Without question, this 1985 cut deserves to be called one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded. The audio features an introduction by Sir Winston Churchill. The cover showcases Eddie bursting out of a grave. Behind him H. P. Lovecraft’s cryptic quotation from the Necronomicon on the tombstone reads:
That is not dead which cannot eternal lie.
Yet with strange aeons even death may die.
As if all that doesn’t make fans want this album: there’s the music.
Phil Lynott said he wanted Thin Lizzie to be “the Yardbirds of Heavy Metal” due to the dueling guitarists. I’d call Maiden the “Rolling Stones of Heavy Metal”. The interactive guitar playing between Dave Murray and Adrian Smith took the genre to a whole new level. Tracks like “The Trooper” and “Children on the Damned” exhibit two outstanding axe men at the apex of their talent. Unlike many metal guitarists from the 1980’s they did more than just tap and run through scales as fast as they could. These maestros understood they were playing Rock and Roll, not noise. The goal wasn’t to play as fast as possible: the point was to play good music. They failed in a way on the later: they played great music.
Steve Harris and Nicko McBrain anchored the heaviest rhythm section I’ve ever heard. How these guys get overlooked when one talks about the great bass and drums combos in rock history mystifies me. Sometimes Harris sounded like he was playing the “William Tell Overture” on steroids, at other times he’d’ craft creative bass lines on tracks such as “Phantom of the Opera” that Jazz musicians would struggle through. McBrain’s drumming style was both heavy and distinctly his own. I especially liked his playing on “Die With Your Boots On” and “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”. I really liked the way he used the ride cymbal. He didn’t limit himself to hitting it on every eighth or quarter note. I don’t recall hearing a drummer take that approach before. His fills and bass rolls always fit the song, unlike many of his lesser talented contemporaries. He never did it to be fancy or flashy. And the key point that all the youngsters reading this should take note of: both these musicians always kept the beat. That’s something that all bassists and drummers should remember: regardless of what genre he/she plays. That’s the reason they’re in the band.
Steve Harris and the members of Iron Maiden didn’t hold back when it came to writing songs and words. Bruce Dickinson deserved great credit for remembering all the challenging lyrics and unusual melodies. “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” sounded like the epic poem they based it on. “Phantom of the Opera” came across as the Heavy Metal version of a theatrical performance. I thought his performance on this album much better than that on later cuts such as A Real Live One and A Real Dead One.
As much as I love this album, one of the biggest disappointments of my adult life came when I bought it on CD in 1995. It had songs I didn’t remember hearing on the original such as “Iron Maiden” and “Revelations”, which I liked. I didn’t like that they replaced great tracks such as “Wrathchild”, “22 Acacia Avenue” and especially “Phantom of the Opera” with them. I thought the tunes on the original cassette represented a much better set list. Fortunately, the record company re-issued the CD in 1998 with all the tracks from the CD and the cassette. I had to wait for it, but I this release made me happier than any re-issue I’ve ever heard.
I have to admit, it displeased me to learn that the B Sides of the two singles the band released with the original recording in 1985 did not appear on the re-issue. While in the present era, I can listen to them on-line, it still makes me feel like the re-issue is incomplete. On “Losfer Words”, the flip side of “Run to the Hills”, Murray and Smith displayed their proficiency on this instrumental cut. It’s a shame it didn’t make it to the album. It reminded me a bit of the instrumental portion at the end of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”, only with more of an edge.
Live After Death certainly qualifies as one of my “desert island discs.” I doubt death will ever die, but Iron Maiden’s legacy won’t.