progressive metal

Part 268 / REVIEW: “Lie”

Part 2 of a 2 part series.  For yesterday’s part, a review of the AWAKE album, click here.

Not only is this Part 2 of the Dream Theater review, but also a nice way to introduce THE WEEK OF SINGLES 2!  From Monday through Saturday, we’ll be taking a look at some rare singles.  Today’s is Dream Theater’s “Lie”.

RECORD STORE TALES Part 268: Lie

DREAM THEATER – “Lie”:  This single was given to me by a customer named Ed. He was one of my earliest customers, very much intro progressive rock and heavy metal. He was a couple years older than me, with ginger hair and big big “Bubbles” glasses.

I had seen a copy in Toronto, at the big HMV store at 333 Yonge St. For whatever stupid reason, I chose to pass on it. Maybe it was the price. When I got back to Kitchener, I tried to order a copy from Encore Records but they reported to me that it was deleted. I then tried to order it from Amazon.com, who had it on back order for months before they too told me they could not get any more.

There were a couple good reasons to need this single:

1. The unreleased bonus track “To Live Forever”.

2. The hard to find live track “Another Day” which was only on the very rare (very expensive) Japanese release of the Live at the Marquee EP.

While discussing Dream Theater albums with Ed one day in ’97, I explained my frustration at not owning this single.

“I have two copies,” Ed said. “I bought it when it came out, and there were two CDs in the same case.”

“Really?” I exclaimed. “Any chance you want to let one go?”

“I’ll think about it,” Ed said. “I don’t have two cases, just two CDs, and I don’t need the second one.”

“I’ll be happy to take that off your hands,” I answered.

Ed did indeed give me his extra copy of the CD. Even without the case and cover art, I was satisfied. I bought an empty 2 CD case to put my copy of Awake in, with the “Lie” single as a “bonus CD”. Not exactly the ideal for a collector like me, but it’s an original physical CD copy and that’ll do.

DT_0002“To Live Forever” was an obvious choice as a B-side, in comparison to the better tracks on Awake. It’s similar to, but not as spectacular as the mellow songs like “Lifting Shadows” or “Innocence Faded”. The live “Another Day” on the other hand is every bit as good as the Live at the Marquee CD. This single saves me from having to track down a Japanese copy!  Thanks, Dream Theater.

From the album itself comes the incredible Kevin Moore song “Space-Dye Vest”.  As mentioned in yesterday’s review, that is my favourite song from Awake.  It defies categorizing, and it has a dark but glowing soul.  Also included is the single version of “Lie”, which is nice if you plan on making a mix CD.  The album track didn’t lend itself well to that, since it melds into other songs on the album.

I don’t know what happened to Ed. He’d mentioned he was losing interest in rock music. I guess that can happen, inconceivable as it is to me!  He bought a bit of classical stuff, but I stopped seeing him towards the end.  Maybe Ed will stumble upon this blog, and I can thank him again for this great CD single.

Thanks Ed.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Dream Theater – Awake (1994)

Part 1 of a 2 part series.

DT_0001DREAM THEATER – Awake (1994)

Awake has stood the test of time.  In 1994 it was considered a commercial failure by the record label, in comparison to Images and Words.  In 2014, it is still my favourite Dream Theater album.  It is a lot of people’s favourite Dream Theater album, for its songs, complexity and aggression.  It was also the final album to feature keyboardist and cofounder Kevin Moore.  Moore had become increasingly more interested in samples, and you can hear that all over Awake.  It is all the stronger for it.

Awake feels like a natural progression from Images and Words.  Sonically it’s similar, and there’s no mistaking that it’s the same band.  Awake is infinitely more complex, less commercial, and more ambitious.  Clocking in at 75 minutes (a very fast 75 minutes), Awake was more epic than anything Dream Theater had attempted in the past.  It was also heavier.  James LaBrie’s vocals are more aggressive in delivery, and the album as a whole is more pedal-to-the-metal.

While Awake is not a concept album, it does have recurring lyrical and musical themes.  The melody from “Space-Dye Vest” (written solely by Moore) appears elsewhere on the album, and there are a few multi-song suites as well.  You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a concept album.  In fact Awake holds together much better than some lesser concept albums by other artists.

