Friday, November 17, 2017

Iron Maiden Live Albums Ranked

by Nathaniel Puente

It has been well-established that Iron Maiden is one of the greatest live acts in music history. Their amazing live shows include a ten-foot incarnation of Eddie roaming the stage, Bruce Dickinson jumping around, and oh yeah, some of the best music in metal history being performed. They are awesome to say the least. Over the years Iron Maiden has captured some of that essence on record and released them as live albums. In fact, today is the day that Maiden's Book of Souls: Live Chapter is released to the world. It is their 12th live album released and it is a good one. Where does it rank among their live albums released so far? Scroll down the list to find out!

12. A Real Dead One - 1993

Every list has to have a bottom dweller and on this one it just happens to be A Real Dead One from 1993. In the year of Bruce Dickinson's departure, the band released three live albums across the span of six months and this one fell right in the middle of that insanity. This live album was the counterpart to A Real Live One, which was released earlier in 1993. The main point that split the two albums was that A Real Dead One contained material played from the band's first five albums on their Fear of the Dark Tour and A Real Live Tour. The strong point of this release comes from its setlist, which contains much of the band's more classic work such as "The Number of the Beast," "The Trooper," "Hallowed Be Thy Name," among others. It also contains some more obscure recordings like "Where Eagles Dare" and "Prowler." At the same time though, the rehashing of the popular material might be its downfall. Would I really choose to hear "Sanctuary" live from this record just for fun? Probably not. This album, along with its counterpart, are usually criticized for the production where the bass is a lot more clear than the guitars which are kind of blended together and not very unique. As a biased bassist, I like the overemphasized sound of the bass, but it might not have been the best choice on this release. Steve Harris was the producer after all so it should be expected. Overall, this live album is good but far from their best work.

11. A Real Live One - 1993

If you had a twin you would probably get dragged down with them all of the time. The same can be said for the A Real Live/Dead One combo. In 1998, when Iron Maiden remastered all of their albums, they rightfully placed the two together on a complete release titled A Real Live Dead One. I always wonder why they did not just do that in the first place. This album contains material from the band's sixth through ninth album, that were seen as the newer work at the time. The feelings about this one are pretty much exactly the same about the other one. "Bring Your Daugther... to the Slaughter" and "The Clairvoyant" are highlights while "Be Quick or Be Dead" and "From Here to Eternity" are low points. The coolest thing on the record to me is before "Wasting Love" when Bruce gives a speech in French to the Paris audience. For that alone it scores just a bit higher than A Real Dead One.

10. Death On The Road - 2005(Recorded in 2003)

What can really be said about Death on the Road? The first four songs might be the most boring first four to begin an Iron Maiden live album. After we are treated to "Wildest Dreams," one of the weakest songs from Dance of Death, we get an always thrilling rendition of "Wrathchild," and then the must play in every Iron Maiden concert  "Can I Play With Madness?" and lastly "The Trooper." Just terrific. Those are all great songs in their own right, but it just feels gross starting a concert with those on a tour that's supposedly about Dance of Death. After that though the set gets really good with "Dance of Death," "Rainmaker," "Brave New World," and "Paschendale" making up for the weak start. The music is mixed well and every instrument sounds in check. The crowd noise does sound tweaked a bit high, but it gives it that bootleg from the middle of the audience feel which is really cool for some folks. There can be no discussion about Death on the Road without mentioning the live video that would accompany it a few years later. I am not sure if Steve Harris was attempting to set a record for most jump cuts in one DVD, but he definitely achieved it within the first five minutes of the film with an endless amount of nauseating jump cuts. Stick to the audio recording of this album.

9. BBC Archives - 2002(Recordings from 1980-1982)

Any time a band shells out some unheard recordings from its early days it is going to be a big deal. That was somewhat the case when Iron Maiden released the BBC Archives along with two other gems as apart of the Eddie's Archive box set from 2002. BBC Archives contains recordings from three separate concerts from Maiden's early days and one from when the band was already a well-established front runner. The first is a four-song session from Iron Maiden's performance on BBC's Friday Rock Show from 1979. These songs feature Doug Sampson on drums soon before he was replaced by Clive Burr. Besides The Soundhouse Tapes, this is the earliest official recording of Maiden. Of course bootlegs exist out there from prior, but this is the only thing the band want you listening to! It is a pretty decent recording and definitely for historical purposes should be looked at intently. The next recordings come from Maiden's performance at 1982's Reading Festival. By this time Bruce Dickinson is in the band and you can feel the raw energy oozing out of the record with every note played from the boys and every high screech from Bruce. With Beast Over Hammersmith, which was recorded on the same tour and released with Eddie's Archive, outshining this recording, it makes this one feel a little redundant. The next recording is another Reading Festival performance, this time from 1980 when Dennis Stratton was still handling guitar duties. To me, this is the best recording on the album. Di'anno's voice sounds a lot better than on the 1979 recording as he takes command of the audio. Steve Harris, Dave Murray, Clive Burr, and Dennis Stratton do not let him take too much charge as their presence is definitely all felt collectively on this what was one of the best concerts of 1980's Iron Maiden tour.  The final recording on the album comes from 1988's performance at Donington. It's a great recording and in fact this is the concert where "The Clairvoyant" was recorded for single release, although strangely enough it does not appear on this live album. It's a superb recording but it suffers the same fate as the 1982 recording in that its made redundant by Maiden England, which exceeds this recording in almost every way. The thing about this album that confuses me the most is why it is in a somewhat shuffled order instead of  being listed chronologically.  Overall, BBC Archives is a very interesting and historical release, but not the best by a long shot.

