steve harris

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – “Empire of the Clouds” (2016 Record Store Day picture disc single)

IRON MAIDEN -“Empire of the Clouds” (2016 Parlophone Record Store Day picture disc single)

The story of acquiring this single and RSD 2016 can be read right here, so without getting into the details again this is what you need to know:

  1. This was a Record Store Day exclusive (April 16 2016).
  2. There were only 5500 copies made.
  3. Everybody wanted one.

The picture disc and packaging are gorgeous.  The record is a depiction of the Eddie destroying the R-101 airship, but fear not, this is not how history actually unfolded!  This picture disc is ensconced in a die card cover with reprintings of the Daily Mirror newspaper article from the day following the disaster.  It’s a lovely keepsake for sure, but it also has an exclusive interview on the B-side.

Not that the A side is unimportant.  From my original review for The Book of Souls, I had much praise for “Empire of the Clouds”:

“Written solely by Bruce and coming in at almost 20 minutes, it is unprecedented in the Maiden canon.  Never before have the credits ‘Bruce Dickinson – vocals, piano’ been written inside one of their albums.  For the first time ever, the piano is a part of Iron Maiden’s makeup.  Maiden have used orchestras before, and the strings return as well.  ‘Empire of the Clouds’ is a peak accomplishment, something that they (and Bruce) can proudly proclaim, ‘we did that’.  The piano is a natural fit, in the way it is used to make an epic song even more dramatic.  Aviation has been one of Bruce’s favourite lyrical subjects for a long time, but ‘Empire of the Clouds’ might be his first song about airships.  You can trust him to instil it with all the drama and heaviness that you expect from Iron Maiden.”

Nicko McBrain and Bruce Dickinson discuss the making of the song, almost an album in itself, on the B-side “Maiden Voyage”.  The R101 was a massive airship (“the Titanic fits inside”) that was rushed into service and caught flame in 1930.  Bruce wrote the song on piano, which he had learned to play over the last three years.  He then researched the history of the airship and worked on the words.  The way he describes the incident on this interview track, it was a perfect storm of everything going wrong.  In its context, the airship was an expression of the ambition of the British Empire to stretch to all corners of the Earth and above as well.  Bruce says the crash was the end of this era.

Part of the story involves a storm, so Bruce came up with a piano part to depict that.  Before long he had enough components from his piano writings to build the different parts of the song.   One of the bits was written when Jon Lord (from Deep Purple) was ill with cancer.  After his death, Bruce used this piece for the part when the airship initially sets off.  It’s interesting that this era of British ambition inspired the most ambitious track that the singer had ever attempted.  This includes a musical “S.O.S.” in Morse code, something I picked up on upon first listen.

Bruce has particular praise for drummer Nicko McBrain in the building and recording of this song.  Nicko was not only a help in a technical respect, but also as a cheerleader keeping the band driven, so much was he into it.

Bruce Dickinson is a remarkable individual in heavy metal.  You don’t see many metal stars as well educated in history as Bruce, or as capable at communicating it to his audience.  Indeed, as a presenter on the BBC, Bruce has brought history to many diverse audiences.  You would think Iron Maiden fans would be one of the more challenging groups to reach, but Maiden followers are hungry for this kind of content.  We can only respect the band that much more when we realize the true depth of their work.  This coming from a licensed airline pilot, published fiction author, cancer survivor and amature fencer who also happens to be in Iron Maiden.  Extraordinary!

I’m not sure if this disc was worth the buying frenzy it spawned or the online prices you are about to see, but I’m sure glad I got my copy.

5/5 stars

Advertisements

#463: The X Factor Failure

SAM_1043

GETTING MORE TALE #463: The X Factor Failure

When Bruce Dickinson left Iron Maiden in 1993, the metal world was rocked yet again by another major defection.  First Vince Neil, then Rob Halford, and now Bruce!  It seemed the old guard of 80’s metal had suddenly fallen from the top of the world, to critical condition on life support.

