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The arrival of the DVD format was good news for rock/metal fans – bands would reissue old video tapes with brighter image, cleaner sound and sometimes even some juicy extras. We no longer had to order ultra-rare, rusty and generally used VHS’s at some small music shop run by a greedy, nerdy-looking fat guy, paying an unreasonable fistful of dollars, waiting about 3 weeks until it arrived. Big bands with big wallets like Iron Maiden are specially praised for satisfying the fans with excellent DVD releases. On The History Of Iron Maiden Part 1: The Early Days, they compiled in nearly 6 hours of footage a rich, visual retrospective journey from 1975 to 1983. It is said this video was first conceived to be just a couple of live clips and a 20-minute interview but come on, this is Maiden and more importantly, EMI! – so you couldn’t expect really nothing but a top-notch work.
DVD1 takes you to 21st December, 1980, to the legendary Rainbow Theatre in London, where these guys’ first concert video was shot. You get 7 songs, including some early, rare Killers versions as “Killers” itself (including scruffier, alternative lyrics) and “Wrathchild”. Overall, an honest performance with Smith already in the group and a bunch of crazy, British metalhead kids going crazy – but let’s face it, just 30 minutes of footage? It’s obvious they only took some highlights from the entire set, excluding the rest unashamedly – it might be unbelievable but EMI producers were once that lazy.
The Beast Over Hammersmith feature comes next, introducing a new feel, imagery and musical level from the band with the addition of Bruce Bruce. Recorded way back on March 20th, 1982 in their home city, the set focus predominantly on the new record – predictably-executed, avoiding new arrangements, improvisation and lengthier instrumental sections of any kind as expected, from original studio song-layouts. What actually makes this chapter so cool is the bunch of exquisite vintage merchandising from the kids (t-shirts, patches, badges, etc.) nerdy collectors would pay a fortune for, these days. You can see who were the real big daddies on the British metal scene at the time curiously, even ahead of Saxon, Motörhead or Harris & co. themselves: everybody wearing Rainbow, Van Halen, Rush, Gillan patches on their vests with no exception – and the cute girl with the original, vintage Whitesnake Trouble t-shirt standing in the first row, mmh…Back to the concert, sadly lightning and technical problems made some of the songs “virtually unusable”, according to the booklet notes (not an unusual problem back in the days, check the inadequate stage lightning on AC/DC’s Let There Be Rock: The Movie – Live In Paris or Thin Lizzy’s Thunder And Lightning Tour DVD), so lots of cuts have been once again excluded, that you can easily find on Youtube and see those so-called technical inconveniences are no big deal – EMI being lazy again?
Last chapter on DVD1 is the December 18th, 1983 show at Dortmund, with the band now more famous, richer, self-indulgent and commercially bigger. Piece Of Mind stuff comes into the picture, yet again some tracks have been intentionally deleted – the stupid scene of Eddie being childishly lobotomized and murdered on stage by the band, during the homonym track performance has been naturally censored.
DVD2 features a 1,5 hour-long documentary on the early days, more importantly including well-edited and conducted interviews and tons of cool Ross Halfin photos and nice graphics during the transitions. There’s no voice-over telling the story as director and crew let the band itself explain it cleverly, making it more reliable and accurate, with people who were involved on studio recordings and live touring contributing as well, from Smallwood of course, to Birch, other concert-sound engineers, guitar & drum technicians, and even almost each of the band’s old casualties (yet no Wilcox, no Tony Moore, no Thunderstick – how come). Predictably, some “independent” reviewers are also invited: the unavoidable Malcolm Dome & Geoff Barton not doing a favor to Maiden’s ego actually by claiming how good the group is. And thank God they put subtitles on it, so we non-English speakers don’t have to suffer.
Besides the documentary, you get 9 songs from April 1th, 1980, from the Ruskin Arms gig, filmed by an amateur fan with bootleg poor image and sound quality, giving you the chance to see the band doing a show stripped-down from pompous stage designs & productions and giant Eddies, delivering something more passionate, honest and sincere musically than anything on DVD1 – but then came the billions, hits and pussy, so the magic that feature captures was gone…Whatever, more sweet extras are added, from 3 Top Of The Pops clips to 5 promo videos those who already own Visions Of The Beast will find unnecessary. Another 20-minute documentary entitled 20th Century Box from Granada TV is included too, however only providing some short interview excerpts with a teen, naïve Harris and poor quality, short live clips – mostly showing a couple of nerdy nobodies playing air guitars and miming to some random rock song. Plus extensive artwork, tour programmes, listings, photo galleries and a couple of non-subtitled hidden extras complete DVD2 feature-list.
In conclusion, this is mouth-watering stuff for you Maiden fans, presented properly in Dolby Digital sound, delightful interactive menus with fantastic Riggs’ artwork and good image quality in general – everything, more importantly, done with meticulousness, rigor and heart, with Harris himself taking part in the research and editing process. No goofs, no laziness, no rushing when it comes to compiling and transferring the material to be found here – you incompetent Universal infamous Deluxe Edition series producers better take notes. But if you don’t like Iron Maiden (neither do I), you might find these almost 6 hours boring and overextended…although along with EMI’s itself mid/late-90’s Deep Purple CD remasters and Jimmy Page’s Led Zeppelin DVD, this may be the greatest reissue ever made to the date. And you can actually get yourself this piece of rock history for 9€ at the local music store in the corner – God bless EMI.