Iron Maiden: No Prayer For The Dying review

Firstly I’m going to discuss the album itself, having left plenty of time since reviewing its predecessor, before I talk about the background.
Tailgunner is a good opening track, featuring some Bruce Dickinson lyrics about World War II aerial combat. The first single, Holy Smoke, follows, which is really catchy and deals with the popular late eighties/early nineties topic of corrupt televangelists. The title track follows, and manages to sound epic and dramatic, despite only being about four and a half minutes long. Public Enema Number One is the first of the Dave Murray tracks and is a really neatly structured song which builds into a great guitar solo. Bruce’s lyrics for this song are very grounded in reality, talking about politics, corruption, the environment and civil unrest. ‘California dreaming as the Earth dies screaming’ is a real stand-out quote. Fate’s Warning is another Dave Murray track and the lyrics see Steve waxing philosophical about fate. It’s probably the weakest track on side one, but has a nice middle eight and the guitar harmonies are really nice from Dave and Janick.

The Assassin begins side two. It’s a decent enough track on the album, although the chorus sounds a bit silly, but when I saw Maiden play it live the song really came into its own and sounded great. The bass is particularly nice on it. Run Silent, Run Deep is a Harris/Dickinson track about the part played by submarines in The Battle of the Atlantic. It’s an okay track but a bit Maiden-by-numbers. It has some nice key changes during the instrumental section and some nice guitar harmonies. Hooks In You was co-written by the now absent Adrian Smith with words by Bruce Dickinson. It is a very catchy and melodic track with lyrics about an ordinary married couple who have exotic tastes in the boudoir. It is very commercial for a Maiden song, but Adrian’s recent solo project had been more in this melodic rock vein. It’s not amazing but it’s a fun track. Bring Your Daughter… To The Slaughter follows. This was Iron Maiden’s only number one single. Bruce wrote it as a solo track for a Nightmare on Elm Street soundtrack but Steve heard it and wanted it for Iron Maiden. It’s another tongue in cheek song and quite fun. Maiden do a good version of it, but the original solo version has a much better production. Mother Russia is the final track and is another song that, despite being only five and a half minutes long, manages to sound like a huge epic. Steve wrote the song about Glasnost and Perestroika and the exciting but uncertain future facing the former Soviet Union at the start of the nineties. It is a really strong track to finish the album and has real depth of feeling to the lyrics: ‘Can you release the anger and grief? Can you be happy now your people are free?’ It’s not always about fantasy and escapism with Iron Maiden.

So that’s the album itself, and I’ve always been quite fond of it since I first saw Maiden live on this tour. But there are some problems with this era. This was the beginning of the downward slump in Maiden’s fortunes. Adrian Smith had left the band, having become dissatisfied with how the band played live. Mainly that everything was played hell for leather so that all the subtleties of the songs were lost. Janick Gers had joined from Bruce’s first solo band and he was very different to Adrian so that Dave seemed to play in a more melodic and structured style to be the counterpoint to Janick’s wild style of playing. From his solo album, Bruce had developed a rough vocal style which sometimes sounded a bit harsh on the new album and didn’t always suit the songs. No Prayer was also recorded in a barn owned by Steve Harris, using the Rolling Stones Mobile. This did not lead to a great sound and Bruce Dickinson has spoken about how dissatisfied he was with the sound of the album. This was also the last Iron Maiden album produced by Martin Birch, who had produced every album apart from their debut in 1980. So at this point, the indestructible heavy metal legends were beginning to show chinks in their armour. It would be unfair to compare this album to Seventh Son as it is clearly not even close. The band was undergoing a period of extensive change and this was a very different kind of album. It brought the band a number one single but it is widely regarded as one of the creative low points in their body of work. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Iron Maiden: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son review

The point where Iron Maiden entered my life was 1988. The Clairvoyant single was released after their first performance at the Castle Donington Monsters of Rock Festival and a live version of The Prisoner was on the b-side. I bought it and I was hooked. Seventh Son was Maiden’s second album to go into the charts at number one and meant they were the only metal band who were able to mount any serious assault on the charts. This was a different time when metal was desperately unfashionable and before Metallica broke big. Maiden were the only ones flying the flag and Seventh Son was one of their finest albums.

