Review: Death On The Road (2005)

The second live album from the reformed Iron Maiden of the new millennium is their darkest and most dramatic yet, with a heavy emphasis on material from their most recent studio album Dance Of Death.

Death On The Road
Produced by Kevin Shirley, co-produced by Steve Harris
Released 29 August 2005

The overwhelming return of Iron Maiden with Brave New World in 2000 had been given its proper book-end with the live album Rock In Rio in 2002. Easily putting to rest any cynical opinion that they were back only for a quick cash-grab, Maiden then released the impressive album Dance Of Death in 2003 and staged their most theatrical production since the 1980s when they went on tour.

In a welcome contrast to their classic days, the band and managment decided that live albums in the era of the new six-piece Maiden line-up would come regularly. Producer Kevin Shirley was retained to record Maiden over just one night in Dortmund, Germany on 24 November 2003, as the Dance Of Death tour hit the Westfalenhalle that Maiden had so often played before, not least at the very memorable conclusion to the Piece Of Mind tour exactly 20 years earlier.

The by now unbeatable final line-up of Iron Maiden that recorded Death On The Road in late 2003: Adrian Smith, Steve Harris, Nicko McBrain, Bruce Dickinson, Dave Murray and Janick Gers.

The sound and energy of Iron Maiden live in 2003 is immensely powerful, and even the mediocre opener Wildest Dreams sizzles with the playful enthusiasm that would underscore the sheer performance ability of this ultimate Iron Maiden line-up. Top-notch renditions of classics follow immediately: Wrathchild, Can I Play With Madness and The Trooper.

Shirley captures the band expertly and coats their performance in a clear and punchy sound. Compare this recording of the Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son hit single Can I Play With Madness to that previously featured on 1993’s A Real Live One, and the leap in production value and hi-fi immersion is staggering.

Can I Play With Madness appeared in the Maiden set for the first time in a decade on the Dance Of Death tour in 2003-04.

A few classics out of the way, Maiden knuckle down to present their ambitious new music with unmatched confidence. Title track Dance Of Death is imbued with faultless emotion and drama, followed by a rousing take of album highlight Rainmaker and then the deeply moving melodies and lyrics of Brave New World. In their abundance of new epics, Maiden then nail a career-high performance of the inimitable Paschendale:

The fact of the matter is that the music and performance brings both goosebumps and a tear to the eye. Particularly in the light of the band’s troubled 1990s period, the majestic triumph of this rebooted Iron Maiden is a jolt of energy for any fan, probably combined with a sense of gratitude for being given this second golden age of the greatest hard rock band in history.

Singer Bruce Dickinson has by now established the consistent quality of operatic and emotionally charged vocal performances that would carry Maiden to great peaks in the post-2000 period. Behind him pounds the flawless rhythm machine of drummer Nicko McBrain and bassist Steve Harris, often aided by the punch and melodic glue of guitarist Adrian Smith. The latter slots in equally impressively with his co-soloists Dave Murray and Janick Gers.

Artist Melvyn Grant’s strange fascination with intestines carried over from his Virtual XI artwork into this rendition of Eddie, and it would continue into the subsequent The Final Frontier.

In light of all this, it is no shame that the deep cut Lord Of The Flies from the Blaze Bayley-era album The X Factor seems a little pale, and even this track packs a punch and sounds better than before with Dickinson lifting the vocal lines a complete octave for much of the song.

The tracks in the latter half of the concert are much more predictable, Hallowed Be Thy Name and Fear Of The Dark among them, but by the time the set finally winds down Maiden still have a surprise up their sleeve. As the first encore, they pick up their acoustic guitars for a joyfully affecting performance of the final track from Dance Of Death, Journeyman:

Death On The Road is breathtaking as a setlist, as a performance, and as a high-quality audio production. In the years that had passed since their 1999 reformation, Iron Maiden had released two studio records and two live albums of such impressive quality that the world were now accustomed anew to having a perpetually productive and comforting Maiden around. The band would even manage the impressive feat of upping their game on their next studio album, A Matter Of Life And Death (2006).

In the meantime, the Death On The Road album equals Rock In Rio, in fact the two are great companion pieces from this era of Maiden History. And in retrospect it seems that this is the point in time when the future of Iron Maiden opened up into endless creative and commercial possibilities that are still being explored two decades later.

Nothing if not great.

Christer’s verdict: 5/6

6/6 Masterpiece
5/6 Great
4/6 Good
3/6 OK
2/6 Disappointing
1/6 Crap

9 thoughts on “Review: Death On The Road (2005)

    • Don’t hold your breath, Andy. I’m currently working on a piece about the 2005-14 period, that’s why I had to revisit Death On The Road and A Matter Of Life And Death. Senjutsu is way down the line.

  1. I listened to this (and AMOLAD) while working yesterday! The live version of Paschendale is incredible and prompted me to watch the video clip for the first time. I’d always assumed it was Adrian doing the “harmony” vocals in the second verse (albeit with limited range and a bit off key) but was shocked to see it was Steve on the video. Why the hell didn’t they get H to do it? He’s demonstrably a better singer than Steve (indeed he’s recorded albums as lead vocals)! I reckon I’m probably a better singer than Steve thinking about it.

  2. A great live album, this one. It improves on Dance of Death by replacing most of the album’s filler with great songs from the back catalogue… Lord of the Flies is a highlight for me, though I do like the Blaze era more than most.

  3. Yes, a solid live album, and possibly the best of the modern era. I much prefer it to RiR – Maiden being contained in a hall adds to the intensity. I have to admit I’m not really a fan of Paschendale. It surprised me that Adrian wrote music. I never took him him for a purveyor of Harris-esque plod, but it’s an interesting song. It needs to be seen as well as heard but Steve’s video edit does it no favours at all. Journeyman is another interesting track, more curio than classic, and one I generally skip. The standouts for me are Lord of the Flies, Dance of Death, and Rainmaker. I love those flashes of 80s-style Murray magic on the latter.

  4. I agree with Ross about “Paschendale.” Nice intro, but the rest of it is a bit by-the-numbers and sounds like three songs or so stitched together, rather than as a unified composition. Great intro and guitar work by Dave and Adrian, but still a bit boring as a song that evokes little intellectual or emotional investment when all is said and done. Not as bad as “No More Lies,” which goes on and on, like it never wants to stop. I really enjoy the classics on the first disk, as well as an excellent and very percussive rendition of “Brave New World.”

    The sound is excellent, very reminiscent of the sound on Maiden England. I wonder whether they used distance miking to capture much of the sound, as it has that quality to it, very roomy sounding. Although I appreciate the sound quality, I have also learned to appreciate the in-your-face recording techniques and honesty on A Real Live One and A Real Dead One. I love how close and harmonically rich the guitars sound on those albums.

  5. I enjoy this live album overall. I could without Wildest Dream (just dont like the song – but being the album opener, it’s customary to lead off with it) and No More Lies. Also Can I Play with Madness doesn’t sound good and really doesn’t fit the set list. Excellent live version of Rainmaker and Paschendale. Would have loved it if they added Montsegur to the set. It’s an underrated track.

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