the prisoner

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

DVD REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – Anthology (2006)

I acquired this DVD for ridiculously cheap at my old place of employ via their web order service, but after I left their employ so no staff discount.  Its condition is impeccable!  Very impressive.

BRUCE DICKINSON – Anthology (2006 Sanctuary)

Bruce Dickinson is that rare kind of artist, one whose solo work has the same level of quality, integrity and emotional impact as the work with his better-known band. I think it is safe to say that most Iron Maiden fans have enjoyed Bruce Dickinson’s solo work, or at least most of it. This DVD Anthology is a complete collection of all of Dickinson’s solo video material in one 3-disc package.

Up first is Bruce’s live video supporting his first solo album whilst still in Maiden, Tattooed Millionaire. This video, which was extremely rare when it first came out (I never located a copy), was called Dive! Dive! Live! and featured Maiden guitarist Janick Gers. It also features every song from that Tattooed Millionaire performed live, plus several B-sides and a handful of covers.  No Maiden.  As Bruce was proud to say, this video is very raw. Also on the first DVD is the video Skunkworks Live, which was released in the mid 1990’s. It featured Dickinson’s new solo band, also called Skunkworks, featuring guitarist Alex Dickson. I was not a huge fan of Skunkworks, as I found their style (particularly the bass by Chris Dale) not to mesh so well with Bruce’s songs. Most of the Skunkworks album is performed live, plus some older songs and B-sides, and one Maiden cover (“The Prisoner”). This is another very rare performance as once again, the original video was very hard to find.

Disc 2 is the Scream For Me Brazil show, featuring my favourite lineup of Bruce’s band. Roy Z and Adrian Smith on guitars, the hulking Eddie Casilias on bass, and the talented tribal and bizarre Dave Ingraham on drums. This to me was Bruce’s finest moment as a solo artist. The performance itself was never meant to be released at first, this is a rough and raw video feed. However, as grainy as it is, the raw energy and sheer performance chops of Bruce and his ace band come through. The tracklist is a mix of songs from the three albums featuring Roy Z (Balls to Picasso, Accident of Birth, and Chemical Wedding).

Disc 3 is my personal favourite disc, seeing as Bruce’s music videos were rarely shown on Much. Every video is included here. There are some really off the wall videos directed by Storm Thorgerson (check out “Tattooed Millionaire”! Shoes for hats?) and some really cool horror-chiller-theater-type videos directed by Julian Doyle. Further on, I loved “Accident Of Birth” (directed by Bruce himself), mainly because Dave Ingraham makes awesome faces while playing the drums, and is wearing this funny leather aviation hat through the whole thing. But that’s nothing, wait until you see “Road To Hell”. Ingraham is now wearing a gas mask through the whole thing! Julian Doyle’s “Abduction” video is also cool, as Bruce himself is captured by mysterious Men in Black, and experimented upon….

But there are some pretty bad videos too. “Tears of the Dragon” comes to mind, a great song, but a terrible video. Here’s Bruce, looking all pensive…then there’s some weird sumo wrestler looking guy…fire…a beach…Bruce wrecking stuff…I would have preferred to see his band. It was the early 90’s, and this was the kind of video that people were sick of seeing, pompous and self-important. Awful video.

Lastly as a bonus there is an old Samson video directed by Julian Temple. I don’t even know what to say about Biceps of Steel except it’s an odd one! There is also a lot of supplimentary bonus material, including some introductions and explanations from Bruce himself….

This package was extremely well assembled, and is very enjoyable for all Bruce Dickinson fans. You won’t be let down.  Completists in particular will appreciate that Bruce is very hands-on with his product and tends to give the fans what they wanted along with stuff they didn’t know existed.  Full endorsement from LeBrain.

5/5 stars

More BRUCE DICKINSON at mikeladano.com:

Accident of Birth (1997) Man of Sorrows EP (1997)
Balls To Picasso (1994 & deluxe edition)
The Chemical Wedding (1998 Japanese import)
Skunkworks, Skunkworks Live EP (1996)
Tattooed Millionaire (1990, 2005 Sanctuary 2 disc set)
Tyranny of Souls (2005, Japanese version)
RECORD STORE TALES Part 148: Navigate the Seas of the Sun

REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – Skunkworks, Skunkworks Live EP (1996)

Part 24 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

BRUCE DICKINSON – Skunkworks (1996)

Bruce’s studio band from the last album, Balls To Picasso, had a regular gig to get back to (Tribe of Gypies) and Bruce formed a new young band he called Skunkworks:  Alex Dickson (guitar), Chris Dale (bass), and Alessandro Elena (drums).  Dickson’s since turned up on Robbie Williams albums.  (I know because I bought one.)

