I’m getting excited, I’m off to see Iron Maiden at Liverpool Arena next Saturday night and I’m working myself up to full match fitness by air guitaring my way through a side of Live After Death at a time. It’s a comparative newcomer to my collection this* but I’ve listened to this album countless times in mates’ houses, smoker’s corner in school and once during a, quite frankly, rather frantic bout of love-making at university**. It is simply the business.
I know, I know I make a big fuss about not being much of a fan of live albums but this is, I think, Iron Maiden at their best, doing what they do best – tearing an audience a new one. Okay, okay to paraphrase Beck, I’m a hypocrite so why don’t you kill me? so I can ‘live’ again (see what I did there?).
From the opening strains of ‘Aces High’ all the way to the dying yowls of ‘Phantom of the Opera’ Live After Death is an incredible live set, only missing ‘Prowler’, ‘Sanctuary’ and ‘Flash of the Blade’ to be a complete set of all my real favourites^. A good few of the versions here really do outstrip the studio versions too, just listen to this take on ‘2 Minutes To Midnight’ which is definitely the best thing Maiden have ever carved into wax for our delectation – you can feel the adrenalin, it’s less polished, you can hear all the moving parts – rather like hot-rodding a car by exposing the engine block so passers-by can marvel at all the chrome and pumping pistons.
I feel similarly about the live versions here of ‘Flight of Icarus’ and ‘Die With Your Boots On’, just slap them on and marvel at the sheer power and precision of one of the Big Beasts of Metal (BBOM) hitting their straps. For all the muscle on display throughout the album, not least Bruce Dickinson’s larynx which must surely be made of tanned rhino hide, it is the intricacy and melody that often surprises even when the songs are cranked up this loud and sped up a tad. Just listen to the closing^^ ‘Phantom of the Opera’ where Murray and Smith’s complementary guitar parts weave around each other, or wheel overhead in perfect formation together. Add in the bracingly lengthy versions of ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ and ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ with all their perfectly executed different sections and tempos and you just have to give praise to Jah for a top band being captured at the peak of their abilities.
And on that point, unlike so many live albums of dubious veracity Live After Death really does sound live and unadulterated. The way Martin Birch tells it^* he was brought in to weave together the album from the different takes from different nights, to blend the crowd noise and to make it sound like a single organic entity, not to punch or pitch up the vocals, or to re-record guitar solos later – I believe him too, there’s too much snap and bite here for it to be otherwise; or at least that’s what these tired old ears o’mine hear.
The artwork here, as in all the Derek Riggs Maiden covers, is just totally inspired. The level of detail and sense of power conveyed here is a spot-on match for the contents and I can never resist a good combo of blue and yellow together. Just like the Powerslave cover my mates and I used to pore over the little details hidden away in the artwork for hours on end, my favourite bit then and now was the grave stone marked with ‘Thank You’; the Grateful Dead, geddit? I didn’t, I had to have it explained to me very slowly, twice. Plus you get oodles of great live photos, showing what a brilliant spectacle the whole show was and a gazillion photos of the band having fun/playing their guts out in exotic locales, not to mention all the lyrics. Just great value for money.
So there you have Iron Maiden at the peak of their powers recorded 32 years ago. I’m not naïve enough to think that this is exactly what will hit me head-on Saturday night, with some added Janick Gers, I’m just really excited to chalk up a rare sighting of one of the BBOM I’d never managed to catch until now; Mrs 1537 having seen them three times as a teenager. I have really high hopes for Saturday, despite my not really digging too much of their last LP*^ I want a spectacle, I want some energy and I want to feel that buzz you only get from being part of the crowd at a really good sweaty gig. Iron Maiden’s gonna get
*I can’t remember exactly how but that evil Mike Ladano bullied me into buying it (shakes fist in direction on Kitchener and its strange wino pee smell).
**1537 Health Warning: Be very careful if listening to Live After Death whilst bumping uglies with a paramour not to take your tempo from the music, I speak from experience here having come close to sustaining a nasty orthopaedic injury during ‘The Trooper’. Warning ends.
^Metal Dave, an older very hard lad in my school was once heard bemoaning the fact that the band hadn’t included any of his favourite tracks from 1986’s Somewhere In Time on this 1985 album. I’m still not stupid enough to snigger at that.
^^the closer on Live After Death that is, but not the live set which finished with ‘Sanctuary’ on this tour.
^*in his excellent, be still my beating heart, sleevenotes.
*^it has its moments but overall I find it a bit overlong and clunky, especially that 74-minute one about the airship.