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The Essential Iron Maiden – Commentary
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The Essential Iron Maiden

12th July 2005

CD 1
1. Paschendale (Smith, Harris)
2. Rainmaker (Murray, Harris, Dickinson)
3. The Wicker Man (Smith, Harris, Dickinson)
4. Brave New World (Murray, Harris, Dickinson)
5. Futureal (Harris, Bayley)
6. The Clansman (Harris)
7. Sign Of The Cross (Harris)
8. Man On The Edge (Bayley, Gers)
9. Be Quick Or Be Dead (Dickinson, Gers)
10. Fear Of The Dark (live) (Harris)
11. Holy Smoke (Harris, Dickinson)
12. Bring Your Daughter... ...To The Slaughter (Dickinson)
13. The Clairvoyant (Harris)
CD 2
1. The Evil That Men Do (Smith, Dickinson, Harris)
2. Wasted Years (Smith)
3. Heaven Can Wait (Harris)
4. 2 Minutes to Midnight (Smith, Dickinson)
5. Aces High (Harris)
6. Flight Of Icarus (Smith, Dickinson)
7. The Trooper (Harris)
8. The Number Of The Beast (Harris)
9. Run To The Hills (Harris)
10. Wrathchild (Harris)
11. Killers (Di'Anno, Harris)
12. Phantom Of The Opera (Harris)
13. Running Free (live) (Harris, Di'Anno)
14. Iron Maiden (live) (Harris)

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The Essential Iron Maiden is the band's fourth compilation album, the others being Best Of The Beast (1996), Ed Hunter (1999), and Edward The Great (2002) – incidentally, did you notice how such releases are regularly issued every 3 years? Its actual release date coincided with the start of the North American leg of the 2005 Tour and the album was only distributed in the USA and Canada (although it can be found anywhere else as an import). This is basically a commercial ploy to re-introduce Iron Maiden to the American audience in order to reconquer this market that's been ailing since the late 1980s when Heavy Metal was still "fashionable" on that continent.

The American youth of the 2000s seems to be more inclined to think that Metal is better represented by bands such as Linkin Park, Korn, and a few others who show about as much talent as Steve Vai has got hair left on his head, and an Iron Maiden compilation like this is an excellent idea to introduce youngsters to what Metal is really about. Great American bands like Queensrÿche or Iced Earth, to name but those two, should probably do the same in order to reassert their position at the heart of what is known as "True" Metal.

The older fans, on the other hand, know the score and do not have to be reminded what a great band Iron Maiden is – these fans have therefore no need for such a record, as they probably already own all the other releases by the band and The Essential Iron Maiden does not contain anything new with the exception of the live rendition (yet another one!) of 'Iron Maiden' from the upcoming live DVD – all the rest is composed of a couple of songs picked from each studio album (some recorded live) in reverse chronological order.

In summary, the purchase of this album is not strictly necessary for those who have been into Maiden for a long time, unless they are die-hard collectors and want to get hold of anything released by the band. Younger fans are in for a treat, though, as this double CD contains some of Maiden's finest songs that should incite them to explore the band further and delve into its discography.

I got high with Bruce Dickinson on September 17, 2000. Really high. Aces high. Icarus high. Our elevated state was not attributed to white powder, emerald herb or any other chemically enhanced substance. On the contrary, it was a completely natural high. That was the day the lead singer of the mighty metal institution, Iron Maiden, flew me on his private, two-engine plane from Los Angeles to Las Vegas where the band was performing that evening at the Aladdin Hotel. In all my world travels as a music journalist, that was the first time I'd ever been escorted to a gig by a rock star-slash-pilot.

My head was still in the clouds when the group that launched the new wave of British heavy metal with their cataclysmic self-titled debut in the spring of 1980, hit the stage and punished the sold-out sin-city faithful with two-hours of unrelenting roar, shred and groove that has long-defined their live experience. I came to a realization on that warm, Indian summer evening: no band was heavier or flew higher than the monstrous, mystical, maniacal, magical Maiden.

