Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Magic and Maiden

The early years of the nineties saw Iron Maiden go through some changes. Guitarist Adrian Smith left the band and Bruce Dickinson recorded his first solo album. Janick Gers, who played with Dickinson on first solo album “Tattooed Millionaire”, replaced Smith and then Maiden soldiered on until the end of Dickinson’s tenure. This culminated in an event broadcast on MTV in North America and on pay-per-view in Britain as Iron Maiden played their last concert with their famed singer. However, this was more than just a concert as illusionist Simon Drake shared a stage with band performing ridiculous magic tricks. It all adds up to some very cheesy and crazy moments, but it’s very fun to watch.

The set list consists of 17 tracks covering all Maiden’s career up to that point. Other than taking in the band’s performance, Drake pulls some shenanigans during some of the songs. The most ridiculous and comical trick is during “From Here to Eternity.” Drake’s assistants kidnap Dave Murray and then Drake proceeds to cut off Murray’s hands. When it came time for the solo in the song, Drake walks with the hands onto the main stage with Murray’s guitar and plays the solo with his hands. It’s so cheesy, but it’s awesome.

This Drake character is something else. He is dressed in a leather jacket with a tough guy shirt on and his hair is a perfect do. He reminded of the Andrew “Dice” Clay minus the sunglasses. The facial expressions he makes are humorous as well as his horror magic tricks. He tortures some members of the audience who anger him. The neatest trick is when he grabs a member of the audience, puts a sack over his head and cuts if off.  The devious Drake then proceeds to toss the head to his assistants and play soccer with it. To finish the trick off, he grabs a mannequin's head and draws a clown face on it. He then puts the head in the sack and on the beheaded victim and then voila, the guy has his head back, but with a clown face on it. It sounds a bit silly, but it's sweet seeing it.

With the band itself, most of the Maiden classics are present like “The Trooper”, “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, “Fear of the Dark”, and “Number of the Beast.” It was especially menacing when Dickinson began “Hallowed Be Thy Name” singing on a part of the stage with a hangman’s noose. It was a nice touch and I give much credit for singing a tough song flawlessly.

Some Maiden bites that are not heard that often like the instrumental “Transylvania” and “Bring Your Daughter…To the Slaughter” were a joy to hear, especially the gliding tones of “Transylvania.” I don’t think there is any way the band would want to play “Bring Your Daughter…” live today. “Be Quick or Be Dead” was busted out as the show opener and the aggression is still in place in the live setting. It’s is a really underrated song too; Maiden needs to dust off in the near future.

The last part of the concert is when the cheesiness is taken to another level. Iron Maiden finishes with the song that bears its namesake and as they are taking their final bows, Drake kidnaps Dickinson. Drake then puts Dickinson in an “iron maiden” and kills him! Eddie comes out with a sword and chops off his head and puts it on a spike right next to Paul Di’Anno’s dome. It’s very ridiculous, but it happens except the part about Di’Anno’s head.

The only improvement this special event needed is the sound. The vocals are way too low in the mix for the first few songs and the guitars are way too loud. There were some parts where I could barely hear Dickinson sing and that was frustrating.

“Raising Hell” showcases Iron Maiden at a time of change and at a volatile point of the band’s history. Dickinson sums up it perfectly at the end of the show when he tells the crowd “Well, we’ll see you sometime.” Drake’s horror magic tricks are good for a laugh and some of it is way over the top, but in the end its magic and Iron Maiden. I would definitely watch that on pay-per-view.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Singled Out


Yes, the title of this review is a terrible pun, but the collection presented today is anything but. Judas Priest is a landmark heavy metal band. Some regard them as part of the holy trinity of metal bands along with Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. Columbia Records celebrated the legacy of this band by releasing their single collection starting with “Sin After Sin” and ending at “Painkiller.” In total this collection has 51 songs presented on 20 CDs. This is a must have for any Priest fan and collector.            
The discs are presented as mini-LPs complete with faithfully restored packaging and sleeves just as they were when released as records back in the day. All the CDs fit firmly in the box and are compact and easy to carry around. Going through the single history of the band makes for intriguing listens by seeing what they were trying to do spreading certain tracks to the audience.

The b-sides on these singles are usually other studio songs or live cuts. The live tracks are fruitful listens as there some energetic performances of “Freewheel Burning” and “Exciter.” My personal favorites were the tracks regarded in my hometown of Cleveland in 1978 with “Beyond the Realms of Death”, “White Heat Red Hot”, and “Starbreaker.” The live version of “Starbreaker” is much faster and has more aggressive drums and “Beyond the Realms of Death” shows Rob Halford’s godly vocals. He is the Metal God for a reason.
There is one quirky aspect of this collection though that I don’t understand. After reaching the singles from “Turbo”, the next ones found are for “Painkiller.” The singles from “Ram It Down” are missing. There were four singles from “Ram It Down”, but none are here. In reality, this really isn’t the complete collection and there is no excuse to leave them off.

Besides that omission, to round out the set are a pack of album magnets to proudly represent Judas Priest fandom on a refrigerator and also a booklet detailing each single and the songs found on each along with chart positions and so forth. There are also some neat pictures to stare at to keep each listener entertained.

Even though the “Ram It Down” singles have been rammed out of this collection, do not let this deter a purchase. It is a limited set and since this came out last year, I suggest any Priest fan to pick this up before there isn’t a “single” one left.