Wasted Years – My Iron Maiden Memories

If you’ve read any of my stuff you’ve noticed I get a lot into my memories associated with music. It’s something I like to do as a way of noting the personal meaning a song or album might have to me, something that separates what I do from a typical “review,” as it were. I like reading and hearing what others have to say about music but for me I prefer a different approach with the content I offer. I guess it also gives everyone context to understand what I listen to and why, where I came from and how I came into what I like today.

Of course I have to note that there are only so many memories. As I go on other content will necessarily take its place. I can only recall so many landmark moments, discoveries, highly personal matters related to songs, etc. But for the early going here, I think it’s fun to recount my first experiences with things. I don’t know how “good” of content it really is but it’s something I like doing and will roll with until its natural conclusion.

It’s time now to throw off all pretense and build-up. This post, on the week here celebrating the band and their new release, is all about my memories of my favorite band – Iron Maiden.

The first time I would encounter Iron Maiden was in a sixth grade class. For me in 1988, sixth grade was one where you’d have a homeroom class but then would maybe switch to a different class for one or two others. It was the last year of “homeroom” stuff, seventh grade and beyond would be different classes on an hour-to-hour basis.

Anyway, I was in the class I switched rooms and teachers for. I think it was English or something but who cares. The kid next to me was also from my homeroom class and was someone I was cool with. One day we were hanging out with not much to do and he pulled out a tape he wanted to show me. We were always passing music back and forth in sixth grade, we’d let each other borrow stuff or give blank tapes to people to make copies of albums.

The album he pulled out that day had the most intense cover I’d ever seen.

This album art is just amazing

I saw that cover and instantly wanted to hear what this band was up to. I’d heard the name but back then I was still firmly rooted in pop and hair metal. I hadn’t yet ventured out to much beyond. He told me he was listening to it a lot because they were getting ready to put out a new album. He’d let me take the tape home overnight to dub a copy, then when the new album hit I could give him a blank and he’d dub it off for me.

I dug it right off the bat. I obviously entered the band’s catalog right in their two-album symphonic era. It was a common theme in the late ’80’s so I was familiar with it but Iron Maiden was still a bit more than what I was used to at that tender age. I did like it and I played it a fair bit but it would be a year later with a different band that would make me totally obsessed with music.

So obviously the next album was Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son. A quasi-concept album, another symphonic leaning record and an epic, grandiose offering. On release it was perhaps a bit too dense for me, I could appreciate a standalone highlight like Can I Play With Madness but it took some time to digest the whole thing, or perhaps for me to grow into it. That would come in the passing year or two, though, and I was off to the races with Iron Maiden.

I’d get heavy into the band as I got heavier into music in general. I grabbed all the old stuff and liked pretty well all of it, including the first two albums fronted by Paul Di’Anno. Sure, Bruce is truly the voice of Iron Maiden but I really enjoyed stuff from those first two records.

Even as Bruce left the band in 1993 I still dug Maiden. I knew full well that the music landscape was constantly shifting, hell, I came into music hard and heavy in 1991 when the scene was completely blown apart. My own tastes would go to the extreme end of the spectrum in ’93 but I could still hold onto Maiden as a treasured part of my musical upbringing.

Just as I entered the military and a whole new phase of life, so did Iron Maiden. I wasn’t really impressed with the two Blaze Bayley-fronted albums, though my criticisms of them don’t stem with him so much as lackluster songwriting. I’ll probably pick this thread up more specifically later on, but their “low point” as a band just happened to coincide with a point where I wasn’t paying much attention anyway. Good times and fast women were more my speed in the late ’90’s.

Military time doesn’t last forever though. Just as I was leaving the Navy in the middle of 1999, the bombshell announcement hit that Bruce and Adrian were rejoining Maiden. This wasn’t a very shocking development – Maiden were scratching during the preceding years while Bruce and Adrian hit high critical acclaim with two of Bruce’s solo albums – especially the masterpiece The Chemical Wedding. The time was right for everyone to reconvene and see what they could do in the new millenium.

And damn, did they ever hit paydirt. The band’s longest-running era is now 22 years old and has brought new heights of popularity and legacy. Iron Maiden is mentioned in the same reverent tones as Black Sabbath and Metallica as the most important metal in existence. For as long as I run this blog and whatever other content I might get into, I will wind up heavily discussing Iron Maiden’s reunion era.

