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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » History of Iron Maiden Part 1: The Early Days
History of Iron Maiden Part 1: The Early Days
EMI Records // Unrated // December 28, 2004
List Price: $51.49 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted December 18, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Program

So there I was, 11 years old and on my way to computer camp, when...


EDITORIAL NOTE: We here at DVD Talk would like to remind our gentle readers that uttering the preceding sentence is guaranteed to ensure that you will never get laid in the English-speaking world.

Carry on, ya pantywaist.


...when I first heard Iron Maiden . This was during the summer of 1982, on the long-lamented K102 radio station in Miami, Florida, at or about 8:30 in the A.M., in a Checker sedan heading north on the Palmetto Expressway. I was a young but eager headbanger, having listened to my fill of Kiss, Van Halen, Judas Priest, Ozzy Osborne, Ronnie James Sabbath, AC/DC, pre-Pyromania Def Leppard, Scorpions, and other such late 70s/early 80s fare. But what I heard on the radio that morning sounded entirely different from what I had normally enjoyed. This sound was raw, thunderous, in your face heavy metal, yet strangely melodic and – dare I say – catchy? It wasn't pop – it was far, far from pop – in fact it was pure heavy metal, but by the end of the song my brother and I were singing along and banging our heads like a pair of preteen morons still high off of their Frosted Flakes habit:

Run to the hills!
Run for your li-i-ife!
Run to the hills!
Run for your life!

Run To The Hills is one of Iron Maiden's signature tunes, a metal classic by any stretch of the imagination, and it hooked us for life. Unfortunately, the DJ never announced the name of the song or the band, launching directly into Van Halen's Little Guitars, so we had little or no recourse to follow-up on the song (You young kids today, what with your cell phones and file-sharing and Google searches, you have no idea what we had to go through...) Cue six months later, when one of my brother's friends gave him this album for his birthday:

Thankfully I didn't come from a family of bible-thumpers, as thatparticular album would have been fodder for behavioral regression therapy. But this... THIS... was the coolest thing we had ever seen. "Iron Maiden" – what a cool freakin' name. Check it out, it's got like Satan on the cover, and it's in Hell, and the big skeletal dude is using Satan as a puppet, who in turn is using the skeletal dude as a puppet. Skeletor kicks Satan's ass -- these guys are awesome! We intrepidly looked over the track list, which whetted our appetite even more: songs like The Prisoner, The Number of the Beast, Hallowed Be Thy Name, Children of the Damned, and... wait, could this be right? The fifth cut was called Run To The Hills? This couldn't be that same... no way, that wasn't...

It was. And we became Ed-heads. For life. And we still are.

When listing the greatest Heavy Metal acts of all time, Iron Maiden almost always appears in the Top 10. The triple-punch of The Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, and Powerslave resulted in three of most popular and beloved metal albums ever. Their musicianship was tight, their lyrics generally running deeper and more interesting than the usual "party all nite/get laid/puke in your hiking shorts" crap that permeated much of the rock scene, their riffs fierce, their hooks compelling, and, pound for pound, they had some of the best album covers in the business. And they had Eddie, their skeletal mascot, who not only made an appearance at every Maiden show to the delight of fans everywhere, but became one of the most recognizable marketing brands in all of music.

But it wasn't really about the brands, the album covers, the gloss, or the marketing for the fans (which numbered in the tens of millions, worldwide. Iron Maiden was huge in their nativeBritain as well as in the States, but had legions of fans all the way from South America to behind the Iron Curtain.) The music kept their fans returning year after year, for every album and every tour. It was always about the music, the primal sounds of working-class British pub metal of the late 70s/early 80s. Their songs were laden with the macabre and the imaginative, cultivating their lyrics from such diverse sources as British television (The Prisoner, Back in the Village), Miyamoto Musashi (Sun and Steel), 19th Century poetry (the epic The Rime of the Ancient Mariner), warfare (Aces High, The Trooper, Tailgunner), Frank Herbert's Dune novels (To Tame A Land), history (Alexander The Great, Mother Russia), mythology (Flight of Icarus, Powerslave) and elsewhere. Maiden was never anywhere near a "spandex and hairspray" cheese metal act that came and went with idiotic tunes about getting laid, the horrors of touring, and sanctimonious feelgood power ballads to pacify the record execs. They were metal giants.

