a great piece of art, by Tim Bradstreet with Grant Goleash.  It is evocative of the music and lyrics, and just a great picture to look at.

iTunes offered a bonus track, a live version of “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, but it is available on some of the singles that we’ll talk about later.  Stay tuned and we’ll discuss all the bonus tracks and B-sides.  There is also a bonus DVD, a documentary on the making of the album.  Included is the “Benjamin Breeg” video, a photo gallery, and an in-studio performance of “Different World”.

In summation, I believe that A Matter of Life and Death is the greatest album of reunion era Maiden.  I also believe it to be their best album since Seventh Son, perhaps even surpassing that lofty masterpiece in some respects.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – The Essential (2005)

Part 38 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

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IRON MAIDEN – The Essential (2005)

…And the era of Maiden compilations had begun.  And I did buy them all.

The Essential is a series.  I have The Essential Johnny Cash as well as others.   So, this one was not put together by the band.  There’s no Eddie on the cover, no exclusive content, no liner notes from Rod Smallwood nor Steve Harris.  Instead there are liner notes from Lonn M. Friend of RIP Magazine.  They’re aimed at newbies, but at least all songs get full musician and writing credits.

Much like 1996’s Best of the Beast, the tracks are reverse-chronological.  This time, it works better than on Best of the Beast.  The cool thing is that this means you start with the incredible epic “Passchendale” from Dance of Death.  What an opening.  Every album (studio and live) is visited, including four Blaze Bayley tracks.

Everybody bitches about what tracks should have been left off, and which should have been included.  Here’s mine:

1. I would have included no Blaze tracks, and instead included live versions of Bruce singing them.

2. Those are the only times I would have included live tracks.

3. I could do without “Holy Smoke” and “Bring Your Daughter”.  Give me “Tailgunner” instead.

4. Give me “Stranger In A Strange Land” instead of “Heaven Can Wait”.

But that’s about it.  You get a healthy mix of hits along with great album cuts such as “Wrathchild”, “Killers”, and glory be, “Phantom of the Opera”!  Those, plus “Passchendale”, make this a passable greatest hits disc.

Tracklist is below, but only you can decide if this one’s worth buying.  I bought it for “the collection”.  As far as a complete career-spanning set goes, this is about as close as it got without having to buy multiple sets.  However it’s now out of print, so the point is moot.

3/5 stars

Disc: 1
1. Paschendale
2. Rainmaker
3. The Wicker Man
4. Brave New World
5. Futureal
6. The Clansman
7. Sign Of The Cross
8. Man On The Edge
9. Be Quick Or Be Dead
10. Fear Of The Dark
11. Holy Smoke
12. Bring Your Daughter..To The Slaughter
13. The Clairvoyant
Disc: 2
1. The Evil That Men Do
2. Wasted Years
3. Heaven Can Wait
4. 2 Minutes To Midnight
5. Aces High
6. Flight Of Icarus
7. The Trooper
8. The Number Of The Beast
9. Run To The Hills
10. Wrathchild
11. Killers
12. Phantom Of The Opera
13. Running Free (Live)
14. Iron Maiden (Live)

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Death on the Road (2005)

Part 36 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

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IRON MAIDEN – Death on the Road (2005)

When Death On The Road came out, I was very excited. When a band of Iron Maiden’s age (or Rush’s, for that matter) put out great new studio albums, I like a live album to follow. Back in the 80’s I would have found this unnecessary  However, let’s face it — how many more Maiden tours will be there be? How many times will Maiden play “Passchendale” live? It may never happen, so a souvenir like this is important to me.  Some fans would simply choose not to buy an album like this since they may already own Rock In Rio, and that’s fine.  For me, I want to hear more.  I want to hear “Dance of Death”.  I want to hear “Passchendale”.  I want to hear “Journeyman”.

Anyway, what I’m getting at is: If you don’t want it, don’t buy it. If you love Maiden, and if they never play these songs again, then why miss out? New fans would be better off picking up Live After Death or Flight 666 (which we’ll get to in due time) for a better overview of the whole Maiden shebang. For the diehards, this is solid.

Death On The Road, recorded in Dortmund Germany on 24 November 2003, has a good mix of newer “reunion” era Maiden with the classics. Yes, I could probably go the rest of my life without ever hearing another version of “Run To The Hills” or “Running Free”, but it’s a double CD and you may as well get the whole setlist. If Maiden didn’t play those songs live, there would be riots. The real treats here are the Dance Of Death material.  There’s a DVD too, which I don’t have — very expensive and hard to get here.

The show opens with one new track, “Wildest Dreams”, the first single from Dance of Death.  While this was never a personal favourite of mine, it is better live than on the album.  Also better live is the single “Rainmaker”.  It just has a little more energy which helps compensate f0r the “repetitive chorus syndrome”.  “Wrathchild” and a somewhat flat “Can I Play With Madness” represent the early material right off the bat, before Maiden slam into “The Trooper” which was the single from this album.

“Dance of Death” begins with Bruce quoting Hamlet:  “There are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”  I love this song. The afforementioned “Rainmaker” and “Brave New World” follow.  Surprisingly, “Brave New World” is the only song from that album, where Rock In Rio had plenty of material from it.  This is why it is important for a band of Maiden’s stature to keep releasing live albums.  The setlists change drastically tour to tour.

The best of the new songs, “Passchendale” (with more poetry, this time from Wilfrid Owen), stokes the fire, taking its place in Maiden history as one of their best live epics.  It shines live.  It is followed by a lackluster “Lord of the Flies”.  While these Blaze Bayley songs sound awesome with Bruce’s pipes, it was probably past time to retire them from the set.  After all, they could have played “The Wicker Man” or an older song like “Powerslave” instead of this tune that, frankly, isn’t up to the quality of the rest of the concert.  Anyway, it’s nice to have a Blaze song “sung properly” so to speak, although Bruce has to awkwardly shift from his low voice to high.  It was clearly not written for his voice, but he does his best with the material at hand.

It is on disc two that the classics come out.  After a repetitive “No More Lies” that goes on a bit too long, you are assaulted with “Hallowed”, “Fear of the Dark”, “Iron Maiden”, “Beast”, and of course “Run to the Hills”, with only the acoustic “Journeyman” breaking up the slew of hits.   “Journeyman” was a brave choice live, but the crowd know every note.  Judging by the sequence this seems to be the first song of the encores.  Wonderful soloing here.

Production by Kevin “Caveman” Shirley and Steve Harris is fine, but a little bit more dull than the stellar Rock In Rio. Cover art (once again by Melvyn Grant who did Fear of the Dark) is a bit cheesy and I’m not too much into the choice of colours. The booklet, as always, is loaded with awesome live shots.

With this album in the can, Bruce had time for another solo album.  How could he possibly top or even equal The Chemical Wedding?  With a Tyranny of Souls

4/5 stars

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