Rock In Rio

Iron Maiden

Portrait / Columbia Records, 2002

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Iron Maiden will always be fighting an uphill battle, no matter what else they do with their musical career. They will always be staring early hits like "The Trooper," "The Number Of The Beast" and "Aces High" in the face while trying to win fans' support for new material. They will always have the albatross of Live After Death around their necks, and any live work they release will ultimately be compared to what amounts to one of the best live albums ever recorded. They will always have to deal with the period in their career when Bruce Dickinson left the band and Blaze Bayley tried unsuccessfully to fill the role as lead throat.

Steve Harris and crew started to make a turn in the right direction with Brave New World, Iron Maiden's "reunion" album which welcomed Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith back into the fold. Their latest live release, Rock In Rio, helps to push that momentum forward, but ultimately it too runs into the same stumbling blocks that Iron Maiden has faced for the last decade.

The disc - recorded at the music festival of the sane name in Rio De Janiero, Brazil in 2001, has sparked some controversy because of alleged "overdubbing" of Dickinson's vocals - charges which Harris angrily denied, though he admitted he did edit some portions where the crowd took over the singing, and re-pasted Dickinson's repeated vocal lines over them. In all honesty, if I hadn't known about this mini-controversy, I would never have been the wiser; everything sounds pretty natural, and any edits that Harris made seem to be air-tight.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

That said, the major complaint I have with the sound on Rock In Rio is that, on occasion, it sounds like Dickinson's vocal microphone was picking up distortion, and it was being turned on and off as needed. You can almost hear a click when Dickinson starts to sing on some of these lines - and since I heard them on portions other than repetitive choruses, I won't blame Harris's editing. But it is something that Harris should have caught in the edit - or at least tried to explain in the liner notes as being a limitation of recording in a festival setting.

The other complaint is that Iron Maiden relies a little too heavily on Brave New World - of the 18 selections performed by the band (not including the film-music introduction), one-third of the tracks are live versions of songs from Brave New World. That's 60 percent of the new disc which is featured - and, honestly, they could have lopped that number in half and still had a fair representation of Brave New World. (In all fairness, though, Live After Death featured half of Powerslave, their current album in 1985.) Tracks like "The Mercenary" and "Dream Of Mirrors" could have been axed in favor, say, of material from No Prayer For The Dying or Somewhere In Time, two albums which are ignored in this set list.

It is interesting to note that Dickinson doesn't shy away from any material from the Bayley era of Maiden, much like he took on songs from Paul Di'Anno's stint as lead throat. "Sign Of The Cross" - one track from the Bayley era I actually enjoyed - proves that Dickinson is more than just a capable vocalist, he can take nearly any song and make it his own. "The Clansman" is not quite as strong, though the fault is more in the source material than the performance.

Besides the glitches in Dickinson's vocal mix, the overall sound of Rock In Rio is quite good - though I admit it's sometimes hard to tell if Janick Gers's contributions have been correctly mixed, seeing there's now three guitarists fighting for the spotlight. There were one or two times I wish a guitar part had been raised up in the mix, but compared to the buried guitar solos of Gers's on Live At Donington, this is a major improvement.

And even the most cynical Iron Maiden fan has to admit that the band - who sounded like they were poised for a return to glory on Brave New World - do continue to make steps forward with Rock In Rio. Dickinson is in fine voice, while the three-guitar attack of Gers, Smith and Dave Murray sounds like Iron Maiden was born to be a triple-axe attack. Harris and Nicko McBrain are as dependable as rain on bass and drums, respectively.

It's difficult to not compare Rock In Rio to Live After Death - after all, the new disc features a band 16 years older (at the time), and hopefully wiser than before their ranks began to split a bit. While it's not the perfect portrait of where Iron Maiden is in the 21st Century, it offers hope of greater things to come.

Rating: B

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© 2002 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Portrait / Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.