run to the hills

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

GUEST REVIEW by:  Uncle Meat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5/5 stars

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

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MAIDEN ENGLAND FRONT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Rock In Rio (2002)

Part 29 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

IRON MAIDEN – Rock In Rio (CD/DVD 2002)

With Bruce coming back and all, you just knew Maiden had to do a live album.  It would have been a great disservice not to do one.

Almost everyone and their pet Schnauzers will agree that Live After Death is the greatest live Maiden album of all time.  Some might even argue it’s the greatest live metal album of all time.  I would gladly invite any of those people over for perogies and conversation.

Where we start to differ is, what is the second best live Maiden album?

This is just LeBrain’s opinion, but I say it’s Rock In Rio.

I do remember carrying this in store when it was released in March 2002.  I also remember some customers saying, “Yeah, I’m not buying this one.  I don’t know any of these songs!”

Maybe they’d been living under a rock and missed the awesome Brave New World CD?  Whatever the case may be, I’m not the type that likes to buy the same live album over and over again.  Give me tracks that have never been released in live versions before.  Let me hear the new stuff, when it’s good enough to be on a live album.  And having enough good new stuff was not a problem for Maiden after Brave New World.

Maiden bravely started with an opening salvo of fresh music:  the first three songs from Brave New World:  “The Wicker Man”, “Ghost of the Navigator”, and the title track itself.  And the Brazilians went nuts.  Singing along at the top of their lungs, they clearly didn’t have the problem of not knowing the songs like my customers did!

Then, wisely, Maiden dug way back and pulled “Wrathchild” and Adrian’s classic “2 Minutes To Midnight” out of the hat.  And it sure is great finally hearing the old stuff played by the Three Amigos.  The three guitar lineup works so well, that I definitely never want Maiden to go back to two.

Another newbie is up next, “Blood Brothers”.  Once again, the crowd goes crazy singing along.  It must have been an incredibly loud night.

“Sign of the Cross” is the one I had been waiting for.  Anybody who felt that all the Blaze Bayley material would have been about 150 times better with Bruce singing will be happy campers.  “Sign of the Cross” is a brilliant song that finally reached it full potential with Bruce at the mic.   There is simply no comparison.

“The Mercenary” from Brave New World, and “The Trooper” provide a much needed fast-paced adrenaline boost after spending 10 minutes on the epic “Sign of the Cross”.   Bruce begins “The Trooper” with a stanza from Tennyson’s poem, but once he starts singing the crowd follows every word!  It’s hard to imagine how you could have even heard the band if you were in that crowd that night.

A couple more songs of recent vintage kick off disc 2.  “Dream of Mirrors” is one I personally could have done without, as its 10 minute length could have been taken up by two shorter songs.  But the crowd doesn’t seem to mind, clapping and screaming along with Bruce’s nightmare.  And then, “The Clansman”.  Once again, if anybody felt that the song never came to life with Blaze singing, then listen up.  This is a song that was built for performing live.

“Freedom!”  And once again, Rio goes wild.

And that’s it for the new stuff.  It’s nothing but back to back hits on the home stretch:  “The Evil That Men Do”, “Fear of the Dark”, “Iron Maiden”, “Number”, “Hallowed”, “Sanctuary”, and of course “Run to the Hills”.

Production by Kevin Shirley is crisp, clear, with great separation of the three guitars in the stereo field.  Absolutely no complaints.  And if that’s not good enough for ya, you can get the whole thing on a nice (5.1 surround) DVD package too.  The DVD in fact has some cool behind the scenes footage of all six Maiden members killing time.  Adrian likes to fish, for example.  It’s a chance to get to know all six members as people.

The single was “Run to the Hills” (again — third time this song was chosen as a single!) but I’m not going to bother discussing the B-sides too much.  While they are great, great vintage live recordings from 1982 with Clive Burr on drums, all of them were issued later on the massive Eddie’s Archive box set, as part of a live disc (and that happens to be our next stop anyway).  Check out the photos below for the tracklists.  “Total Eclipse”!  I like the painting of Bruce as Eddie.

