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Essential metal

Iron Maiden - The Essential
(Sanctuary Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: July 26, 2005
Iron Maiden

Review by Andy Argyrakis

For the past twenty-five years, anyone who's been even remotely interested in heavy metal has credited Iron Maiden as one of the genre's all time greatest acts. And in an age when most groups who formed in the early 80s have long since fizzled out or are playing the nostalgic circuit with barely any original members, it's remarkable that the gang's key nucleus and brash sounds are on co-headlining status once again. Along with Black Sabbath, the metal mayhem creators will be on Ozzfest all summer, carrying the craziness from its live records to the stage with reckless abandon (and quite possibly loads of pyro). Between those high profile tour dates and the fact that this year marks the golden anniversary of the group, it's only fitting for this career retrospective to hit stores.
Titled The Essential, the two-disc offering is unquestionably the most complete, comprehensive, career spanning greatest hits package on the market for Maiden, covering all the eras and incarnations. A key factor in reviewing a project of this magnitude is whether or not it encompasses every necessary cut from the band's catalogue, and in this case, Sanctuary Records passes with flying colors. The 27-track collection features all the smashes, plus the lesser-known but still viable hits showing the evolution through all phases. The most memorable in the exhaustive package include the balls to the walls blasts of "2 Minutes To Midnight," "Flight of Icarus" and "The Number of the Beast." Other 80s standards follow slicing and sinister suit, including "The Trooper," "The Evil That Men Do" and "Run To the Hills," all further examples of the band's guitar shredding guster.
Though not as commercially notable, Iron Maiden's latter material is perhaps the most refined (and tolerable for those who can live without the amp being turned up to eleven). The group takes on a more melodic hard rock approach to "Rainmaker" and "The Wicker Man," turning towards an epic, rock opera-like disposition come "Brave New World." If the project's to be faulted for anything, it's the strange fact that the chorology is in reverse order, going backwards toward the beginning, rather than building from the basics until the present. Even more bizarre are the two live tracks tacked on at the end, a 1985 concert version of "Running Free" and a 2005 stab at "Iron Maiden" (from the forthcoming Death on the Road CD and DVD). Both fall out of step with the year-by-year sequencing and feel like unneeded or at least misplaced add-ons. Also disappointing is the lack of new material (aside from that latter live recording), which many collections of this nature cover just for added purchasing power. Regardless of the band's reasons in all these instances, The Essential showcases Iron Maiden's proudest moments and is a collection fans of all interest levels can sink their teeth into.

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