Some fans gave up.  The loyal waited eagerly for news.  First were the rumours that Paul Di’Anno would come back (quickly shot down by Steve Harris).  Then Michael Kiske from Helloween had his name dropped in a few speculative magazine articles.  Finally in 1994, the identity of the new singer was released:  Blaze Bayley, ex-Wolfsbane.  In North America, the majority  muttered, “Who?”  The fans who still cared, anyway.  Those who did not cut their hair and moved on to Soundgarden and Alice in Chains.

Another long quiet year went by before new Maiden music hit the shelves.  When it did, in the form of the album The X Factor, it was clear that Iron Maiden had changed.  They were now a quieter, darker animal, with a singer to suit that sound.  The departure was not well received.  Fans were not impressed by the long, repetitive songs, nor the lower-voiced singer.  The album failed to make a significant dent in the charts, although it sold well initially in Quebec,  the last stalwart of metal in Canada.  One fan who did accept and embrace the changes was yours truly, Mr. LeBrain, but not without taking flak for it.

When the CD was released, I was already working at the Record Store, so I bought it immediately.  We didn’t stock enough copies to get it in early, or even offer a good price on it.  In other words, we ordered just three copies of the new Iron Maiden CD, with one of those being reserved for me!   That’s how far Maiden had fallen.  It took two or three good listens to adjust to the new softer Maiden, but certain songs jumped out fairly quickly, such as “The Sign of the Cross” and “Lord of the Flies”.  I enjoyed the darkly introspective lyrics on new songs such as “The Aftermath” and “Look for the Truth”.

The girl I was dating at the time was not into rock music; not in the least.  The last CD I bought for her was Much Dance ’95, featuring such hits as “What is Love” by Haddaway, “Saturday Night” by Whigfield, and of course, “Macarena”.  I even took a bullet and listened to it with her, the whole thing.  In turn, she tried to give my Joe Satriani a shot, but she wasn’t particularly interested.   I knew there was no chance she’d be into Iron Maiden, but since I was excited that they had new music out, I was talking about it a lot.  I tried to tell her how much I was enjoying the new lyrics on the album.

That’s when she said the words I will never, ever forget:

“Why are you even listening to new Iron Maiden?  You know they will never be popular again.”

 

Aye carumba!

Popular?  What true Maiden fan ever bought an album because it was popular?

I was deeply disappointed in her words, and even a little hurt.  I was trying to convey to her that the words and music were impacting me; I was feeling something and wanted to express that.  It is always good when music provokes thoughts and feelings.  I would have loved for the album to be successful, but that wasn’t the point.  I never listened to Maiden to be cool.

She dumped me shortly after I bought the new Lisa Loeb album for her.  Damn you, Lisa Loeb.  Then, she started banging an ex-girlfriend of mine, and her new boyfriend…at the same time.

Let me repeat that for you just in case you missed it.

Then, she started banging an ex-girlfriend of mine, and her new boyfriend, at the same time.  Both of them.

Henceforth, I dove headfirst into that Maiden album to drown my misery, and it became one of several discs that were my soundtrack to that miserable winter for me: Maiden, Ozzy’s Ozzmosis, and Oasis’ (What’s the Story) Morning Glory.  If there is a reason I have a soft spot for The X Factor by Iron Maiden, you can blame that girl who said they’d never be popular again.

While all is forgiven today, I have not forgotten that remark (obviously), and the amazing thing is that she was 100% wrong.  Maiden are more popular today than they ever have been.   Their T-shirts have become fashion statements.  Kids who weren’t even born when Bruce left the band are buying tickets to see them live in 2016!  But much more important than that, they have achieved a level of artistic integrity and consistency that most bands should be envious of.

Maiden, never popular again?  File that under failed predictions from the 90’s, right next to the Y2k scare!  Up the Irons!

SAM_1037

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls (2015)

NEW RELEASE

IRON MAIDEN – The Book of Souls (2015 Parlophone, collector’s book edition)

I have a new hero.  His name is Bruce Dickinson.

Bruce has not only beaten cancer back to that dark hole from which it came, but he takes command on Iron Maiden’s new opus The Book of Souls.

Even though he only has writing credits on four of the 11 tracks here, his impact is massive.  With lungs of iron, Bruce propels everything.  For the first time (possibly) ever, I feel that the most important band member is not leader Steve Harris, but the singer himself.

