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Iron Maiden "Death on the Road"

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Thursday, October 27, 2005 @ 1:02 PM

Sanctuary Records

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"Anybody got any more eggs? Mom, where the hell are f’n eggs? Jack, quit eating and start throwing--Maiden is onstage! Those bastards—how dare they say anything against reality TV…or my dad!"

The Maiden set this summer in San Bernardino would have been especially cool to hear on disc. Sure, the electricity kept cutting out, and Bruce had to stop a few times during the show to declare this or that, but I mean, for dramatic effect, there’s no way it could be beat. That’s important, because at this point, it’s starting to look like unless a particular Iron Maiden concert possesses some incredibly unique aspect, it would be hard to imagine fans getting real worked up to buy yet another rendition of "Run To The Hills". That isn’t to say it isn’t a great song, it just means that any time this group releases a live record, it’s inevitably going to get compared to either the relatively recent release, Rock in Rio, or what may be the best live record of all time—Live After Death. Between the recent compilations and box sets and previously recorded performance material, some metalheads are starting to feel that a bit of a saturation point has been reached and that the only welcome release from this group would simply entail recording a new record that kicks ass and takes the bad taste of Dance With Death out of their mouths. In order for Death on the Road to further the legacy of Maiden, it would have to somehow feature a new perspective on the band’s live show while also chronicling such an amazing performance that it manages to somehow exceed what is expected at a typical IM show.

This set begins with "Wildest Dreams", and immediately the disc sounds exactly the same way it does when a concertgoer attends a show where the mix isn’t quite right from the onset and the vocals are either too high or too low. Obviously, there is a definite live feel to the recording, but the type of production one would normally expect from an Iron Maiden live record is strangely absent. When the bass line for "Wrathchild" kicks in, it momentarily becomes possible to forget about the sound, but even as powerful as Bruce Dickinson’s vocals typically are, his usually dependable tone and diction sometimes gets lost in all of the auditory detritus surrounding him. The situation doesn’t get any better during the intro for "Can I Play With Madness" either where it sounds almost as if the boys are singing the words a cappella in a karaoke bar or something—in any case, it’s not one of Maiden’s greater moments to be sure, but even at that, the rest of the tune is played with the type of emotion/expertise the band is known to deliver every night. "The Trooper" is definitely the highlight of the first disc—that isn’t to say it’s perfect; it’s just the best tune among a grouping of songs that aren’t necessarily presented to the listener in the most effective way. After this highlight, the proceedings start to bog down a bit as the crowd starts clapping as if expecting someone to perform a medieval jig rather than participate in the "Dance of Death" which logs in here at a sluggish nine minutes and thirty-four seconds of…indulgence. The only song that is worse on this side is "Paschendale" which is yet another ten minutes and seventeen seconds of metal mediocrity and tedium. "Brave New World" and "Rainmaker" are sandwiched in between these two hard rock leviathans before the set finally gives way to the disc closing "Lord of the Flies" which is more than surprisingly respectable and brings the first half to a conclusion in a high flying way, albeit with a song originally done by Blaze Baley.

On disc two, "No More Lies" from Dance of Death soon gives way to three Maiden standards, "Hallowed Be Thy Name", "Fear Of The Dark" and "Iron Maiden". Beginning this portion of the set with a trio of tunes that all log in at over seven minutes may yet again proceed to slow down the sequence here, but then again, it also makes the intro to "Iron Maiden" that much more welcome when Bruce yells, "Scream for me Dortmund!" Right after "Journeyman", the final payoff for this release comes in the form of the legendary standards "The Number of The Beast" and "Run To The Hills." As with the rest of this set, Dickinson’s vocals run from average to disappointing with the guitar work seeming as stellar as usual with the major drawback being that the mix makes it difficult separate the parts and truly appreciate the intricacies of the play. The true highlight of this performance would have to be Nicko McBrain’s drumming which manages to shine even through some of the murkiness of this production and serves to hold the entire structure of these selections together.

Maybe some of the imperfections this two-disc set possesses wouldn’t have been such an issue if I hadn’t just finished reviewing Anthrax 2 a couple of weeks ago. I think at the time, I said something to the effect that a band of that stature wouldn’t put out a live track that just downright "sucked," that is why this effort is kind of perplexing. By all possible accounts, Maiden holds a much loftier position in the metal pantheon than their cohorts in Anthrax, and that’s why it’s perplexing that the group would issue a release chronicling this particular performance which, if anything, represents a below average effort from the band. If a person were to be cynical, they would say that it is yet another cash grab aimed at extracting still more money from hard core Maiden fans who have displayed a propensity throughout the years for purchasing a half dozen greatest hits packages and numerous live albums and DVDs that include much of the same material. Regardless of the motivation, Death On The Road is worth getting if you’re a Maiden fan—you’ll enjoy it, and you might even find something endearing about the near bootleg quality of the disc. Honestly though, casual fans of the band would probably be better off purchasing one of the previous live releases…or downloading some of the audio excerpts from the San Bernardino show…just watch out for Jack, Sharon and Kelly---and the eggs.

** ¾

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