Monday, February 22, 2010

Iron Maiden - Best of the Beast (1996)

The Best of the Beast was the first proper compilation album released by Iron Maiden a full 16 years after the release of their s/t, and this does seem a conundrum, as the band had been heavily circulated and popular for years. But arrive it did, in a variety of formats that were bound to confuse, but all containing previously released material and a few rare recordings. There was a single CD edition of the Best of the Beast which was even less warranted than the later Somewhere Back in Time, and a deluxe 4LP package which contains the most value (if you're into the vinyl, that is) as it simply has the most tracks. But this particular version I'm reviewing was the standard, 2CD version with 27 tracks and about 2 and a 1/2 hours of music.

"Virus" was probably the highlight here of the newer material, if only for the novelty that it had not been released on a full-length album. It's a steady hard rocker featuring Blaze Bayley's vocals, and while it's not the worst Maiden in history, it's very much forgettable, like just about anything on the abysmal Virtual XI (the next full-length released after this compilation). It's no fault of the vocals themselves, but the song simply does not possess even a simple melody of interest, even when it breaks down into the skanking, cornball bridge with a solo that seems it took no longer than about 5 seconds to compose. After this, the compilation begins to travel back in time, starting with two selections from The X Factor: "Sign of the Cross" and "Man on the Edge". Now, while I don't have any particular malice for these tracks, they are far from the best songs of The X Factor, let alone Maiden's entire career...which this compilation is probably supposed to represent.

Back further, we get "Be Quick or Be Dead", and live versions "Fear of the Dark" and "Afraid to Shoot Strangers" which make up the Fear of the Dark section; while "Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter" and "Holy Smoke" serve as proxies for No Prayer for the Dying. These are all solid enough inclusions, through you could honestly have done with only one track from each album and included a lot more from their first seven full-lengths, the ones that truly matter. But these will be explored in more detail throughout the remainder of this disc and the next. "The Clairvoyant", "Can I Play With Madness?" and "The Evil That Men Do" are here to represent Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, and I suppose the latter two belong. "Wasted Years" and "Heaven Can Wait" do justice to Somewhere in Time and round out the first CD. Of course, in my humble opinion that entire album could be reprinted here if we were REALLY interested in the 'best' of the 'beast'...

The 2nd disc begins with more live versions to represent Live After Death and Powerslave (very clever...), "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and "Running Free", but then Powerslave is expanded upon with the excellent "Aces High" and "2 Minutes to Midnight". Piece of Mind has "Where Eagles Dare" and obviously "The Trooper", and The Number of the Beast is given a little extra heat with the title track, "Hallowed Be Thy Name" and the popular "Run to the Hills". So far, no surprises among the older material, they merely included the popular live staples. Killers only gets "Wrathchild" while Iron Maiden gets "Phantom of the Opera" and "Sanctuary". Closing the disc and compilation are two of the only other reasons aside from "Virus" that the Maiden fan might have purchased this, a re-pressing of "Iron Maiden" and "Strange World" from the band's rare Soundhouse Tapes EP. But neither version is much to write home about if you own the debut, as both were included there.

As an attempt to include bits and bytes from each of the Maiden releases of note up to its time of release, the Best of the Beast does not fall completely on its ass, even though I rue the day we ever consider anything from the 1995-1999 era anything near the band's 'best'. It's nice to have a new song, but "Virus" is like trying to tap water from a dry desert well. The Soundhouse Tapes likewise do little to compel ownership of this compilation, and excluding a few live versions on the first've already got everything else. In my opinion, save yourself the time and trouble and just watch the "Virus" video online to sate your curiosity...that should be all you require to turn your nose up at this easily ignored profit margin.

Verdict: Fail [2.5/10]

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