Bassist, group founder, and primary lyricist Steve Harris remained the band's focal point, the heart of the band, who has remained with Iron Maiden in every incarnation of the group, but over the course of twenty-some-odd-years of existence the band has seen dozens of members. Most fans would agree that the classic line-up consists of the aforementioned Steve Harris, singer Bruce Dickinson, guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, and drummer Nicko McBrain. But one would be in remiss to ignore the contributions of other contributors to the group's legacy, such as vocalist Paul Di'Anno (who sang on the band's first two albums, Iron Maiden and Killers), guitarist Dennis Stratton, drummer Clive Burr (who contributed to The Number of the Beast, arguably Maiden's best album), guitarist Janick Gers (who contributed to Bruce Dickinson's 1990 solo album and replaced Adrian Smith on No Prayer for the Dying), and vocalist Blaze Bayley (replacing Bruce Dickinson on 1995's The X Factor). Dickinson and Smith rejoined the group in 2000 for the Brave New World album, and the six-man line-up of Harris, Murray, Smith, Dickinson, Gers, and McBrain are still touring and recording to date, selling out shows around the world.

Now, with 2005 noted as the twenty-fifth anniversary of the group's first studio album, North America is finally rewarded with the DVD release of History of Iron Maiden Part I: The Early Days. Available for many months in other regions, this amazing documentary is finally getting released over on these shores, and Maiden fans couldn't ask for anything more. This 90 minute documentary covers the entire gamut of the band's early history, starting from the initial formations of Iron Maiden and running up to the release and tour of 1983's Piece of Mind. This documentary is packed to the gills with interviews, concert footage, memorabilia, TV appearances, and other such goodies. For the Maiden fan, this is pure joy. Tons of information is contained within, including such shocking revelations that the band was never really too pleased with the sound on the first album, or that Steve Harris never really liked the version of Flight of Icarus that was recorded on the Piece of Mind album. I always wondered why the live version of Live After Death had infinitely more punch, and there we have it. Most amusing was the band's response to the American Bible-Belt accusations that the band was, indeed, Satanic. Good stuff.

If I could levy any complaint against the documentary – and I will – it would be that, even at 90 minutes and almost overflowing with cool Maiden information, it still feels too short. Right around the time it discusses the release of Piece of Mind, there's almost a "let's wrap this thing up, we're almost out of running time" feel. Still, that's my only complaint. For Maiden fans, this DVD is absolutely essential viewing.

The DVD

The History of Iron Maiden Part 1: The Early Days is available in a packed two-DVD set.

Video:

The History of Iron Maiden Part 1: The Early Days is presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and has been anamorphically-enhanced for your widescreen-viewing enjoyment. The image is pretty strong, with solid colors, reasonable image detail, and a generally clean and pleasant picture. The documentary features a ton of archival and television footage that is in varying degrees of quality, but you can't fault a good transfer for mediocre source material. Overall, this is a solid and pleasing transfer with no visible compression noise, artifacting, or other tell-tale squabbles.

Audio:

The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, and is serviceable and enjoyable if a little bit lacking. I would have enjoyed a little more "oomph" to the presentation, as it features a ton of great Maiden songs woven throughout the soundtrack. Dialog levels are clean and generally bright. Overall the quality is acceptable. It's understandable that quality soundtracks of concert performances from 20+ years ago can be hard to come by, and it doesn't detract from my audio rating, but one is left hoping (perhaps in vain) for something so much stronger.

Extras:

Strangely enough, the documentary itself is presented on Disc Two, with other special features on Disc One. So let us proceed in numerical order.

Disc One has three concert performances under its belt. The first, Live At The Rainbow, runs for 30-minutes in showcases the band as they were touring in support of their second album, 1981's Killers. The performance features the following set-list:

  1. Ides of March
  2. Wrathchild
  3. Killers
  4. Remember Tomorrow
  5. Transylvania
  6. Phantom of the Opera
  7. Iron Maiden

Moving on to the next performance, we have Beast Over Hammersmith, a thirty-five minute concert capturing the band on tour supporting 1982's The Number of The Beast. What seemed especially fascinating to me is seeing the difference between having Paul Di'Anno and Bruce Dickinson as the band's frontman. While I've always felt that Di'Anno was a great vocalist, Dickinson (with his unique vocal stylings) really brought of energy and charisma to the band, and this is especially evident in this performance. Anyway, here's the set-list.