Why Skunkworks?  Well, you know Bruce and his love of aviation.  Skunk Works is the top secret project that brought to life the Lockheed Martin SR-71 Blackbird among other advanced aircraft.

Dryden's SR-71B Blackbird, NASA 831, slices across the snow-covered southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California after being refueled by an Air Force tanker during a 1994 flight. SR-71B was the trainer version of the SR-71. The dual cockpit to allow the instructor to fly.

Skunkworks, the album, was a new direction once again.  Just as Balls To Picasso was very different from Maiden, Skunkworks was another hard left turn.  It polarized fans:  Some praised Bruce for doing something new and different again, others were puzzled and disappointed.

And some were just pissed that he’d cut his hair.

With most songs of the 13 clocking in between 3 and 4 minutes (none exceeding 5), Bruce and Alex had written a set of tight songs.  Bruce was clearly in tune with what was happening with music in the 1990’s as most songs have that alterna-90’s vibe mixed with a heady prog-rock tendency.  The sound of the album is dry and in your face.

The problem for me is most of the songs are just not memorable.  The single “Back From the Edge” (which we’ll talk about later) is great, a rocket trip to the moon in a very sleek vehicle.  Also great is the metallic and  angry (but lyrically obtuse) “Solar Confinement”.  These songs I like a lot.  Most of the lyrics have a sci-fi bent that Bruce would revisit on later solo albums, which is also fine by me.

I don’t mind the epic closer “Strange Death In Paradise”, nor the chrome choruses of “Inside the Machine”.  I like the velocity of “Innerspace”.  But a day after listening to it, I couldn’t tell you how it went.

I love the Floydian artwork that unified the album with its singles.  Compared to later Bruce albums, the artwork doesn’t stand out as much, but as a whole with all the singles it works great.

As I mentioned, fans are really polarized on this album.  There has to be something here that I’m missing.  I do like the B-sides, which were mostly fantastic!  Some were heavy, some melodic, some acoustic.  All worth having.

 

“Back From the Edge” CD1 contained:

  • “Rescue Day”
  • “God’s Not Coming Back”
  • “Armchair Hero”

 

“Back From the Edge” CD2 contained:

  • “R 101”
  • “Re-Entry”
  • “Americans Are Behind” (one of Bruce’s trademark joke songs)

 

And the “Back From the Edge” 7″ picture disc contained:

  • “I’m In A Band With An Italian Drummer” (another joke song based on Alessandro Elena)

SKUNKWORKS – Live (1996 Japanese EP)

There would also be a cool live EP, billed under the name Skunkworks, and just titled Live.  This was only made available in Japan, and I paid $30 for a copy at HMV 333 Yonge St.  Now, this and all the B-sides are available on a deluxe edition of the album.  Then, I spent a lot of money to get all the songs, but the end result is a bunch of cool looking discs with united artwork.

The Live EP had four tracks, three from Skunkworks:  “Inertia”, “Faith”, and “Innerspace”.  It was capped off by a Maiden cover, “The Prisoner”, something Bruce was only beginning to do as a solo artist.  As a cover it highlights the differences in bands.

For the album Skunkworks:

2.75/5 stars

For the EP Skunkworks Live:

3/5 stars

Perhaps Bruce felt a tugging in his heart for heavy metal, or perhaps the fans were too vocal in their rejection of Skunkworks.  Whatever the case may be, Bruce decided to abandon the band Skunkworks.  He turned to his friend Roy Z, from Tribe of Gypsies and co-writer of Balls To Picasso.

“I want to make a heavy metal album,” said Bruce.  “Do you have any metal riffs?”

As it turned out, Mr. Z had plenty.  The Balls To Picasso lineup was back.  And that wasn’t the only reunion in the works.

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – The Number Of The Beast (1982, 1996 bonus disc)

Part 5 in my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

IRON MAIDEN – The Number Of The Beast (1982, 1996 bonus disc)

One of Maiden’s greatest album covers happened to house a great album inside.  There was a segment of Maiden fans that were very much against the replacement of Paul Di’Anno, but Bruce Dickinson was undeniably the right man for Iron Maiden.  Formerly known as the ridiculously monikered “Bruce Bruce” of rival band Samson, Dickinson fit in quickly and triumphantly.

