Easily one of the most influential metal bands of all time, Iron Maiden have stood the test of time to represent virtually the very ethos of both classic heavy metal and the NWOBHM sound itself. Having been around since roughly 1975, the concept of a Maiden live album is nothing new and with the new release of Death on the Road, I was wondering if anything new would be brought to the table. Recorded over the duration of their 2003/2004 "Dance of Death Tour" (in support of 2003's full-length Dance of Death of course), Death on the Road is a fairly exhaustive take on both classic Maiden and newer material as well. Though not as long as the earlier A Real Dead One, Live After Death or Live at Donington for example, the double-disc Death on the Road finds the band playing a career retrospective of sixteen songs, ranging the entire gamut of song structures, musical changes within the Maiden outfit itself, and style/taste pleasing tunes. There's something for any kind of Iron Maiden fan here, and no one should be disappointed in the slightest.
The set includes a lot of pros that make it a real treat for Maiden fans old or new; the artwork, for example, is jaw-droppingly grand. Featuring a grim painting of a Reaperish Eddie atop a hellish carriage careening into oblivion, the inner booklet features well-shot photograph collages of the band showcasing their craft all over the world. Frontman Bruce Dickingson looks like someone half his age, caught in even still-photos as a sparkplug of energy, running to-and-thro on stage with the Union Jack flying proud. The stage props are grand, ambitious, and even whimsical, plus they are well spotlighted for someone like me who didn't see the band's actual tour live. A full list of all the dates on the entire tour has also been included, which is pretty cool if you were at one of the dates and you want it immortalized.
The actual songs themselves sound bloody fantastic. The production is top-notch, the band is in top form, and generally everything is in overdrive during the whole set. The crowd is raucous and loud, singing along word-for-word with the band and adding even more energy to the already uber-amped show. Nothing about the sound quality sounds remotely dulled or flat; in fact, many fan reports I've read are saying that this is the crispest and best-produced live Maiden album yet released.
The songs played themselves are pretty definitive. Disc one (in my opinion) edges out disc two by just a little, featuring all sorts of great Maiden songs. At a fairly long length of roughly fifty and a half minutes, the disc offers a lot and would probably have done very well on its own; just look at the songs on offer! Opener "Wildest Dreams" captures the bands neo-classical bombast with the orchestral opening and oodles of wild cheers; things are capped off by a perfect rendition of "Dreams" itself. Loud and proud, "Wrathchild" blazes in with some full rock glory before Dickingson joyously yelps the question "Can I Play with Madness?" The crowd eats all this stuff up, and sing along at almost ever chorus they get the chance. Career-defining song "The Trooper" still bloody slays everyone in an entire venue full of fans, and newer cut "Dance of Death" is played in full. "Death" manages to start a Maiden chant, kick off with some weird vocal samples, simply rock, and start a clap-along all in one song. Despite being a track only two years young, the fans instantly respond with applause upon the folk-y opening guitars and show tons of enthusiasm for it. "Rainmaker" comes next, and still sounds every bit as poignant and catchy. "Brave New World" is a lush resting point for a while before exploding into a fist-pumping explosion of awesome heavy metal. "Paschendale" gets a whole epic slice of the set at the requisite ten minutes, and is replete with gunshots and the band pretty much blowing away everything done earlier in this portion of the double-disc. Disc One closes with "Lord of the Flies" and ends on a relative high note.
Disc two starts on a softer note, the ominous "No More Lies" slowly working the crowd into a swaying frenzy. "Hallowed Be Thy Name" gets one of the best receptions of the entire set, and is smoking on stage. "Fear of the Dark" is another classic cut, with Dickingson laughing like a maniac and the rhythm section of bassist Steve Harris and drummer Nicko McBrain sounding especially on fire. What set by this band would be complete without "Iron Maiden?" Definitely not this one, and it is shown hear in full, galloping, and regal glory. The moody "Journeyman" next calms everyone down into folking chants and claps before perennial favorites "The Number of the Beast" and "Run to the Hills" deliver the knockout combo to finish the concert with roaring aplomb.
"The Dance of Death Tour" was a big comeback of sorts for Maiden; many critics are hailing that tour (and the string of infamous Ozzfest dates they later took part in) as some of the liveliest dates Maiden have played in years. After hearing Death on the Road, no doubt exists to refute such a claim. Satisfying, long, and well-produced, this set is a nice addition to any metalhead's collection. A fantastic seventy minute DVD/making of exists as well for purchase, and the disc will be re-released down the road in 5.1 digital sound in what promises to be a stellar double-disc for metalheads who also possess great sound systems. Loud and proud, Iron Maiden are still top of the class and this set proves it; take the nearest Road to a CD store and buy it already!