  1. Murders in the Rue Morgue
  2. Run To The Hills
  3. Children of the Damned
  4. Number of the Beast
  5. 22 Acacia Avenue
  6. Total Eclipse
  7. The Prisoner
  8. Hallowed Be Thy Name
  9. Iron Maiden

The final performance on this disc is Live In Portmund, supporting 1983's Piece Of Mind album. This gig runs about 36 minutes long, and is surprisingly short on Piece Of Mind tunes (only 3), with 3 songs from The Number of the Beast, and 1 from Killers. Ah well, enough of my yakkin'. Here's the set-list:

  1. Sanctuary
  2. The Trooper
  3. Revelations
  4. Flight of Icarus
  5. 22 Acacia Avenue
  6. Number of the Beast
  7. Run To The Hills

Disc Two , even with the main feature, still contains a ton of bonus material as well. Starting things out is 20th Century Box - Original Broadcast, a 24-minute episode of the British television show 20th Century Box from 1981 that centered around Iron Maiden as they were winding up their tour supporting their first album. The show is features interviews with the band, their fans, the legendary Bandwagon club, and the entire early 80s metal milieu that surrounded them. This documentary is an absolute kick, especially as a probing and detailed look into the history of British metal.

Next up is Women In Uniform - Top of the Pops - 22/02/80, a three-minute televised performance of their Women In Uniform single. This has always been one of my favorite early-Maiden tunes, and the performance contained her is pretty damn raw. The next performances are Running Free - Top of the Pops - 13/11/80 and Running Free - Rock and Pop - ZTV Germany 1980, two renditions of one Maiden's signature tunes. The former runs just over two minutes and looks and sounds fairly well, while the latter contains a ton of video noise and ghosting. Plus the quick-cutting is guaranteed to give you a seizure. Stick with the first one, even if the Murray/Smith fretwork is much sweeter on the second.

Promo Videos 1980 - 1985 contains five music videos from Maiden's early history: Women In Uniform, Run to the Hills, The Number of the Beast, Flight of Icarus, and The Trooper. There's also an Easter Egg here: highlight "Extras" at the bottom of the screen and click down. An icon appears to the right. Click it and see what you can see.

Eddie's Lock-Up contains even more archival footage. We start out with Live at The Ruskin, a really early Maiden performance (right around the release of their first album) captured on amateur home video. Don't expect much in terms of picture and sound quality, but what you can expect is a really raw and scrappy performance from an emerging metal talent. The set list for this performance consists of:

  1. Sanctuary
  2. Wratchchild
  3. Prowler
  4. Remember Tomorrow
  5. Running Free
  6. Transylvania
  7. Another Life
  8. Phantom of the Opera
  9. Charlotte The Harlot

Next we have Steve's Diary - 1975, a collection of text pages from bassist/group founder Steve Harris's 1975 journal. The entries consist mostly of gig and audition information, including how much they received in compensation and how he went to go see the Rocky Horror Show on Friday, August the 20th. Steve's Scrapbook contains stills of gig posters, concert tickets, banners, newspaper clippings, and other such memorabilia related to the band.

Moving into the Discography section, we are treated to a rundown of all the band's albums and singles (up to 1983), including the album covers (awesome!), release dates, UK Chart Positions, and tracks (both song titles and songwriters listed.) In On The Road, we are treated to literally dozens of photographs that detail the history of the band on tour. These are broken down into the following sections: The Early Days, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, Tour Programmes, Tour Dates, T-Shirts, Backstage Passes, and Other Artwork.

Final Thoughts

Now this was an exhaustive yet utterly enjoyable trip through the early history of one of the greatest heavy metal bands to ever walk the Earth. Do my rants seem like the blind ravings of a geeked-out fanboy who has spent hours playing with some favorite toy? Touche. But even if I weren't a diehard Maiden fan, I'd still be impressed with The History of Iron Maiden Part I: The Early Days. There is just a metric ton of material contained herein, guaranteed to please even the most discriminatory of Maiden fans. The documentary itself is extremely enjoyable, packed with information about the band, its history, the major players in its development, and archival footage. But combine that with 100 minutes of bonus concert footage, a half-hour of television footage, five music videos, photo galleries, and discographies, and what we are left with is one of the most comprehensive packages ever assembled for a single band. And the kicker? This is only Part One.

If I had my druthers I'd give this two-DVD set our highest rating. And I will. Yet the fact remains that - for non Maiden fans - The History of Iron Maiden Part I: The Early Days is of absolutely no interest. For those sad, lonely souls, all I can recommend is that we strap them down and make them listen to all the albums displayed on this page. In any case, as a collection that encapsulates the genesis and ascension of one of metal's quintessential bands, this is a thoroughly fantastic package. The History of Iron Maiden Part I: The Early Days easily earns its accolades. Up the Irons!

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