Right from the opener “If Eternity Should Fail”, Bruce is center stage.  He wrote this complex number himself.  It boasts one of Maiden’s most memorable choruses yet, and musical twists and turns that return us to Powerslave.  Meanwhile, there is a hook that reminds me of Bruce’s solo song “The Ghost of Cain”, from Accident of Birth.

We took a good look at the lead single, “Speed of Light” a couple weeks back.  Maiden often write a fast, heavy blazer to go with a new album, and that’s “Speed of Light”.  Even though it is the single, it is far from the strongest song.  Written by Bruce and Adrian Smith, it is certainly a good Iron Maiden track, but in comparison to the monuments of metal that surround it, “Speed of Light” feels like a brief diversion from the epic metal moments at hand.  Adrian’s solo, however, is delicious.

“The Great Unknown” (Smith/Harris) opens softly, but even so there is a menacing tone to Bruce’s voice and the underlying instruments.  With a slow, thrusting riff, “The Great Unknown” soon lurches forth, a killer metal march for the ages.  Bruce pushes his voice to the very limits, giving it all and then some.  As with many of the songs on The Books of Souls, I hear hints and echoes of past Maiden epics.  This is not a lack of originality, more like a signature — familiar but always different.  “The Great Unknown” ends on the soft note with which it began.

What is an Iron Maiden album without a Steve Harris bass intro?  He and producer Kevin Shirley captured a wonderful bass sound on this album.  “The Red and the Black”, another epic, is the only Harris solo writing credit.  It has a riff that takes me all the way back to Killers, but then it is gone, and it’s onto another riff…and another…and another.  At 13 minutes in length, this is one of those trademark Harris songs.  Time changes galore, loaded with hooks.  You can draw parallels to many epics from the past, but to do so takes away from this one.  “The Red and the Black” is a proud achievement, a passionate metal song as only Iron Maiden can really do.  Adrian Smith handles one of the guitar solos with a huge splash of wah-wah, and that is simply a thing of beauty.  In sum, if you took a little bit of everything that makes Iron Maiden great and unique, then all those ingredients are in “The Red and the Black”.  Bass outro, and that’s that.

A semi-shorty (5:52) is in the next slot, a fast riffer called “When the River Runs Deep” written by Steve and Adrian.  This one is hard to compare to any past Maiden tracks, as it occupies a space all its own.  Adrian Smith sometimes brings in riffs that sound like something other than Iron Maiden, and I think that’s “When the River Runs Deep”.  Adrian takes another wah-wah solo, but not to be outdone is Janick Gers who throws down an edgy solo of his own.  As far as Iron Maiden goes, this song is guitar solo nirvana.

A 10 minute epic always makes a good closer when you’re Iron Maiden, so the title track “The Book of Souls” (Gers/Harris) is last for disc one.  Gentle acoustic guitars and keyboards emulating pipes tell us that this is previously uncharted territory.  Then “The Book of Souls” trudges forth, with a beat not unlike “Mother Russia” from No Prayer for the Dying.  There’s far more to the song than that, however. Soaring lead vocals (Bruce only seems stronger!) just ice the cake.  All three Maiden guitarists shine on this, but Janick and Adrian have some solos that just play off each other so well. You want those trademark Maiden guitar melodies?  How about galloping riffs?  Nicko McBrain killing it on the drums?  Maiden deliver, in top notch style, everything and then some more.

IMG_20150907_114837

Bruce and Adrian co-wrote “Death or Glory”, opening side two with frenetic drums and riffing.  Going for the throat, The Book of Souls has more fast riffs per minute than any Maiden album in decades.  In five brief minutes, you are blasted against the wall, bounced off the floor, and nailed to the ceiling.  Don’t hurt your neck from all the headbanging.  This time, the guitar spotlight is on Dave Murray for an intense, dramatic solo.

“Shadows of the Valley” (Gers/Harris) sounds a lot like “Wasted Years” at first, but only briefly.  If anything, “Shadows of the Valley” recalls Dance of Death-era Iron Maiden.  Although this song is not as powerful or memorable as others on the album, it does contain some seriously incredible instrumental moments.

