Judge Victor Valdivia feels strongly that DVD Verdict should have an evil mascot like Iron Maiden's Eddie. He suggests a DVD that drips blood named Disky the Liquidator.
"Scream for me, Long Beach!"
Iron Maiden: Live After Death, one of the legendary heavy metal band's most famous concert films, finally appears on DVD, and though some aspects of the film haven't aged well, most fans will be pleased by the treasure trove of extras on this set.
Facts of the Case
Since 1976, Iron Maiden has been one of the biggest, most influential heavy metal bands in music history. Iron Maiden: Live After Death captures the band at the peak of its popularity and creativity at a concert in L.A.'s Long Beach Arena in 1985. Here are the songs they perform:
• "Aces High"
By 1985 Iron Maiden was one of the biggest bands in the world, selling out stadiums and arenas worldwide. This was an impressive achievement in the '80s, when music tastes had fragmented so much that it was a rarity for any artist to sell more than a million copies of a record. But what made Maiden's achievement all the more remarkable was that the band accomplished this without the benefit of radio or MTV airplay, or rave reviews in magazines like Rolling Stone or Spin. Maiden earned its success through word of mouth and, in that pre-Internet era, such grassroots enthusiasm was truly extraordinary. It involved a network of metal fans who wore Maiden merchandise and shared Maiden albums with their friends and took them to concerts. Alongside Judas Priest, which emerged with similar tactics, Maiden served as an alternative for metal fans who detested the kind of tacky, one-dimensional glam bands like Mötley Crüe and Quiet Riot who ruled the charts and airwaves.
Maiden was frequently referred to as "the thinking man's metal band" and the band tried hard to live up to that label. Its music used complex time signatures and convoluted song structures. Its songs ignored such standard metal topics as sex and drugs in favor of subjects like history, literature, and mythology. True, sometimes the band's attempts to prove its intellect could go over the top. The lyrics, usually written by bassist Steve Harris and sometimes by singer Bruce Dickinson, could border on the pompous, and the 15-minute epic "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (based on the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem, of course) is the kind of long-winded dirge that gives bloated prog-rock a bad name. But if Maiden sometimes crossed the line into pretentiousness, its ambitions were at least honorable ones. At a time when most metal bands seemed in a competition to write the crassest, most witless lyrics imaginable (a contest, by the way, that Poison won hands down), Maiden's refusal to talk down to fans or insult their intelligence was refreshing. It gave lie to the commonly stated belief by the rock critic intelligentsia that metal fans only wanted dumb, simple music.
The 1984-85 tour captured on Live After Death was arguably the height of Maiden's career. Powerslave, the album the band was touring to promote, is considered by many longtime fans to be Maiden's last truly great album. After this tour, internal tensions would result in a series of albums that sometimes lacked focus and were laden with filler. The band's popularity would slowly ebb by the end of the '80s as metal fans were drawn to the younger breed of thrash-metal epitomized by Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer. Only a few years later, the lineup that performed here would be history as Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith left the band in the early '90s. Maiden would endure lean times for the rest of the decade until a reunion tour in 2000. Fortunately the band was able to preserve their peak here.
Live After Death was filmed at L.A.'s Long Beach Arena over a week of shows in January 1985. The band is in top form, energetic and precise. The set list is drawn from throughout the band's career up to that date, and the performances of these songs easily rival the studio versions. In fact, many fans consider some of these versions to be definitive, especially on the material drawn from Maiden's first album. Dickinson did not originally sing on those songs (Maiden's original singer, Paul Di'Anno, did) and many prefer the versions of those songs recorded here to the original studio recordings. The film also captures Maiden's legendary stage production. With an elaborate stage set built around the album's theme of ancient Egypt, the production includes a stage with intricate hieroglyphics, a series of fake stone columns and pyramids, and even an appearance by a giant version of Maiden's infamous mascot Eddie, wrapped in gauze like a mummy. It's all here for fans to enjoy.
