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If You're Gonna Live, Rock With Yer Boots On - 91%

CHAIRTHROWER, October 4th, 2017
Written based on this version: 1995, 2CD, EMI

"You’ll take my life but I’ll take yours too
You’ll fire your musket but I’ll run you through
So when you’re waiting for the next attack
You’d better stand there’s no turning back

The bugle sounds as the charge begins
But on this battlefield no one wins
The smell of acrid smoke and horses breath
As you plunge into a certain death...O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-oh! (X2)..."

What metal head, young or old, isn't familiar with such lyrical gold, timeless verses which grippingly introduce Iron Maiden's super duper classic, "The Trooper", from Iron Maiden's fourth release, 1983's Piece Of Mind? Never mind its historically militant, Crimean War theme portraying Alfred Lord Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade" which alludes to the Battle Of Balaclava (October 25, 1854); this top highlight also instantly brings to mind the patriotic mosaic of a battle-charged, Union Jack waving Eddie which surely should have featured as the cover of this heavy metal mainstay instead of the rabid and rancorous, straight-jacketed Ed boorishly portrayed above. That said, allow me to further bombastically rhapsodize on what could very well be the NWOBHM masters' most contested and debated album despite its visceral multitude of toothsome albeit rather unheralded - and rarely, if ever, played live - gems such as "Revelations", "Die With Your Boots On", "Still Life", "Sun And Steel" and fantastical closer "To Tame A Land", inspired by Frank Herbert's arcane science fiction epic "Dune".

While it may not be the most exciting or inspiring opener, "Where Eagles Dare" manages to set the tone for Piece Of Mind's chivalrous and valorous undertones with its intrepid lyrics and stout but unvarying song structure; admittedly, the rather atmospheric lead break over the sound of machine gun fire isn't quite up to par with further stellar soloing on behalf of Adrian Smith and Dave Murray, such as the double whammy solo sections of "Die With Your Boots On", the sizzling chops amidst "The Trooper"'s unforgettable guitar harmony - which greatly emphasizes the band's classical musical training - or the mysterious and soulful "Still Life" and "To Tame A Land", where, as with other long-winded narrative closing dirges, the musicianship duly takes off at the mid-point, thus also wrapping up on a high note.

Obviously worth mentioning is how Piece Of Mind constitutes new drummer Nicko McBrain's first foray, replacing Clive Burr (RIP) and drastically altering the quintet's sound from a grittier, rabble-rousing edge to a much more predictable albeit compact one. Regardless, the reason this release doesn't fare quite as well as its predecessor, 1982's Number Of The Beast, or successor, 1984's Powerslave, is a handful of weaker offerings such as "Where Eagles Dare", "Flight Of Icarus" (despite its fun Greek mythology) and especially the somewhat dorky "Quest For Fire" which features a lame singsong chorus and tepid guitar riffs - even the leads lack bite. Other than these slight let-downs, expect to be thoroughly rocked by an early goose-bump giving "clean-progression" incepting number akin to "Children Of The Damned", the wickedly poised "Revelations" which features Bruce Dickinson alternating between soothing biblical crooning and sardonic yawping before Murray and Smith crank things up a notch with their slickly phrased and highly emotional leads.

As satisfactory as the first quarter-hour is, the kid gloves rightly come off with a wicked trio of personal Maiden favorites in "Die With Your Boots On", The Trooper" and the haunting "Still Life". While this last lugubriously commences to the sound of Dickinson solemnly waxing skooky (spooky/ kooky) backwards followed by his halting, breathless verses to the backdrop of an eerily melodic, low-tempo guitar lick/ riff (dig the part before the solos when he lopsidedly echoes "Nightmares will give me piece of MIND!"), Die With Your Boots On" jarringly hooks the listener with a killer, evil and mean sounding opening/ main guitar riff and bass line whilst the lyrics are, coyly put, to die for whether or not ya got your boots on: dig the verse following the first chorus (which I concede sounds a bit awkward when considering the song's overall snarky appeal):

"...13, the beast is rising, the Frenchman did surmise
Through earthquakes and starvation, the Warlord will arise
Terror, death, destruction pour from the eastern sands
But the truth of all predictions is always in your hands..."

Like I said, the guitar solos on this track and "The Trooper" (awesomely covered by Corsair and Hand Of Glory might I add!) are out of this World; in fact, I'm shocked - dismayed even - "Die With Your Boots On" has never been a live staple or fails to pop up in everyday "Maiden lore/ adulation". The same goes for the triplet infused, lyrically poignant shit-kicking battle anthem "Sun And Steel"; considering it's only 3.5 minutes long and really does sound a bit like "a wheel, rolling on and on...", although I've heard through the grapevine it's been played at a show in Japan once.

Although Piece of Mind is far from being Iron Maiden's best album, it's an excellent showcasing of the Brits' stellar rock solid line-up which would go on to record such timeless worthies as 1984's Powerslave, 1986's Somewhere In Time and 1988's Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, along with the must-have Live After Death "World Slavery Tour" double CD of course!

*In regards to the bonus cover tracks released in 1995 under EMI, I'd eschew the trite ruination of Jethro Tull's golden oldie "Cross-Eyed Mary" but strongly recommend checking out the cool hot rockin' reprise of Montrose's "I've Got The Fire".

"Take you and your blade and break you both in two, break you both in two!"