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I first became aware of the existence of this recording while perusing a vast list of various Dream Theater releases of varying relevance (everything from little bootlegs and Japanese singles to big 2CD compilations) trying to find a bit of info on the Awake album. Imagine my surprise when discovering they had covered Iron Maiden's classic The Number of the Beast in full. It sounded like a fantastic idea, one of the progressive scene's most revered and interesting acts had covered what many like to think as a paragon of 80s heavy metal. What's better is it's a live bootleg, which means no studio polishing or fixing up. Every little Iron Maiden note and beat is on the spot and all at once by our lovely lads Dream Theater. This is the premise and it sounds absolutely brilliant, I couldn't wait to hear it. I couldn't believe I'd discovered this just by messing about on the web. Surely something like this must've been a big deal that I should have heard about from somebody in the online metal community of forums and blogs and so on and yet I hadn't. So I started listening...
Invaders opens with the intro to the album's title track. While it's technically misplaced, it is a live show so it adds much to the listening experience and gets you very excited. It certainly makes things all the more exciting to hear a legion of screaming fans shouting with earth-shaking exuberance as one of progressive metal's biggest is about to perform their take on one of metal's most legendary iconic pieces. The music starts up and already you're sucked in expecting nothing but greatness. This turns out to be why the whole album is so bloody awful! You're set up to be nothing short of amazed and you are utterly disappointed. To blame here is none other than vocalist James LaBrie.
Now I'm convinced that James LaBrie is a competent vocalist as shown by Dream Theater's early works. He's still just fine today, especially in regards to his major roll as part of Ayreon's epic The Human Equation. He's not a favorite by any means but I've never had anything to complain about apart from sounding rather feminine for a big burly Canadian. So how does he manage to ruin this whole thing? Guitarist John Petrucci and drummer Mike Portnoy certainly made it sound very promising with their own unique touches which definitely made the Maiden songs their own, which is exactly the way covers should be. I know it sounds harsh it but it's absolutely all James' fault. He has an incredibly lazy approach to singing these songs throughout the entire set. I also can't tell if he's seriously making an effort to sing here or if he's sincerely trying to make everything sound silly. I know it's a huge cliché in reviews like this to say, “Hell, they must want this to suck,” but if you listen to the way LaBrie sings the first chorus in Invaders then you might actually take this accusation as very plausible. He constantly sings out of key with this atrocious old-womanly wail. His voice is also breaking at multiple points across the album. I haven't the faintest clue how he gets away with this, there really is no argument has to how dreadful he sounds.
The worst thing is I KNOW that LaBrie is capable of singing these songs otherwise I wouldn't have given this a serious listen in the first place. This makes his ghastly singing sound almost intentional. With every childish low note and every cringe-worthy high note and every time his poor voice breaks, I don't know whether to be sad that these old songs I loved so much are being butchered or to be angered that it's all James' fault. Anyone with a most basic grasp of vibrato and voice control could have replaced LaBrie for the set and beyond any doubt could have done it much better.
I don't care if you're the biggest Dream Theater completist ever, for the sake of metal itself do not ever listen to this. If you're really that curious, YtseJam Records has samples of the bootleg on its website. You can hear the unique touch laid down by the band (title track) and how LaBrie's wailing (22 Acacia Avenue) and voice breaking (Invaders) ruins it all. Trust me, you won't want this. Seriously folks, if you're fishing for a good reason to hate James LaBrie, look no further.
What if you were in a Dream Theater concert and then suddenly, the band switched to playing a bunch of Iron Maiden's songs? That is exactly what happened to the audience of Dream Theater's 2002 show in Paris, France - this is a so-called "live bootleg" of Iron Maiden's milestone album The Number of the Beast, played note for note, word for word, chord for chord. I'd say that's about the problem with it...what is the point in releasing this when we already have Iron Maiden's album, which features much more powerful vocals and a more energetic attitude to the whole thing? LaBrie sounds great here, almost as good as on Dream Theater's early albums, but his voice doesn't necessarily stack up to Dickinson's charismatic operatic bellow when he's doing Maiden's songs, not by a long shot. The music is played strictly by the Bible of Maiden, not adding anything new to the songs (with the exception of "Gangland", which I'll get to shortly) or improving them at all. Ironic, considering the band I'm reviewing here.
This is quite entertaining though, just because it's Dream Theater doing Maiden songs. I mean, it's like when you see a one eyed man walking down the street; you just can't help stopping and watching (or in this case, listening). We're all human, and when something like this comes along, the usual reaction would be to want to hear it, just for the sake of it. And while there really is no point to this at all, it's pretty cool to hear Maiden solos done in Petrucci fashion (check "Hallowed Be Thy Name" especially), no matter what anybody else says. Oh, and the song "Gangland" is certainly an eyebrow-raiser here, transformed from a simple, catchy rock song into a sprawling, 70s prog rock tribute. The lyrics are now extremely unfitting for such a slow, spacey, abstract song, but the music is good Dream Theater fodder for fans of that sort of thing. Not bad at all.
While this obviously pales in comparison to Maiden's timeless classic of a heavy metal record, it's a nice little tribute, and fans of both Maiden and Dream Theater will find at least a bit to enjoy here. Recommended.
Until recently i owned the bootleg (not official) version of this show, which took place in Paris in October 24, 2002.
Now I got this official bootleg and the quality of the mix is much better than the audience recording of the bootleg - The mix is so good that at times you forget this is a bootleg.
About the music - the addition of the keyboard instead of a second guitar gives the songs a pleasant emotion. The best example is at children of the damned - just listen to the intro or the solo.
I'm a bit disappointed that it is used only a little during the show.
I'm also disappointed that instead of the famous duel guitar harmonies of Dave & Adrian, they didn't try a duel guitar-keyboard but instead went on one guitar only.
James LaBrie - I think he does his best. He has no problem reaching the high notes but his problem is that Bruce Dickinson he is not and where bruce's gives the songs his power and intensity james lacks.
Sometimes his voice sounds so weak & frail (listen to invaders and hallowed) putting ththat I feel like e original album just to hear Bruce's voice.
What I do like about james though is that when he holds his voice for a few seconds on the same note he starts vibrating his voice.
The other musicians, are great but this is no surprise to me since each musician in Dream Theater, excluding the singer is a true virtuoso at his instrument, again I'm only disappointed that I didn't hear the keyboard more often. Most of the songs are played almost identical to the originals except for gangland in which they played a nice slow-groovy version.
The crowd was also good. Just imagine what a treat it was for them to be in a Dream Theater concert when suddenly the whole setting changes to Iron Maiden and Dream Theater are actually starting to play Iron Maiden who must have had quite a few fans there.
I say that if you play a tribute and you play it identical to the original, then at least play it well and Dream Theater does that. The reason they decided to play a tribute concert at the first place was for their own fun and I believe you shouldn't criticize something which is done for the fun (and the fans) since this is the very essence of the music we all love.
So the sound is good, the performance is good and if you love both Iron Maiden and Dream Theater I can certainly recommend this album to you.