Technically, the disc is varied. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is appropriately thunderous, and will definitely test any sound system. It's crisp, clear, and highlights every instrument perfectly. The original 1985 PCM stereo mix is included as well. Unfortunately, the video is something of a disappointment. The liner notes state that the original 35mm film was re-mastered, and while there's no doubt that it looks better here than in the original VHS release, there's still quite a bit of grain evident. It isn't quite so visible during the well-lit parts of the show, but whenever the screen goes black, especially at the beginning, the grain will stand out considerably. Granted, this film is over 20 years old, and will never look as good as a recent concert movie shot in digital video, but it's still something of a letdown. Once the show kicks into gear, though, viewers may find it somewhat easier to overlook.
It's really in the extras where this DVD shines. All are on the second disc, and are so dense and rewarding that fans might not be able to get through them all in one sitting. First and foremost is "History of Iron Maiden, Part 2: Live After Death" (58:35), a continuation of the previous DVD release History Of Iron Maiden, Part 1: The Early Days. Consisting of interviews with all five band members as well as members of their crew and management, this documentary exhaustively chronicles every detail behind the writing and recording of Powerslave and the grueling two-year World Slavery Tour. The band doesn't shy away in revealing some of the tensions that emerged from such a mammoth undertaking; Bruce Dickinson in particular divulges that the merciless grind of nonstop road work eventually wore him down and marked the first time he seriously considered leaving the band. Even non-fans will find the details of what goes into a big rock tour fascinating.
Also included is "Behind the Iron Curtain" (57:23), a documentary that covers Maiden's concerts in Warsaw and Budapest at the height of the Cold War. Originally released on home video in 1985 in a 30-minute version, it's included here in the original, rarely seen longer cut. In addition to plenty of concert footage, there are also interviews and scenes of the band interacting with fans. There's even a hilarious sequence when Maiden somehow wind up performing at a wedding reception. It's definitely a fascinating and at times even touching artifact from that era.
For more concert footage, fans can watch "Rock in Rio '85" (48:23), filmed in Rio de Janeiro during the first of what would become a series of huge festivals. This hasn't been seen since it originally aired on MTV. Though the concert is impressive, the technical quality is not the best; the footage is marred by frequent video glitches and muffled sound. Still, the quality of the performance, which is at least the equal of Live After Death, makes this a must for fans.
"'Ello Texas" (14:28) is a rarity from 1983 that was inadvertently left off the previous History DVD and is included here. Some sort of promotional film shot at the band's concert in San Antonio, apparently for American TV (the liner notes are unclear), it consists of performances from the show and interviews with Dickinson and Harris at the Alamo. It's a nice curiosity, and fans will appreciate the rare concert footage. In addition, there are the original videos for "Aces High" (5:01) and "2 Minutes to Midnight" (6:12). Finally, the disc is rounded out by an extensive collection of galleries, including pictures from concerts and recording sessions, artwork and covers from various albums, singles and tour merchandise, technical specifications for the band's equipment, and a scan of the original tour program.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Iron Maiden's music isn't for everybody. Many have found it tedious and pretentious, and the dark themes and visuals will definitely alienate some. It's also worth noting that metal fans born during Maiden's '80s heyday might not necessarily respond as strongly to Maiden as older fans. Younger metal fans weaned on modern metal titans like Opeth and Mastodon will be surprised to learn that, compared to them, Maiden really isn't that heavy. In fact, to those fans, Maiden might sound like a louder, more energetic '70s rock band. Some will also find the band's stage show hokey. The special effects that were state-of-the-art in the '80s seem rather dated by today's standards.
If fans are willing to accept the visual imperfections, they will truly marvel at what an extraordinary package this is. Iron Maiden: Live After Death captures what many consider to be the band's classic lineup at their commercial and creative peak performing many of their most beloved songs. Newcomers who are unfamiliar with Maiden will find this an excellent introduction and longtime fans will be delighted with the 5.1 mix and the colossal cache of extras.
The presiding judge tried and failed to scream for you, defendant Dickinson; you'll just have to settle for some uncomfortable coughing and mumbling. However, Iron Maiden: Live After Death is found most assuredly not guilty.
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