Review Summary: Cash-in for Maiden newbies turns out to be the perfect introduction to Britain's best metal band.
Do you ever get the feeling that some periods in time are remembered for all the wrong reasons? The eighties is a case in point. Intentionally or no, the first few things that are to come to mind for basically anyone are the ridiculous fashion trends, those cheesy synthesizer melodies (“Take On Me”, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”…hell, even “Born In The USA”) and teen idols such as Simon le Bon of Duran Duran, Boy George of Culture Club and part-time singer/full-time YouTube meme Rick Astley. Beneath this horrific veneer, however, lies an era of absolute brilliance in a variety of genres.
At the time, heavy metal was creating a revolt against the Bon Jovis and Whitesnakes of the day. Bands such as Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Venom, Bathory and Megadeth (or the Dave Mustaine Experience as they prefer to be known) all established themselves in their respective scenes and popularity soared for many of them. However, many of these bands, and indeed much of the metal of today, have not stood the test of time as the career of Iron Maiden. Thirty or so years after the band’s formation, after thirteen records and even after countless tours and the occasional line-up change, the band still show no sign of slowing down or giving up as they march fearlessly into their fifties.
At the time of writing, Maiden are continuing upon their Somewhere Back In Time tour, which has taken in everywhere from India, Japan and Brazil to Australia, Norway and Puerto Rico. The band have gracefully noted in this compilation’s liner notes how many new, younger fans have been attending the shows, in part a credit to both their longevity and the success of their most recent work, 2006’s A Matter of Life and Death
. Due to the nostaglic nature of the tour, Maiden have supplied newer fans with an introduction to Maiden’s heyday with Somewhere Back in Time
. For your money’s worth, this is the best thing short of a complete record to introduce you to what the band are all about- skilled musicianship, epic lyrical storytelling and borderline operatic vocals and harmonies.
“Over the top”? For metal, Maiden basically created
Taking only up to four picks from a decade of eight records is never an easy task, and not every record gets its proper share- 1983’s Piece of Mind
and 1986’s Somewhere in Time
only have one track each featured, while the seminal 1982 release The Number of The Beast
gets four of its tracks featured, the most out of any other album. Studio recordings of the band’s first two records, featuring original vocalist Paul Dianno, are also ignored in favour of live versions from 1985’s live album Live After Death
, with Bruce Dickinson singing the songs. Naturally, this aspect of the record is bound to anger Maiden’s hardcore fans. To be fair, however, this compilation really isn’t for them- they’ll inevitably have all the songs anyway, and the live versions of said songs completely surpass the originals regardless. The band’s best known singles all make a welcome, albeit unsurprising, appearance- from the devilish rock & roll shout-along “The Number of The Beast” to the classic tale of Indian America warfare in “Run to The Hills” and their eponymous anthem, which closes the record and, according to the liner notes, has closed every live show the band has ever done. Each of these fourteen tracks showcases the band’s exceptional talents, and is all the proof you need to show your kid brother where
exactly your DragonForces or your Triviums got their ideas from.
Lead singer Bruce Dickinson displays a dynamic and hugely impressive vocal range, in a melodramatic and aggressive style that is unmistakably his. Every wail, growl, harmony and rasp is straight from the heart. Backing him are four simply exceptional musicians, proudly exhibiting not only a mastery of their instruments, but a keen ear for memorable riffs and a precise collective tightness that translates well into what many believe to be one of the most impressive live shows on the planet.
At the core of the band is bassist Steve Harris, the only member of the band who has been a part of the group from the beginning. His style ranges from a solid chug (notably in four-on-the-floor rockers like Powerslave
’s “Two Minutes to Midnight”) to intense and skilful fills where Harris shreds like it’s lead guitar (take a listen to the fantastic live version of Iron Maiden
’s “Phantom of the Opera”, as well as Piece of Mind
cut “The Trooper”). In a genre where the bass is often reduced to speedy root notes, it is a relief and a positive change when bassists such as Harris struts his stuff and brings another dimension to the songs’ overall sound.
The twin guitar attack of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith are the musical backbone, flaunting some of the most recognisable riffs in metal history (the choppy, siren-esque intro of “Wasted Year”, the famous ‘wah-wah-wahh’ harmonics of “Run To The Hills”, the prog-rock stylings of “Children of the Damned”, to name a few). Each riff is a unique adventure, establishing the mood and setting before Dickinson wails a syllable. Drummers Clive Burr (The Number of The Beast
, as well as the band’s first two records) and Nicko McBrain (all other albums featured on Somewhere Back in Time
) also have their moments to shine, occasionally leading the charge on songs such as “Run To The Hills” (the song’s drum intro is arguably as well-known as the guitar harmonies that follow it) and “Powerslave”. Neither Burr or McBrain have the precision and overtly complex mastery of their instrument in the way a musician like Harris does, but it is in the aggressive, powerful way the drums are played that make them exceptional.
If there is anything to really nitpick about Iron Maiden’s work, it is the fact that there are times where there is simply too
much happening. There are some spots on the songs where every instrument is trying to drown out the other, leaving Dickinson to howl, almost desperately, to be heard amongst his band. There are other cuts, conversely, where Dickinson’s vocals master the rest (when Bruce sings on “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, it feels like nothing else in the song matters). Thankfully, this aspect of the band is not a frequency, and good blend of all vocals and instruments provide for an excellent listen.
If you have ever needed a reason to get into Iron Maiden, then now is a better time than ever. If you are an old time fan, then there are plenty of memories to be relived here as well. Somewhere Back in Time
is a fantastic compilation of epic, occasionally timeless rock anthems and heavy metal singalongs. The influence the music has had over today’s metal is still a sight to be seen…even after all these years.