Iron Maiden’s first live record has gone down in history as one of the greatest live albums of all time, and for good reasons. Live After Death documents a metal legend performing at the height of its power, and it can draw on a wealth of material from the first five studio albums that is simply staggering.
The vinyl reissues of Iron Maiden’s 1980s catalog continue with Live After Death, which was probably a long-awaited live album in its time. Maiden could possibly have released the Hammersmith show in 1982 as a live record (it sounds fucking awesome, and would have been an obvious live record these days), but they decided to not even release it as a VHS video, which had been the original plan.
Oh well, nothing was filmed or recorded on the Piece Of Mind tour in 1983, apart from the significantly shortened and reduced final show at the Dortmund festival in December, so if the band didn’t document the Powerslave tour we’d be facing a case of unforgivable neglect of the band’s early days and classic era, clearly akin to cultural sabotage.
But it finally happened. Recorded at Long Beach Arena in California and London’s Hammersmith Odeon during the groundbreaking World Slavery Tour in 1984-85, the Live After Death show centers on the best material from the then current Powerslave album, interspersed with other selected catalog highlights. So it’s all culled from the band’s incredible opening salvo of 5 albums in 4 years. There’s not a single song here that could easily have been dropped, and there is still a huge pile of masterworks that didn’t make the set.
Add to all of that another artwork masterpiece by Derek Riggs:
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Live After Death has always been a double album, and so there was always a gatefold sleeve very much like the recent vinyl picture disc. Those discs themselves carry other Riggs illustrations for the World Slavery Tour and Live After Death, as well as the Phantom Of The Opera painting that was issued with the live Run To The Hills single.
Yes, there are some serious vibes with Live After Death! Whatever one thinks about Maiden’s work then and later, the effort and money that went into their album packages in the classic era, both visuals and sonics, is second to none.
When it comes to sonics producer Martin Birch conjures all his live album expertise, earned on works like Deep Purple’s Made In Japan, and deftly captures the spirit of mid-80s Iron Maiden. It’s big, it’s bold, and it’s nothing short of magical in both vibe and its historical importance. The classic era line-up, Harris-Murray-Smith-Dickinson-McBrain, has by now settled in and honed its attack to perfection. Maiden have eased into their mid classic period, after having established the unbeatable line-up in 1982-83.
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One negative can be noted, though. Singer Dickinson clearly sounds more strained and struggling than before, and it’s a fact that several vocal parts were redone in the studio. This is most notable on acrobatic tunes such as The Trooper and Hallowed Be Thy Name. Dickinson’s delivery simply doesn’t match the video companion, which is unaltered. His struggle is however both understandable and excusable, when one considers the mammoth effort involved in fronting Maiden on a 12-month non-stop tour…
It’s still all good, and the guitar interplay of Murray and Smith lifts the record to incredible heights. The riffs, the solos, the harmonies – every single thing is perfectly delivered, and imbued with emotion on top of the technical expertise. Stand-out tracks include Revelations, Flight Of Icarus, and the definitive version of Hallowed…, but the centerpiece of the album is obviously Rime Of The Ancient Mariner.
Also, the remastered CD included the original fourth side of the vinyl release, meaning the Hammersmith songs that were left off the first generation CDs. This is of course a non-issue with the current vinyl release. Thus we are rewarded with the bonus of great live versions of songs that were no longer in the set by the time of the American leg of the Powerslave tour, among them Children Of The Damned and Phantom Of The Opera.
In other words, the package is complete. The double Live After Death set casts the huge shadow that Maiden would be standing in when they faced the overdog challenge of maintaining their status and creating their next studio album in 1986.
There’s no argument, really. Live After Death is as essential to Iron Maiden as KISS Alive! is to KISS. It’s the sound by which either band would forever be defined and all their work measured. A masterpiece.
Christer’s Verdict: 6/6