8. En Vivo! - 2012

As Iron Maiden have trekked down further in their career, they have made an increased effort in releasing live albums, and it is really the best move they can make. Their live work is what gets them the most praise, and thus they bring it to the masses in carefully wrapped CDs, vinyl, and DVDs. Here's an example of Iron Maiden shelling out another live release, 2012's En Vivo! recorded in Santiago, Chile in 2011 off of Iron Maiden's Final Frontier World Tour. That tour, which ran from 2010-2011, was a great example of Maiden pleasing both the casual and hardcore fans alike with mixing their classic work with their newer less desired music. For someone like myself obsessed with the band, I wish they would whip out "Fates Warning" or "Flash of the Blade" just for the heck of it, but am always happy to see them play material from the latest album and that's exactly what they did for this release. The only negatives here come from "Satellite 15... the Final Frontier," which is just a fairly weak song, and "The Wicker Man," where the guitar intro sounds very unfamiliar to how we have heard it in the past. One note that has always upset me is that before playing "2 Minutes to Midnight," Bruce mentions how it's a song from 1982, when this song is from Powerslave, which came out in 1984. Now obviously Bruce is not a Maiden obsessed nerd like most of us, but it is something maybe he should have correct in his mind before he shouts to millions of people watching. For that alone it got knocked down a spot maybe.

7. Live at Donington - 1993

Somehow Iron Maiden managed to squeeze out three live albums in 1993 and this is the last of the bunch, and amazingly it was the best released of the year. This album definitely sounds like what A Real Live One and A Real Dead One were trying to accomplish. The dark and ominous mood of the band's era are heard throughout this release and it works really well. Major bonus points are given for guitarist Adrian Smith's appearance on "Running Free," the last song performed on the release. Smith had left the band in 1989 after spending eight years in Maiden. He was replaced with Janick Gers. For this one song, however, Smith joined the band and they played as a six-piece for the first time. In 1999 of course Smith would rejoin the band, along with Bruce Dickinson who would leave for six years after 1993's A Real Live Tour, and the band would be a permanent six-piece to this day. "Fear of the Dark" has remained a staple in Iron Maiden's set as the only 90s era song and even in its first tour its presence seems larger than life. This live album is largely overlooked but most Maiden fans should look back on it and appreciate it. Then maybe we will finally get a damn 90s history tour.

6. Beast Over Hammersmith - 2002(Recorded in 1982)

This is the part of the list where it starts getting really hard to put an album where it might seem "too low." Beast Over Hammersmith was packaged in 2002 Eddie's Archive with the aforementioned BBC Archives and Best of the 'B' Sides. It was recorded in 1982 at the Hammersmith Odeon on Maiden's Beast on the Road tour, Bruce Dickinson's first full tour with the band. The setlist is absolutely phenomenal. It opens with "Murders in the Rue Morgue," which has alaways been personally preferred with Bruce on vocals rather than the original vocalist of the track Paul Di'anno. After that there is just a plethora of classic tracks from Maiden's first three albums with "Children of the Damned," "Killers," and "Phantom of the Opera" being notable. "Total Eclipse," the 'B' side to the "Run to the Hills" single even makes a rare appearance. The live video that accompanies the album is awesome, however at the time it was not released because the band and management were not happy with the lighting on the recording. Luckily it was finally released in 2005 on the Early Days DVD. There just is not much bad to say about this entire record, except that on a personal note I am much more fond of Bruce's vocals later on in his Maiden career rather than right at the beginning.

5. Maiden England - 2013(Recorded in 1988)

Narrowly defeating Beast Over Hammersmith is 2013's Maiden England. This recording comes from 1988 where it was originally recorded for video release. It should be noted that this album was originally released in 1994, but with only 10 songs, whereas the more familiar 2013 version has the full slate of 18 songs in the lineup. This is an excellent album, with everything you would want from an Iron Maiden release available for the picking. The setlist is terrific, with six songs being taken directly from the album's tour's namesake, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. "Infinite Dreams" and "The Clairvoyant" are bright spots from that album's appearances. Besides those songs we get great renditions of "Die With Your Boots On," "Killers," "The Prisoner," "Still Life," among others. The whole atmosphere of the album is phenomenal and it shows Maiden at their peak in the 1980s, although most would not call it their largest peak in their career. It is such an awesome album that it leaves you wondering what could possibly outdo it?

