Iron Maiden and Me. Part I: The Discovery

Iron Maiden is my favorite metal band. This is very difficult to admit because I am in love with other metal bands and to them, I apologize.

To honor Iron Maiden, I will be posting an as-yet-undetermined number of articles about every album, every concert, and about every time their music made me feel like a million bucks.

And without further ado, Part I begins:

The Discovery

This story begins a little over 25 years ago. One of the most iconic and influential metal bands in the world, the mighty Iron Maiden, did not get radio or video airplay in my native land of Venezuela. I had read about them in metal magazines where I found that the band didn’t get radio airplay in most countries. Despite this fact, their fan base kept growing steadily becoming one of the biggest metal acts in history.

So how was I to get my hands on some Iron Maiden? When I began the ninth grade, I met kids that had their albums. The fact that classmates liked the same music as I did gave a huge boost to my social life. I finally had buddies with whom to share albums and songs and tapes and the passion of loving heavy metal music. Finally, I was surrounded by kids that “got it.”

If you’ve ever heard music that makes your ears perk like a dog’s when it hears a fire truck siren and your hairs raise like when the boy you like locks eyes with you, then you understand the impact Iron Maiden had in my metal life.

The band went through several lineup changes, most noticeably the change of vocalist Paul Di’Anno to Bruce Dickinson in 1981 and drummer Clive Burr to Nicko McBrain in 1982. The lineup of the last 5 albums at the time was: Steve Harris, bass; Adrian Smith and Dave Murray, rhythm and lead guitars; Bruce Dickinson, vocals; and Nicko McBrain, drums.

To the best of my memory, the first LPs I devoured on a Wednesday afternoon were Killers, The Number of the Beast and Piece of Mind. My dad’s turntable was in the corner of the small dining room, with the speakers located at either side of a china cabinet. Neither mom or dad were home so I cranked it up! Each of the cups and plates and other china figurines vibrated with every guitar howl, drum beat and ear-piercing screams. It was love at first listen.

I sat at the dining table carefully studying the album sleeves while eating a fruit-at-the-bottom yogurt. The covers were fascinating. Several details were there for the curious eyes to find: people hiding in alleys, Egyptian totems, funny stick figures, and drawings that appeared in several albums. The band’s mascot Eddie, created and drawn by Derek Riggs, appeared on most of the album covers. Eddie was pure bone covered by muscles, his eyes afire, his mouth open in a silent scream. In one of the album covers he was the puppet master of the Devil and his minions on a land covered by fire, presumably hell.

I eventually got my hands on every album released up to that point. Additionally to the albums mentioned above they were: Iron Maiden, Powerslave, Live After Death and Somewhere In Time.

I spent many days writing the lyrics to every song on a special spiral notebook. I preferred penning them instead of typing them in the computer as I felt more in touch with the words that way. I learned about Alexander the Great and about the loneliness of long distance runners, about Indians running to hills and battles fought in the air. My goal was to memorize every word of every album like I had done a few years before with The Police (yeah, I knew every word to every Police song!)

Instead of studying boring, tiresome and lame school crap, I spent my time away from school listening to the albums, learning the lyrics. New words entered my vocabulary and I practiced the English language by singing in my room at the top of my lungs. The school assignments fell short from the vivid, descriptive, fantastic and thrilling stories portrayed in the Maiden songs, so my grades suffered. A passing grade was all I cared about. I didn’t give a rat’s ass about school. School could suck it.

About two years later, Iron Maiden released a new album: Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son. Getting my hands on it was going to be a challenge: the internet was a thing of science fiction, the band was still not played on the radio or TV, very few record stores carried imports and it would take a while to be released locally. Luckily my father was traveling abroad on business that month and was able to bring me a copy.

It was the first time I’ve listened to a Maiden album almost at the same time the world did. I was not listening to a five-year-old album. It was fresh, right off the presses.

At first listen I had mixed feelings. I did not love the song Can I Play With Madness. Honestly, I hated it. However, the rest of album was incredible. But allowing this one commercial song in the album scared me. Would the follow up to Seventh Son have more rock songs? Would they become an extension of Bruce Dickinson’s solo work? I wasn’t sure but I would find out a few years later.

Iron Maiden gave me a platform on which to view the world from a totally different angle. They introduced new sounds, new stories, new imagery, and gave me a peek at events I’d never heard of. I learned more from their songs than from school.

Catcha at the next installment…

Up The Irons!

