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Very good, but a few things lacking.... - 85%

evilution, February 13th, 2003

Although I am very pleased with this set, I feel that it lacks a few things. But first of all, the case and packaging are outstanding, and it really looks very nice on the shelf. The shot glass is fun and the scroll is an improvement over the version of the family tree which was included with A Real Dead One 10 years back.

Now, on to the music itself. The highlight of this box is undoubtedly the Beast Over Hammersmith. This was the tour that was the real start of Maiden's reign as the best band in heavy metal, and being able to hear it 20 years later is a real treat. The setlist is wonderful, containing rare works like Total Eclipse, Another Life, and Children of the Damned, as well as Maiden's best-known songs like Hallowed Be Thy Name and the Number of the Beast. While some feel these songs have lost something over the years, this show demonstrates their power when they were new. Other highlights include Phantom of the Opera and Murders in the Rue Morgue.

The second double-cd features 4 shows originally hear on the BBC network, and while it is enjoyable, it can't touch Beast Over Hammersmith. The first bit, which is the best part, features 4 songs performed in 1979, with Doug Sampson and Tony Parsons, who were out of the band by the time anything official was released. Next we have the show from Reading 1982, which unfortunately has much the same setlist as the Beast Over Hammersmith. It is a wonderful show to hear, but given the wealth of Maiden live material, it would have been nice to hear some quality recordings of the Piece of Mind or Somewhere in Time album tours. The second disc of the BBC archives set also contains 2 shows. The first is Reading 1980, a worthy inclusion due to the presence of Paul Dianno. Live material featuring him is somewhat rare, and it's nice to have a professionally-recorded complete show. The second half of the disc is a selection of songs recorded in 1988 at Donington. I believe the only songs not included here can be found on the Clairvoyant single, so for all intents and purposes this show is complete. It of course sounds very good, and is fun to listen to, but here again I question the inclusion of this material in particular. The set is a stripped-down version of Maiden England, and I would have preferred something from another tour. Perhaps Maiden could have included some live songs recorded with Blaze? While it's true that he isn't their most popular ex-member, it seems silly to overlook six years of the band's career in what is supposed to be a retrospective.

The last double-cd contains the so-called "Best of the B-sides." I don't generally like best-ofs, because the songs I would include often don't coincide with the band's choices. Furthermore, most of this material has now been released 4 times, first on the original single, then in the 1st 10 Years boxset, next on the Castle 1995 re-issues, and now here. Sadly, the songs that aren't included are also the ones which are particularly hard to track down. The b-sides to Wasting Love, for instance, including unavailable anywhere else live renditions of Holy Smoke and the Assassin, are not included. The obscure b-side, I live My Way, is also not here, nor is the live rendition of Wrathchild, only to be found on the American Maiden Japan release. Thus, "Best of the b-sides" is in my opinion the weakest part of this collection.

Overall, however, this release is a nice way to bide your time until the next Maiden album is released, even though I can't help thinking about ways it could have been better!