One of the best live albums of all time, Iron Maiden’s “Live After Death” was recorded during the World Slavery Tour 84/85. During 322 grueling days, they played 191 shows in 24 countries in four continents. The crew began work at 8 am and finished at 2 am on show days and hauled forty plus tons of equipment in six 45-foot trucks. The LP contains multiple pictures that tell the story of a long and seemingly unending tour. We see the band goofing off, having beers, playing football (or soccer for North American readers), sleeping, hugging their kids, making phone calls and rocking the stage. The album was produced, engineered and mixed by Martin Birch (who also engineered the epic Deep Purple “Made in Japan” album.)
Upon getting the album I was afraid the sound was going to be grainy and poppy because the records pressed in Venezuela were known to be of inferior quality to the imported ones. Being a teenager I could only afford the locally pressed albums. So with a bit of anxiety I opened the LP, placed it on the turntable, pressed a button, which placed the needle in the first groove and got transported to an arena in a land far, far away from Caracas. Fortunately the needle didn’t jump out of the turntable from a manufacturing defect and I was sucked into the show right away.
The beautifully engineered album begins with a fade-in of the colossal crowd cheering frantically. A few moments later a tape with Churchill’s famous 1940 speech in the House of Commons “We Shall Fight On The Beaches” plays. A guy in the crowd whistles above the cacophony and then every person seems to get on their feet and holler with all their might as they welcome to the stage the British quintet formed by Steve Harris, Adrian Smith, Dave Murray, Bruce Dickinson and Nicko McBrain. The attending masses happily provided the band carte blanche to pummel their ears, stimulate their minds and challenge their vocal chords, and to feel part of the Maiden family.
Immediately after Churchill utters the words “we will never surrender!” the bombastic start to “Aces High” makes the crowd jump, as two very loud guitars, an equally loud kick-drum, snare, cymbals combo, and the clankity-clank bass sound of Harris’s Fender smashes them in the face with over a hundred and fifty thousand watts of pure Maiden.
After a few measures Bruce Dickinson comes out of hiding after presumably processing the crowd’s energy and spits it back in the form of powerful vocals, magically pouring out melodies as though they were a warm blanket of awesomeness. The madness begins and you are taken on a hair-raising trip of fighter planes, mariners, troopers, people running to hills, damned children, numbers of beasts and torture devices from centuries of old.
During the instrumental bit of “Revelations,” the crowd’s cheers intensify several times (band: ta-na-na, crowd: haaaaaah; repeat.) Many times I wished I were there to know what was going on that made every person yell. Fortunately the mystery was resolved when I got my hands on the video: Bruce elevates his arms and the crowd responds with increased intensity as if hypnotized. He does this several times. I heard him say in an interview that he tries to make the crowd shrink which means that he works hard to make the connection with every person in the arena, from the people in the front to the ones in the nosebleed sections. In this recording he manages to do it in a way that transcends the limits of the arena and reaches your living room. When you listen to this album you are sucked into this show and feel you are there. And if you play it loud enough, you can experience the vibrations shake your body as well.
In the video you can appreciate the enormity of the set (the design, lighting, amps, props and pyrotechnics) the band’s eclectic attire and Eddie (the band’s mascot.) The Egyptian themed stage contains several sarcophagi, statues, and papyrus with symbols. It feels one is inside a pyramid. The drum set is raised and at that height a walkway surrounds the stage, which Dickinson uses to run on incessantly. The video also shows the energy of the band, the showmanship and the professionalism of one of the hardest working bands in heavy metal today (and one of the most loved.)
Bruce comes out with a mask during “Powerslave” a gigantic mummified Eddie appears behind the drum set shaking uncontrollably amid smoke during “Iron Maiden.”
The show ends with the song “Running Free” and a crowd that yearns for more and a band that could have played another few hours.
In my view, the World Slavery Tour raised the bar for Maiden. Releasing an LP and video of the tour was a great move as it brought the concert to millions of fans in countries the band did not visit and inarguably broadened their loyal fan base.
If you love metal and haven’t heard this album, it is a must for your collection. Or even better, get the video. Or get both. The song “Sanctuary” is not on the LP but it is on the video. If you’re not a metalhead but want to know what the big fuss is regarding the genre, watch the video.
Iron Maiden continues to fill arenas all over the world. Even today their shows are as dazzling as this one. Experiencing them live last year in Atlanta, GA during the Maiden England tour was as if time had stood still. These guys refuse to age and continue to work really hard to make every show an incredible experience for their fans. And for this love and dedication I say Up the Irons!