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Hail to (Maiden) England - 90%

lonerider, May 18th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2013, 2CD, EMI (Remastered)

And … here we go. Again. Yet another Maiden live album. How many are there now? Like, one hundred fifty-seven or something? Come on. Do we really need this?

Frankly, the answer is yes, and there is a logical explanation for it. First, this isn’t exactly new material since most of the songs were already released in 1989 as a live video on VHS cassette. (All you younglings out there, go ask your momma or poppa what a VHS actually was.) Second, it contains a number of tracks that haven’t appeared on any official Maiden live albums before or after, as well as a track which, at least to my knowledge, cannot be found on any other official live release with Bruce Dickinson behind the microphone.

Having never heard the original VHS release from the very late eighties, I would assume the live recording was polished up and remastered for this re-release on CD, as the sound quality is surprisingly high. It is also noticeably better than on the couple of songs from this show that were included as bonus material on the 2-CD re-release of the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son album from the mid nineties. Long story short, the sound quality on this two-disc version of Maiden England is excellent, particularly considering the age of the original recording.

The songs on display were put to tape on two consecutive nights that saw the band play sold-out shows at the N.E.C. in Birmingham, England, in late November 1988. The concerts were part of the band’s so-called “Seventh Tour of a Seventh Tour”, promoting, of course, their wildly successful Seventh Son of a Seventh Son album. You would therefore expect to hear quite a lot of Seventh Son material here, and indeed the only tracks from that record that are not represented are “The Prophecy” and “Only the Good Die Young”. Having been released as a single, “Can I Play with Madness” is not omitted here, though it would have been quite a treat to see the underrated “Only the Good Die Young” included instead.

Anyway, it’s still awesome to finally get great and exclusive live renditions of “Moonchild”, “Infinite Dreams” and, most of all, the title track of the eponymous album, “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”. “The Evil that Men Do” and “The Clairvoyant” used to be live staples for quite some time and can be found on many other Maiden live albums as well, but the versions on Maiden England sound excellent none the less. There are also two tracks from the Somewhere in Time album, which is great but would be even better had they chosen some other song from that amazing album instead of the oft-heard “Heaven Can Wait”. (“The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” or “Alexander the Great” immediately come to mind.) Even so, “Heaven Can Wait” is a very good song in its own right and “Wasted Years” is one of those you can never quite get enough of.

Other particular highlights include rare live versions of “Still Life” and “Die with Your Boots on”, both of which originally appeared on the Piece of Mind album, and of course “Killers”. This is perhaps the only official live recording of this classic Maiden track with Bruce Dickinson handling the vocals, and even though the Paul Di’Anno fan club might want to kill me for writing this, I’d have to say he does a very good job with it. He’s not trying to reinvent it in any way, delivering it with the kind of bilious aggression that used to be his predecessor’s calling card.

The undisputed cherry on top of the cake, however, is the aforementioned “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”, a ten-minute epic delivered in most convincing fashion. If in any way possible, this live rendition is even better and more energetic than the studio version. Considering what an intricate and multi-layered masterpiece of a song this is, the way Maiden flawlessly and vigorously pull it off in a live setting is a testament to their skill as musicians and on-stage performers. I will readily confess that the first time I listened to this gem, it almost left me gaping with awe.

Okay, enough with the fanboyish adulation. One of the very few downsides of this release is that compared to the DVD version that came out the same year, some of the little speeches Bruce gives to the audience in between songs were left out. This certainly isn’t a big deal, but since Bruce’s stage antics are often quite entertaining it would have been nice to see them included in their entirety. Another minor flaw is the way some of the songs are played a little too fast for their own good, particularly with regard to “Wasted Years” and “Hallowed Be Thy Name”. Then again, the abundant aggression and adrenaline is always part of the special charm of a metal live recording. Finally, the sing-along games Bruce plays with the audience in the middle of the penultimate encore, “Running Free”, aren’t nearly as much fun listening to a live CD as they might have been while watching the real thing in a packed concert venue.

In conclusion, while you can always question the need for yet another Maiden live album, it’s hard to find fault with such an album when the finished product is of such undeniable quality. The band is on fire, the set list is outstanding and perhaps the best of any Maiden live release, and the recording quality is easily good enough considering those shows were performed roughly thirty years ago. Or, as Mr. Dickinson might say: Scream for me, N.E.C! Screeeaaaam for meeeee, N.E.C!!!