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Saturday, August 16, 2008

DVD Review: Iron Maiden and The New Wave of British Heavy Metal

Iron Maiden and The New Wave of British Heavy Metal
2008 A Sexy Intellectual Production
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Let's set the time on our wayback machines to 1976. The United States was celebrating its bicentennial to the tune of Abba (in their original heyday before being revitalized on Broadway and celluloid) and the New York Yankees were in the headlines much as they ever were. We're talking the age of Superfly, Shaft and Jaws. Scooby Doo, Fat Albert and The Superfriends. God help us, disco was on its way, but at least Star Wars would only be a year coming, while four kabuki-clad cartoon characters in the world of the living were breathing fire up our asses and talking dirty in ears, whether we were old enough to understand them or not.

All hip and drip in America while across the pond, the mother land was unknowingly playing host to two music movements that would forever alter modern rock. While both the United States and the UK shared credit for punk rock, each boasting territorial rights via The Ramones and The Sex Pistols, Britain was acting as unconscious subterfuge for the next generation of rock. Already having relentlessly dominated the world with the British Invasion, as well as The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Who, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath as if it were the days of the Crusades, the next evolutionary step was taking formation on the shores and in the working class towns of England. Names such as Thin Lizzy, Def Leppard, Diamond Head, Praying Mantis, Avenger, Tank, Samson, Blitzkrieg, Angel Witch, Tygers of Pan Tang and Son of a Bitch--which would go on to be better-known as Saxon--constituted a new league of hard rockers riding the existing metallic vibes of Judas Priest, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Queen and the prog rock sanction such as Yes, Nektar and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Constituted in the English press as "The New Wave of British Heavy Metal," the principals involved, which also included the illustrious Iron Maiden, forever changed the face of aggressive music. Though the general outlay of The New Wave of British Heavy Metal is scribed as existing between 1978 and 1981, the germination effect had already taken place inside pubs and makeshift rock techques that would one day bring us heavy metal classics such as Def Leppard's High and Dry and Pyromania, Saxon's Wheels of Steel and Crusader, Girlschool's Demolition and Tygers of Pan Tang's Wild Cat. It would also lead to the generation of a successive steamroll of metal classics from Iron Maiden, spanning from their 1980 self-titled debut to Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and beyond.

Iron Maiden and The New Wave of British Heavy Metal is the overdue story outlining this critical period of rock history. While this documentary is not officially sanctioned by Maiden or any of their representatives, what you get on this DVD is authentication from a couple of early year Maiden players including guitarist Dennis Stratton and formative years vocalist Paul DiAnno.

While Iron Maiden is the central focus of this near three hour documentary, it is more of a detailed overview of The New Wave of British Heavy Metal. It smartly points out the punk correlations in the opening twenty minutes, as well as the progressive and mainstram rock climate dominated by Yes, Boston, Led Zeppelin and Kansas that would inspire Steve Harris to form Iron Maiden. At this point, Iron Maiden and The New Wave of British Heavy Metal effectively creates the environment which allows guests such as Girlschool, Praying Mantis, Tygers of Pan Tang's Rob Weir, Diamond Head's Brian Tatler and the flamboyantly masked Samson drummer Thundersticks to provide insight as back up to the primary lectures administered by magazine and book writers Jerry Ewing, Geoff Barton, Malcom Dome and Joel McIver.

Although Iron Maiden and The New Wave of British Heavy Metal is a long ride, the expertise given and the supplemental photos, live footage and timeline narratives raises this project far above your standard unauthorized biography. In effect, the pace is kept upbeat and it's fun to listen to old stories from the documentary's guest list. Particularly intelligent is Jerry Ewing's relegation of what was happening music-wise at the time of Iron Maiden's official grouping in 1976, going so far as to point out that American funk had hit a Renaissance era at the same time Iron Maiden was swirling its particles together. On the face, the correlation between funk and heavy metal to most people is like peanut butter and ketchup, but wisely cueing up stock footage of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," one can get a quick glance at the thrumming bass lines and the note-happy melodies that would have subtle influence on metal, if not the more overt assistance from Mozart, Beethoven and Bach. Of course, the habitual mentioning of Bon Scott-era AC/DC is credible as a primer to the pounding tempos that would characterize heavy metal.

It might've been neat to point out that Twisted Sister, an American rock band, was forced to come to Britain to release their album Under the Blade (officially 1982-released, though they'd been in the country a lot earlier) on the British punk and rock label Secret Records in the midst of this metal explosion. On the flipside, however, Iron Maiden and The New Wave of British Heavy Metal accurately wraps its point by showing the influence the NWOBHM had upon North American metal, in particular thrash and death metal. For our purposes in 2008, we can see the timeline from Led Zeppelin II to Judas Priest's Stained Class to Iron Maiden's Number of the Beast as the groundwork for Metallica's Master of Puppets, then Pentagram's Day of Reckoning, then Slayer's Reign in Blood, then Pantera's Vulgar Display of Power, then Korn's Life is Peachy, then Slipknot's self-titled debut and now delivered into the hands of revivalists such as the British metalcore band Bullet For My Valentine. Also worth noting is getting to hear pieces of Def Leppard's three-song demo album, proof that capitalist commercialism can undermine anyone with the best intentions.

As hipster Hollywood movie posters tend to queef in light of promoting hopeless sequels, every story has a beginning. At least in this case, the beginning is worth knowing, since we're still living the sequel in real-time.

Rating: ****

2 comments:

The RIpple Effect said...

Love it!! Gotta get it!

I know your favorite Maiden album is Powerslave, but I'm a drooling maniac for the Paul Dianno Maiden. Rougher, rawer, more passion to my ears. I love the power of the D.I.Y. Maiden and the whole NWOBHM, my favorite musical scene ever.

And besides, Wrathchild features the greatest metal bass line intro ever!

Racer

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Right on, man. Maiden is Maiden, though I favor Bruce to Paul, however you're correct in the fact that Paul had more of brackish roughneck approach, which makes him just as worthy to hold the mic.