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Conquering the world before falling apart - 90%

kluseba, November 25th, 2018
Written based on this version: 1981, 12" vinyl, Capitol Records

Maiden Japan is an extended play featuring four or five songs recorded in Japan. Its rarity, unique cover artwork and line-up make it one of the most interesting releases in Iron Maiden's extensive discography.

It's a shame that the band has never officially released the full concert. You can easily find it on the internet and it's mindblowing. The band performs with energy, flow and pace. Clive Burr's drum play is precise as a clockwork and this release shows why many fans have prefered him over Nicko McBrain who has talent and charisma but less feeling and accuracy. The bass guitar is particularly dominant which is an element that has always set the band apart and Steve Harris' energetic play is even more striking on this live album than on the first two studio records. Guitar duo Dave Murray and Adrian Smith already shows great chemistry and finds the right balance between heavy riffs and progressive stylistics, between fierce energy and melodious harmonies, between fast and short sections and more elaborate balladesque passages. Paul Di'Anno is in great form and performs the faster tracks with charismatic energy and the mellower tunes with feeling. In addition to this, he is a great entertainer and communicates briefly but efficiently with the fans. The enthusiastic Japanese crowd only adds to the fascination of this legendary live release as the fans are as energetic as the crowds the band played for in Europe and North America at the time.

Four songs are included on all versions of this release. ''Running Free'' is catchy, energetic and to the point which is why the song is still performed live occasionally even though its style is quite different from the band's eighteen-minute long progressive metal epics nowadays. ''Remember Tomorrow'' is a track with a mysterious and melancholic vibe that is best described as power ballad where the phenomenal guitar play and the versatile vocals can shine. ''Killers'' is one of the few more elaborate tracks in the band's early years and convinces with gloomy atmosphere supported by unchained screams. The song makes you feel as frantic as if you were really being followed by a serial killer. It would still blend in very well on any soundtrack for a horror movie or video game. ''Innocent Exile'' is a simpler heavy rock song in the key of the opener. It's not a particularly memorable track and actually clearly the weakest of the bunch but since it has only been rarely performed by the band, it's certainly quite a gimmick to listen to it nowadays.

Some editions, such as the Canadian release I have come across, include a fifth song in form of the short, energetic and bass-driven ''Wratchchild'', a classic that is still played live on numerous occasions but which I have always prefered with Paul Di'Anno's raw vocals over Bruce Dickinson's more melodic approach.

Nothing on this powerful live document indicates the tensions that started to grow in the band or the bad performances by the singer related to bad habits. Maiden Japan is the testament of a band that has peaked really quickly, sounds hungry and seems ready to conquer the world. Nobody could predict that the line-up would fall apart only a few months after the release of this often overlooked gem.

Let's hope the band will release the full concert in remastered form one day. Since this hasn't happened in nearly four decades, make sure to track this gem down if you are a fan of hard rock and heavy metal music. Try to get a version of the five-track release that offers more value for money. This is the strongest release of the band's early era with singer Paul Di'Anno.