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Until about two years ago, I thought of Iron Maiden as a completely overrated band that only owed their success to the fact they were around early enough. Sure, The Number of the Beast and Run to the Hills were decent songs, but to call Maiden one of the best bands in the world… At one point, I even bought The Number of the Beast album. But two weeks later I gave it away to my little brother. Iron Maiden didn’t interest me at all. Until one day, my other brother had one the Somewhere Back In Time best-off album. He had participated in the game for the thrill of winning, not because he liked Iron Maiden. So he gave the album to me. And I gave it a spin. And another one. And another one. At that point, I suddenly was captured by the music, and I could understand why Maiden is one of the most famous heavy metal bands out there.
Somewhere Back In Time only has Bruce Dickinson on vocals, and except for the change of drummer between Number of the Beast and Piece of Mind the line-up is the same throughout the entire album. Which is a very good thing. A change in line-up may change the sound of the band (compare Iron Maiden until 1988 with post-1988 Maiden: the departure of Adrian Smith clearly had its impact), and this is even more true with the change of vocalists. Only recently, I have dared to listen to Iron Maiden from the Di’Anno and Bayley era. So by making sure all songs are sung by Bruce, the album has a coherent sound and feel. For people like me, unfamiliar with the band, this was assuring and makes it easier to enjoy the album.
To get Bruce-only songs on the album, songs from live albums are included. Its somewhat awkward to suddenly hear crowds screaming on the best-of studio albums, or to hear a sudden silence on your live album (which of the two is this album?) . There are interludes with screaming fans or sudden silence, breaking the coherency of the album but these different interludes didn’t bother me. The songs themselves, for example Phantom of the Opera are completely free of crowd sounds, so the album could be a studio best-of.
About the choice of the songs on the album. The albums covered are from Iron Maiden’s best era, with their most popular songs. I even knew some of those! Number of the Beast and Run to the Hills, as two of their most popular known songs. Further we get mainly paced up songs, songs that are easy to enjoy. The Trooper and Wasted Years, with their catchy riffs and scream-along parts, for example. These two are the only songs of the Piece of Mind and Somewhere in Time albums. Compare this with NotB (four songs) and Powerslave (three songs): the albums are not equally represented on this best-off. But as I said before: the more popular songs were chosen.
The best-off unfortunately fails to give a good image of the magic contained within epic songs as Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner or To Tame A Land. The listener never realizes there is a link between the songs taken from the concept album Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. But I ended up buying most of their albums and discovering the aforementioned songs and awesome moments.
Somewhere Back In Time is a a very good start for those who don’t know where to start when first discovering Iron Maiden. It provides a good idea of the abilities and creativity of the band. After the first few turns it’s up to the listener to go out and find the full-lengths. Veteran Maiden fans however gain nothing by buying this best-of. But if you already have those great albums in your possession, why would you want to?