Moonchild begins with its subtle acoustic intro before exploding with keyboards and guitars. And then Steve, Nicko and the air-raid siren get involved. The song is an absolute powerhouse of an opener. The lyrics set the tone for the mystical story about to unfold over the album’s eight songs. Maiden have never lacked musical ability and this album expanded their horizons and pushed them further than anything they had done previously.

Infinite Dreams begins as the beautiful, gentle contrast to Moonchild, but this doesn’t last long, as the song launches into the Seventh Son crying out against the horrific visions that torment him. The guitar harmonies are exquisite, driven along by Steve Harris’ intricate bass, until the song goes into a Nicko clatter-fest. His drumming is brilliant as usual and more complex on this album than ever before due to the nature of the songs.

Can I Play With Madness is one of Maiden’s greatest songs. A brilliant riff, chorus, time changes. It just has everything. When Maiden’s three best songwriters work together this is what happens. The video for the single starred Monty Python’s Graham Chapman as a school teacher in one of his final roles. The single hit number three in the top 40 when such things mattered.

The Evil That Men Do was the next single and has been a regular track in the band’s live set as it’s just the kind of song that fits well anywhere, with its catchy chorus and opportunity for Eddie to make an appearance during the guitar solo. This is another Smith/Dickinson/Harris composition, like Madness, and the quality shines through.

The title track follows, in all its unapologetic majesty. It is monolothic with its chugging guitars at the beginning before plunging into a quiet, mysterious middle section with lush choral keyboards, much akin to The Ryme of the Ancient Mariner, before diving headlong into spine-tingling guitar duels between Dave and Adrian. Only a song as epic and extraordinary as this could be the title track of this album.

The Prophecy is a Murray/Harris composition and although the vocal sections are a bit Piece of Mind, the instrumental middle section launches‚Äč into a wonderful short bluesy solo from Adrian. But, yes, this is the weakest track, although it also has some lovely acoustic guitar at the end.

The Clairvoyant is a Steve Harris track, and it begins with his amazing bass riff. This was another great single, and the song that made me an Iron Maiden fan. The time changes are extraordinary for a hit single and the success of this album’s singles show just how powerful a devoted fanbase can be.

Only The Good Die Young is a Harris/Dickinson song that brings the album to its triumphant conclusion. An absolutely storming track that roars off like a runaway train, but with some wonderful key changes and even a great bass solo. The guitar harmonies, as usual, are gorgeous and the end of the song is the biggest and best finish this extraordinary album could have. An absolutely‚Äč storming conclusion to an astonishing album. One of Iron Maiden’s very best albums.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Leicester Comedy Festival 2017 review part 2

The problem with Josie Long’s show at The Y Theatre was caused by six people in the front row who had come because they had heard that she was good. They then insisted on talking throughout and making bar runs during the show because bizarrely the bar was somehow serving while the show was on. They seemed to think the show was just for their benefit and didn’t care about anyone else. They were rude, selfish and ignorant. With a narrative comedian interruptions disrupt the show a great deal and Josie Long was too nice to pounce on them and tell them to shut up. Perhaps the before-show karaoke removed an important barrier between performer and audience that should have stayed in place. Despite this, Josie Long’s show was good, but I preferred her Cara Josephine show which was less political and less evangelistic about political activism. Support act Grace Petrie was excellent but selling CDs on the stage during the interval for an awfully long time made an already late-running show even later.
Zoe Lyons at Peter’s Pizzaria was a thoroughly enjoyable show with a very enthusiastic audience. It’s a great little venue and Zoe Lyons’ performances are always really funny, whether she’s doing a tour show, a guest spot or a new material night. This show was part of her Little Misfit tour and was a great showcase for her quirky observations, silly voices and characterisations. She makes important points about politics and social issues but never in a preachy way and she always makes it funny. One of my favourite comedians and a great way to end the festival for me this year.

Stewart Lee, Sue Perkins, Zoe Lyons and Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer were really enjoyable shows. Josie Long’s show was only spoilt by rude audience members, and I just felt Tiff Stevenson’s show was too preachy.

