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Main Category: Heavy Metal
Also applicable: --------
Starting Period: The Divided Eighties
Also active in: From Grunge To The Present Day



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Year Of Release: 1980
Overall rating =

More punk than metal in spots - but don't we all like it when a heavy metal band refuses to get pigeonholed?

Best song: PROWLER for the heart, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA for the brain

Track listing: 1) Prowler; 2) Sanctuary; 3) Remember Tomorrow; 4) Running Free; 5) Phantom Of The Opera; 6) Transylvania; 7) Strange World; 8) Charlotte The Harlot; 9) Iron Maiden.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Eddie. Never mind the slightly skinny appearance and the somewhat neglected hairstyle; after all, beauty is only skin deep, and speaking of skin-deep beauty, he does bear a striknig resemblance to modern day Keith Richards, doesn't he? Okay, okay, I can see how this gentleman could look a little unsettling, but I can assure you that the music he is about to introduce is nowhere near as scary as you could suggest. In fact, I perfectly remember getting a culture shock upon playing the record for the first time. "Iron Maiden", the Beast, the Fury, the Terror - I expected to be blown into pieces, dead-meat frightened into never ever replaying it again - and what I got was... SOFT-ROCK!

Okay, so I'm really pullin' your leg a little bittle. By the standards of 1980 it was anything but soft-rock, and even today it kicks butt a-plenty, but there is nothing truly frightening about this brand of music. You can tell that a new force has arrived on the scene, but it isn't a vicious, brutal force - if you ask me, even Judas Priest, to whom these guys owe a lot, were more "visceral" back in those days. It's just good old-fashioned overdriven rock'n'roll, well, okay, metallic rock'n'roll, but quite headbanger-oriented. The songs may be, of course, medieval-tinged, or they might be "progressively constructed", but I think they're primarily out there to have some wild, reckless fun, it's just that they have got some awesome chops to add to the deal, 'sall.

I'd even like to call the record a "slightly updated take on Rainbow's Long Live Rock'n'Roll", but I can't. The glitch is in the singing. The band's first lead vocalist, Paul DiAnno (that is, the first lead vocalist to get the chance to record an LP) just isn't that good. He ain't a true metal screecher; he's more of a cross between rabid punker, pompous arena-rock shouter and ragged bluesman, to quote just a few popular stereotypes. That's all right in different contexts, but on here I sure wish for somebody more distinctive and, well, piercing to mesh with the guitars which DiAnno is unable to outscream. This is a matter of taste, of course - some people prefer DiAnno's raggedness over Dickinson's egotistic technical perfection, but Iron Maiden is a band that was very much about technical perfection from the very start, so why combine the uncombinable? Me be against it.

One other thing that has to be said about this album and everything that follows is: everything is completely straight-faced. These guys are serious about what they're singing and playing. Fortunately, the subjects only occasionally touch the dreaded Dungeons & Dragons department, and when they do, it's mostly metaphorical in use. But if you were looking for humour, irony, just a tiny pinch of self-mockery or tongue-in-cheek attitude, you are definitely in the wrong place. Iron Maiden fantasize and escape, they don't ridicule. This honestly makes me uneasy; if the attitude weren't so relentlessly professional and the played music so enjoyable and respectable - in spots - I would have lost all interest a long time ago.

And that's the ticket. Already on the first album, Iron Maiden are all about the music, and nothing, really, but the music. They've got this enthusiastic bass player, see, and these two lively guitarist lads, and what they want to check out is what happens when you construct several interlocking melodies and play them really really fast and add a little improvisation and then unexpectedly switch keys and play it all differently. Oh yeah, they also have this singer guy, but you gotta have a frontman because he's the one getting you all the cool metalhead chicks. BUT, ladies and germs, BUT: music first, chicks afterwards. That's the main guideline to distinguish Iron Maiden from KISS, who have this credo in reverse.

For instance, the seven-minute 'Phantom Of The Opera'. You could say it's a tortured romantic epic about painful relationships between DiAnno and his demonic lover. That'd put the tune straight into the "balderdash" basket. I would rather hear you say that it's a lengthy exploration of all kinds of rock scales that keeps experimenting as it goes along, switching tempos, time signatures moods, keys, and active guitarists until you realise, in absolute frustration, that it's impossible to remember how this song goes because it goes someplace else every second minute. And I can't say I love every minute of it, but certain chunks are nice. My favs are the opening lightning-speed 'Breadfan'-style riff and the instrumental slice right before the final verse. Yours are probably different.