Obituary Live: Death Metal From The Florida Swamps

Obituary entered my life a long, long time ago when I lived in my native Caracas. The first album Slowly We Rot had just been released. The first time I heard it, it paralyzed my blood and mesmerized my soul. I was in love! I had never heard such melted-chocolate guitar riffs, vocals sounding like hurling and gargling simultaneously with such fierceness as if emanating from the guts of Lucifer himself, and brutal drums that merged nice and tight with the bass line. It was crisp metal peppered with ethereal mysticism. Absolutely delicious. 

Back then, sitting in my room, playing the Slowly We Rot album over and over again, the thought of seeing them in concert was an abstract thought, like say, having a romantic dinner with your favorite actor/actress. As far as I was concerned, these five guys were aliens from a faraway planet. 

Fast-forward to 2013… 

We left Orlando early and headed to Ybor City to catch the Obituary show (yeah!). Our trip began with a typical June Florida-famous thunderstorm. It started to pour as soon as we merged onto I-4 Westbound as if ordered by Zeus himself (bastard!). The traffic was slow, visibility dim. Fortunately my friend in whose car we traveled proudly announced he changed the tires recently so the chance of water-gliding in the 2-door Japanese car was less likely than getting crushed by a semi. Goody.

The downpour continued for hours, even after we arrived at The Orpheum. People piling in were drenched like they had hit the shower fully clothed. But risking catching pneumonia is a small price to pay for experiencing the up-close and personal show of a world-class death metal band like Obituary. The mere memory of that night sends electric shocks from my chest to my core and back.

The show was streamed live through the band’s U-Nation page. Fans from all over the world could tune in for only $4.99. Generating revenue in this manner is a creative way for the band to obtain funds, and it’s a valuable service for the fans. Nowadays finding one’s favorite music for free is as easy as clicking a button. Bands need to find innovative ways of making money in order for them to continue writing awesome material instead of worrying about menial things like paying bills. We need to support our favorite musicians if we want more of their awesome music. 

The stage was ready. The gigantic Obituary backdrop threatened us from above! Donald Tardy’s drum kit sat on a platform neatly “miked” for the online streaming. Marshall amps on both sides of the stage waited to be ravaged. The band came out of the shadows and took their places. This is it! History in the making! The first professionally streamed Obituary show, and we were part of it! Image

The opening riffs of the dueling guitars poured from the speakers like the waters of Niagara Falls. The sound paralyzed my body. My eyes widened. I couldn’t believe it! I was witnessing the grand sound of a band I’ve loved for over 20 years. And so it hit me, the sudden rush of emotion I expect at every Obituary show. The tears welling and the lump on my throat. I’m getting faklempt writing this so go ahead and talk amongst yourselves.

 My nineteen-year-old self jumped up and down, moved by the spectacle playing out in front of her. She wanted to get in the pit and slam-dance the night away, so my feet started toward the pit while my brain screamed no! And as I got closer, a guy in the pit was pushed in my general direction. The people between us tumbled like dominoes almost taking me down with them, and my desire for slam-dancing dissipated faster than my beer.

In the previous two shows I had been to, the band played with one guitar player and although the mighty Trevor Peres holds his own at every performance, I longed for the second guitar like one longs a lover’s caress. This time they added Kenny Andrews on lead and rhythm duties. The sound was complete, at last! Alternating melting-chocolate riffs! Solos to pierce your insides! Mammoth dueling-guitar action!  

The show kept getting better and better. Most of the songs were from the first three albums. Although I’m a huge fan of this band, I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t know the names of most songs or know what songs are in which albums (same thing happens with Black Sabbath). Back in the day I listened to the tapes over and over again usually in my car. And it was difficult to sing along to Obituary. I heard or read somewhere that the lyrics were not included in the album sleeve because John Tardy’s vocals acted like another instrument. So without lyrics, I growled along to the music. Lyrics were an obsession so not having access to them was a bummer, although it left room for the imagination.

At one point the band paid tribute to Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman who passed away the previous month. Donald and the band raised their beers to the sky and the crowd began chanting “Slayer! Slayer! Slayer!” and I again choked up.

The pit didn’t stop for a second. Fans stage-dived at their leisure, almost bumping into Terry Butler (bass) at one point. After a while, the fans were getting a little comfortable on-stage and though they meant no harm to the band, they were asked to get off and not come back. The stage-diving stopped for the most part so the band could again concentrate on playing instead of watching out for a slam dancer’s elbow. 

The band played a nice and long encore, satisfying our thirst for more! Friends and I spent most of the time at the edge of the pit, as close to the stage as possible minimizing the risk of injury. I love you guys, you know who you are! 

