Iron Maiden’s first proper box set is a mixed bag, or box, as it should be. It runs the gamut from throwaway B-sides to essential live recordings, and a long lost concert from 1982 is the most precious jewel in the package. When Maiden opened their vault there was much to enjoy.
Released 4 November 2002
Iron Maiden had dabbled in box sets before. The First Ten Years was released in 1990, in the run-up to Maiden’s latest record No Prayer For The Dying, collecting the maxi editions of the band’s singles on either vinyl or CD. There had also been the remastered Eddie’s Head collection of enhanced CD albums in 1998. But Eddie’s Archive would be the first box that unearthed previously unreleased material.
Well, there’s a scroll with a family tree printed on it, and a shot glass, and the box is rather nice. But let’s face it, the music contents will always be the deciding factor when it comes to Iron Maiden.
The package consists of three double-CD sets, mostly culled from the 1980s. When enjoyed in the order here described it makes for a really great three-course Maiden meal that will last all night. Warm up nice and easy with the BBC recordings, get pleasantly pummeled by the intensity of Hammersmith 1982, and then drift through the B-sides as a diverse nightcap. Check it out:
Produced by Tony Wilson
Recorded 1979 – 1988
The British broadcaster is in possession of a treasure trove of Maiden recordings, and luckily the fans get to enjoy that over the course of two discs in Eddie’s Archive. First up is the live (or nearly so) performance in the BBC‘s radio studio on 14 November 1979.
The collection opens with a ludicrously fresh and heavy Iron Maiden, in this reviewer’s opinion the best recorded version of this song that there ever was. The sound is full and clear, arguably better than what Maiden would achieve soon after when recording the debut Maiden album in early 1980.
This is also the only recorded evidence of Maiden’s late 1979 line-up: bassist Steve Harris, guitarist Dave Murray and singer Paul Di’Anno, joined here by drummer Doug Sampson and guitarist Tony Parsons. The latter delivers a very cool and unique guitar solo in this rendition of Sanctuary, and only a few weeks of time and the determined minds of Harris and manager Rod Smallwood separates Sampson and Parsons from the first Maiden album.
We’re quickly moving on to Maiden’s Reading Festival appearances on 23 August 1980 and 28 August 1982, as Maiden morphs into line-ups with guitarist Dennis Stratton and drummer Clive Burr, and then singer Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith.
Highlights of Reading 1980: Paul Di’Anno on absolutely scorching form, particularly when delivering a career-high performance of Remember Tomorrow. And there is an early version of Killers in the set, with Dennis Stratton noodling away in the right channel, not quite finding the right riffs at the right time but filling in with plenty of nice melodic touches to make up for it.
Highlights of Reading 1982: The sheer energy of a Dickinson-led Maiden on their first world tour, basking in the glory of their breakthrough The Number Of The Beast album. But it’s not as great as the main course recording of the box, coming up soon.
Producer for all of these BBC recordings was Tony Wilson, and he achieves a fatter and heavier live sound than Maiden would often do with official releases, even the classic Live After Death (excellent as it is, the low end is not its greatest strength) and most definitely the 1993 live records produced by Steve Harris himself. The BBC tapes seem to prove that there is a way to hear a rough-and-ready Iron Maiden that still sounds powerful and exciting.
Capping the first double-disc set of the box is a partial presentation of Maiden’s headlining appearance at the Donington Monsters Of Rock festival on 20 August 1988. Having been offered lower billing at the event for years, Maiden finally went for it with a full-on top-of-the-bill performance, heralded then and looked back on now as their crowning glory.
There must certainly exist a complete recording of this show, and it really should see the light of day. A further three tracks (not included here) were available on the live The Clairvoyant single in 1988. Hopefully Maiden will get around to doing special editions of their albums at some point, like Steve Harris’ favorite band Jethro Tull have been up to for years now, and there will be occasion to share complete concerts with us nerdy and paying fans.
A highlight of this recording is a completely diabolical Moonchild that opens the show. And this rendition of Infinite Dreams edges the Maiden England version with the sheer power of its attack. It is admittedly evident that the insane touring schedules of the 1980s has really hurt Dickinson’s voice by this point, but we are still experiencing vintage Maiden magic here.
Speaking of which, let’s move on to the second set of CDs in the box, the main course on the meny.