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Challenging, heavy arrangements include the opening “6:00” which introduced Kevin Moore’s propensity for samples.  I don’t know if the dialogue on the album is movie dialogue, or original material recorded for the album.  Regardless, it’s effective and the dialogue complements the song.  “The Mirror” and “Scarred” are also challenging, but rewarding to listen to.

There are more melodic songs, nothing as immediate as Images and Words, but still excellent:  “Caught In A Web”, “Innocence Faded”, “The Silent Man” and “Lifting Shadows Off A Dream” are all personal favourites.  “Caught In A Web” was selected as the second single, but failed to make an impact.

One of the strongest, and certainly the angriest song, is “Lie” which was the first single.  I remember seeing the video on a program called “The Box”.  I was shocked that Dream Theater had gone for such a heavy first single, but I was impressed nonetheless.  “Lie” remains one of my favourite DT songs of all time.  It was built from the groove up, and lyrically it’s angry as hell!

This is the edit version from the single

The best song on the album is Moore’s “Space-Dye Vest”.  I don’t know what a space-dye vest is, but the title works with the song.  Based on piano, samples, and a haunting vocal melody, this is the most unique Dream Theater song that I can think of.   I think I can safely say that this one song is my favourite, even over “Lie”.  The band revealed that they would not have put it on the album had they known Moore would leave later that year.  The song was his baby, the others had no hands in its writing.

I’m not sure I would recommend Awake as the first Dream Theater album for somebody to try, but it should be tried by anyone curious about this band.  It has had a huge impact on me, and I hope it can do the same for you.

5/5 stars

Tomorrow, a look at the single “Lie” and its B-sides…

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – Queensrÿche (2013 Japanese edition with bonus tracks)

QUEENSRŸCHE – Queensrÿche (2013 Avalon Japanese import)

RYCHE2013_0004I purchased and reviewed the domestic “deluxe edition” of Queensryche (2013) in July of this year.  I initially gave it a 3.25/5 stars, but I have since revised that score to 3.5/5.  The album continues to appeal to me greatly months later, which is more than I can say for most Queensryche discs since Promised Land.  At the end of that review, I cryptically added, “Oh, and the live bonus tracks absolutely smoke.”

Since nobody likes a tease, I’ve decided to focus on all four live tracks for this review.  For the very reasonable price of $32 USD plus $3 shipping, I had a sealed copy of Queensryche sent to me from Japan, so I now have all four live tracks.  If you want the short report:  They’re good enough that Queensryche should consider releasing a full live CD/DVD.  I’d buy it based on these four tracks.  But nobody comes to mikeladano.com for the short version.

“Queen of the Reich” is the first song I ever heard from the original  Queensryche, as I suspect is true for most of the band’s fanbase.  Right from the opening scream, I feel that this is the band that represents Queensryche.  Every note is nailed, as is every scream.  On this song Todd La Torre can do no wrong, but not just that.  I would say that his versions are, in general, fresh sounding.  He is reverent to the originals, but I also hear his own voice.  I must also commend Scott Rockenfield.  His drums are heavy as fuck, and his bass drum precisely punctuates every beat.

“En Force” is a welcome surprise.  In 2001, Eddie Jackson told me that it was considered in the running for the Live Evolution album but did not make the cut.  The good news is the guys still know how to play it!  This has never been my absolute favourite track from The Warning, but to hear it live with all the screams intact?  That’s something I never thought would happen again.

“Prophecy” is a difficult song, and although Todd doesn’t sing it album-perfect, I have to ask myself, who else these days can sing these Queensryche songs like this?  Not too many singers.  I just hope Todd doesn’t blow out his voice.  I’m sure this kind of singing takes its toll.

