Review Summary: Finally, an Iron Maiden compilation that DOESN'T suck.
I'll admit that I've never been exactly the biggest fan of compilations. While it is great that they can, in come cases, serve as an introduction to a band for some people, by taking a few songs from each album they always seemed to have lacked what it takes to be completely satisfying- and in some, if not most cases, they've only ever taken the big hits you hear on the radio in lieu of some of the best songs from the album. The folks over at Columbia have managed to subvert that most of the time; their Judas Priest compilation was definitely a big, expansive collection of tunes that ranged as far as 2005 and even had some rarities on it. For bands with discographies as big and multi-decade spanning as Maiden, they take to using two discs and selecting some of the best tracks from each album. And I'm happy to report that while it isn't enough to change my mind completely, The Essential Iron Maiden
is finally a compilation that doesn't suck, and serves as the perfect little sampler of what their discography up to Dance of Death
The Essential Iron Maiden
is a rather interesting compilation- they start with tracks from Dance of Death
(beginning with "Paschendale") and work their way back to Iron Maiden
. Now, this does fall victim at times to the above mentioned gripe I have with most compilations where it's ususally a hits collection over a "best of", but they also shake things up a bit and include some nuggets in here for people only familiar with their radio-friendly tunes. In fact, the very opening track is "Paschendale", an 8-minute epic about the battle of Passchendaele which boasts powerful vocals from bruce, ear-shattering riffs, synthesized orchestras and powerful lyrics- in fact, how this song doesn't lure the listener right into the world of Iron Maiden from the start would be beyond me. For most of the first disc, we go original Blaze Bayley editions of "Man on the Edge" and "The Clansman". "Sign of the Cross" is even featured here in its original form too. Often Maiden compilations seem to fall into the trap of "let's use the Bruce versions because they'll like it more", but nope, the original Blaze Bayley editions are here so people can get a taste of what those eras were like.
Ultimately the compilation does suffer in the second disc, and that's understandable- while featuring tracks like "Phantom of the Opera" and "Heaven Can Wait", the second disc is where it starts to become a hits collection. But given that the band's eighties material is hard to compile without featuring only the hits (although "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" or "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" would have been nice inclusions), it's only likely to happen. Another problem is that rather than the original Paul Di'Anno versions of "Running Free" and "Iron Maiden", we get the live versions with Bruce. Not that there's anything wrong with those versions, but it would be better to include the originals in a compilation that is meant to span a huge discography.
But other than those gripes, The Essential Iron Maiden
is the perfect way for somebody to get into Maiden of all eras rather than just buying Number of the Beast
. With two discs worth of content and an expansive selection, it's clear that the folks at Columbia have done their homework and have crafted a compilation with equal amounts of accessibility, commercial appeal and risk. If you are looking to convert people to Maidenism or have some friends wanting to convert but don't know where to start, The Essential Iron Maiden
will be do the trick, because it gives people a taste of all eras, and will definitely tempt them into listening to their music, old and new.