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Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Review: Neil Daniels - Iron Maiden: The Ultimate Unauthorized History of the Beast



You might assume I have Number of the Beast, Iron Maiden, Killers, Piece of Mind, Powerslave, Somewhere in Time or Seventh Son of a Seventh Son humming along while I write this, all iconic slabs of heavy metal, much less the representative best of the beast, depending on how you view them.  Nope, call me a sinner or traitor if you wish, but it's Iron Maiden's The X-Factor that accompanies my spraying fingertips this morning, albeit A Matter of Life and Death and The Final Frontier are on deck, so keep your stones relegated to the ground where they belong.  Like most anyone else, I don't rank The X-Factor towards the upper echelon of Iron Maiden's reknowned catalog, yet it is what I consider the dark horse Maiden album you either keep an open mind about or you don't.  Steve Harris considers it one his band's finest moments and history is finally softening its hardline condemnation of Blaze Bayley, who had the fortune (or misfortune, if you will) of helming that album and its ill-received successor, Virtual XI.  If anything, Bayley is slowly becoming embraced by the metal community for his solo work and his Wolfsbane years, if not for having the sheer balls to stand in there and suffer the wrath, the trash and the spit of Bruce Dickinson loyalists.

I consider The X-Factor an appropriate choice for this review of British author Neil Daniels' latest compendium, Iron Maiden:  The Ultimate Unauthorized History of the Beast.  Why, you might ask?  Because what you're getting here isn't going to wholly satiate you if you're coming to this book looking for a comprehensive biography.  One day we're sure to have the principals themselves issue their memoirs.  You can feel them coming anytime now.  Bruce Dickinson is the likeliest figurehead to pen his story since amongst his other diverse roles, he's a published author (i..e. The Adventures of Lord Iffy Boatrace and The Missionary Position) and we'll all be there to buy it.  Steve Harris could probably offer us the most insight since Maiden is, as everyone knows, his baby.  Personally, I'd love to read Nicko McBrain's reflections since I've interviewed the man and he is total hoot on top of a gentleman.  Cheers, forevermore, mate.

We're here to discuss Neil Daniels, though, and in some ways, Iron Maiden:  The Ultimate Unauthorized History of the Beast might be considered The X-Factor of Maiden books, if not No Prayer For the Dying.  This isn't to be misinterpreted as a rip on Daniels, an accomplished rock and metal journalist and author of numerous books.  The point is that Iron Maiden:  The Ultimate Unauthorized History of the Beast is a pretty sweet package, in particular its 3-D hardcover binding courtesy of longtime Maiden artist Derek Riggs.  You're welcomed by a reverberating profile of Iron Eddie and the band atop his cranium upon the first crack and the inclusion of Riggs off-the-bat will bring an instant homefelt feeling.  The only real caveat to this project, however, is its overall sense of bare bones.  

There are more than 400 images including vintage and seldom-seen live photos plus Maiden memorabilia such as tour posters, promotional cut-outs, seven and twelve inch cover artwork, ticket stubs, t-shirts and press passes designed to generate a front-and-center access to the band for the reader.  Daniels invites a gaggle of esteemed heavy metal authorities such as Martin Popoff, Ian Christe, Mick Wall, Daniel Bukszpan, John Tucker, Garry Bushell and Gavin Bradley to contribute their critiques of Iron Maiden's recorded body.  Daniels includes city-by-city itineraries for every known Maiden tour and their respective set lists.  You can safely bet "Running Free" and "Sanctuary" dominated the curtain calls for many of them.  The latter features are charming and intriguing from a diehard's point-of-view.

Daniels assembles a cut-and-dry retrospective of Iron Maiden's career using an assemblage of external journalistic sources in addition to his straightforward narration.  Appropriately his research is deeper fetched into the formative years of the band, while the remainder of his sojourn down Maiden's sea of madness is more-or-less a primer to the later years.  In-between his documentation is no-holds-barred record analysis from guest scribes and they're sure to piss off the devout at times with their articluate derisions that offset their toasts of Somewhere in Time, Dance of Death and even a few quibbling tolchocks against the mighty Powerslave.  It'll be no surprise how they evaluate No Prayer for the Dying, Fear of the Dark and the short-lived Blaze Bayley era.

Therein, Iron Maiden:  The Ultimate Unauthorized History of the Beast comes off like a well-constructed fan book since the objectivity is countered by opinionted critique you can value for the superb writing or you can ho and hum your way past them while chanting "to each their own" like a mantra. 

Daniels' book does carry a warm vibe to it, as if it should be nestled in your lap with Live After Death, Flight 666 or Visions of the Beast whirling simultaneously on the tube.  Many of the photos Daniels gained permission to release are out of the old Hit Parader, Kerrang and Circus days.  One of the most nostalgic is Richard E. Aaron's amusing shot of Bruce Dickinson pointing a fencing sword towards a markered and taped sign for a demonstration he was giving in California during the World Piece Tour.  Another is one that will make headbangers of old laugh with gleeful remembrance, as in Dickinson and Dave Murray mugging it up at Capitol Records, as if the giant gauntlet of commercialism is plunging in for them.   That gem, also from Richard E. Aaron, subliminally cues to mind the more cryptic artwork for Queen's News of the World.  At least Maiden have remained true to themselves in the major leagues, scoffing at that proverbial gauntlet with smarmy farts cast in its general direction.  Then there's Virginia Turbett's hilarious capture of bell-bottomed headbangers of 1980.  These are your forefathers, young 'uns, respect!

As Daniels constructs Iron Maiden's legacy and the ascension of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, we're treated to classic photos of the Paul DiAnno years and the back story of Iron Maiden's first breakout success with the inclusion of "Sanctuary" and "Wrathchild" on the halcycon Metal For Muthas comp from 1980.  What really comes off as fascinating is seeing who Iron Maiden shared the stage with at the glorious Marquee forum, noted to be "the spiritual home of the NWOBHM" by Tygers of Pan Tang vocalist Jess Cox, much less Rock City in Nottingham:  everyone from punkers UK Subs and The Adverts to new wavers XTC and Human League to alt gurus Echo and the Bunnymen.  Even the freaking Kinks, who, sadly, were pale shades of their bombastic selves at that point.

Frequently offering the literature behind such hallmarks as "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son," "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" and more recently, "The Longest Day," Daniels astutely imbibes the spirit of connection between written and audile media which illustrates Iron Maiden to be one of the most learned bunch of their ilk. 

By doing so, Daniels gives Iron Maiden:  The Ultimate Unauthorized History of the Beast a sense of art surpassing its initial air of mere worship.  The vast portfolio of Derek Riggs alone is enough to have this book on your headbanger's coffeetable, but the vivid live photos and touring flotsam are an added attraction.  Where it pales from a lack of totality and too much arbitrary analysis, Daniels does give his audience a swift and often eye-popping trip down Iron Maiden's not-yet-final frontiers.  Consider the irons upped formidably in that respect.

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