One of the most heartfelt and powerful songs on the album is the shortest.  “Tears of a Clown” is a thoughtful moment about Robin Williams.  The poignant lyrics are to the point:

All alone in a crowded room,
He tries to force a smile,
The smile it beamed or so it seemed,
But never reached the eyes, disguise,
Masquerading as the funny man do they despise.

I found this to be one of the compelling songs.  Of all the bands to commemorate Robin Williams, I did not expect it to be Iron Maiden.  But they did it in such a way that it completely fits.

Dave Murray and Steve Harris might not have known that Bruce already has a solo song called “Man of Sorrows”, but it doesn’t matter much since Maiden’s song is called “The Man of Sorrows”.  Musically this sounds much like X Factor-era Maiden.  Bruce takes it to a higher level than that.  Dave himself has a nice slow bluesy solo at the end that is just pure gravy.

The biggest surprise, the biggest song, and the biggest challenge has to be “Empire of the Clouds”.  Written solely by Bruce and coming in at almost 20 minutes, it is unprecedented in the Maiden canon.  Never before have the credits “Bruce Dickinson – vocals, piano” been written inside one of their albums.  For the first time ever, the piano is a part of Iron Maiden’s makeup.  Maiden have used orchestras before, and the strings return as well.  “Empire of the Clouds” is a peak accomplishment, something that they (and Bruce) can proudly proclaim, “we did that”.  The piano is a natural fit, in the way it is used to make an epic song even more dramatic.  Aviation has been one of Bruce’s favourite lyrical subjects for a long time, but “Empire of the Clouds” might be his first song about airships.  You can trust him to instill it with all the drama and heaviness that you expect from Iron Maiden.

Even though 92 minutes have elapsed, The Book of Souls does not particularly feel longer than A Matter of Life and Death or The Final Frontier.  Like those two previous records, The Book of Souls is going to have to be digested long-term, returned to again and again to fully absorb and appreciate.  This is an album in the true sense:  best appreciated in sequence, as a single work.  There’s an intermission in the middle for you to change CDs and take a break, but I recommend diving right back in once again.

With Bruce’s very serious health scare, and the increasing age of the band, there is always the chance that this could be the last Iron Maiden album.  Of course, some said that about The Final Frontier as well.  It seems that ever since Brave New World in 2000, Iron Maiden have set to top the previous album each time.  The cumulative effect of that is that they had a hell of a lot to live up to on The Book of Souls.

Mission accomplished.

5/5 stars

Disc 1
1. If Eternity Should Fail (Dickinson) 8:28
2. Speed Of Light (Smith/ Dickinson) 5:01
3. The Great Unknown (Smith/ Harris) 6:37
4. The Red And The Black (Harris) 13:33
5. When The River Runs Deep (Smith/ Harris) 5:52
6. The Book Of Souls (Gers/ Harris) 10:27

Disc 2
7. Death Or Glory (Smith/ Dickinson) 5:13
8. Shadows Of The Valley (Gers/ Harris) 7:32
9. Tears Of A Clown (Smith/ Harris) 4:59
10. The Man Of Sorrows (Murray/ Harris) 6:28
11. Empire Of The Clouds (Dickinson) 18:01

For the official KeepsMeAlive review by Aaron, click here!

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – “Speed of Light” (2015 single/T-shirt bundle)

For Superdeke‘s review of the new Maiden single, click here!

NEW RELEASE

Scan_20150825IRON MAIDEN – “Speed of Light” (2015 BMG single/T-shirt bundle – Best Buy exclusive)

“Only at Best Buy — the words chill me to the bones.

I don’t know what the deal is with Best Buy exclusives in Canada.  When Tenacious D’s movie Pick of Destiny came out, I found the Best Buy edition no problem, just up the street.  Bonus disc and all, easy peasy.  Didn’t even know such a thing existed until I found it at Best Buy.

Only a few years later, it became impossible to find Best Buy exclusives at Best Buy.  Using Tenacious D as the example again, the Best Buy edition of Rize of the Fenix has two bonus tracks.  I had to buy it on eBay, so you know it was an inflated price.  Same thing with the last Black Sabbath album.  Best Buy had a bonus track called “Naïveté in Black” which happened to be one of the best songs.  Had to buy it on eBay.  Paid too much.