Last is the classic “Eyes of a Stranger”.  This is the only bonus track not from the stone ages of the Ryche, the only representation of Operation: Mindcrime.  It is actually this track, in many respects, that shows off the talents of Todd La Torre.  It is another side of the spectrum, and Todd pulls this off as well.  Look, I know Geoff Tate’s the original, etc. etc.  I get that.  Focused on the here and now, this is how I’d like to hear Queensryche sound.  Heavy, slightly progressive rock music with shredding vocals.  That’s what I like, and Queensryche deliver on these four bonus tracks.

Lastly, a word about Parker Lundgren.  I remember when Kelly Gray joined the band, on Live Evolution he lent a different sound to the band.  It was good, just different.  Parker fits much more seamlessly.   He doesn’t attract attention to himself by playing things differently, he played it the way you remember it.

Yeah, so I bought the album twice.  You knew I was going to.  For the bonus tracks:

5/5 stars

More RYCHE:

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – Queensrÿche (deluxe edition 2013)

QUEENSRŸCHE – Queensrÿche (2013 deluxe edition)

So after all the hubbub and commotion and he-says she-says, both Queensryches have finally released their albums.  The consensus is pretty clear:  fans prefer the original band to the original singer.  The sales figures speak for themselves.  Queensryche has more than doubled the sales numbers of Frequency Unknown, and charted in the 20’s rather than the 80’s.  The judge that will settle the case of who gets the Queensryche name in November said that the market would decide.  If that’s indeed the case, Tate can look forward to a solo career.

In the meantime Michael Wilton, Scott Rockenfield and Eddie Jackson carried on with Parker Lundgren and Todd La Torre, and basically did what fans have been asking:  revert to an earlier sound.

Instead of going through this album song-by-song, I thought I would try something different.  Instead I’d like to just talk about what I like and don’t like about Queensryche.  You can feel free if you disagree if you like.  Uncle Meat couldn’t bring himself to review the album.  He hated it so much he rated it 0/5 stars.  He said that the hiring of a Tate clone only makes Queensryche look like a bunch of douchebags.  His opinion was that this act alone put Tate on top, even if he did release the dreadful Frequency Unknown.  He asked me to say this on his behalf:

“This is like the winner of the Queensryche Karaoke contest.  Worst album of the year, of any genre.”

So there’s that.  I respect the criticism about the Karaoke contest.  But lemme tell you folks, even if La Torre’s Tate is uncanny, it’s also welcome to my weary ears.  I like hearing a Queensryche album where the singer is actually hitting the notes.  I’ve heard Tate fans talk about electronic processing on La Torre’s voice.  Well, that’s pretty much rooted in the 1986 Rage For Order sound.

If I had to nail Queensryche down to a specific era, it would be Warning-Rage-Empire in that order.  Not terribly original, no.  I’ll let it slide though, and for this reason:  when a band like Queensryche, who have musically been adrift at sea for a long time (barring the odd triumph like American Soldier), they need to re-ground themselves and regain the faith and trust of the fans.  Priest did something similar with their Angel of Retribution album.  Various songs sounded pretty bang-on for specific eras of the band.  And you know what?  That worked for me.  It was what I needed.  They saved the double concept album for the next record.

So, if Queensryche can progress from here, I’ll be happy and forgive them for the lack of originality.  I’ll let it slide for one album.  I’m also a little disappointed in the brief running time of 35 minutes: 9 short songs plus 2 intros.  None of the tracks are longer than 4 1/2 minutes.

QR2013 PICKI find pretty much all the songs to be of equal quality.  That is, all of them are good, some of them are better than good, none of them are poor.  I’ve waited to listen to this album 5 or 6 times before I tried to review it.  After that many listens, none of the songs are particularly jumping out at me more than others.  But none are turning me off.  All  have moments of greatness here and there, sometimes in the guitars, other times the drums, or the vocals.  La Torre is definitely stunning at times on this album.  It’s also fantasic to actually hear Scott Rockenfield playing the drums on a Queensryche album, and sounding like Scott Rockenfield.  He has a unique sound, one of his own, as does bassist Eddie Jackson.

As for the new boy Parker Lundgren?  Sure, he played on some of Dedicated to Chaos, but now you can actually hear him.  He meshes better with Michael Wilton than anybody else the band has had since Chris DeGarmo.

