The live album onslaught of 1993 continued in the fall of the year. But the production and performances of Iron Maiden at the end of the first Dickinson period do not hold up well.
A Real Dead One
Produced by Steve Harris
Released 18 October 1993
It started with A Real Live One early in the year. And then the second live album of 1993, A Real Dead One, had its premise altered when singer Bruce Dickinson announced his decision to leave the band. The setlist for his final tour was reworked to include some rarely-heard gems, and the band recorded more shows.
The inclusion of older and rarer songs in the show must certainly have been a treat for the fans: Prowler, Transylvania, Remember Tomorrow and Where Eagles Dare hadn’t been heard for years, and it’s nice to finally have them included on a live album. Sadly, Steve Harris’ production does not do justice to the material by a long shot. The sound is thin, dry, and tough on the ears, just like the predecessor. The loss of producer Martin Birch to retirement would haunt Maiden for years.
The choice of album title is disastrous, drawing attention to the terrible sound mix and the potential death of Maiden upon Dickinson’s exit. It is frankly impossible to understand why Maiden went with this title, it having no pun or joke that would be even remotely funny for band and fans at that time.
But the worst thing about this is the production.
One problem is the way the bare-bones mix sheds unforgiving light on the guitar work. It becomes obvious that Dave Murray and Janick Gers’ double Strat attack is flat in tone when compared to the Les Paul counterpoint that both Adrian Smith and Dennis Stratton had earlier provided. And without Smith, Maiden have lost a lot of their power, subtlety and melodic sensibility, becoming more punkish and off-the-wall in their approach to live performances. This hurts material like 2 Minutes To Midnight and Hallowed Be Thy Name, and it could be seen as mercy on Harris’ part that he left Wasted Years off the album for use as a B-side.
Another audio problem with all of Harris’ Barnyard Studios production work in 1993 is his desire to have a lot of audience noise in the mix. This leads him to turn up the audience microphones at choice moments, letting the hall ambience bleed into the mix, which includes the sound of the band from the front-of-house PA. When the audience microphones are then turned down or taken out, it’s a painful return to the dry-as-sandpaper sound of the band only. It sounds utterly amateurish.
There is also a frustrating lack of cohesion and atmosphere to an album with songs recorded in many different cities and put together outside of the concert sequence in which they were performed. Unlike the immediate successor Live At Donington, A Real Dead One gives no sense of the flow of a 1992-93 Iron Maiden show.
So, the album boasts a very good batch of songs, some that had never been on a Maiden live album and hadn’t been performed in years. But all is neutered by imprecise performances and a powerless production that takes away the potential depth of the music and leaves the listener not wanting to give the album another spin.
When classic material is presented this way, Maiden becomes something close to a parody of themselves. One can actually understand why Dickinson felt the urge to go elsewhere at that point in time.
Christer’s Verdict: 2/6