What you hold in your hands is a digital time capsule of metallic melodies that evokes a quarter century of one band's contribution to the compost heap of heavy rock. Behold the aural affirmation that when it's all said and done – and the evil that men do finally does us in – it was Iron Maiden that provided a bombastic beacon of excitement and escape that pummeled our brain stems and ear lobes and connected us to something higher and louder than ourselves.

The ride began with a self-taught bass player named Steve Harris, schooled in compositional ethos and fat-string style by progressive era heroes, John Entwistle, Chris Squire, Mike Rutherford and Andy Fraser. Since the Maiden voyage began, Harris has been the band's backbone, surviving member changes and carrying the weight of songwriting responsibility. He has also emerged as one of the genre's most influencial bassists, inspiring legions of bottom bangers with his fluid yet frantic technique.

In eternal sync with Harris' thump has been drummer Nicko McBrain who has hammered the skins with pulsating precision since taking over for original drummer, Clive Burr, who flew the kit after Iron Maiden, Killers, Maiden Japan and The Number Of The Beast. The Maiden axe attack was morphed over the years from dynamic duet to triumphant trio. It began with Dave Murray and Dennis Stratton but Stratton only lasted for the debut release. He was replaced by Murray's neighborhood mate, Adrian Smith and this two-prong assault served the group well until Smith embarked on his temporary leave prior to the 1990 release of No Prayer For The Dying. Janick Gers, who'd delivered the riffs for Bruce Dickinson's initial solo foray, Tattooed Millionaire, filled that hole so competently he's been entrenched in the Maiden camp ever since. Which brings us front and center.

Paul Di'Anno had the spotlight first but after two records, Bruce Dickinson stepped in to fill his wailing shoes. Here was an Englishman born with an extraordinary set of tonsils whose command of a concert stage was nothing short of acrobatic. With the exception of two LPs – 1995's The X Factor and 1998's Virtual XI, where Wolfsbane front man Blaze Bayley took over on vocals – Dickinson has become to Iron Maiden what a sergeant is to his regiment. And when he returned to the fold with 2000's triumphant Brave New World, Maiden fans knew he was back where he belonged, at the helm of the most indestructible metallic machine.

Great bands survive regardless of the challenges tossed at them. They are characterized by their ability to expand and contract with everything from personnel changes to the endlessly shifting schizophrenic marketplace. At the core, however, of any group that can miraculously stick around for 25 years are two irrevocable forces: the music and the fans. It is within this divine space where Iron Maiden's legacy is set deep in the concrete of rock history. They have never failed to deliver, album after album, the kind of compelling, chaotic, symphonic, anthemic and balls-to-the-wall skull-crushing musical masterpieces that have inspired and solicited a loyal and devoted following which knows no equal.

And then, of course, there's Eddie. What does the horrific visage of a decaying corpse have to do with the zeitgeist of Iron Maiden? The answer is a helluva lot! Eddie is inextricably attached to Maiden. He is the underworld mascot of mystery and mayhem, the galvanizing component that solicits a cringe, a chuckle, nauseating recoil or a reason to run to the hills in fear of your life! At any given moment, he has the ability to fly off that album cover and invade your dreamscape, toting his satanic six-string with one purpose: to shred you to death! Can you imagine a more delightful way for a metal head to depart this toxic, tormented twisted world than that? We got a letter at RIP magazine once from a fan that said when he died, he wanted Eddie to read the eulogy at his funeral. Can heaven wait for that?

When you're at an Iron Maiden concert, you're with your tribe. Yes, the lyrical images are oft times violent and the blaring instrumental barrage can take a toll on your senses, but you don't care. You love metal and these are your metal warriors, skilled in the ways of primordial presentation, masters of the craft, keepers of the flame that burns in the heart of every head banger that ever hoisted a fist in honor of an incendiary riff or wolverine howl. Immortal fans, these are your Maiden songs. Play them loud, play them often, play them together, brother and sister, and become one with the Rainmaker.

Now please, I beg you raise your goblet and pay reverent toast to the once and future kings of metal. That not high enough! I know you can do better than that. Ahh, there you go! Fly on your way like an eagle. Fly as high as the sun. And don't worry about getting burned. Our pilot knows his way around the sky.

Lonn Friend

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