"We'll show the unbelievers"
How? How can it be possible for you to be nostalgic for something that you didn’t personally encounter in your own youth? How come Live After Death is the fourth Iron Maiden release I had bought since the beginning of 2018, after decades of me being fairly agnostic towards them and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in general?
Nostalgia is a funny thing. It seems that sometimes it grabs hold of you in such a way that you not so much fall down, as get dragged in to, the rabbit hole and once having slated your nostaligia for the familiar, you start to wonder what else you missed that was around at the same time. That’s where I have found myself over the last twelve months, particularly when it comes to the 80s. I loved the toys I had as a kid, but what other stuff was out there that just wasn’t on my radar, but hugely popular all the same? I had a Commodore Plus/4 computer as a kid, and the few games you could get for it were truly another level of terrible, so what did I miss out on on the Spectrum and Amiga platforms that so many of my class mates had access to? My parents had a stereo made of separates found at bargain prices, but what else was available if they could have afforded to spend a little more money?
Thankfully what with this new-fangled internet thingy, answers to such unimportant questions are just a few clicks away, with YouTube in particular being the ideal way to distract yourself while you’re supposed to be adulting (or at least doing some household chores that need the bare minimum of concentration). Discovering channels like Toy Galaxy and Retro Blasting while I’ve been doing the washing up of an evening has allowed me to revisit my childhood by exploring toylines of my youth, both familiar and unfamiliar, while on the computer / video game side Octav1us regularly serves up skewed and often baffled memories of 80s and early 90s video games goodness / grimness.
But what of my primary obsession, music? Well for the equipment side, Techmoan has all the videos you need regarding forgotten formats and getting the most bang for your buck on the second hand market, and for the music itself, while Youtube has always been great when it comes to semi-obscure footage and even music videos, for a technological luddite like myself, nothing beats physical media.
With music from the 80s in particular, I’ve always been very selective of what acts I explored. As anyone who has read more than handful of my articles will realise, I am not a huge fan of the majority of 80s recording techniques, and much of the music released during that decade just leaves me cold. Yet, much in the same way I have revisited the toys and video games of my youth that passed me by, recently I have retraced my steps and discovered the various avenues of 80s rock music that had previously remained unexplored to me. Among these was the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement, a sub-genre which, as its name suggests, didn’t have much in the way of envelope-pushing originality. The vast majority of NWOBHM acts were simply flimsy facsimilies of far better acts of the 70s, just given an update with contemporary production, and taking advantage of the fact that many of the top line hard rockers of the previous decade were no longer playing gigs at a local level. There were however a small number of NWOBHM acts that justified the whole sub-genre’s existence by building on the more solid foundations of their influences.
Of all the NWOBHM acts, the two giants of the movement which stood head and shoulders above the rest were Def Leppard and Iron Maiden. Sheffield’s Def Leppard had locked on to a slickly produced, American market friendly sound by their third album, whereas The Irons went the line up changes and an old-school hard rock producer route in the shape of Deep Purple engineer and subsequent producer of early Rainbow and Whitesnake, Martin Birch. By the mid 80s Leppard and The Irons were NWOBHM’s proven headliners, despite their contrasting approaches.
Iron Maiden in particular were smart enough to realise that while Heavy Metal wasn’t exactly anything new, by taking the galloping rhythm route and injecting what they did with a youthful vigour and energy that their predecessors could no longer match, they could pretty much rule the roost if they just maintained a solid level of consistency. Aware that comparisons with their predecessors was inevitable, The Irons leaned into it by regularly and openly acknowledged the hard rocking acts of the 70s that had influenced them, thus embracing the accusations that they were not being original instead of needlessly resisting them. With five studio albums already under their belts, by 1985 Iron Maiden were looking for the next step to confirm their position as the Heavy Metal choice of a generation. And how did the old school rockers use to prove their mettle / metal? Why, the double live album of course.
Live After Death was released in 1985, prior to the introduction of guitar synths on the following year’s Somewhere in Time, so effectively lowered the curtain on Iron Maiden’s “no synths” era with no little fanfare. By this time Iron Maiden’s classic mid 80s line up of Steve Harris, Adrian Smith, Dave Murray, Nicko McBrain and Bruce Dickinson had bedded in over the course of Piece of Mind and Powerslave, and they were reaching something of a performance peak as well. This all contributed to Live After Death being a solid live highlights package of their output to date, compiled from material recorded at concerts in Long Beach, California, and on the fourth side, London.
Sound wise, Live After Death can come across as a little hollow, but given that Iron Maiden were playing to sizeable arenas at this point in their career, and the band insisted on minimum overdubbing, this is perhaps understandable. Live After Death does exactly what you want a live Iron Maiden album to do – delivers the highlights up to that point in their career in a little more raw manner, throw in Dickinson’s enthusiastic, if a little predictable, crowd interactions (really, how many times does he feel the need to ask the crowd to scream for him?), and crucially, capture pretty much the only NWOBHM band that could genuinely justify a double live album at this point in the mid 80s at something of a commercial, creative and performance peak.
If you’re a fan of Iron Maiden already, then Live After Death is a must have, in fact, you probably own it already. If you’re aware of the band, but feel all you need is a solid compilation, then this album is an impressive companion piece that is worth investigating. If you’ve never really been convinced by Iron Maiden, or even NWOBHM, then Live After Death might just be the release that convinces you to give them a chance.