With more people going to shows than ever before in 2017 it’s great to see Leicester Comedy Festival doing so well.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Leicester Comedy Festival 2017 Part 1

Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer

The Leicester Comedy Festival is always one of the highlights of my year and I always book the shows I want see as soon as they are announced. This year I only booked to see six shows and this blog covers the first four.
My first show was Stewart Lee: Content Provider at De Montfort Hall. In his show last year he was running-in half-hour blocks of material for his TV show but this year was his first themed show since Carpet Remnant World. It was excellent stuff, dealing with the state of flux in the world of politics and other more unusual topics.

The second show I saw was Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer’s Dandy Valentine at The Y Theatre. I’m a huge fan of Mr B and enjoyed the fact that he played a lot more of his original material, whilst also including a couple of his hilarious mash-ups. The Y’s grand piano was brought into service and one of the songs he played on it was It Doesn’t Pay To Turn Up Late To An Orgy which was hilarious. I also bought his new album, There’s A Rumpus Going On, after the show.

I don’t like to be negative in my blog if I can help it but I’ll just say that a show I saw at The Cookie on Friday 17th left me feeling like I’d been preached at rather than cheered up. Perhaps the comedian concerned caught me on a bad day, but I watched Katherine Ryan on Netflix when I got home so she ended up cheering me up instead.

The last show I’ll mention in this part is Sue Perkins’ show Spectacles, based on her autobiography. It was wonderfully funny and ended with a hilarious Q&A where she would answer each audience member’s question by launching into another hysterical story. I think if the questions had been allowed to keep coming she would have had everyone in stitches all night.

My next two shows will be Josie Long and Zoe Lyons.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Iron Maiden: Somewhere in Time review

Somewhere in Time was recorded after the mammoth World Slavery Tour to promote Powerslave, and the release of one of the greatest heavy metal live albums ever made: Live After Death. But Bruce Dickinson was in a different creative place to the rest of the band after the rigours of touring for such a long time, and none of these songs bear his name in the wrting credits, so it was up to Adrian Smith to fill the gap by contributing a huge amount to this album.

Caught Somewhere in Time, written by Steve Harris, kicks off with guitar synths and Smith/Murray harmonies before plunging into a headlong classic Maiden gallop. There is a significant change to the Maiden sound in evidence. It sounds more sophisticated and progressive and, despite not contributing to the writing, Bruce Dickinson’s voice is in fine form.

Wasted Years is the first track written solely by Adrian Smith on the album. It has one of his greatest riffs and heartfelt, melancholy lyrics with a brilliant chorus. It has since become a huge live favourite. The guitar solo is brilliant and, as in all his writing, he never overdoes the drama but gets the emotional power and tension just right.

Sea of Madness is another Adrian Smith track with a great heavy, bluesy riff and pounding bass. It has another great, melodic chorus and the lyrics are wonderfully melancholy again, but with such gorgeous uplifting melodies. The quiet middle section is a huge departure for Maiden and adds another dimension to the album.

Heaven Can Wait is a brilliant Steve Harris anthem that has become another live favourite. It sounds so uplifting in the verses and has a huge chorus, with a singalong bit in the middle which prompts the entire road crew to join the band onstage when they play it live. Dave Murray’s guitar solo is particularly wonderful before the singalong, and then Adrian Smith launches into one of his great bluesy solos with lashings of tremolo.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is another Steve Harris track. It’s a ferocious galloper with some terrific guitar harmonies and the always-brilliant Nicko McBrain pounding the hell out of his drums. The track also has some synth sounds in the background which began to feature more and more in Maiden’s music. Some of Kai Hansen’s guitar solos with Helloween particularly remind me of the solos in this track.

Stranger in a Strange Land is one of my favourite songs. Written by Adrian Smith, it starts with Nicko’s drums and Steve’s bass and builds into another classic Smith riff. The lyrics, about solitude and Polar exploration, are terrific and it has another great chorus. Adrian’s guitar solo is gorgeous, building from quiet and melancholy to a goosebump-inducing roar. He is my favourite rock guitarist and this album really shows off his brilliant songwriting.