Beast Over Hammersmith
Produced by Doug Hall and Steve Harris
Recorded 20 March 1982
When Iron Maiden started their world tour in support of The Number Of The Beast in early 1982, they filmed and recorded their show at London’s Hammersmith Odeon with the intention of releasing a concert video. Being unhappy with the filmed result, they decided against it. Some tracks were later included in the retrospective video 12 Wasted Years in 1987, and more would see the light of day with the DVD release The Early Days in 2004. But it was here in Eddie’s Archive that the entire audio recording would surface.
And what a recording it is.
This is Iron Maiden on the cusp of international success. The Number Of The Beast is two days away from release, so they don’t yet know that they have recorded a worldwide smash hit. But this live recording testifies to the fact that Maiden with Dickinson at the helm are 100% sure of their own power. Bursting onto the stage with a glorious Murders In The Rue Morgue from the Killers album, all cylinders are firing. I might be one of the few who dislikes Drifter, particularly when incorporating Bruce’s version of Paul’s “yoyoyo” singalong, but the rest of this recording is pretty much undeniable.
Highlights range from a definitive version of Children Of The Damned to unbelievable Dickinson performances of The Number Of The Beast, The Prisoner and Hallowed Be Thy Name. Add to that massively powerful renditions of Phantom Of The Opera and Killers, among others, and we have a bonafide classic recording on our hands.
Props must also be given to Steve Harris and longtime sound engineer Doug Hall for capturing and mixing what is certainly one of the best-sounding Maiden live recordings of all time.
Beast Over Hammersmith, the live album that never was, and then finally was after all.
Best Of The B-Sides
Produced by Gary Edwards, Martin Birch, Steve Harris, Nigel Green, Kevin Shirley, Doug Hall
Recorded 1979 – 1999
Iron Maiden have always taken great pride in providing bonus material for fans who buy their singles. Back in the day, most bands would simply issue an album track with another album track, but Maiden went the extra mile in releasing live versions and non-album cover songs that made their singles fun and worthwhile to collect.
Since there is such a mass of tracks piled up over the years, a selection must somehow be made to fit onto two CDs. Some good tracks must be left out, 1982’s Total Eclipse (an original Maiden track) and 1988’s Massacre (a Thin Lizzy cover) are missing in action here, but the overall selection is fair enough.
Highlights of the B-sides: Most of the first disc, to be honest, and particularly the 1986 B-sides Reach Out (sung by Adrian Smith) and Juanita from the Somewhere In Time sessions, and the 1988 re-recording of Prowler from the Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son sessions.
The lowest point is the increasingly uninteresting B-sides from the 1990s, meaning much of the second disc. An exception to this is the welcome inclusion of the Blaze Bayley era track Justice Of The Peace, which failed to be included on The X Factor for reasons only Steve Harris could possibly explain. Judgement Day is not as good, but both of these tracks contain some of Bayley’s best performances with Maiden, wasted as B-sides but thankfully included here to complete the picture.
Also of interest are the two live recordings of obscure Bayley material, Blood On The World’s Hands and The Aftermath. A box set like this should dig deep, and these tracks certainly count as deep cuts. Rounding the entire thing off are 1999 live versions of Futureal and Wasted Years, two widely different Maiden songs from widely different eras, both performed with elan by the millennium line-up of Maiden that saw Dickinson and Smith return to the band.
A footnote to this collection: On the same day, 4 November 2002, Maiden also released a compilation CD titled Edward The Great. This was clearly aimed at potential new fans, and it holds no interest for the longtime fan. The band’s first compilation, Best Of The Beast from 1996, was a much more interesting package. The 1999 video game-cum-greatest hits, Ed Hunter, was also better, even if the US version desecrated the original 1981 Wrathchild by having Bruce replace Paul’s vocals…
The Eddie’s Archive box, however, is a great piece of Iron Maiden archeology. In the early years of the 2000s, boxes like this one was the thing to do for the legacy type of hard rock and metal bands, and Maiden did it well. But twenty years later there is a need for something new and much more comprehensive: Iron Maiden should now step up and create immersive special editions of every studio album, packing boxes of CDs and DVDs with new remixes, associated recordings, live audio and video concerts. We will happily buy each and every one of them, won’t we?
Before signing off here, fans take note: There are two different versions of this box set out there! The original limited edition has a blue inlay and a numbered family tree. The later reissue has a red inlay and an unnumbered family tree. Both versions are pretty easy to come by second-hand, but the former (blue) should obviously be considered more valuable to the collector.
Christer’s Verdict: 5/6