somewhere in time

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Best of the Beast (1996 2 CD edition)

Part 22 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

IRON MAIDEN – Best of the Beast (1996)

I’m not sure what prompted Iron Maiden to put out their first greatest hits disc in 1996, but at least they did it in style.  Originally available as a limited edition 2 CD book set, it was pretty extravagant packaging for the time.   My only beef is by the nature of such packaging, the paper sleeves will always scratch your discs, 100% of the time.

This album was also available in a standard edition single disc, with the songs in a different running order.  I don’t have that one so I’m not going to talk aboot it.

The 2 disc version, perhaps to emphasize that Blaze Bayley is the current Maiden vocalist, starts at the present and then rewinds all the way back to the beginning, closing with The Soundhouse Tapes!  An interesting approach indeed.  As a listening experience I’m not sure that it works that well.

Since we’re starting at the present, the album kicks off with a new song.  “Virus” is 6:30 of same-old same-old X Factor Maiden, but not as good as anything on that album.   It drags and drags for three minutes before finally kicking into gear, but it is otherwise repetitive and boring until then.  Lyrically, it is another attack on the sicknesses in society, much like “Be Quick Or Be Dead” and “Justice of the Peace” were.

Then back in time one year, to “Sign of the Cross”, the dramatic 11 minute epic from The X Factor, as well as “Man on the Edge”.  (I would have preferred “Lord of the Flies” to “Man on the Edge”, but perhaps “Man” was the bigger single of the two.)

To bridge into the Fear of the Dark album, a new live version of “Afraid To Shoot Strangers” is featured, with Blaze Bayley singing.  It’s a good live version, but it’s immediately obvious that Blaze is no Bruce.

Bruce takes over on the next track, “Be Quick Or Be Dead”, and we’re back in the saddle.  Singles (including the popular live version of “Fear of the Dark”) and album tracks are counted down from 1993 to 1986’s Somewhere In Time album, ending disc 1 with “Wasted Years”, a great closer.  My beef here:  I would have preferred the single “Stranger In A Strange Land” to the album track “Heaven Can Wait” (but I know the Heavy Metal OverloRd doesn’t agree with me!)

Disc 2 is the glory years, if you will, everything from Live After Death to the beginning.  It begins with the epic “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, a ballsy move for a greatest hits album, and the live version at that.  Chasing it is the live single version of “Running Free”.  Then we count them down, all the singles from Powerslave to “Run To The Hills”, plus “Where Eagles Dare” and  “Hallowed Be Thy Name” thrown in for good measure.

Then it’s the Di’Anno years, which are given an unfortunately brief expose.  “Wrathchild”, from Killers  is one of the best songs from that era, but the only included track from that album.  Maiden’s first epic, “Phantom of the Opera” and the single “Sanctuary” represent the debut Iron Maiden.  Finally, an unreleased track from The Soundhouse Tapes sessions (“Strange World”), and the rare Soundhouse version of “Iron Maiden” close the set.  To read my review of The Soundhouse Tapes and these tracks, click here.

There was also a 4 LP vinyl edition available, with 7 extra tracks:  “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”,  “The Prisoner”, “Killers”, “Remember Tomorrow”, an exclusive live version of “Revelations” from the Piece of Mind tour, plus the final two songs from The Soundhouse Tapes, “Prowler” and “Invasion”. You can read a story about the 4 LP edition by clicking here.

And there you have it, Maiden’s first greatest hits set, with lots of the hits and plenty of rarities thrown in for the collectors.  I confess that I don’t listen to it often, and this time for this review was the first time in roughly two years.

The cover art was once again by Derek Riggs, doing a sort of mash-up of his (and nobody else’s) Eddie’s.  It’s a suitably glorious piece of art for such a monument of metal.  The inside of the book is loaded with concert dates, lyrics, liner notes, and chart positions, as well as more Eddie’s and photos!

I still want to talk about the single, “Virus”, but I think that it should get an article of its own.  Check back soon for that!