A few weeks ago, Best Buy announced they were getting an exclusive on the new Iron Maiden single “Speed of Light” from the forthcoming double album The Book of Souls.  It came with a T-shirt.  But I wanted the single just as much.  That’s where Stone from Metal Odyssey came in!

First of all, I’m gonna tell you to follow Stone in some way, shape, or form.  (WordPress/Twitter)  He read my plight regarding Best Buy items here and took pity.  I called my closest Best Buy — all CDs have been removed from their inventory.  So Stone bought two copies and sent me one, asking nothing in return.  (I will return the favour — just name it man!)  To say I appreciate this gesture is am understatement, which is why I’m being more long winded than usual for a one track CD single!

IMG_20150825_171143

“Speed of Light”, written by the duo of Dickinson/Smith, is true to Iron Maiden, and it sounds fucking brilliant.  We know all about the new double album, with plenty of long bombers.  “Speed of Light” is just a hair over five minutes, a very concise song for any Maiden album.  When Adrian and Bruce write together, you can count on a catchy riff and hooks.  “Speed of Light” delivers, and Bruce’s singing is just as powerful as ever, cancer be damned.  His voice is virtually unchanged since Brave New World, 15 years ago.  The air raid siren is intact.  And this album will be the fifth with this Maiden lineup, the longest lived in its history.  Impressive.

Most impressive.

A highlight of “Speed of Light” has to be Adrian’s solo.  The three Maiden guitarists (Janick Gers and Dave Murray being the other two) all have their own distinct styles, which is a major boon to a band like Maiden.  Adrian is the one who thoughtfully composes his solos, and then lets them rip.  This one is brief but has his stamp all over it.

Sometimes Maiden take on a 70’s vibe.  “The Angel and the Gambler” is one such moment, but I think “Speed of Light” also has one foot in the 70’s.  Just a hint, an insinuation, at the beginning.  Otherwise, “Speed of Light” is purely a modern Maiden metal moment.  It would have fit comfortably on The Final Frontier, although I would caution against inferring the sound of the new album from just one single.  It is probably one of the more straightforward moments on The Books of Souls, but we’ll find out for sure on September 4.

One last comment:  fuck you, cancer!  You just got beat by Bruce Dickinson!

4.5/5 stars

#394: Between the Buttons

Throwback Thursday! #tbt

BUTTONSRECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#394: Between the Buttons

Kitchener, early 1985.  A 12 year old little Mike is at Stanley Park Mall with friends Bob and George, and a little bit of allowance money.  There was a crappy little rock shop in the mall that sold T-shirts, posters and buttons.  It was on a corner of one of the corridors, right down the hall where I would later work at the Record Store myself.  For a little while back then, my favourite band was W.A.S.P.  They were soon usurped by Iron Maiden and ultimately Kiss.  At the time of this particular visit, it was still W.A.S.P., and my favourite W.A.S.P. was Chris Holmes.

CHRISI had enough money for one rock button – my first.  The one of Chris caught my eye.  He looked cool and theatening in the picture holding his blood-streaked guitar.  Bob approved.  “If you get that one,” he reasoned, “you’d be the only guy in Kitchener to have that button on his jacket.”  I don’t know how he knew so precisely that I would be the only person in Kitchener to have it, but it made sense.  The shelves were full of other bands: Motley Crue, Van Halen, Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Rush, and Black Sabbath.  You didn’t see as many W.A.S.P., and you didn’t see any with just Chris Holmes.

“I’ll take this one,” I shyly said as I made my purchase, but I was happy.  Which button would be next?

VICESOver the months, I added more to my collection.  Two more W.A.S.P. buttons, an Iron Maiden, and a Kick Axe Vices were next.  The funny thing about that one is, of all the buttons here, the only band I don’t own an album from is Kick Axe.  I love their song “On the Road to Rock” but to this day, I still do not own Vices!  I still don’t have any Kick Axe!

My sister got into the action and bought one of David Lee Roth (she liked “California Girls” and “Just A Gigolo”) and one of Maiden’s Steve Harris.  (When Roth left Van Halen I believe we covered his face with a ZZ Top Eliminator sticker!)

