Ginger Nuts of Horror
This is a fun game to play. Believe me. I've tried it.
Go anywhere a large crowd would gather. The mall. A sporting event. High Mass. Take a deep breath and yell,
If anyone responds with a glorious war cry, you will know you have found your people.
It's a secret code. A mating call. The Masons don't have anything on Iron Maiden fans. Fuck your secret handshake. We've got screams.
"Scream for me, Long Beach." It's a sigil you can say. Made famous by Bruce Dickinson on Live After Death, arguably the best live album ever recorded, that phrase ranks right up there with "Is there no help for the widow's son?" for obscure, crazy pass-phrases.
I'm ahead of myself, though. We need to jump back to where I said Live After Death is arguably the best live album after made. What I mean by that is if you disagree with that statement, I will argue with you. And I will not stop until you are dry in the mouth, bleeding from the eyes, and praying to your deaf god for me to stop talking.
Who knew Winston Churchill could bring a swarm of metalheads to their feet, shouting in unison? When his speech comes on, and the band roars onto stage with "Aces High," the double guitar solo racing through your ears like a strafing run, you know you're in for something amazing.
Followed by the nightmare fuel of "2 Minutes to Midnight," with its talk of infanticide and geese, you're reeling mind suddenly understands that it is in the grip of something beyond normal rock and roll. This is Iron Maiden at the peak of their greatness, the World Slavery Tour of 1984, and in the words of Candy Slice, they will rock you and roll you until you're sick.
"The Trooper" comes next, marching onto your face with one of the best loved riffs in history. Dickinson loves his history, and this war tale is one of his finest.
This is followed by "Revelations," and how is that a heavy metal band can make such a fantastic song out of a prayer? There's a strange sort of supplication to this song, and Dickinson wrings true emotion out of the lyrics, while constantly entreating Long Beach to scream.
Long Beach complies.
There is no other choice.
It suddenly occurs to me that I was alive in 1984, and I sort of remember it. I was a freshman in high school, just beginning to flirt with the joys of alcohol and sex, and I was a Goth. Loved me some new wave. I had a side affair with hardcore punk, but at that time, I didn't really understand metal besides Motley Crüe. I couldn't even really get them because I was stuck in the iron fist of a Christian upbringing, and all their Devil talk led to closed-door discussions with my youth pastor about the evils of rocking and rolling.
I thought Maiden was a Devil band.
I was a naive little schmuck, wasn't I?
Is there a better way to learn about English literature, Greek mythology or the conflicts of men upon the Earth than Iron Maiden? Especially this album. I think if you listen to Live After Death enough times, you should automatically get a Liberal Arts degree.
There's not a weak performance on this whole double album. “Flight of Icarus” and “The Number of the Beast” are particularly brutal, but the live version of Rime of the Ancient Mariner is befuddling. First of all, how do you take an old epic poem and turn it into a blistering metal song? How do you not lose your allegedly teenage male pot-smoking audience? How do you keep an audience fully engaged during a song almost ten minutes long? How is this even a thing?
There are a smattering of hits after that, but the last quarter of Live After Death is filled with fan favorites ike "22 Acacia Avenue (the alleged address of Charlotte the Harlot)" and "Die With Your Boots On." That's a great thing about Iron Maiden. They know what their casual fans like, but they never lost touch with what the hardcore Edheads wanted to hear. The same can't be said for a lot of other bands who attained a measure of success.
Live albums are snapshots. They capture our favorite bands at a macro-specific time in their careers. Iron Maiden has certainly musically matured since Live After Death, but they may never be able to match the sheer exuberance and hunger they displayed right after Powerslave came out.
It's the only live album I've ever heard that has made me wish I could go back in time and be at the show being recorded. I want to be in Long Beach. I want to see the giant Eddie lumber across the stage.
Most of all, I want to scream. I want to scream with all the lucky beautiful bastards who were there, seeing history being made without being aware of it. I want to be with my brothers and sisters, the ones who will chant "Up the Irons," drink from the whiskey-filled flask we snuck past security and know when to yell during "Revelations."
That's what kind of album Live After Death is. Despite the title, it's the rare record that makes you feel more alive when it's finished than you did when you began it, makes you want to scream at the top of your lungs in a public place, just so you can find someone who shares that knowledge with you. It welcomes you into the tribe and dares you to find your place.
And all Maiden fans, the True Believers, have a small part of them that lives in Long Beach.