Curiosity: the cover features an ad for the never-to-be Iron Maiden video game, Melt!  Maiden did eventually release a video game, but we’re not going there yet….

For the 2 CD edition of Best of the Beast:

4/5 stars

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

Part 11 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

Seven deadly sins…

Seven ways to win…

Seven holy paths to Hell and your trip begins…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5/5 stars

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

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Somewhere In Time (1986, 1996 bonus CD)

Part 9 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

IRON MAIDEN – Somewhere In Time (1986, 1996 bonus CD)

After the yearlong World Slavery Tour, to hear it told by Steve Harris, lead singer Bruce Dickinson had “lost the plot”.  Bruce on the other hand felt that the next album should be a game changer:  their Physical Graffiti.  But burned out from the road, all he brought to the table were some acoustic tunes which were all rejected. According Steve Harris, it wasn’t so much that the songs were acoustic.  It was because they weren’t very good.  This was the first time Bruce didn’t get a writing credit since The Number of the Beast!  And instead of Physical Graffiti, Bruce said that they “just made another Iron Maiden album.”

Bruce and Janick Gers acoustic, 1990

In spite of the lack of Bruce songs,  Steve, Adrian Smith and even Dave Murray came in with enough songs for an album.  They also came in with synthesizers for the first time.   All three were credited with guitar or bass synth on Somewhere In Time, a sound that threw some of us for a loop.  Also for the first time, Adrian would take sole writing credits on several Maiden songs (lyrics, music and all) which lent his more melodic bent to the resulting album.

The production, again by Martin Birch, was paradoxically both cold, and warm.  It’s a chilly sounding album, but the synths actually bring some warmth back to it.  Unfortunately there isn’t as much guitar grit as before, everything sounding smoothed out.

“Caught Somewhere In Time”, the excellent opener, starts right off the bat with synth; Maiden were laying their cards on the table.  The gallop is still there and Steve still drives the Beast forward withi his bass.  The synth doesn’t really detract from it.  It is plenty riffy, and Bruce’s voice soars with the excellent chorus.  This is a Maiden rocker to sing along to.

Adrian contributed the first of the two singles:  “Wasted Years”.  This classic song was my introduction to the new Maiden sound, since it came out a bit before the album was available.  Not only was the video great (black and white footage of the band rehearsing with collages of Eddies and tour photos) but the song was also great.  This is definitely hard rock Maiden, the kind of thing that made good Maiden singles, like “Flight of Icarus”.  The lyrics, also by Adrian, are clearly about the road life and I’m sure Bruce could pour his heart into the words.

Two lacklustre songs follow:  “Sea Of Madness” and “Heaven Can Wait”.  Neither song have ever really blown me away, but at the same time “Heaven Can Wait” turned into a tour classic for many years so what do I know?  It was the traditional concert spot for the crowd to sing along.  Smith contributed “Sea of Madness”, while Steve wrote “Heaven Can Wait”.  I do like the slow part in the middle of “Sea of Madness”, with its nice solo.

That ended side one.  Side two started with “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”, one of Steve’s longer songs.  It was based on a short story of the same name, and I have to admit that lyrically it’s not one of those Maiden songs that really has me waiting to sing the next line.  The choruses are pretty straightforward:  “Run, on and on.  Ru-uu-un, on and on.  The loneliness of the long distance runner.”  The synth in this song is effective although the song is arguably filler.

(Of note:  The intro portion of this song would really serve as a blueprint for many many Maiden songs to come.  You know the kind:  Steve’s rinky-dinky-rink bass, backing a mellow guitar melody, with mild synth in the background.  “Fear of the Dark”, starting 30 seconds in, is similar.  “Mother Russia”, 30 seconds in.  Most of  The X Factor.  And so on.)

The excellent “Stranger In A Strange Land” follows, the third of Adrian’s writing contributions.  This was the second single, and a good choice it was.  A catchy mid-tempo song, it took advantage of the textures of the new synths effectively.  I’ve read in the past that it’s based on Stranger In A Strange Land by Heinlein, but I fail to see the connection.  I always felt it may as well be about the 1984 film, Iceman.  The lyrics fit.