After the show I was lucky enough to see and briefly speak to John and Donald Tardy. They are the sweetest, most down-to-earth rock stars in the planet (so is Trevor, who I spoke to at another show… ERMAHGERD!

So once more the dream of seeing Obituary kill on-stage came true. My batteries recharged, my young-self floating in bliss, another fulfilling experience at the hands of the delirium-inducing quintet. When Obituary hits your town, the wise thing to do is to check them out. Or stream the live show. And always show them the love they deserve. 

A Crush Leads To Rush

There is something factual to be said about puppy love: it may lead to a lifelong relationship with… a rock band?

The year was 1984. The place: a neighborhood birthday party.  The boy I liked was there. We had known each other in grade school and hadn’t seen one another in years. Our conversation was probably awkward at first, as we were both 13 years old, but soon it veered to music. He told me he played drums and his influence was Neil Peart, from the band Rush. I may have said “who?” because his eyes widened and his demeanor changed. He turned into a Rush salesperson, speaking lively about the history of the Canadian trio formed by Geddy Lee, Neil Peart and Alex Lifeson, selling me on how they were the best band in the world. He was very excited about the opportunity to indoctrinate a pair of Rush-virgin ears. We agreed we would get together and listen to the albums in the near future.

A few weeks dragged on before the boy I liked and I met again. He brought to my house a handful of Rush albums: 2112, Fly by Night, and Moving Pictures. I placed the 2112 LP on the turntable, pressed “Rec” in the tape deck, and dropped the needle. The music was delicate, sharp, fierce, and very different from anything I had heard before. I was impressed. What didn’t impress me very much was the way these guys looked. The band photo on 2112 is like a car wreck: it’s ghastly but you just cannot help staring. Alex’s pants are so tight, you can see his male anatomy very clearly indeed. We both laughed hysterically analyzing the photo and tried to figure out what the costumes represented. Maybe hidden clues to decipher the twenty-plus minute song on side A? Since he didn’t speak English, I translated for him, which did not necessarily mean we “got it.” For example, take this bit of “By-Tor and The Snow Dog” from the album “Fly by Night”:

Across the River Styx, out of the lamplight

His nemesis is waiting at the gate

The Snow Dog, ermine glowing in the damp night

Coal-black eyes shimmering with hate.

I imagine I looked up “nemesis” and “ermine” and I probably thought the River Styx was a real river in Asia. But no matter the language barrier, the music flowed through me with ease. I was not pretending to like it to impress the boy. I was almost obsessed with this newly discovered music. For over a year Rush music rocked me to sleep. Sometimes I would replay “Red Barchetta” three or four times. The visuals of the song made a fantastic bedtime story.

Around that time the LP “Grace Under Pressure” came out. Soon after, my mother drove to the mall and I tagged along to visit the record store. I finally got my little hands on it. (To give you an idea of what I listened to, I also picked up Twisted Sister’s “Stay Hungry,” and two soundtrack albums: The Karate Kid and Ghostbusters. Don’t hate.) The first song of Side A was “Distant Early Warning.” I was familiar with that song. I recorded the video a few weeks before. I played it over and over, in awe as to the ability these musicians had to compose such a song. Why was it mesmerizing? I tried analyzing it. The music was delicate during the verse, but the words were nothing short of piercing. The buildup to the chorus was chaotic. And the ending was an explosion of epic proportions. The keyboard built tension along with the vocals and other instruments. This was like catnip to me. The thought of playing bass appealed to me even more now that I had Geddy Lee in my life.

From then on I would hunt Rush albums. As a mere 14-year-old girl I couldn’t afford to buy all the albums or tapes. I relied on my neighbors, schoolmates and my girlfriend’s older brothers that loved music. I borrowed Caress of Steel, which became my favorite Rush album (it still is.) I kept stumbling into more albums: Exit… Stage Left, Hemispheres, Rush, and with every new album, a new window to the world would open. Big English words would enter my vocabulary. I would know things then that in the future I realized I had known thanks to Neil’s lyrics.

In sum, the boy I liked and I never had a romantic relationship. Our friendship remained ingrained in music. Now he is a mere memory of my teen years. But he left an indelible mark in my metal life by introducing me to one of my favorite bands in the world. Puppy love may lead to a love affair with a rock band, indeed.

Introduction

This is a gutural blog, completely subjective, about my history with heavy metal. I hope that by reading my stories you connect and share your own experiences regarding the bands that move you, that give you goose bumps, about the metalhead community in your city, about what it means to be a headbanger. Up The Irons!