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Iron Maiden - Rock in Rio Print E-mail
Tuesday, 26 March 2002

Iron Maiden
Rock In Rio
format: CD
label: Portrait/Columbia Records
release year: 2001
performance: 7
sound 8
reviewed by: Dan MacIntosh

Image Heavy metal bands are often referred to as dinosaurs, because of their dogged resistance to musical change and artistic growth. But while the earth’s original dinosaurs are nothing more than so many bones in a natural history museum now, bands like Iron Maiden and the like are alive and well and continue to record and tour. Based upon the evidence of this new release, these Englishmen are still a long way from extinction.
What you make of this live Iron Maiden two-disc set will partially depend upon how much you bought into the group's Year 2000 comeback studio album, "Brave New World," since roughly one-third of this 19-song collection is drawn from that release. The remaining tracks are selected highlights from the group's past quarter-century of head-banging existence. As comebacks go, "Brave New World" is neither brave nor new. However, what it does do successfully is pick up where the original members of this band left off, before the hiatus that preceded their comeback.

This group has always constructed its British metal workouts from gothic and historical themes, but some of its lyrics are still awkward, at best. The title track from "Brave New World," for example, is a poorly thrown-together list of lyrical cliches, which cannot hold a candle to Alduous Huxley's classic novel of the same name. An older song like "Wrathchild," which tells the uncomplicated story of a social rebel, fares much better, both lyrically and musically. Over a speeding beat, the group squeals out skidding guitar solos as the audience shouts along with the chorus. The same goes for the adrenaline rush of "2 Minutes To Midnight," as its body-shaking noise says more than some of their other more half-baked lyrics ever could.

Whether good or bad, bass player Steve Harris remains the group's primary songwriter, as he had a hand in writing 17 of these 19 songs. They range from oldies like "Iron Maiden," to a goodly portion of the new "Brave New World" material. After listening to the thorough career overview this recording provides, one is left with the impression that Iron Maiden either writes historical fiction, or about street-tough activities, but little else in between. This lack of anything from everyday life – you know, those moments every average person can relate to -- becomes quite a large void after a while. Most people won’t walk away from many of Iron Maiden’s songs saying, "Been there, done that."

You might term what Iron Maiden does as progressive metal, if you judged them strictly by their song lengths alone. Both "Sign Of The Cross" and "The Mercenary" clock in at over eight minutes long. These songs also ebb and flow, with both quiet and loud sections, just like typical progressive rock compositions do.

Bruce Dickinson is the long-standing voice of Iron Maiden, and he sounds in fine voice here. But in today's metal market, where screams and shouts are all the rage, Dickinson's pseudo-operatic bellows sound more than a little dated. He reaches for all the dramatic gusto he can get, like some musical equivalent of a Shakespearean actor, but it begins to sound a lot like sound and fury signifying nothing after a while.

The group plays well together, whether they're creating a medieval mood with "The Clansman," or beating the clock bloody on "2 Minutes To Midnight." Guitars shift from nearly a classical tone to a chorus of jackhammers in many of these epic songs. Group vocals are strong, and are often made even stronger with help from this highly vocal Rio crowd.

For an outdoors show, this is an extremely well-recorded album. The instrumentation comes across crisp and clear throughout, and the vocals are big and bold, just as they ought to be. If it was the band's unstated intention to make listeners wish they were there, they have clearly succeeded in their plan.

Although the producers have captured Iron Maiden in its element, this isn't an album for everybody. It may grow old quickly if you're not already a diehard fan of the band. But then again, if you're the kind of person who might wear a ton of leather on a Rio vacation, this right here, my friend, is your driving music.

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