From the first song, “Invaders” (a history lesson on the Norman invasion), The Number Of The Beast does not disappoint.  “Invaders” is a storming opening, but not nearly the quality of the next number:  “Children of the Damned”.  Along the lines of the older “Remember Tomorrow”, this song proved why Bruce was the man for the job.  The dramatically powerful music is only enhanced by Bruce’s wail.  They nicknamed this man “Air Raid Siren” for a reason.  “Children of the Damned” still sends shivers up my spine…

Another classic, “The Prisoner”, follows.  Significantly, this is the first Adrian Smith co-write on the album, and in Iron Maiden.  He has three co-writes on the record, and Adrian’s writing lent a melodic hard rock side to the band.  His composition style is unique from the other members of the band, and identifiable.  “The Prisoner” starts with that famous intro:  “We want information… information… information!”  The band had McGoohan’s permission to use it, and effective it is!  It’s a catchy, singalong Maiden song, the kind of thing that worked great live.  And Bruce really delivers on that chorus.

Charlotte the Harlot makes her return on “22 Acacia Avenue”.  The lyrics boast, “You can tell her that you know me, you might even get in free.”  But it’s not as simple and straightforward as that anymore, as Maiden have grown musically, so have they lyrically.  Another character, perhaps a family member, turns up and asks Charlotte, “isn’t it time you stopped this mad life?”  But if you’re not paying attention to that because the song rocks so hard, I understand.  This one too bears the stamp of Adrian Smith who was no doubt responsible for those terrific riffs.

With the addition of Smith and Dickinson, the band had obviously grown and intensified.  But the next two songs, opening side two, blew the doors off.  “The Number of the Beast” and “Run To the Hills” were a double whammy:  two awesome singles in a row that would help send the band off into immortality.  I’m not saying that with a shred of hyperbole.  If you’re reading this and don’t know these two songs, then I don’t know what’s wrong with the world!

I won’t dwell on either song.  Yes, “Run To the Hills” is one that I never need to hear again, but I’m sure glad I heard it the first time.  It’s the song that got me into the band.  I absolutely loved the video for “The Number of the Beast”, and those chiming opening guitars.  Then Bruce screams, and we’re off to the races.  Great song, awesome video, funny too.  This is the kind of image that people have of Maiden, that persists forever:  Bruce, long red hair flowing like a precursor to Axl, that fringe of his in front, and those spiked armbands. Classic!

“Gangland”, the only unremarkable song on the album, is a co-write between Adrian and drummer Clive Burr!  My understanding is that with 20/20 hindsight, Steve would have preferred to have “Total Eclipse” on the album instead.  “Gangland” does have a good bridge, but is otherwise pretty stock.

Finally, “Hallowed Be Thy Name”.  I remember this was misspelled “Hallowed By Thy Name” on the old cassette that my buddy Bob had, so I thought that really was the name.  “Hallowed” was to be Steve’s new 7 minute epic, something he’d become known for.  “Hallowed” is one of the best epics, and something that absolutely required the vocals of Bruce Dickinson to bring to complete fruition.  Bruce nails that mournful slow opening, and then absolutely lets rip with some pretty intricate words.  Seriously, do you ever try to sing along at album speed?  I always trip up words somewhere.

“Mark my words, believe my soul lives on don’t worry now that I have gone, I’ve gone beyond to seek the truth.”

And to sing it at his volume with that much emotion?  Unbelievable.

And that’s the album.  The 1998 remasters tacked on “Total Eclipse” as a bonus track, and it’s here on my bonus disc.  This was the B-side to “Run To the Hills”.  My younger sister actually had this single and I don’t know why.  (Kathryn, comment below please!)  “Total Eclipse” was actually performed live, and can be found on the Eddie’s Archive box set.  It’s a mid-tempo rocker with a fast breakdown in the middle, come solo time.  It’s catchier than “Gangland”, and is also co-written by Clive Burr, with Dave Murray and Steve Harris!

The bonus CD this time only has two tracks.  That’s all they released at the time, two singles, two B-sides.  The second B-side is a stunning live version of “Remember Tomorrow” with the new guy singing.  I always prefer Di’Anno, because he co-wrote the song, for his voice, and made it legendary to start with.  But Bruce is no slouch.  Much like Dio used to sing Ozzy’s stuff with more skill and range, so does Bruce in this case.

You’ll notice one guy is absent in the writing credits:  Bruce Dickinson.   Due to lawyers and rigamarole with his old band, Samson, he wasn’t legally able to write with Maiden.  Don’t worry though, he’ll make up for it on the next album!

I don’t want to give Beast a perfect 5/5 score for two reasons.  One, “Gangland”.  Two, better things were still to come.  There has to be room for improvement.  Therefore:

4.7/5 stars