4. Book of Souls: Live Chapter - 2017

Somehow Iron Maiden continues to outdo themselves year after year. Like a fine wine, they have been perfected with their increased age and experience. There is a large amount of emotional baggage on this record for myself seeing as it was my first Iron Maiden concert that I saw for myself, front row by the way! The setlist has to be one of the best the band has ever done. Six songs are pulled from 2015's The Book of Souls and they definitely chose the best of the bunch with "If Eternity Should Fail," "Death or Glory," and "The Book of Souls" being concert highlights. Although there's a personal yearning for them to have played "When the River Runs Deep" and the 18-minute "Empire of the Clouds," I can live without it. The entire band is fully in sync here and never miss a step. It is an awesome feeling knowing that Maiden's legacy can continue on now in their fifth decade of releasing material.

3. Live After Death - 1985

There are some releases that even someone who is not an obsessed Iron Maiden fan can say "yeah, that's really cool." This is absolutely the case with 1985's Live After Death. This album contains recordings across four separate shows at Los Angeles's Long Beach Arena where Maiden sold out every show from March 13-17, 1985. The production is absolutely fantastic on this album. Every instrument is clear and distinct in its own way while blending in to make the final product sound crisp and superb. This live album spawned two singles, "Running Free" and "Run to the Hills." Both of these are two of the best recordings from the album. On the 1998 re-release the band added "Wrathchild," "22 Acacia Avenue," "Die With Your Boots On," "Children of the Damned," and "Phantom of the Opera," five amazing tracks recorded from UK shows in 1984 that were not included on the original release due to lack of space. One of the best things about this album has to be the album cover. It has gone on to become of Iron Maiden's most iconic album covers and for good reason. This album has stood the test of time as one of the best live albums in metal history.

2. Rock in Rio - 2002

The year 2000, or 2001 depending on how you want to look at it, was not just the beginning of the new millennium, it was the beginning of Iron Maiden's takeover of the world. With the release of 2000's Brave New World, the band from East Leyton, London were ready to show that they were back and were to be taken very seriously. Bruce Dickinson returned after a six year leave from the band in 1999 along with guitarist Adrian Smith who had been gone since 1989 and the band were ready to get back to business as a six-piece, including three guitarists. Why you ask? Well as Bruce once stated, "One guitar is never enough!" Anyway the band had to prove to the world that they were back to prominence and what better way than with a world tour that included a headlining gig at Brazil's coveted Rock in Rio, a concert that was one of the most important in Maiden history when they originally performed there in 1985. The band came out swinging with three songs from the newly released Brave New World, and would include a total of six songs from that album. The band also were able to incorporate ten of their twelve albums at the time into the set, only leaving out 1986's Somewhere in Time and 1990's No Prayer for the Dying. Which means, yes they did play material from the Blaze Bayley era(1994-1998). The inclusions of these songs are noble and well-warranted, however, to me "Sign of the Cross," from 1995's The X Factor, is the weak point of the album as Bruce's voice is not meant for the song. That being said the rendition of 1998's "The Clansman" is really well done. At the time of the album's release, many casual fans yearned for more classic material to be played and were upset at the setlist, but most hardcore fans can agree that the track listing on this release is amazing. My favorite live recording of any Iron Maiden song comes from "Fear of the Dark" on this album. I still get chills listening to it. This really was Iron Maiden's march back into the spotlight to show that they were here to stay for good.

1. Flight 666 - 2009

If Iron Maiden were not already in the stratosphere of the metal world, Flight 666 put them there. Maybe that is why they had to travel to outer space on 2010's The Final Frontier! This over-the-top live album, which was accompanied by the largely successful documentary of the same name, might just be the peak in Iron Maiden's career. At this point they could not be stopped and would conquer every place they visited. The tour of this live album was 2008-2009's Somewhere Back in Time Tour, where the band played 23 shows across 13 countries in the span of 45 days on the first leg of the tour. If that was not entertaining enough, the band travels in their own personal Boeing 757 plane, Ed Force One, which is piloted by lead singer Bruce Dickinson! All of that large spectacle aside, the band laid down some epic recordings on this release. The tour was a celebration of the band's music from the 1980s, which span across seven amazing albums that most regard as their best work.  "Churchill's Speech," Bruce's conversations to the crowd in between songs, "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," and everything about this release is so perfect. You will be smiling from ear to ear every time you listen to this album. There is no reason that this should not be the best Iron Maiden live album.

So there it is, a definitive ranking of Iron Maiden's 12 live albums. Is something too low or too high? Leave a comment and stay tuned for the next post on Heavy Metal Mania!


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