From the long-done era of VHS, some old irons are upped once again as metal sovereigns IRON MAIDEN revisit their "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" era and beyond with a newly-packaged DVD and Blu-ray, "Maiden England '88".
Originally a document of their 7th Tour of a 7th Tour from a pair of shows at Birmingham NEC in November of 1988, "Maiden England" is now retitled, remastered and re-presented with the full set list, including a three-song encore featuring "Run to the Hills", "Running Free" and "Sanctuary". Alone worth your pick-up, "Maiden England '88", runs more than four hours with the inclusive documentary "The History of Iron Maiden Part 3 - 1986 - 1988" and promo videos from the "Somewhere in Time" and "Seventh Son" albums. Best yet from a fan's perspective, is the appearance of their much sought-after 1987 VHS video, "12 Wasted Years".
Listeners today are perhaps more sophisticated than some of those who greeted IRON MAIDEN in this transitional period of their career. Thus it may or may not come off as shocking to know that "Somewhere in Time" and "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" had detractors on top of welcomers. Containing some of the band's most sophisticated songwriting and a few mainstream rockers, it's almost embarrassing to report IRON MAIDEN were held accountable by many for dabbling with their signature sound by fusing keys and guitar synthesizers when everything they were doing in this period was still undeniably MAIDEN. Maybe not as dense, bombastic and intricate as "Powerslave" and "Piece of Mind", there's no denying both "Time" and "Seventh Son" showed IRON MAIDEN brilliantly excavating depth in textures and even the willingness to cut a few toe-tappers. After all, whether or not you're a fan of the jokey "Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter" from "No Prayer for the Dying", it did give IRON MAIDEN a number one single. "Charlotte the Harlot" it wasn't, but it proved this band had enough savvy and testicular fortitude to step outside their comfort level when they wanted to.
Thus the main presentation of "Maiden England '88" is revelatory once you submerge yourself into a set as mighty as any you'll witness from IRON MAIDEN. The energy level here is at a fever pitch for the most part, and viewers will delight in the constant onstage tomfoolery the components presented back then. To watch Bruce Dickinson, Steve Harris and even Dave Murray mug things up for the camera behind Nicko McBrain's kit, it shows IRON MAIDEN in a relaxed candor, well comfortable in their own skins despite the negative press they were suffering in random doses from "Seventh Son" and its predecessor.
Expect to see Murray hoisted upon Dickinson's shoulders and plenty of sprinting, weaving and bobbing from Dickinson and Steve Harris. Wait for a gang chorus to manifest onstage behind Harris on the "whoa-oh-oh" section on "Heaven Can Wait" and of course, plenty of the heaving theatrics hovering around IRON MAIDEN's glacial stage set that was atmospheric enough without the pyro and inflatable Eddies. Albeit, watching the globby embryo writhe and shimmy inside a towering bisected Eddie is almost as cool as the mummified ghoul Eddie haunting the World Slavery Tour only three years prior.
Heavy on selections from the "Seventh Son" album and wrangling only a few routine trips such as "Number of the Beast", "Hallowed Be Thy Name" and "Iron Maiden" plus the expectant curtain call tunes, this expanded set list is revealed to be even more potent, even if nothing from "Powerslave" made the cut here. Of course, given the incredible number of shows IRON MAIDEN performed on the World Slavery Tour, it's perhaps excusable they wanted a break from those songs in 1988.
"Moonchild", "The Evil That Men Do", "Infinite Dreams", "The Clairvoyant" and, of course, the title track are superbly delivered and while "Wasted Years" is really the only shaky moment of the entire concert, you hardly care since MAIDEN knocks it out of their park on "Heaven Can Wait" beforehand. Better, they've thrilled their audience to pieces by tearing through "Killers", "The Prisoner" and "Still Life", three of the greatest songs IRON MAIDEN ever wrote and are historically understated by the press. All put together, the restoration is mostly beautiful (the only haranguing moments come from Nicko's camera during "Moonchild") and the sound enhancement is terrific. Synthesizers accent instead of drown, just as the band intended them and all of it still heavy and still undeniably MAIDEN. Besides, RAINBOW and DEEP PURPLE had been doing the same thing long beforehand and seldom few argue against their usage.
"The History of Iron Maiden Part 3 - 1986-1988" is nearly a blink at forty minutes compared to the two-disc first "History" DVD set. Yet one gets a better grasp even in abbreviation on how wrung-out Bruce Dickinson was by the time IRON MAIDEN released "No Prayer for the Dying" and "Fear of the Dark". Those two albums that have their shining stars on each but they represent a temporary fizzle period once Dickinson opted out of his duties for a while. With interviews from all five band members and longtime manager Rod Smallwood, "History Part 3" is amusing and candid and one cheers on MAIDEN for still carrying a chip on their shoulders about that unnecessarily scrutinized moment in their careers. What speaks loudest of all, however, is a blatantly-stated remorse the band didn't capture very much footage from the "Somewhere On Tour" years. Albeit the recount about one of Blade Runner Eddie's inflatable hands onstage having issues to the point it came back up with just the middle finger elevated is simply priceless.
All setting up for "12 Wasted Years", the finest hour and a half of the entire program. A huge seller on videocassette back in 1987, there's plenty of reason to see today why it was such a grand documentary. Being treated to extensive footage of IRON MAIDEN at various points of their career through their Somewhere On Tour days is like stepping into a portal. Sure, you'll recognize some of the material from other MAIDEN video packages, but getting to see some of the sweaty Paul Di'Anno years at the Ruskin Arms pub is always worth diving into. Even more fun is remembering that Nicko McBrain actually debuted with the band long before he took over on drums for the late Clive Burr. McBrain was Eddie onstage for a bit, after all. Watching the band kick and pummel Eddie during the presented clip of "Iron Maiden" is a gut buster. However, their deliberate ass-clowning during an expected lip-synching performance of "Wasted Years" on the old German music show P.I.T. will have viewers tumbling off their couches. It is by far the most hilarious MAIDEN moment ever caught on tape watching the band trade instruments and make a sheer mockery of performing "live" on television. Suffice it to say, this band should be left to go naked if you put them on your show, or they're going to make you pay.
As a sidebar, it's more than appropriate if not bittersweet to be treated to so much material featuring Clive Burr through "12 Wasted Years". As fine as his successor, the legacy and unfortunate health decline of Burr will be felt more by longtimers, but we can all take comfort as witnesses that the man is upping the links of the irons he helped forge, forevermore?