Which brings me to my final point.  I still miss DeGarmo.  This is nothing against Michael, Scott, Eddie, Parker or Todd.  DeGarmo had some kind of magic.  Look at all of Queensryche’s hits.  See who wrote most of them.  Queensryche absolutely miss DeGarmo, more than they do Tate.

In closing, I enjoy Queensryche a lot more than Frequency Unknown, or many albums since Promised Land.  Do I like it more than Rage?  Warning?  The EP?  No.  It’s good, no mistake, but it’s not at that level.  Whether they are capable of ever getting there again remains to be seen.  My attention is peaked; I’ll definitely check out the next album, which the band have already started writing.  In fact I’m looking forward to the next one, and hopefully the next one after that.

Oh, and the live bonus tracks absolutely smoke.

3.5/5 stars

FYI:  The Japanese edition contains an additional bonus track, which is “Eyes of a Stranger” performed live by the new lineup.  All four live tracks are taken from the same gig.  Reviewed separately.

REVIEW: Metallica – St. Anger (bonus DVD, 2003)

Happy long weekend, Canada!
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METALLICA – St. Anger (bonus DVD, 2003 E/M)

Ahh, the much-maligned St. Anger! When I first reviewed St. Anger back in 2003, I pointed out that some Metallica fans are suffering from “Highschool Syndrome”:

Highschool Syndrome: “The band doesn’t sound the same as they did when I liked them in highschool, therefore they are sellouts and I don’t like this album.”

A staunch critic must remember something before they brand St. Anger a sellout. An album recorded this harshly, with songs this aggressive by anyone else would get zero airplay. How is that selling out?

Perhaps by “selling out”, some fans are referring to the lack of solos and the alternative, downtuned sounds on St. Anger. Unfortunatly, the lack of solos is really a mistake. Kirk Hammett did record at least one very cool and appropriate solo for this album; check out the movie Some Kind Of Monster for a glimpse at that. Hammett felt that the cutting of guitar solos was a mistake and so do I. As Hammett said in the movie, “Having no solos dates the album to THIS time (2003)”.

The production by Bob Rock was definitely the wrong direction. He was overcompensating for what was perceived as overproduction on Load, Reload and Black. The band probably should have taken a production direction like Garage Inc. (heavy, but conventional) instead of pushing the envelope like they did.  The sound he created was so harsh that it is actually headache inducing for me to listen to St. Anger in one sitting. (And this is selling out?)

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The songs contained herein are by and large pretty decent. The title track was brilliant, with a great video to match. My personal favourite is the fast and furious “Frantic”, the melodic “Sweet Amber”, the angry “Shoot Me Again” and the epic “All Within My Hands”. There are ample time changes and musical adventures going on here, which harken back to the ambitiousness of Justice, while not sounding like old-school Metallica.

The lyrics, mostly introspective, are not my cup of tea. Some may call them brilliant, some may call them psycho-babble trash. Whatever they are, it is the first time that Hetfield didn’t helm them and they were written by the entire band. Truly, they’re not that bad when you’re banging your head at full speed, but most fans want to hear Metallica raging against something other than themselves.

The CD comes with a cool booklet, and of course the bonus DVD: all of St. Anger, recorded by the Hetfield / Ulrich / Hammett / Trujilo lineup, in order, in the studio. (Bob Rock played bass on the album.)  At the time, a freebee like this was a bigger deal.  They were obviously trying to placate pissed off fans after the fallout of Napster.  There was even a code to download an entire live show of your choice. Basically, you are getting the value of three albums in one, for the price of a single CD.  Not bad.

Yet, St. Anger was a hard album to love, and few people did. It is the sound of a fractured band piecing itself back together and experimenting with some interesting directions. It could have been better.  It’s an important album in the sense that, this was a huge turning point.  The band were basically reduced to two guys (Kirk and Lars) for months on end while James was in recovery.  We all know the story.

From that point of view, it’s an interesting listen.  Music had changed, Metallica were trying to lead and play catch-up at the same time, so it seemed.  I think you have to give them credit for attempting something new, sometimes those albums end up classics 20 years down the road.  There are enough good riffs and solid songs on St. Anger to come back to it once in a while.