ACES HIGHBob and I focused on Iron Maiden from there in, although I seem to remember also having a Judas Priest button that is now lost.  We would trade them until we had all the Eddies we could find.  Eddies were the best, much better than buttons with just the band on them.  We were specifically looking for the Eddies.  The most common seemed to be the mummy Powerslave Eddie.  They were everywhere.  The best one, to us, was the “Aces High” Eddie.  We each had one.

Once in highschool, Bob did something I wish he didn’t.  He ripped all the pins out of the back of his buttons, so that he could better tape them up in his locker for display.  Every last one, wrecked.  Bob had a habit of modifying things, only to destroy them.  He hacked a piece of out his guitar to make it look more jagged, but it weakened the tone.  The paint job he gave it wasn’t much better!  He also wrecked his amplifier by sewing a huge Iron Maiden Powerslave patch onto the front.

I on the other hand am glad I hung onto this stuff and kept them intact.  They bring back so many memories.  I can remember that conversation about the Chris Holmes button at that store.  I remember being with those guys at that exact spot and buying that button for those reasons.  I think that location might be vacant now.  I don’t know because I haven’t been to Stanley Park Mall in a long time.  The place has almost completely died, except for a bank and a grocery store.

When we kept items like these buttons as kids, I probably said something ridiculous like “One day this will be worth something, so I’d better keep it.”  What I didn’t appreciate is that these buttons are worth something now.  They trigger memories, and that is something money can’t buy.

 

R.I.P. George.

 

The rest of these buttons came much later and there’s not much to say about them.  The I Mother Earth Blue Green Orange and Yoda buttons were both store promos.  The Samuel Jackson Snakes on a Plane button was made by me, at a summer barbecue for Jen’s old work in Brampton.  That movie had just come out and I had an Entertainment Weekly magazine in the car.  We entertained some of the younger kids by giving them good pictures to make buttons with on their button maker, and I made Samuel for myself!  There were two Jamaican ladies there who loved it.  Those two really liked Samuel, if you know what I mean!

The Walter Sobchek (John Goodman) and “Geddy” buttons were made for me by friends.  The rest were gifts.

The Helix Power of Rock and Roll button was given to me by Brian Vollmer himself at the Power of Rock and Roll CD release party!  The cool thing about it is that it is dated specifically to that gig, August 19 2007.

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Revenge Is Living In the Past (2006 live bootleg CD)

Part two of a two-part series on live bootlegs. For part one, click here!

IRON MAIDEN –  Revenge Is Living In the Past (2006 live bootleg CD, The Godfatherecords)

Astute metal fans know that there have been couple very special Iron Maiden tours of late that were not commemorated with a live album. That’s shocking considering how many live albums Maiden’s done since reuniting with Bruce and Adrian in 1999 (four). The one I had been seeking the most was the Matter of Life and Death tour. On that tour, Maiden played every song from that excellent album in sequence. Some moaned and complained about the shows being loaded top-heavy with an album 70 minutes in length. Those people did not appreciate what they were witnessing, which was the only time you were going to be hearing most of these songs live. And what great songs they are. I am on record with A Matter of Life and Death being among my favourite Iron Maiden albums.

Then, at the Toronto Musical Collectibles Record & CD Sale 2014, I found it: A soundboard recorded double CD from Stockholm, November 18 2006. This was the second of two nights at the Globe arena. (They would return to Stockholm again a week later on the 25th!) I do not pay money for “burned” (CD-R) bootlegs, and one vendor had hundreds of beautifully packaged, factory pressed live bootlegs. They had many from this label, The Godfatherecords, all in lovely digipacks. I paid $40, the most I paid for any single item at the CD show. This was well below the $60 that I paid 15 years ago for the awful Virtual Lights Strikes Over France, also by Iron Maiden. I think $40 was a fair price for a double bootleg CD of this quality.

