It’s taken Iron Maiden a whopping twenty-two years to release visuals to accompany what is regarded by many fans as the finest live metal album of all time. ‘Live After Death’ was recorded over four sold-out nights at Long Beach Arena, California during the middle of their epic World Slavery Tour. The tour itself was to promote the 1984 ‘Powerslave’ album and took in 193 shows and took the best part of a year to complete. Included is the second part of ‘The History Of Iron Maiden’ (the first part is on ‘The Early Years’ DVD release) providing excellent insight into the details of the tour; ‘Behind The Iron Curtain’ charting the remarkable story of how Maiden became the first major Western band to play the Eastern Bloc at the height of the Cold War; ‘Rock In Rio’ where they played a gig to a staggering 300,000 people; and tour programme artwork, photo stills, videos from the album and other tour-related ephemera. It’s quite a package then!
From the very beginning and the opening lines of Churchill’s famous war-speech the hairs on the back of my neck are going haywire. Comparing what the band are doing now with what they were doing back then it’s amazing to see how little has changed. The current line-up is virtually the same with only guitarist Janick Gers missing. It’s lycra and leather, studding and sweatbands - check out drummer Niko McBrain’s garish ‘Flash Gordon’ gym kit - and is all looking a bit glam, with vocalist Bruce Dickinson sporting an 80’s school-girl fringe, but once the band blasts into ‘Aces High’ and he starts belting out that soaring, vibrato vocal this all pales into insignificance.
The lighting rig and rest of the stage set has been superbly designed to fit equally well into a stadium or a small club and comprises richly-coloured hieroglyphics and pyramids to match the album’s Egyptian theme. At one point Dickinson appears on the amp-stack wearing a feathered-mask, which he confesses to having bought from a shop selling homo-erotic paraphernalia! There is flames and fireworks, dry ice and sweeping spotlights and whenever their mascot, Eddie The Head, makes an appearance, wrapped in bandages, it whips the crowd up into a frenzy.
Bassist Steve Harris spends most of the gig in a classic metal pose, one foot up on the amp, determinedly gunning down the crowd with his bass-head. Guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith trade mind-melting solos whilst jumping about the stage, but it’s Dickinson who’s the most active, running tirelessly around like a maniac. Drum-riser to crowd to amp-stack, he introduces each song with a roar, yelling out alternately the name of the city, the state or the venue - “Scream for me Long Beach, screeeeam for me Long Beach!” Compared to the album, there are small additions to Dickinson’s interplay with his audience between songs which only serve to increase the feeling of actually being there. There’s also an extra track, ‘Sanctuary’, to enjoy.
The cameras have total stage access with front and back shots, a drum camera and a sweeping arm that swings back and forth over the fans. Close-ups, long panoramic pans and views from the pit, it’s all there. The epicentre of this awesome show is the 13-minute masterpiece, ‘Rime Of The Ancient Mariner’, adapted from the drug-addled mind of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Somewhere mid-song the stage is flooded with a swirling mist which rises to waist-height before pouring off the stage-front. The three guitarists stand motionless centre-stage, captured in beams of moonlight, gently picking out the rhythm as a deep spoken voice intones the poem’s lyrics to the sound of creaking timber echoing off the walls of the arena. The bass lifts, Dickinson returns to the stage and the crowd roar their approval at the ultimate combination of theatrics and heavy music.
The only things I can fault the DVD for are the occasional repetition of visuals, due mainly to the sheer volume - four hours worth - of material on offer, and the differences in quality between the main show and the extras which throws the poorer product into a harsh light. Without these extras though you wouldn’t know about the time Dickinson got a face-full of guitar; you wouldn’t know that the band played ‘Smoke On The Water’ at a Polish wedding; and you wouldn’t know about the time when McBrain went swimming mid-song before returning to his kit dripping wet. I could go on about why you should be parting with your hard-earned cash but, to put it in simple terms, you simply won’t find a more compelling chronicling of a band on tour, a band so at ease with themselves, and a band at the ultimate peak of their powers.