“Stranger” was also host to another excellent Adrian guitar solo.  It was around this time that I bought a white guitar simply because Adrian played one in the video!  And yes, the video was an excellent summation of their stage show, with giant inflatable Eddie coming out of the stage!

Steve and Davey’s “Deja-Vu” is up next, and I have always loved this one.  It’s the only song under five minutes, and it has a furiously fast pace.  The synths take a bit of the edge off, but this one is irresistible

But alas, we are now at the end:  The 8th and final song is yet another Steve Harris epic album closer.  This time the topic he chose was “Alexander the Great”.  Another historical topic for me to devour!  I later majored in history.  I wonder how much of that was due to my two greatest influences?  My dad, and Iron Maiden?

“Alexander the Great” has been criticized by some as being a lesser epic.  I really don’t know.  At this point you’re into splitting hairs.  Who cares?  It’s still awesome.  Maybe you don’t like it as much as “Ancient Mariner”; maybe you prefer “Fear Of the Dark”.  It doesn’t matter:  It’s a Steve epic and that means fast parts, slow parts, different tempos and riffs.  And through it all Bruce manages to spit out the tricky lyrics:

A Phrygian king had bound a chariot yoke
And Alexander cut the ‘Gordian Knot’
And the legend said that who untied the knot
He would become the master of Asia

The choruses are awesome, and I consider this to be one of Maiden’s lesser-known triumphs.

And what about that album cover?  Absolutely my favourite Maiden cover of all time, look for all kinds of hidden messages.  What time is it again?  Oh yeah…

I imagined that after Eddie’s resurrection on Live After Death, he had emerged some time in the future (around the time period of Blade Runner, it appears) and gotten himself some cybernetic enhancements.  The cover is, in essence, an updated take on Killers.  Emerging from his Spinner, Eddie’s traded in his hatchet for a laser.  On the back, you can see the members of Maiden themselves witnessing Eddie’s deed.  Notice Nicko’s goggles?  He’d just got his pilot’s license!

The artwork for the singles were equally awesome:  On “Wasted Years”, we see Eddie travelling back in time to 1986…chasing the T.A.R.D.I.S.?  Its B-sides were excellent!  As far as B-side material goes, these were two of the best.  “Reach Out” was a rare thing:  A song written by an outside writer, Adrian’s buddy Dave “Bucket” Colwell who would later end up in Bad Company.  Perhaps even more astonishing was the lead vocalist:  Adrian Smith!  Martin Birch compared it to Bryan Adams-type rock, but fear not! Bruce shows up by chorus-time to blow you away with his wail, as he answers Adrian’s lines.  Pure awesome in a nice sweet hard rock package.

Then there was “The Sheriff of Huddersfield”, a not-very-complimentary roast of Maiden manager Rod Smallwood!  “‘Rufus the Red’ has a crane by his bed, to wrench himself up in morn’, but if you dare to tread at the foot of his bed, you’ll wish you’d never been born!”  Not a great song, it’s still pretty damn funny.  Rodney, it seems, had fallen for the L.A. lifestyle and the band were not beyond giving him a hard time about it!

The “Stranger In A Strange Land” single had even cooler artwork:  Eddie entering a space bar full of space-scum and villainy!  Looking like a cross between Harrison Ford’s Deckard, and Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name”, Eddie ignores their stares.  This might be my favourite Maiden single art of all time.  (Of ALL time, Kanye!)

Its B-sides were two covers:  “That Girl” (FM) and “Juanita” (Marshall Fury).  “That Girl” is a pretty good hard rock song, very much in line with a song like “Reach Out”.  I never liked “Juanita” much though.

Don’t worry – Maiden’s arrangement is nothing like this!  Makes you wonder why they covered it though.

I have a real soft spot in my metal heart for Somewhere In Time.   Although it sags a bit in the middle, and it’s toned-down Maiden, this is still one of my personal favourites.  It came out when I first started high school, and you can’t compete with nostalgia.  Although today many consider inferior to the albums that came before and the album that came after, I have to rate it pretty high.

4/5 stars

Part 116: IRON MAIDEN’s Gonna Get Ya…No Matter How Far! (The first 10, in 2 CD picture discs!)

Alright folks, strap yourselves in and get ready for the ride.  After the positive feedback from my series of Kiss reviews, I’ve decided to go with popular demand and do all the Iron Maiden next.  We’re going to talk about every studio album, every live album, every compilation, and every rarity that I have access to.  But why not start off with a Record Store Tale?  Here’s how I acquired rare editions of the crucial first 10 albums….

 RECORD STORE TALES PART 116:

IRON MAIDEN’s Gonna Get Ya…No Matter How Far!

My love of Maiden is well documented.  The very first blog here at LeBrain’s Record Store Tales, Part 1, was called “Run To The Hills”. It describes the first time I ever heard the band.  I don’t need to explain to you why I love Iron Maiden.  If you’re reading this, chances are that you already understand.  Iron Maiden are more than just a band.  They are a passion.  With a band like Maiden, the fans strive to own everything.

The setting:  Early 1996, when we still carried new CD stock.  One of our suppliers dropped off a brand new catalogue.  Inside, was a new listing.  An exciting new listing!

Iron Maiden were reissuing their first 10 albums in 2 CD editions, with a bonus disc of B-sides!  Picture discs!  Iron Maiden, Killers, The Number of the Beast, Peace of Mind, Powerslave, Live After Death, Somewhere In Time, Seventh Son, No Prayer, and Fear of the Dark!  Knowing that Maiden usually released a minimum of two singles per album, with a minimum of 2 B-sides per single, this was a MUST for me.  I didn’t have all the Maiden singles.  Not even close.  Some of these songs, like “Burning Ambition” and “Invasion”, I’d never even heard before!  Now I was going to have the chance to own them on CD.

The discs were expensive, even with my staff discount.  But there was absolutely no way I was missing these.  As an added incentive, I didn’t even own all the Maiden albums on CD yet.  Most of these albums I still only owned on cassette or vinyl!  So really, it was a win-win situation.  Not only was I getting the B-sides, but I was also getting all the Maiden albums on CD with a minimum of overlap with my existing collection.  Plus, these were picture discs with Derek Riggs’ singles artwork.  Picture discs were something of a novelty at the time.  Today, most CDs are picture discs and nobody cares if they are.


My boss warned me:  “If you order these, you better make sure you buy them all.”  There was absolutely no question of that, I’m surprised he even mentioned it, knowing what a collector I am.  It’s too bad we didn’t order more, for stock.  The rarity of these discs has shown that we could have sold them quickly, or better yet, hung onto them for a couple years and jacked up the price once they were out of print.

The supplier we were ordering from, the name of which escapes me, was a small-time supplier, and usually couldn’t get everything we ordered.  They had about a 50% success rate.  Yet he listed all these European imports that our main supplier usually shied away from.  The Maiden reissues were all from Europe.  I crossed my fingers.  I wanted all 10.  Not “some”, but all!  “Some” would not do it!

A week later, the first five Maidens arrived!  The following week, another chunk of Maiden shipped!  They only failed to get me one disc: Fear of the Dark.  Resolving to get it somehow, it turns out I didn’t need to worry about it.  Two weeks later, even that one arrived.  Total expenditure:  About $300 with taxes!  I had all 10.  My Maiden B-side collection:  almost complete!  [Note:  When I go through the Maiden reviews, we’ll cover all the B-sides, including songs that are not on these deluxe editions.]

I settled in for some long, long nights of listening.  I made a compilation tape of all the B-sides that I had (including up to the current album, The X Factor), and it ended up being 3 tapes, 100 minute cassettes, which I still have.  To knock so many songs off my wishlist in one fell swoop like this was the kind of thing I lived for.  This was the perk of working in a record store.  What a score!  Today, I don’t know anybody else who has the full set of 10.

Be sure to check back in the coming days and weeks for all the reviews, starting with The Soundhouse Tapes, to the present day…