MAIDEN REVENGE_0006

How does a live performance of A Matter of Life and Death hold up?  Remarkably well!  In fact there was only one song that I felt didn’t work well, which was “The Longest Day”.  It’s a great song on album, but live, Bruce’s vocal is more erratic.  Still, it is hard to be critical since this is but a blip in the course of the CD.  The songs are remarkably album-accurate otherwise, with Steve and Adrian providing backing vocals where needed.

“Different World” is a brilliant opener, and the crowd is immediately fired up.  Also well received was the single “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg”.  At the conclusion of A Matter of Life and Death, Maiden break into “Fear of the Dark,” and the crowd sings along to every word, as they often do.  The set closes with classics:  “Iron Maiden,” “2 Minutes to Midnight,” “The Evil That Men Do,” and “Hallowed Be Thy Name”.  All brilliant of course.  It is good to have an excellent sounding commemoration of this tour.  I had never really understood why Iron Maiden did not release their own official CD.  That’s why the world needs bootleggers.

The Godfatherecords generously filled out the second CD with four songs from another very special show:  Rome, October 27 1981.  Why is that special?  It was only Bruce Dickinson’s second show with the band!  Ever!  Paul Di’Anno’s final show was only a couple weeks prior, on the 10th.   From this show, we get “Iron Maiden,” “Transylvania” (what a bizarre song to include since it’s instrumental), “Drifter” and “Prowler”.  I don’t think I have a copy of Bruce singing “Drifter” on anything else I own!

The sound quality is not that great, as expected.  The lineup then was Bruce Dickinson, Steve Harris, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and Clive Burr.  Immediately obvious is that the band were playing much faster back then, and Bruce’s range was greater.  It’s very cool to hear Steve Harris himself do the song introduction on “Transylvania”!  I don’t think I’ve ever hear him speak so much on stage before.  (He also introduces “Prowler” with Bruce.)   And Bruce singing “Drifter”?  Very different.  The audience “Yo yo yo yo’s!” along to Bruce, but it sure sounds weird to hear anybody but Paul Di’Anno doing it.

This is a great CD, and if you happen upon it, I recommend you add it to your collection.

4.5/5 stars

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

“LIKE” the LeBrain Facebook page for sneak previews and additional content!
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: Steve Harris – British Lion (2012)

STEVE HARRIS – British Lion (2012 EMI)

Add my voice to the chorus of people disappointed with British Lion, the debut solo offering from Iron Maiden’s visionary founder, Steve Harris.  It’s not just because it doesn’t sound like Iron Maiden, because I wouldn’t want it to sound like Iron Maiden.  It’s because Steve’s hired the most bland lead vocalist I’ve heard in many moons.  Mr. Bland’s name is Richard Taylor, and he lacks any sort of grit, power, or character.  I’m sure there was a method to Steve’s madness, and a reason he chose Mr. Bland to sing for him.  I’ll be damned if I can figure it out.

Steve self-produced this album, with Kevin Shirley mixing, and sonically it sounds good, especially the final track:  The lush “The Lesson” features strings and acoustics, and sounds great.  Unfortunately a good sounding production can’t inject life into these dull songs.

I hate to use such harsh language as “dull” and “bland” where Steve Harris is concerned, but I’ve played the album five or six times now, and I still can’t remember most of these songs distinctly.  There’s one standout:  the pop metal “Eyes of the Young”, which has a catchy chorus and is instantly memorable.  There are far more songs that are instantly forgettable:  the single “This Is My God”, for example, and the aforementioned “The Lesson” despite its production values.  “Us Against the World” isn’t bad, starting with keys and organ before some dual guitar harmonies kick in.  But then Mr. Bland opens his mouth.

Steve’s trademark bass is more groove oriented and less rinky-dink, which is fine.  He seems to gel well with the rest of the band, but unfortunately aside from some tasty guitar solos, the rest of the band is generic sounding and lack a distinct identity.  I lay most of that straight at the feet of Mr. Bland.  A really great singer could have injected some passion into these otherwise unremarkable songs.

A nice added touch:  The CD comes with mp3 copies, so you don’t have to rip to your portable device.  It comes in two forms:  mastered loud, and mastered very loud!

2/5 stars

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!

SAM_1937

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?

SAM_1935

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.

SAM_1936

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!

SAM_1874

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.

SAM_1876

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.

SAM_1875