Still the Perfect Introduction to Iron Maiden
Judas Priest. Yeah, since Day 1 of my personal heavy metal experience, I’ve always preferred the falsetto screaming and singing of Rob Halford over Dickinson’s distinctive wailing, the thrashier, and meaner approach reverberating off Downing’s and Tipton’s guitar fret-boards in the secondary prime of their career (PAINKILLER!) over the perhaps more adventurous guitar stylings of Murray & Smith and the monstrous drumming of Scott Travis over the more restrained, traditional leanings of Nicko McBrain.
Then, a few years ago, after a whole decade of jumping onto the Judas Priest side of the everlasting – and to be honest, very ridiculous – debate about who’s the better band of the two, I decided to check out the highly acclaimed “Rock in Rio” live DVD. I don’t remember how I even got the idea that this could change my mind but it most certainly did.
Why? Because these guys totally outperform their studio personae here, you can see, hear and feel that they are absolutely into it, creating more vivid versions of classics that had already gathered some dust over the decades. Also, that Brazilian audience is ON FIRE and I’m glad this live recording was made a few years before the tiresome smartphone-crowds started neutering the experience.
You know, I most certainly acknowledge the importance of early Iron Maiden, but for me the later, more progressive efforts like “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” or “Brave New World” are among their strongest releases and that’s probably the reason why I’m enjoying this live record more than I had initially expected. “The Evil That Men Do”, “Blood Brothers” and especially the title track off “Brave New World” are so well presented here, the latter two are even outclassing the original album tracks due to Bruce Dickinson’s motivating interaction with the crowd and his unbridled energy displayed on stage.
The biggest surprise though is probably the inclusion and execution of the Blaze-era tracks “Sign of the Cross” and “The Clansman” which absolutely blow the dry and lifeless originals out of the water, not only due to Dickinson’s superior handling of the vocals but also because of the larger-than-life sound created by the mighty guitar-triumvirate known as Smith, Murray & Gers. Watching Jannick’s seemingly effortless playing in all kinds of positions (he seems to enjoy himself the most out of the three and that is a tough task) is a lot of fun, if a bit frustrating for a struggling guitar player like myself…oh and of course I can’t leave out Steve Harris, whose stage presence and bass playing (electric and acoustic) is obviously totally on par with the overall high quality standard offered here and I think he’s always been one of the more amazing bassists in heavy metal.
Of course, the massive production of this concert helps a lot in bolstering said larger-than-life sound to even planetary scales. It is an absolutely flawless display of mixing and mastering skill. The amount of work that went into the visuals of this DVD is astonishing as well – there are tons of different cameras present, showing the band from virtually every possible angle.
…and still, sometimes Bruce Dickinson’s vocal are grating to my ears. He will never be my favorite vocalist, even though he’s an amazing performer to this day. All respect to him, but his higher register is mostly irritating, especially when he has to belt out drawn-out syllables within a short time frame, like “fear of the daaaaa-A-RK” or “nowhere left to run, navi-GA-TO-RS son” where it seems as if he’s trailing behind a little bit with the delivery and struggles to finish his line on time. I know I’m quite nit-picky here, but since about everyone and their mothers would sacrifice their firstborn to their God Dickinson, I feel the need to declare myself. His performance is great, his lower range is commanding and sinister (“Fear of the Dark”, “Hallowed be thy Name!”) but I’m sure I’ll never be able to fully enjoy the way he uses his higher register – a matter of taste, really.
In conclusion, “Rock in Rio” is one of the most intriguing live records I’ve ever witnessed and if you have not heard it yet, you are most definitely missing out, especially if you are having difficulties getting into the band. That’s why I’m recommending this DVD as the best introduction to Iron Maiden to those (do these people still exist?) who have never listened to the band before or to those who prefer their later stuff over their earliest albums, since it features some of their best mid-era material ever, enriched by a bombastic performance of a veteran band and pushed to the maximum by being treated perfectly sonically in the post-production process.
Mandatory tracks: “Brave New World”, “Blood Brothers”, “Sign of the Cross” and “Fear of the Dark”.