Deja-Vu is a Murray/Harris track. The subject matter isn’t perhaps the most profound, but is Fear of the Dark? It’s a nice little track with some lovely guitar harmonies and fits in as a sort of next-to-last kind of song. It just has the misfortune of being surrounded by stronger material. But you need different flavours on any album so that’s fine.

Alexander the Great is a Steve Harris epic. It doesn’t quite fit thematically or musically with the rest of the album, but it is brilliant in its own right. It just sounds a bit like Maiden looking back to A Piece of Mind or Powerslave than looking forward, but it’s no bad thing to have just one retro track, and as a history lesson it’s excellent.

Somewhere in Time can sometimes feel a little forgotten as it comes after Powerslave and Live After Death, before Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, and no live video was made of this tour, but it has some amazing songs that are still live favourites and shows some real progression in Maiden’s sound and the flourishing of Adrian Smith’s songwriting. Wasted Years also featured Reach Out as a b-side with Adrian Smith on lead vocals.

Next time… a concept album? It must be madness.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Iron Maiden: Powerslave review

I think Powerslave is arguably Iron Maiden’s most consistent album. Aces High is an incredible opening track with gorgeous guitar harmonies and soaring vocals, leading into 2 Minutes to Midnight, a Smith/Dickinson composition, and one of the band’s very best tracks, particularly when it comes to the lyrics, dealing with the Cold War, the arms race and the threat of nuclear conflict. The next track is Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra), an instrumental track, which lifts the mood of the album after the dark themes of the previous track, and there’s so much good stuff going on in the music that it doesn’t become self-indulgent. Flash of the Blade is a Dickinson composition with sword fighting as its theme. It has a hypnotic riff, exquisite guitar harmonies and a great chorus. The Duellists is a Harris-penned track. The notes in the chorus are so high that Bruce sounds a bit like Michael Kiske in late 80s Helloween. It’s a pretty solid track with a lovely bluesy Smith guitar solo and Smith/Murray trademark guitar harmonies. Back in the Village is another Smith/Dickinson track with a terrific, fast bluesy riff and a gorgeous middle eight. The guitar harmonies on this track, and throughout the whole album, are amazing. The title track is a Dickinson masterpiece, with its Egyptian theme, expressive vocals, multiple time changes and beautiful guitar work. The final track is the incredible Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Thirteen minutes of prog metal wonderment. The whole band excel themselves on this masterpiece, written by Steve Harris. I don’t think it’s easy to find any real weak points on this album. It really is one of their absolute best and the quality of the songs is strong and consistent throughout.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Iron Maiden: Piece of Mind review

Beginning with a flurry of drums, Piece of Mind introduces the new member of the family: Nicko McBrain, former drummer with Trust, now Maiden powerhouse. Where Eagles Dare is an elaborate, progressive, opening track. Then the first official Bruce Dickinson songwriting masterpiece, Revelations. Borrowing from G.K. Chesterton for its opening is never a bad thing when it comes to Maiden. Epic riffs, great time changes, melancholy lyrics, make for a Maiden classic. Flight of Icarus was a Smith/Dickinson classic, forcefully sticking to its steady pace, despite Steve wanting a more brisk tempo. It’s often the unusual that stands out, and this was no exception, as Bruce and Adrian embarked on a fruitful collaborative partnership that endures to this day. Die With Your Boots On saw Maiden’s three principal songwriters (Steve/Bruce/Adrian) embarking on a pretty good track. Good chorus and plenty of variety, but its only downfall is being followed by The Trooper, a solid gold classic written by Steve. A mainstay of the band’s live set, it features the classic Maiden galloping tempo, screaming vocals and fantastic guitar solos from Dave and Adrian. Still Life was written by Dave and Steve and offers a nice change of pace, with a gentle beginning which picks up, with its tale of nightmares, a recurring theme in Steve’s lyrics. Excellent solos by both guitarists really lift this track. Quest for Fire is awful. Fortunately it’s only 3:42 long. Sun and Steel is another Bruce/Adrian track and is another galloper with a great chorus. To Tame A Land is the final track, written by Steve, and about Frank Herbert’s Dune stories. It’s a pretty lame way to finish a good album, but when you’ve got an album with The Trooper and Revelations on it, you don’t have a lot to worry about. But what’s this? A ticket to ancient Egypt? Sounds good to me.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment