Iron Maiden: Live After Death [DVD]

Iron Maiden

In 1984, after extensive touring of America, Europe, and the UK the previous four years, Iron Maiden was finally poised for global stardom. Breakthrough albums The Number of the Beast and Piece of Mind earned the band a loyal fanbase. Powerslave, released that September, continued to raise the bar musically, while lead-off single “2 Minutes to Midnight” was an instant hit, peaking on the UK charts at 11, its lavish concept video breaking through to an even wider audience. With a staggering tour schedule in front of them, the time was nigh for Maiden to pull out all the stops, which they did, the nearly 200-date World Slavery Tour criss-crossing the globe with a extravagant, Egyptian-themed stage show.

With four of the five band members still in their late-20s, Iron Maiden was at the right age, with the energy and stamina to sustain long stretches of touring, and by the time they made their way to Los Angeles for a series of four consecutive sold-out shows in March of 1985, their music was honed to stunning precision. The band and its management were fully aware of this fact, taking advantage of the extended run at the Long Beach Arena to record its first full live album. Released seven months later, the double-album Live After Death was phenomenal, an overdub-free concert document that would rank with Motörhead’s No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith as the greatest live album in heavy metal history. Also released that fall was a companion concert film that offered viewers a glimpse of the stage show’s eye-popping visuals, but while the album would continue to be hugely popular, the original VHS release of the concert film, despite selling well, quickly went out of print.

Over the last decade, fans’ only options were to find a dubbed copy, score an original VHS tape off Ebay, or purchase a dodgy Brazilian bootleg DVD, but at long last, the film has been released officially on DVD. In keeping with Iron Maiden’s tradition of giving the fans their money’s worth, it arrives in gloriously expanded form, offering a definitive glimpse of the band at its peak.

For those who bought the old tapes, they can now retire them for good, and for those younger fans who have never witnessed the spectacle, they’re in for an eyeful. Filmed on the second night of the tour, the band, led by energetic, charismatic singer Bruce Dickinson (his repeated “Scream for me, Long Beach!” exhortation drawing roars from the crowd) tears through a timeless set of classics: the WWII barnstormer “Aces High”, Piece of Mind faves “Flight of Icarus”, “The Trooper”, and “Revelations”, live staple “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, the requisite “The Number of the Beast” and “Run to the Hills”, and best of all, the 13-minute epic “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. All the while, on a stage adorned with mummy cases, Egyptian dog statues, and intricately designed backdrops, Dickinson and his four mates project an air of conquering heroes, tasteful blasts of pyro and fire accentuating the music, lights and fog delivering clever visuals (simulating a rainstorm during “Mariner”), and of course, the show highlighted by two appearances by mascot Eddie, first as a 15-foot tall mummy running across the stage, and as the climactic, gargantuan torso that emerges above Nicko McBrain’s drumkit near the end of the show.

If there’s one drawback, it’s that the show, although filmed in 35 mm, was filmed in the TV format, meaning that it’s impossible to provide today’s more discriminating HD viewers with an anamorphic widescreen picture. But while we’re stuck with the 4:3 format, sonically the film is better than ever, thanks to ace mixer Kevin Shirley, who puts together a punchy five channel surround mix that helps convey the power of the live show more than ever (Martin Birch’s original stereo mix is also provided).

If that wasn’t enough, the second disc contains loads of extras. Continuing where 2004’s The History of Iron Maiden Part 1: The Early Days DVD left off, the hour-long Part 2 documentary has the band, crew, and management looking back on that mad time, from the drunken writing stint on the frigid Channel Islands, to the drunken recording sessions in the luxurious Bahamas, to the drunken hijinks on the nearly year-long tour. Band members like Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith sound amazed that they lived through it all, while bassist Steve Harris readily admits how much he still loves traveling by bus. The clear man of the hour, though, is McBrain, who offers story after hilarious story, from sneaking away from his kit during a drum-free interlude during a sweltering show to float in a nearby pool, to the legendary “Mission From Harry” argument with Harris that was captured on tape and released as a B-side.

Originally a 34 minute VHS release, Behind the Iron Curtain‘s fascinating document of the band’s groundbreaking tour of Communist Poland, Hungary, and Yugoslavia in late summer of 1984 has been expanded to an hour and is highlighted by rare live footage of such songs as “22 Acacia Avenue” and “The Trooper”. By January, though, the band was much tighter, and their scorching performance in front of more than 300.000 people at Brazil’s Rock in Rio, in direct support of Queen, is the stuff of legend. While five songs have been left out because of deteriorating videotape, the eight songs we get are thrilling, Dickinson ruling the roost yet again, bloody-faced during “Revelations” (the result of a mishap with his guitar), and coaxing the crowd into a massive sing-along during “Run to the Hills”.

As the band points out, the ’80s was a gigantic blur to them, the routine, year after year, being, “Rehearse, record, rehearse, tour,” but while it nearly cost them their sanity (Smith would leave in 1988, followed by Dickinson in 1993, both returning to the fold in ’99), it earned them a global audience that’s only been matched by a select few. To this day the demand for Iron Maiden is huge, as the band is set to perform in front in front of another couple million people in 2008. While the old boys still haven’t lost a step, the sheer force of their performances 23 years ago is incredible, a visceral, spine-tingling, example of classic metal at its very finest.

RATING 9 / 10