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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.