The first Iron Maiden live album of the new millennium underlined the major changes that the band had gone through at the tail end of the 1990s. Three guitars, a certain duo back in the band, and for the first time since Martin Birch there is a producer at hand that makes it all sound really good.
Rock In Rio
Produced by Kevin Shirley, co-produced by Steve Harris
Released 25 March 2002
Maiden fans had experienced a massive improvement in production from Virtual XI (1998) to Brave New World (2000), and the first Maiden live album of the new era would also be in a completely different league from the disappointing 1993 live records. The rehabilitation of Iron Maiden around 2000 was due to many factors, but the sonic presentation was certainly chief among them.
Of the many producers Maiden had considered for their comeback album in 2000, Kevin Shirley made the most positive impression on them. Somehow, Shirley was able to bridge the gulf between traditionalist Steve Harris and the ambitious aesthetics of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith. With very few exceptions, Shirley would handle all of Maiden’s studio and live recordings from there on. The Rio recording of Brave New World proves how strong the Maiden sound had become in a very short time:
A slight minus with this record is the absence of any deep cuts from the catalog. Unlike the previous Ed Hunter reunion tour in 1999, the Brave New World setlist kept only the most obvious oldies, like 2 Minutes To Midnight, The Trooper and The Evil That Men Do. All of these were already overplayed throughout the 1990s, but it must be said that the Rock In Rio versions are easily the best since the 1980s.
It was certainly good that Maiden focused on the latest album on this tour, although The Mercenary and Dream Of Mirrors are almost as pale here as on Brave New World. Thankfully, The Wicker Man, Ghost Of The Navigator and the haunting title track seen above have probably never been heard in better versions than on Rock In Rio. The vitality of Maiden’s performance, led by a completely incandescent Dickinson, is simply world-class.
In addition, utterly monumental versions of Blood Brothers, Sign Of The Cross and The Clansman does remind the listener that Steve Harris can really write classic metal songs. And now he had the proper band to play them too. Comparing this version of The X Factor’s (1995) Sign Of The Cross to the more recent one on the Harris and Tony Newton-produced Nights Of The Dead, Legacy Of The Beast: Live In Mexico City (2020) also proves the point that Shirley should do Maiden’s live albums, period.
Seen here is the cover for the 2002 single release of Run To The Hills, which fittingly features Eddie as Dickinson. The artworks connected to Rock In Rio are negligable, the album cover was designed by Peacock, but this one at least acknowledges the incredible influence of the singer on Maiden’s status and performance quality. He was murdered by Eddie on the cover of 1993’s Hallowed Be Thy Name live single, so it is only right that he comes back to life in this way.
Rock In Rio is actually the first Maiden live album with Bruce at the true top of his game. Live After Death (1985) is obviously a faultless classic, but the vocals were doctored in the studio. The singing is great on Live At Donington (1993), but in a different style from the more classic approach that Dickinson has here returned to.
When Rock In Rio draws to a close with great renditions of beloved tracks like Fear Of The Dark and Hallowed Be Thy Name, there is no denying that the album confirms the power of the reunited Iron Maiden. The ultimate consolidation of their standing would come with a further studio album, but the 1999 to 2001 period had seen an incredible turn in their fortunes, and Rock In Rio effectively drives a stake through the heart of the ghost of 1998.
I could complain that the setlist is a little on the safe side, and there was more interesting live records to come, not least Flight 666 (2009). But this double record was surely better than any Maiden fan could even dream of just a couple of years earlier. As a statement of intent, Rock In Rio is a great Iron Maiden album.
Christer’s verdict: 5/6