Neil Daniels has his heart in the right place. Doubtless the author of this 200-page-plus volume considers himself an Iron Maiden enthusiast, and thus knows what fellow Iron Maiden enthusiasts want. What’s that? Photos of rare sleeves from around the globe, photos of various Iron Maiden incarnations (preferably those we’ve not seen before), a detailed gigography, and painstaking consideration/analysis of each entry in the Iron Maiden discography. This has some of that, although rarely enough and often not in quite the right places.
Daniels acknowledges that he doesn’t wish to write the “definitive” work on Iron Maiden (indeed, the thought of penning the “definitive” statement on anything is but a fool’s errand), but he still falls short of delivering something that lives up to the book’s promise. (And if you’re not trying to write the “definitive” work, then why include “ultimate” in the title?) The group’s early years (1975-78) are given a limited amount of space although, curiously, that’s one of the most interesting eras of any group––those early, fumbling, finding-their-voice days––and that’s also true of Maiden.
Of course, we’re not really looking at a biography––a better title would have been The Ultimate Unauthorized Pictorial History of the Beast. As a pictorial history, it has its moments. A photo of a cornershop from the East London neighborhood where founding member Steve Harris grew up––as well as an official programme from West Ham United, the football team for which he once played and continues to support––are nifty souvenirs but would be made all the more interesting if paired with early photos or clippings about the band.
Daniels’ handling of the Paul Di’Anno years is not all that much more intriguing, save for photos which show the young band finding its way in America and for the reproductions of gig advertisements. (There’s also a lovely photo of a mustachioed Bruce Dickinson in his pre-Maiden outfit, Samson. Among the problems that probably kept Samson from achieving wider success was clearly a lack of a coherent image.)
Reproductions of concert tickets, tour t-shirts, single sleeves, and backstage passes occupy pages that give short shrift to the story of Iron Maiden’s three most important albums from the first Dickinson era: Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, and Powerslave. This was an especially interesting period for the group musically as it cemented Harris’ musical vision and saw the group’s commercial light burn brightest. It was also a time when a handsome number of b-sides emerged, although there’s no detailed analysis of those various cuts here. Shame, really.
The stories behind Somewhere In Time and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, two of Maiden’s most interesting, albeit less commercially successful albums, are swallowed up by mega photos from the era, including one that features Dickinson in bikini underwear and which leaves, ahem, little to the reader’s imagination. The captions which accompany said photos reveal less than Bruce’s underwear, however, as they often merely repeat that which has been stated in the body of the text, a real dead end for readers. (And, hey, where in the world is Live After Death, one of the quintessential live albums of the ‘80s, in all of this?)
The departure of guitarist Adrian Smith and vocalist Bruce Dickinson come about and are dealt with a somewhat cursory manner, although, curiously, the oft-derided Blaze Bayley years get more play than you might imagine. Dickinson’s solo career gets its share of space as well, although Adrian Smith’s work with A.S.A.P. and the ever-loving Psycho Motel (where are those reissues, eh?) is not mentioned (in the case of the former) and referred to as Psycho Hotel (the latter) in the book’s index.
The second Dickinson era (which also heralded the return of Smith), from 1999 to present fares better in terms of overall coverage of the band and its music but that may be too late for some readers who will have given up much earlier in the text frustrated by the oversights and the occasionally confusing organizational patterns found in the book. (Thumb through it in your favorite book emporium and you’ll see what I mean.)
In short, there are easily three-four stories to be told about Maiden and each of them appears in this book, just as each has appeared in other volumes and on DVD. Unfortunately, not one of those has been told in fully satisfying detail.
A decent selected discography appears here and what could have been a fairly promising section––a “Where Are They Now?” report on ex-Maidens such as Paul Day, Blaze Bayley, and Barry “Thunderstick” Purkis––reveals little that the diehard doesn’t already know and might have been left out in favor for more details about recordings or other burning questions. Rock scribe luminaries Mick Wall, Martin Popoff, Ian Christe, and John Tucker offer up detailed analysis of various entries in the Maiden discography with typical authority, but these touches do little to elevate the overall status of the book.