Besides, if you want a band to sound the same album after album, why would you listen to Metallica?  AC/DC are still around, you know.

3/5 stars

Don’t count Bob Rock out — his work with the Tragically Hip has been excellent!

REVIEW: Queensryche – Empire (20th Anniversary Edition)

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QUEENSRŸCHE – Empire (2010 EMI 20th Anniversay Edition)

20 years?  Wow, they sure flew by for me! When Empire first came out I bought it on cassette, and even back then I thought it was a bit too commercial. That’s not to say Empire is a bad album, but coming off Mindcrime and the killer first single “Empire”, I expected something heavier.

Now with the benefit of hindsight, you can really hear a band coming into their own identity. Empire is kind of the end of the old “heavy metal” Queensryche and the beginning of the newer more diverse Queensryche. The next album, Promised Land was a another stride further away from sheer metal, but more successfully achieved.

This box set, very nice looking and all, would have been better released as an individual live album, because disc one is identical to the previous Queensryche remaster version. The bonus tracks are the same. (“Last Time In Paris” from the Ford Fairlaine soundtrack, “Scarborough Fair” from the “Anybody Listening” single, and “Dirty L’il Secret” from the much later “I Am I” single.  Yes, “Scarborough Fair” is a Simon and Garfunkel cover.  Much more gothic though!)

The live album is from the same tour (but not the same show) as the Operation: Livecrime album. Think of this as representative of Queensryche’s non-Mindcrime live set, so if you have both albums you kind of have one complete show. It’s a good live album, although without the Mindcrime material to balance it, it is way too Empire-heavy. 7 of the 10 tracks are from Empire. That’s not me complaining really, just an observation of the feel of the set, as an album. For non-Empire material, you get the awesome “Walk In The Shadows,” “Roads to Madness”, and “Take Hold Of The Flame”, representing the first couple Queensryche full-lengths.

(As an added note, the Operation: Livecrime reissue also had one additional song not on this, which was “The Lady Wore Black” originally from the first EP.)

The live stuff sounds great, very clear with a good performance by the band. Tate is in peak voice at this point — he nails all the notes in “Take Hold”! The whole band sounds really good, especially in the backing vocals department. It also sounds pretty live and not messed with, which is my preference.  I’m sure there are backing tapes, Queensryche do use them, but the overall feel was one of spontaneity.  The liner notes claim there are no overdubs whatsoever.

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If you’re not familiar with the Empire album and you’re buying it for the first time, you are definitely going to be familiar with most of the album’s six singles:

  • “Empire”, the dark forboding tale of drug trafficking, with killer spoken word-style vocals from Geoff Tate.
  • “Best I Can”, the power pop rock song, with uplifting (but cheesey) lyrics.
  • “Silent Lucidity” one of the three songs that defined the term “power ballad” in the summer of 1991. (The other two were “More Than Words” by Extreme and “To Be With You” by Mr. Big.) A great song with brilliantly sparse-yet-lush arrangement. Still stands up today!
  • “Jet City Woman”, my personal favourite simply for that unstoppable bass groove.
  • “Anybody Listening?”, the epic album closer, and one of the all time best songs Queensryche have ever written.
  • “Another Rainy Night”, not one of the better songs, in my opinion. Kind of repeats the pop rock stylings of “Best I Can” but with lyrics about missing some girl.

There are also buried treasures within the album tracks. “Resistance” feels like a polished-up Mindcrime outtake for sheer tempo and mood. “Della Brown” is unlike anything the band ever attempted before, an atmospheric tale of a homeless woman that foreshadows the direction of Promised Land.

The band were really gelling at this point, and an album like this makes me really wish Chris DeGarmo was still in the band. He wrote or co-wrote almost every song, and his backing vocals really enrich the record. Everybody was playing great, though, and big props to Eddie Jackson for his killer bass sound.

The package includes an Empire poster, booklet, and five postcards featuring stills from the “Empire” music video.