“Scream for me Brazil!”  And scream they did.  And unless you’re stuck in the 1980’s like many of my old customers, you will too.

4.75/5 stars

Part 1: The Beginning – “Run to the Hills”

 

RECORD STORE TALES PART 1:  The Beginning – “Run To The Hills”

I still remember the first time I heard Iron Maiden.

Maybe it’s this way for some when they remember the first time they heard the Beatles, or the Stones. Or for those younger, maybe it’s like the first time they heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “Fake Plastic Trees”. The first time I heard “Run To The Hills” was monumental to me, but I didn’t realize yet what the massive impact would be.

It was Christmas of 1984. I was a mere 12 year old looking for musical direction.  I hadn’t been much interested in music prior to that.  I had albums by Quiet Riot and Styx, but my majority of my collection was John Williams’ movie soundtracks.

I really wasn’t interested in music yet. I had yet to dedicate myself to any particular style. At the same time that I would listen to Quiet Riot, I somehow also thought Billy Ocean was cool.

Well, the video for “Loverboy” was nifty….

I had always been kinda afraid of heavy metal bands.  Guys that wore spikes, like Judas Priest or Iron Maiden. Kiss literally scared me when I was buying my first comics (there were always ads for Kiss posters inside comic books), and I know I wasn’t the only one. The neighbor kid was scared to death of Gene Simmons spitting up blood. Bands like Maiden and Priest looked like a bunch of hooligans, definitely up to no good, definitely out to hurt people, including kids.

Boxing Day, Bob came over. It was tradition, every Boxing Day, Bob and I would get together and compare our Christmas scores. Bob scored a cassette tape called Masters Of Metal Volume 2 and I was given an Atari game called Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron.

In my basement, we sat down to play the video game. Our goal was to take the game as far as humanly possible, to see what happened when you shot down so many planes that the Atari didn’t have enough characters to display it anymore. (Incidentally, disappointingly, like most Atari games, it just starts counting up from zero again.) We sat there playing that game so long that Bob had to go home and eat lunch, then come back. But what he left behind while eating was Masters Of Metal.

“Run To The Hills” came on. Some people speak of moments of clarity: That was my moment. The music was fast, powerful, dramatic and melodic. The lyrics were cool and you could mostly sing along. Most importantly, the music and lyrics seemed to combine with the game experience. When Dickinson was singing “Run to the hills, run for your lives!” it meshed perfectly!  Too bad Aces High wasn’t out yet!

A moment like that could quickly pass into history and be forgotten for most people.  As the day wore on, I realized that I had found something. This music kicked ass!  I was brought up on movie soundtracks.  This stuff had the same drama, but with guitars!   This was even better than Quiet Riot and AC/DC, so I said at the time.

It didn’t end there of course. We played through Masters Of Metal, finding a few more diamonds. “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” By Judas Priest was definitely a close second to “Run To The Hills”. We were fixated on Accept’s “Balls To The Wall”.  We’d play it over and over again laughing hysterically at the lyrics.  But the song still rocked!  I can still remember when MuchMusic started the Power Hour, and they played that video.  There’s little Udo Dirkscheider, in his camo pants, and crew cut, rocking with these skinny German guys with long hair.  It was fucking hilarious!

We skipped (what we then thought was) the crap…Lee Aaron, Anvil, Triumph.  I grew into them later, particularly Triumph.  Something to do with double guitars, maybe.  I digress.  We always came back to Iron Maiden.  Always.

Bob would bring other tapes over as the months and years went by. W.A.S.P., Motley Crue, Black Sabbath. Now Bob’s a father of four who doesn’t listen to rock music anymore, which makes me sad in a way.  I’m not sad for him, because he’s got a great family and always has.  I’m more sad because I don’t think he can ever appreciate what impact our shared experiece of rocking out had on me.  Listening to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and the rest.  The was it, the beginning.