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The Best of the Beast was the first proper compilation album released by Iron Maiden a full 16 years after the release of their s/t, and this does seem a conundrum, as the band had been heavily circulated and popular for years. But arrive it did, in a variety of formats that were bound to confuse, but all containing previously released material and a few rare recordings. There was a single CD edition of the Best of the Beast which was even less warranted than the later Somewhere Back in Time, and a deluxe 4LP package which contains the most value (if you're into the vinyl, that is) as it simply has the most tracks. But this particular version I'm reviewing was the standard, 2CD version with 27 tracks and about 2 and a 1/2 hours of music.
"Virus" was probably the highlight here of the newer material, if only for the novelty that it had not been released on a full-length album. It's a steady hard rocker featuring Blaze Bayley's vocals, and while it's not the worst Maiden in history, it's very much forgettable, like just about anything on the abysmal Virtual XI (the next full-length released after this compilation). It's no fault of the vocals themselves, but the song simply does not possess even a simple melody of interest, even when it breaks down into the skanking, cornball bridge with a solo that seems it took no longer than about 5 seconds to compose. After this, the compilation begins to travel back in time, starting with two selections from The X Factor: "Sign of the Cross" and "Man on the Edge". Now, while I don't have any particular malice for these tracks, they are far from the best songs of The X Factor, let alone Maiden's entire career...which this compilation is probably supposed to represent.
Back further, we get "Be Quick or Be Dead", and live versions "Fear of the Dark" and "Afraid to Shoot Strangers" which make up the Fear of the Dark section; while "Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter" and "Holy Smoke" serve as proxies for No Prayer for the Dying. These are all solid enough inclusions, through you could honestly have done with only one track from each album and included a lot more from their first seven full-lengths, the ones that truly matter. But these will be explored in more detail throughout the remainder of this disc and the next. "The Clairvoyant", "Can I Play With Madness?" and "The Evil That Men Do" are here to represent Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, and I suppose the latter two belong. "Wasted Years" and "Heaven Can Wait" do justice to Somewhere in Time and round out the first CD. Of course, in my humble opinion that entire album could be reprinted here if we were REALLY interested in the 'best' of the 'beast'...
The 2nd disc begins with more live versions to represent Live After Death and Powerslave (very clever...), "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and "Running Free", but then Powerslave is expanded upon with the excellent "Aces High" and "2 Minutes to Midnight". Piece of Mind has "Where Eagles Dare" and obviously "The Trooper", and The Number of the Beast is given a little extra heat with the title track, "Hallowed Be Thy Name" and the popular "Run to the Hills". So far, no surprises among the older material, they merely included the popular live staples. Killers only gets "Wrathchild" while Iron Maiden gets "Phantom of the Opera" and "Sanctuary". Closing the disc and compilation are two of the only other reasons aside from "Virus" that the Maiden fan might have purchased this, a re-pressing of "Iron Maiden" and "Strange World" from the band's rare Soundhouse Tapes EP. But neither version is much to write home about if you own the debut, as both were included there.
As an attempt to include bits and bytes from each of the Maiden releases of note up to its time of release, the Best of the Beast does not fall completely on its ass, even though I rue the day we ever consider anything from the 1995-1999 era anything near the band's 'best'. It's nice to have a new song, but "Virus" is like trying to tap water from a dry desert well. The Soundhouse Tapes likewise do little to compel ownership of this compilation, and excluding a few live versions on the first disc...you've already got everything else. In my opinion, save yourself the time and trouble and just watch the "Virus" video online to sate your curiosity...that should be all you require to turn your nose up at this easily ignored profit margin.
Did Iron Maiden really need to release a double "Best of..." album? The critics would say no. They labelled Maiden dinosaurs, irrelevant, and saw 'Best Of The Beast' as Iron Maiden exploiting their fans.
Iron Maiden has never been a band to listen to critics. If they were, they would have given up after the self-titled debut. No, this release is a big middle finger salute to the self-appointed metal intelligentsia the world over. Like everything Maiden has ever released, this sold truckloads.
The reason why it sold well may puzzle many. If you examine this release closely, a loyal fan would already have everything here, except perhaps "Sanctuary" (it was not originally included on 'Iron Maiden'). The first disc covers 1986 to 1996, which many fans think of as Maiden being past their peak. The second disc is basically a studio version of 'Live After Death' with a couple of extra tracks thrown in. So, what is the value in 2 1/2 hours of music you already have?
Well, it's Maiden.
Iron Maiden has consistently produced metal of the finest quality alloy for nigh on a quarter of a century, rivalled by none except perhaps Judas Priest. Iron Maiden has produced so many brilliant albums over the years, with fans all having their personal favourites from each album. If you want to listen to those favourites however, it can mean an avalanche of vinyl strewn across the room. Let's say you want to listen to "Iron Maiden", "Wrathchild", "The Number Of The Beast", "Aces High", "Wasted Years", "The Clairvoyant", "Bring Your Daughter...To The Slaughter" and "Be Quick Or Be Dead". That can mean up to eight albums to sort through. Why not stick 'em all on two discs and package them with a little hardback book mapping out Iron Maiden's history up to that time?
Those who aren't Maiden fans will not understand why followers of the band would actually buy this. Fans of the band though, will understand. After all, you can't argue with seven incarnations of Eddie on a single cover.
Since this format is out of print, you will most probably go out of your way to find it. And since you will, you should go after the limited 2cd box version, for it simply is amazing.
The cover is made by none other than Derek Riggs, who, being bored of drawing Eddie covers, wrote "Not Again!" on the tombstone on the cover, which EMI forced him to change to "Eddie 1975-?" It is a nice overview of a bunch of Eddies who are out to get you!
The tracklist is something intresting for the old and new fan alike. The old fan can find the great new track "Virus", Blaze's awsome live rendition of "Afraid To Shoot Strangers" (probably the only Bruce-era song where he does a better job than Bruce himself!) "Strange World (1979)" (it was the first time this saw the light of day since it was scrapped from the original Sounhouse Tapes" and "Iron Maiden (1979)" from the Soundhouse Tapes... A great treat for the old fans...
Also, the tracklist is balanced through all of Maiden's releases up and until The X Factor, containing tracks in live and studio form, from all periods, with a nice and fluent regressing succession order which is sure to intrigue the new fan into Maiden....
The packaging has only one flaw. Nobody wants to store these cds in a cartboard pocket! It WILL get scratched. Store cds seperately. The booklet is AWSOME (fat and harcover too!) and will leave you browsing it for hours, it has tons of visuals and photos. Check it out a couple of times and then shrink wrap it! I have done so with mine and the packaging has been in great shape since 1996 when I bought it. BUY OR DIE!