I should probably add, too, that this playing and composing style was pretty unique for 1980. Ever since Metallica picked it up and ran away with it, of course, it's become an absolute cliche among the "art metal" crowds, but I don't think anyone really did this before Maiden. Well, maybe Rush did, but those guys always put the "art" before "hard" - they were never as speedy or ass-kickin' as Iron Maiden, nor did they ever feel the need to. A very different crowd, Rush, were they ever.

And if you had any doubts left about the band's preferences, don't forget that 'Phantom Of The Opera' is immediately followed by 'Transylvania', which is plainly and openly instrumental, giving us much more of that first-rate guitar/bass interplay and constantly shifting riffage patterns (well, to be fair, it's only got two basic patterns - one slower, one faster - but then it's also shorter). Now isn't it funny how these things are mostly based on riffs? Yes, occasionally, the guys launch into manic solos - what's a metal album without one? - but that's not the best part about these songs; the best part is to just observe how one classy riff, played on a really immaculate level, merges with another to disappear forever in smoke rising from the guys' guitars. And, of course, we needn't underestimate the power of Steve Harris holding this all together with his mighty bass.

However, these guys were also songwriters. Well, Harris was. The less said about 'Charlotte The Harlot', Dave Murray's lone contribution to the album, the better. (Briefly speaking, it's a very lame attempt at a threesome between AC/DC-like caveman lyrics, a lame, forgettable riff, and plenty of Maiden's boundless energy which should have been saved for something superior). But Harris did have a knack for brief, up to the point, fiery, and memorable rockers that wouldn't at all be out of place on classic rock radio stations if their programmers weren't so terrified of the hungry look in Eddie's eyes. (Although it's quite possible that some classic rock radio stations are playing this shit, I can't speak for everyone). Three of them at least really catch my ear - 'Prowler', loosely resembling Rory Gallagher's 'Moonchild' (not necessarily a coincidence - quite a few of Maiden's early rockers display a passion for British blues-rock of the former decade, and let's not forget about the obvious Thin Lizzy influence); 'Sanctuary', a contemporary single not present on the original British pressing but quite wisely stuffed onto the US release (on the CD remaster, it comes right after 'Prowler', making the album begin with two mighty shin-kickers in a row; and 'Running Free', probably the most well known song off the album due to it being regularly performed live even long after DiAnno's resignation (although Dickinson gives it quite a different interpretation).

These songs, to tell the truth, are as much punk in attitude as they're metal - fast, angry, and besides, what do you call a song that begins with lines like 'I'm just 16, stayed out of trouble, out of money, out of love, I got nowhere to call my own, hit the gas and here I go' ('Running Free')? The tune is credited to DiAnno/Harris, by the way, and I'm pretty sure it's the former who's responsible for the lyrics - him and his ragamuffian spirit, so incompatible with the band's later transformations. But here, bits of this fast, paranoid punk-metal attack are almost sloppy - intentionally so, of course, but still pretty confusing for this band. (You know why they were called Iron Maiden, don't you? The first player who made a technical error would be getting the "Iron Maiden treatment". Not a pretty sight. Specified in the contracts, it was, which you had to sign with your own blood. That and getting sodomized by Eddie. Otherwise, you just couldn't get in. Who said life in a heavy metal band was a rose garden?)

Finally, there's the power ballad aspect. Do I have to say something here as well? Okay, every part of 'Remember Tomorrow' and 'Strange World' that is not the patented Iron Maiden instrumental interplay sucks and should be forgotten. (And I am aware that if you don't like 'Remember Tomorrow', you have successfully flunked your initiation, but dammit, it is a power ballad, and it has to strive much, much harder to leave me satisfied). The only positive thing I can say here is that the quieter bits, the medieval acoustic ones, can act like breathers in between all the headbanging - and unless you're a professional headbanger, it can certainly be difficult to take all this tiddliby-tiddliby-tiddliby-tiddliby chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk merciless thrashing without any breaks. But then again, that's pretty much the name of the game. At least Iron Maiden offers enough different riffs and interesting riff-shifts to last me for thirty minutes.


KILLERS ***1/2

Year Of Release: 1981

Mmm... not a hell of a lot of progression. If anything, it just seems to me that Killers kinda forces itself into being, with the band so preoccupied with not making their act cartoonish or ridiculous (a notable aim in itself) that it kinda forgets to write any significant metal hooks. I mean, yeah, Killers does present Iron Maiden as easily the most tasteful and intelligent metal outfit in the universe, with none of Judas Priest's dumb sexist or anthemic extremes (and if we're speaking serious innovative "melodic" heavy metal, Judas Priest were certainly Maiden's only competition in 1981). Despite the usual disgusting album cover and song titles and topics endlessly revolving around death and murder, not a single song on here sounds out of place or musically incompetent; whatever be, Iron Maiden certainly don't want to get by based on shock values.

But while that does make Killers a generally pleasing and, in some ways, rewarding album, the songwriting leaves lots and lots to be desired. Harris is responsible for almost all of the songwriting, and maybe it was just a bit of a heavy burden first time around. No superb riffs or unforgettable vocal melodies stick out in my mind; I'm enthralled by the overall sound, which is really powerful and dominating most of the time, especially now that the new guitarist Adrian Smith makes his appearance, but not by any of the songs in particular.

If forced to name the best song, I would probably nominate 'Another Life'. Why? It changes tempo several times and has a bunch of these delicious multi-tracked solos that totally blow your mind when the volume is turned up loud. Really, that's not that much of an achievement to name it a great song, but it just goes to show you there are no great songs on here, merely good ones. Essentially, Killers is right there for you to evaluate these guys' musicianship and little else. I mean, take the instrumental 'Genghis Khan', for instance. It's a pack of never-ending riffs played simultaneously on two guitars, and it's terrific how these guys keep the groove going for so long without stumbling, tempo changes and all. But it's merely a soulless exercise in riffing, your average high quality metal ear-candy, and don't go around telling me that metal has no soul, because the best metal has a lot of soul.

Paul Di'Anno does try, though. He really sings his heart out on this record, trying to convince the listener he's really lived out all the horrors he sings about, or at least of a potential reality of all these things. And he is convincing. Some Dickinson fans don't seem to like DiAnno's style of ragged barking, and some even accuse him of being essentially a 'punk' singer - total rubbish, since his singing is actually distinctive and his voice totally devoid of the sneering/sarcastic tones typical for punk singers. It's true he ain't much of a metal screamer either, more like a "classic rock relict" carried over from the Seventies and stuck in a totally Eighties band - so it's no wonder he had to leave after the band's second album. But he actually does save a lot of this material. The pedestrian rocker 'Murders In The Rue Morgue' (only marginally connected with Edgar Allan Poe's story) would be worth nothing without DiAnno's passionate delivery; same goes for the acoustic/electric ballad 'Prodigal Son', where DiAnno actually sounds warm and friendly, and never resorts to overscreaming.

Although, of course, it's classic Eighties metallic rockers that make up the meat of the album; 'Another Life' is one of them, and then there are the album opener and closer, too. After the pompous introduction of 'The Ides Of March', 'Wrathchild' really kicks open the album with a terrific Steve Harris bassline (even if I at times wonder if our astonishment at the sight of a bassline isn't regularly due simply to the fact of a more-than-one-chord bass riff being mixed higher than necessary) and a great vehicle for lead guitar lines, particularly the wah-wah ones. And the fast rocker 'Drifter' that closes the record easily makes up for any true moments of boredom you might have experienced - and features the best solos on the entire record, especially in the mid-section, where the drum'n'bass kick butt in total overdrive and the left speaker plays some flabbergastingly complex passages.

But in the end, it's just like I said: Killers is an amazingly tasteful and refined record for a title and an album cover like that, but just ain't got all that much staying power. More like a taster of things to come.



Year Of Release: 1982

Okay, this is where the guys start cooking. The departure of Paul DiAnno and addition of Bruce Dickinson was the last straw to push the band completely over the top into the world of sci-fi and Satanism. Mind you, none of these songs betray an 'unhealthy' way of looking at any of those things, and it would take a person who's never actually wilfully listened to a complete Iron Maiden album to accuse the band of a straightforward and all-obsessive Dungeons & Dragons obsession. Oh sure, they are obsessed with the D&D thematics, but it's not like the music ain't grounded in reality. Geez, the best-known song from the album is about Indians of all things (granted, the "white man killing the red man" topic is very typical for so many pocketbook-fantasy-obsessed bands, for being the next best thing to goblins slaughtering elves, I guess, but still my point stands).

Now I gotta put in my two cents about Bruce Dickinson, I guess. I respect his singing abilities a lot, as well as the ability to stretch his pharynx to near-breaking point (check out the wild wild wild scream in the title track, for instance); however, I somehow do not get all the veneration the guy receives from metal fans in the light of his best competition, Ronnie James Dio. Maybe there are some technical tricks in the Dickinson repertoire that Dio can't pull off (or it might be vice versa... can Dickinson do the unbelievable 'I AM IRON MAN' grunt from Live Evil, I wonder?), but Dio certainly beats the guy in the raw energy and shiver-sending aggression department, and besides, he'd been going for more than half a decade already. (Dickinson also came with a not entirely empty resume, having played in the moderately well-known band Samson for several years, but who are Samson vs. classic Rainbow?).

Okay, now that that stupid detail is settled, let's see the music. The music predictably kicks ass, and it's predictably "melodic power metal" - if you want loads and loads and loads of uncontrolled energy, go to Judas Priest instead. Many people accuse Number Of The Beast of sounding 'dated' today, but I just don't see it; at the least, I suppose it was just as dated when it came out. The melodic guitar interplay and Dickinson's wailing intonations supposedly caused a revolution back in the day, but if you ask me, all I see here is a somewhat revved up and a slightly more complex version of the very same Rainbow that was rocking the world with Blackmore and Dio in the mid-Seventies. It's just that by 1982, Rainbow had totally gone to shit, and the "fantasy metal" niche was all but empty, with heavy metal for the most part represented by the cock rock of bands ranging from Priest to AC/DC. No wonder, then, that Number Of The Beast effectively and masterfully revitalized the scene, and metal fans throughout the world rejoiced.

Every song on here sounds more or less the same. A basic - usually fast - metal riff that's either too complex to be memorable or, on the other hand, too simple, generic and power-chord-based to be interesting. Lyrics that deal with all kinds of dark subjects: Harris' dreams of satanic rituals (title track), fates of the Injun ('Run To The Hills'), or even, God help me, dumb TV series ('The Prisoner', that actually opens with the famous 'you are number six!' introduction... er... is that supposed to be fascinating or what?). Excellent basswork from Mr Harris that's brought up high in the mix. And solos that often revolve around meticulously constructed and carefully repeated guitar phrases than around any kind of improvisation. If you want spontaneity, people, go see Motorhead.

Still, as far as non-spontaneous albums go, this one is terrific. Even the sole ballad on the album, 'Children Of The Damned', is carried forward by a very clever and emotional guitar line, and for once, Dickinson actually shows us a little more of his range than just high-pitched screaming (only in the verses, but that's not bad either). The lengthy seven-minute 'Hallowed Be Thy Name' reminds me a little bit of Black Sabbath circa Sabotage with its prog-metal overtones, and it's really a very good song, I'll admit that. At least, it becomes very good when they actually arrive at the kick-ass instrumental passage, with its array of speedy, razor-sharp riffs and rock'n'roll excitement.

The other rockers aren't really all that distinguishable for me, I guess. 'Invaders' starts the album with Iron Maiden's (inferior) equivalent of Led Zep's 'Immigrant Song', and it's the closest they get to thrash on here, with a really really dumb melody the kind of which Judas Priest could certainly do more convincingly (mmm, remember 'Exciter'?). But already with 'The Prisoner', they redeem themselves totally, sparing the drummer some of those incessant tiring beats and giving more space for the guitarists to show their prowess; and by the time they get to '22 Acacia Avenue', they're ready to go into "complex mood" with alternating tempos and tremendous interlocking guitar solos. Once you've heard those two songs, you won't hear anything particularly challenging until 'Hallowed Be Thy Name', but if you're yearning for more of the same, there you go - the title track, 'Run For The Hills' and 'Gangland' are there to headbang some more. The darkest and most dreary song on here, though, seems to be 'Total Eclipse', with a deeper, lower, grumblier guitar tone that is especially gruesome in the chorus. This one is certainly a Sabbath-worthy number.

So... is this the Holy Grail of heavy metal? Probably not, unless you really belong to the power metal/prog metal-worship school, the one which goes nuts over Queensryche and Dream Theater and the like. But even if you hate that school, you still gotta admit the sheer amount of talent and work it took to create something like this monster. Except that these guys really needed somebody to help them design their album covers. YYYYYUCK.



Year Of Release: 1983

You know, if this isn't stagnation, nothing is. I have yet to hear a power metal album that'd rely more on formula than this one - every goddamn second of it is so predictable you'd think they had it pre-processed or something. Essentially, this is just an inferior re-write of Number Of The Beast, with the same alternation of mid-tempo complex rockers and mid-tempo power ballads. They got a new drummer on here (Nicko McBrain), thus reducing the number of original members even further, but frankly, I can't be bothered with that. Metal drummers are all supposed to be good. If a metal drummer is bad, that means the band has gone for utter shit. Same with the bass player and all - ah, the days of Black Sabbath when you could have someone like Geezer Butler in your band and not actually blush about it (not that I'm picking on Geezer, but according to Eighties metal standards his bass playing wasn't much better than mine, and I've never touched a bass). So I refuse to participate in the Burr <> McBrain discussions, and that's a final statement.

As for the songs, well, they're what you would expect from Iron Maiden at this point. Zero improvisation, meticulous multi-chord riffs, short, but effective, solos, and a screamin' yellin' guy spluttering out corny D&D nonsense when he's not paying tribute to Frank Herbert. Of course, though, I shouldn't complain about that: this is their schtick. What I do complain about is that few of these riffs really manage to convince me of the band's greatness. Iron Maiden are an art band, after all, and they're supposed to do more than just kick ass (and if I want plain ass-kicking from my metal, I'll go to Judas Priest anyway). And it really takes a special kind of mind to equal "art" (in its pretentious aspect) to a wildly screaming metal guy and a bunch of meticulously constructed, but not particularly memorable metal riffs that all sound the same. Well, maybe not. But I fail to see the charm of Piece Of Mind as an 'altogether' piece.

I sure can say some good words about certain songs taken individually, though. 'Where Eagles Dare' is an excellent opener, and the 'high-sounding' music really fits the mountainous lyrical imagery well, particularly when they hit upon that ecstatic ambitious guitar solo in the middle. Yet even on here, way too much time is spent upon mainly repeating the main riff sequence over and over and over - as if the song were a groove, which it isn't since there's nothing spontaneous or improvised about it. An even better rocker is 'Die With Your Boots On', arguably Dickinson's major vocal highlight on the record as he throws on a major fit, with all those 'if you're gonna die, die with your boots on, if you're gonna die, you're gonna die, gonna die, gonna die with your boots on' being propelled around your living-room and driving you insane. (Melodically, though, the song is nothing but a big put-on, with minimalistic power chords and no instrumental hooks whatsoever). In direct contrast, 'The Trooper' is one of the album's most solid compositions, with a thrashy chord pattern cleverly resolved in a bluesy sequence - but the 'aaaaaah!' chorus is something these guys seem to have subconsciously adopted from the Uriah Heep legacy. And then, several songs later, 'Sun And Steel' seems to be exploiting exactly the same chord sequence that 'The Trooper' was built on, with a few minor changes.

The rest essentially sounds like, uh, well, like a more well-oiled, but less creative version of Rainbow/Dio-era Sabbath. 'Revelations' isn't really half-bad, because just like Dio, Dickinson is one of those few metal singers who can do justice to a ballad, even a ballad as hilariously lyrically cliched as this particular one. But if somebody ever tries convincing me that, well, 'Flight Of Icarus' is anything but an abominable track, I'd have to say that particular person has a very strange notion of metal as a genre. And the obligatory epic number that closes the album, 'To Tame A Land', shows once again a lack of imagination - is every goddamn Iron Maiden album going to end with this lengthy lengthy instrumental passage?

Seriously, the lack of diversity/originality on this album just kills me, and the hickiness of the lyrics isn't exactly offering any salvation in a different corner. I consider the above rating particularly high for the record, in fact - and it's given out exclusively due to the respect to the band's technical skills. And if you're surprised at such an unprecedented drop-off after Number Of The Beast, well, here's the reasons: (a) the 1982 album was at least establishing a style where the 1983 album was merely coasting on that style, and (b) the songs were better (in just about every respect). 'Where Eagles Dare' and 'Die With Your Boots On' certainly deserve to be called metal classics, the former because of its imaginative riff, the latter because of its wild vocal overdrive; nothing else on Piece Of Mind does. Of course, if you're a severe metalhead, raise that rating as high as you want - but I seriously doubt that you'd appreciate the record had you been weened upon consecutive assimilation of metal from the late Sixties to the early Eighties.



Year Of Release: 1984

A serious improvement, even if I really can't see this as the band's masterpiece (a widely spread opinion). Maybe they were just taking a creative break on Piece Of Mind or something, because here the band sounds fresh, revitalized and sincerely energetic, and they almost totally reject the "slap on a bunch of power chords" approach in favour of a return to distinct riffs, even if not all of those riffs are really new. Powerslave also boasts an excellent production, as many have noticed; if you ever complained about the quality of the mix on the previous albums, I guess Powerslave will finally give you ample ground to witness the talents of Steve Harris as one of metal's best bass players. (Of course, heavy metal always has its limitations - the incessantly roaring guitars will always try to overshadow your basslines, no matter how hard you try, unless you piss off your bandmates by secretly remixing the final masters).

Anyway, as usual, the songs on here all sound the same; no friggin' mid-tempo for you, everything taken at a light chug-a-chug gallop, but everything strictly and severely underpinned by merciless grinding riffage and relentless professionalism. All but one, the final suite 'Rime Of The Ancient Mariner', which was the longest song recorded by the Maidens until then - which further strengthened the link between Iron Maiden and progressive rock. And, of course, this is the track that seems the most flawed of all to me; the main riff that carries it is powerful but way too simplistic (the standard "metal boogie" chord progression, eh?), and the mid section could easily have been thrown out altogether. Iron Maiden aren't known for 'raising tension' - it's the immediate blitzkrieg attack that redeems their output, and that "moody" half-acoustic section that takes up so much space before they revert the song back unto the wheels of rock is by all means amateurish. In fact, laws of the genre require that if you're gonna do an acoustic send-up in the midst of an epic fantasy-metal track, you might as well demonstrate your abilities in medieval guitar playing, which they do not. So... Iron Maiden don't know how to play medieval music? Aaaaargh! Back to music school for those guys!

Seriously now, 'Ancient Mariner' just ain't that hot. Now the other tracks, ah, that's a different matter. 'Powerslave' uses absolutely the same metal boogie pattern as 'Ancient Mariner', but it's a little faster and the song is seriously shorter, and has that apocalyptic two-chord break between the verse and the chorus that prob'ly used to send many a dungeon-and-dragon-metalhead into ecstasy. Get this, it's about... eh... is it about the "death of an Egyptian God" or something? Yeah, yeah, must be that. Funny old Bruce, always ready to deliver something really cheesy. Never mind, though, great track, and a fascinating guitar solo with a slow epic part and a fast ass-kicking part. Well, okay, scrap "fascinating". It doesn't really fascinate me, but maybe it'll fascinate you - I'll just praise its obvious melodicity and professionalism with a cold detached stare instead. There.

For some dumb reason, I started describing this record backwards, so let me apologize and say that it actually opens with a set of short songs, some of which were actually even used on MTV. 'Aces High', in all seriousness, kicks my booty from this side of the ocean to the other one, except that I still can't memorize it, but don't worry, I will. '2 Minutes To Midnight' starts with a cool dry-distorted tone that I don't remember these guys actually using earlier, maybe they did, goddammit, I just don't remember it. To be honest, this track sounds a lot like Judas Priest to me - I could easily put Halford in Dickinson's place and not notice the difference. It's just a good toe-tappin' head-buttin' poppy metal rocker with a lot of crunch provided by that guitar tone, and a catchy chorus which I always used to hear as 'two minute tomaaaaatoes' until I guessed to check the song's name. (I don't often look at Iron Maiden lyrics, see - ninety percent of the time, I can't discern a word Bruce is singing because it looks like his articulation begins from somewhere in between his spleen and his gall bladder, and to tell you the truth, I'm really, really better off that way. You'll probably be, too).

There are other songs on here, too, an instrumental ('Losfer Words') that's pretty typical of Maiden instrumentals and three more vocal numbers that are pretty typical of Maiden vocal numbers (good Maiden vocal numbers, not the ones which only use the most generic power chord structures available); but I'm not much of a metal expert to provide you with a unique description of each unless I start speaking in purely technical terms, and you know when you start describing a metal band in purely technical terms that you've just done that particular metal band the meanest dissservice possible (because, as you may know, the most usual critique of Eighties metal is that there was nothing to it except technical precision). All in all, a solid metal release, but I still rate it somewhat below Number Of The Beast for being less consistent (yeah, ancient mariner, I'm lookin' at ya) and less original.



Year Of Release: 1985

I'm gonna cheat a little bit, but really, in my opinion, Iron Maiden never did a hundred-percent satisfactory studio album, and in this case you can always count upon a live album to arrive and solve your problems. And indeed, Live After Death is often considered as one of the greatest live metal albums of all time, and I can't help but agree with this assessment (although, truth be told, I am very seriously biased towards hard rock/heavy metal live albums in general). Apart from sporadic bickerings over the setlist (which could have been much worse, actually), I have no qualms whatsoever.

This one was culled from recordings from the band's Powerslave tour, which was also one of the most famous metal tours in history, with elaborate Egyptian stage settings and stuff (actually, I think most of the recordings come from one location, because Dickinson keeps yelling 'SCREAM FOR ME, LONG BEACH!' as if his very life depended on Long Beach screaming). And the quality of the performances definitely matched the stage settings. True, there's a problem with Iron Maiden in that they never were much of an improvisational band; of course, the complex solos of the two guitarists differ from their studio counterparts, but other than that, they are mainly intent on recreating the original sound. They don't go off into unpredictable jams or extend their solos beyond the studio-defined limit. But that's just not their schtick. They're the world's best power metal band, and they're all about technique, precise interplay and, well, power.

And yup, you have it all. Murray in one speaker, Smith in the other one, Harris plays his lines over both (the mix is perfect - at any given time you can hear any given instrument so well you can concentrate on any part of the melody), and Dickinson's voice is in top form. Over the course of the album, quality won't disappoint you for even a short moment. And it's a long album - in fact, it had to be trimmed for original CD release, with five songs omitted, and only the new re-releases recalled the original missing five songs. The setlist concentrates heavily on the last three albums, pretty much drawing upon all the highlights: 'Powerslave', 'Number Of The Beast', '2 Minutes To Midnight', 'Die With Your Boots On', 'Hallowed Be Thy Name', 'Ancient Mariner', and so on. The DiAnno period is represented by 'Iron Maiden', of course, as well as 'Phantom Of The Opera' and 'Running Free'.

Since not a single song is worse than its studio counterpart, Live After Death is basically an excellent retrospective of the entire "young Maiden" period, and can be recommended as such. If there is a problem that really bothers me, it's Dickinson's occasional obnoxiousness. When, oh when will these stadium-rock bands realize that "audience participation", however dumb it might be in principle, might work within the limits of a real live setting, but becomes thoroughly annoying and unnecessary when transplanted onto a live album? Like when he toys with the fans as he invites them to chant 'I'm running free!' I mean, it's one thing when you're really there - when the screaming of thousands of fans can overwhelm the amplified sound of the band and indeed provides an excellent counterpoint for the band's own sonics. But on the album, when you have the sound recorded from the band's microphones, all you get is a weak shadow of what was actually heard on the particular night. It's stupid. 'LOUDER! LOUDER!', they keep crying, and all you hear from the audience is a muffled boo-boo-boo anyway. The incessant 'scream! scream for me Long Beach!' gets on my nerves as well.

But apart from that, I have no problems at all. I like how they split the guitars in different speakers; I like how I'm able to hear every single note played by Steve, and I'm totally happy that they are as relentlessly professional on stage as they are off it. I also like how Bruce feels totally at home singing DiAnno material (not that I ever doubted it, but it's nice to mention it all the same). I'm not sure what I think of the album intro, where they reproduce Churchill's famous speech with airplane noises in the background before launching into 'Aces High', but at least it's short and no more stupid than having 'Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore' introducing Rainbow concerts, as captured on Live In Germany. And I'm not sure if I have any particular comments on any particular songs (well, I do think Bruce outsings himself on 'Children Of The Damned'), but that's because I've already lauded them all. Even 'Flight Of Icarus', when jammed in between all the true highlights, feels superior to its context on Piece Of Mind. An excellent album in all.


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