To sum up, there is absolutely nothing wrong musically with this album, or the bonus live album. This is a 5 star album for music, for packaging, for sound, and all that stuff. I have to deduct one star simply because the first disc is just the same Empire I already owned and I think the live disc on its own could have been released alone for the 20th anniversary of Empire.

4/5 stars (5 for music -1 for rebuying the album, again!)

More Queensryche:

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part I

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part II

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part III

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part IV

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: Miscellaneous Maiden – Maiden Heaven / “Space Truckin'”

Part 41 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!  This time, we’ll talk about the Kerrang! exclusive tribute album Maiden Heaven, and a cover tune that didn’t make it onto the B-sides for A Matter of Life and Death.

This will be the last Maiden review of this series before Christmas.  After the holiday we’ll reconvene so be sure to check back!  

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TRIBUTE TO IRON MAIDEN – Maiden Heaven (2008)

A little bit out of continuity, I wanted to get this release out of the way before we get into the next Maiden studio album.  Maiden Heaven was a Kerrang! exclusive tribute album, probably out of print.  I received this from my bud Dan Slessor who writes for the mag.  It was especially interesting to me for the exclusive Metallica and Dream Theater tracks!  Thus far, neither of these tracks have been reissued on releases by either band!

“Remember Tomorrow” by Metallica is friggin’ amazing.  It sounds exactly as you would expect, retaining the hard/soft vibe of the original, but with Kirk’s slippery soloing and Lars’ machine gun snare fills.  James nails the vocal with his trademark growl.  I would consider this among the very best covers that Metallica have recorded.  As James says, “Yeeeahh-yah!”  Unfortunately, there are no producer credits.

Dream Theater had the guts to cover “To Tame A Land”, one of my personal favourite tracks from Piece of Mind.  Dream Theater have been nothing but courageous their entire career, so it is only suitable that they would tackle one of the lesser-appreciated Maiden epics, and one of the rhythmically most challenging.  Mike Portnoy was still the drummer at this time.  It’s interesting to hear the song performed with keyboards since the original was so sparse and dry (reflecting the planet Dune itself).  But the keyboards lend a more exotic middle-eastern flavour.  It is also interesting hearing anyone but Steve Harris playing the bass line since it is such an integral part of the song.  Nothing against James Myung, the man is an absolute master of his instrument, but any time anybody covers Maiden, the bass always sticks out like a sore thumb because nobody sounds like Steve.  James LaBrie has no problem tackling the challenging vocal, high notes and all.

Other bands that appear on the disc include Coheed and Cambria (“The Trooper”), Avenged Sevenfold (“Flash of the Blade”…woo!), Trivium (“Iron Maiden”) and Machine Head (“Hallowed Be Thy Name”).  Most of the rest of the bands I have never heard of, but I also liked this soft acoustic n’ keys version of “Brave New World” by a band called Ghostline.   One that I definitely hated was “Run To The Hills” by some band called Sign.  It’s just…weird.  Unique, but just wrong.

Overall, an interesting listen but I really only need it for Metallica and Dream Theater.

3/5 stars

And second, from the brand new Deep Purple tribute album…

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IRON MAIDEN – “Space Truckin'” from the Deep Purple tribute album Re-Machined (2012)

Although this came out in 2012, the Maiden track “Space Truckin'” was recorded during the A Matter of Life and Death sessions for use as a B-side. Last time, I talked about the other cover they recorded, “Hocus Pocus” (by Focus!) which made it to the “Different World” single.  “Space Truckin'” went unreleased, until now.

Sonically, it is very raw, sounding live off the floor.  Some fans were underwhelmed by the track.  I think it’s obvious that Bruce is thrilled to be covering his idol, Ian Gillan.  He throws in lots of those little Gillan idiosyncrasies.  “Eee-hoo-hoo!”  While I think Maiden did a fine job on the track (especially considering they don’t have a keyboard player), this is not one of the great Maiden covers.  It’s no “I’ve Got The Fire” or “Massacre”.  It’s still a total treat to hear Maiden gleefully ripping through this classic.  If this was actually live in front of an audience, I think it would have been better received.

3/5 stars