The Essential Iron Maiden
With this years release of ‘The Essential Iron Maiden’ you get what I call a casual fan’s Maiden box set. First off, some background. Iron Maiden hit the scene in 1980, and are the most influential metal band. There, I said it out load. Songwriter and bassist Steve Harris has led the band through a myriad of incarnations and line ups over the years. However, even after changing singers briefly (rarely if ever a good idea) they have settled on the ‘classic’ line up and starting touring again a few years ago. We have Bruce Dickinson on vocals, who is unparalleled for range in the rock singers. Ok, that guy from Skid Row can drop a pretty crazy scream… but it rarely serves the song or the music like Dickinson’s controlled power. The two guitar attack from all the great albums (mid 80s) remains intact with Adrian Smith & Dave Murray. Rounding out the group is classic skin basher (and terror of security valets the world round) Nicko McBrain.
Really, what other course does a young boy with a name like McBrain but play drums for a power horror heavy metal band? None! Sort of like if you named you kid ‘Jeeves’… he is basically screwed. A further note should be made of third guitarist Janick Gers who has been with the band for about the last five years now. Normally, I am against tampering with line ups, but this guy really ads to the sound. He helps thicken it up to create live the intensity of the band’s studio sound.
Then, there is Eddie. Eddie is more than the band’s mascot. He is more than a constantly evolving mummy sketch used for all album art. Eddie is the only founding member left in the band besides Steve Harris. Even if you don’t know Maiden, he is an instantly recognizable icon. My grade school teachers must have been a little worried when my childhood notebooks bore rough drawings of Eddie and the demon from the first few Dio albums. I think I was supposed to be drawing Duran Duran logos back then, but I never fit in to well. Now I wonder, was it listening to Maiden which made me a weird kid with long hair… or did being a weird kid with long hair make me listen to Maiden? It was over 20 years ago, so I don’t much remember.
This collection represents roughly a song per album released. That is a vague generalization, but fair. A few of the songs on disc two go all the way back to when the band had a different lead singer. Paul Di’anno was great, and completely different than the Maiden sound you know so well. He lasted two albums; Iron Maiden & Killers.
The make up of the disc set seems to be running backwards from present day. All of the Maiden I grew up with (and obviously prefer) is represented on disc two. Number of the Beast, Flight of Icarus, Phantom of the Opera (which they are finally playing live again), Aces High, Wasted Years (my first Maiden show is represented here), and Two Minutes to Midnight, are all here. The only song that concerns me to be missing is Revelations. If you are familiar with the brilliant ‘Live After Death’ set, you know that Revelations is an absolute show stopper. Also, it’s about ironing a pair of curtains… depending on which mood Dickinson is in when you ask him. Another pure Maiden classic to include should have been Ryme of the Ancient Mariner. It is a classic monster Maiden storytelling, that of the Samual Taylor Coleridge's story of the wedding guest and the tale. To be fair, though, the song is so long it would have supplanted 3 or 4 songs to have it there (over 13 minutes).
Disc one is the more recent Iron Maiden, where the band went through some line up changes again. For a period of time, the band’s singer was a gent by the name of Blaze Bayley. Though a decent enough singer, dude’s name is Blaze… so conversation is over. Blaze, please wait outside with Turk, Wolverine, and Turbo while the grownups talk. Replacing the lead singer who brought the band to prominence has NEVER been a good idea. This isn’t about the Roth/Hagar battle. This is about Motley Crue, Anthrax, Ratt, Skid Row… all switched out lead singers when the egos got too big and the careers started arcing downwards. The one constant has been the real heart and soul of the band, Steve Harris. I just saw the band again last week, and they sound as good as they did 20 years ago on the ‘Somewhere in Time’ tour. There are definitely some keepers from the last 20 years, just not like what they cranked out on those first few albums.
Disc one begins with Paschendale, there is an almost Irish feel to the song before it jumps back into familiar Maiden territory. Wait, what’s that? A string section? No good, reeks of desperation to me. Rainmaker? Solid Maiden, except for the Satriani-esque intro. See, now I am nitpicking. Well, it just shows to me how everything in Maiden leads up to and away from Piece of Mind.
So, what about Turk… or Blaze? Surely he contributes something to the Maiden pantheon – nope Fortunately there are only 4 songs to suffer through featuring Blaze. He simply can’t sing as well as Dickinson, and that isn’t being favorites.
The band is recording new material right now, as they mentioned it last week at the show. Also, I understand there is a push to release even more – specifically ‘Live after Death’. I hear it is supposed to come out in the next year or so, so as to complete the cycle the band began by releasing the amazing ‘The Early Years’ on DVD. If you are interested in spending the $20 for this disc set and enjoy it, I highly recommend dropping another $20 on the two disc DVD set for ‘Early Years’.
Over the last couple of years, I have kinda taken Maiden under my wing again. As they have worked to raise their visibility, I am remembering how great the music is. What this means to you - if there are any releases of concern… you will hear from me and get a thorough review.