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31 July, 2007

The (temporary?) reincarnation of Iron Maiden

When I was about 17, my favourite band was Iron Maiden.
There, I said it.

Hey; I was young and naïve.

Actually, that's rather the point: I'd grown up with negligible real interest in music, so saying Maiden was a favourite is distinctly faint praise; it's more a matter of them having appeared on BBC Radio 1's 'Friday Night Rock Show' fairly frequently at the end of the Eighties, and my being able to find several of their albums in my local lending library. Still, it's undeniable that 'Live After Death' was the first LP I ever bought, and I think I bought (or copied... sorry) the entire back catalogue up to 1990's 'No Prayer For The Dying' on tapes. It's no coincidence that I went to university that year and lost interest in Maiden, being introduced to Queen, Bowie & Jethro Tull. Oh, and girls. ;)

I don't think I've heard a Maiden single song for over fifteen years, but a little late-Spring cleaning uncovered my tapes archive (aka a cardboard box I couldn't lift, so had to open) at the weekend, so whilst working at home yesterday, I played 'Piece Of Mind', 'Powerslave', 'Somewhere In Time' and 'No Prayer...' back-to-back. I'd almost lost the will to live by that point, but I noticed a couple of interesting moments in the hours of noise, so I am continuing with the other albums, if not quite so intensively.

It's remarkable that the music is utterly unfamiliar – it's as if I'm hearing it for the very first time, which may be an indication of how much attention I really paid in the Eighties. I've mentioned before that I have a good long-term memory for music I like, but evidently not this.
There's one marked exception: 'Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son'. Weird. 'Infinite Dreams', 'Can I Play With Madness' and the title track are startlingly familiar. I presume that was my favourite album; I'm almost tempted to pick up a cheap copy of the CD from eBay....

It's all so samey! I literally can't distinguish the songs; ten seconds from the middle of one could be from any other. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and I could make the same accusation of the Ozric Tentacles, but the difference is I particularly like the Ozrics' music, and each additional marginal variant is quite welcome. With Maiden... yawn.

Particularly on the earlier albums, it's clear the music built on 'traditional' rock'n'roll riffs and rhythms. The result was catchy and didn't seem to take itself too seriously, but one could say the same about Status Quo's vacuous pub rock, and nowadays I look for something a little more intellectually challenging – I don't need mere entertainment, to kill time enjoyably. That sounds as if I take myself too seriously, of course, but I just mean that I don't need aural wallpaper – if I'm not actively listening to music, I'm entirely happy with silence.
However, Maiden seemed to have evolved by 1990, and I can see the root of my later interest in (some!) progressive metal.

Please don't mistake my criticism: there's certainly no doubt that the punk-like simplistic repetitiveness was performed with a very high standard of musicianship, and was overlaid by more intricate 'prog' influences which presumably primed me for hearing the real thing later in the Nineties. I don't know much about the NWOBHM genre, but I suspect Maiden must have been quite progressive for the time. Maybe my underlying interests haven't changed that much, after all.

Another discovery is that I no longer like the late-twenties Bruce Dickinson's singing voice. I prefer metal vocalists to use their lower register rather than shriek; I quite like the death metal 'cookie monster' growl as an instrument, but shrillness irritates me. However, Dickinson's delivery had a further grating element: vibrato.

The less said about the distinctly cheesy, simplistic lyrics, the better....

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