For now though I want to get to the other main memory, the other “first” that I have – the first time I saw Iron Maiden live. It was in August of 2000 at the outdoor ampitheater googleplex in St. Louis (yes, the same one Axl Rose tried tearing down in 1991). Of additonal significance was that the show was on my 23rd birthday. It was a pretty cool alignment of events.

The show was spectacular but didn’t start off well. Queensryche opened, and honestly I don’t have a lot of great things to say about their set. I was more than a little disappointed in the band that recorded my favorite album of all time. The sound was muddled and Geoff Tate had some pscyhotic reverb and echo on his vocals. Their material at the time was also not great, but the band did lean on their classic metal era at the blatantly obvious metal show.

Leave it to the metal god himself to save the day. Rob Halford emerged next with his solo band, a brilliant reinvigoration for an icon who’d, like the headliners, also spent the late ’90’s in a musical wildnerness. Halford was electric and metal through and through. The material from Resurection and select Judas Priest cuts more than held its own and was a perfect way to set the stage for Iron Maiden.

Then it was time for the main event. Iron Maiden took the stage, armed with their classic lineup and a new album, the excellent Brave New World. I’d already spun the disc many times, in awe of the band’s ability to chart new waters and make an epic return to form at such an advanced age, at least relatively speaking for a band from the ’80’s.

And Maiden did not come out to play a greatest hits set. They leaned hard on material from the new album, playing six songs from it. They even aired the 9 minute long epic Dream Of Mirrors, which Bruce led into with a bit of a rant. He complained, among other things, about Britney Spears and VH1 never having the balls to air a 9 minute song, so here was theirs. It was cool of its own merits but it was also hilarious since if you looked at your ticket stub for the show, you’d see the tour was sponsored by VH1. Pretty funny stuff.

Primitive video, but a clip from the same tour I saw

Of course the band also aired many of their classics. There isn’t an Iron Maiden show without The Trooper, at least as far as I know. They also aired The Number Of The Beast and Hallowed Be Thy Name, as well as their eponymous song. And in a rare show of form, the band performed two of their signature songs from the prior era, with Bruce leading the charge on Sign Of The Cross and The Clansman. It is especially rare for a new or returning singer to want to touch stuff from a time in the band they weren’t in, but Bruce seemingly has no problem performing those songs. I can’t think of too many instances like that where a singer wants to touch something someone else did. Halford doesn’t do it, Hagar hated doing it, Dio didn’t like doing it, the list goes on. But Bruce served them up and gave the fanbase something to find appreciation for in the oft-contested Blaze era.

The show would wrap up after the requisite Eddie appearance and songs from a few different eras thrown in to flesh out a pretty diverse set. It was absolutely remarkable and I was blown away by finally seeing my favorite band just into their return to form and at the start of an unparalleled era that few bands ever get to imagine.

Since then I’ve seen Iron Maiden three other times – in 2013, 2016 and ’17. I’ll go out on a limb and say that I’ll probably see them at least one more time, if not two. Yeah they’re getting up there but I know they won’t want to quit until they pretty well have to. I guess we’ll see what the future holds, what with this damn pandemic being a massive barrier for touring bands right now.

However the future unfolds I will still have the memories of discovering my favorite band and then finally seeing them in concert. There really isn’t any topping an Iron Maiden show. And their albums almost always offer an adventure to somewhere, be it a far away fantasy or the grim realities of the here and now. From now until the end of time, up the irons.

Made By Metal

So far I’ve been over my first forays into music and also the period of the late ’80’s where I got big into hair metal. Today it’s time to drop the hair and really get into metal.

I’m going to save part of this for next week. Simply put, Iron Maiden is my favorite band of all time, and also they’re putting out a new album on Friday. Next week seems like a good time to talk more about them so I’ll get into them specifically then. But I did start listening to them in 1988, just for context.

I was content with hair metal in 1989 and even 1990, but let’s be real – change was coming. Grunge did not actually come out of nowhere when Nirvana hit in 1991 – they, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains were known entities already, though of course still a bit undeground before ’91. But grunge isn’t all that important to me because I didn’t entirely take to it, at least right away (save AIC).

What did start catching my attention was heavy metal. And at that time the strain of metal that was abundant was thrash.

I dabbled on the edges of thrash for a bit but nothing really took for awhile. That would change in October of 1990. For some reason we got out of school early that day, some sort of teacher conference or whatever. With my family being teachers I was left to do absolutely whatever I wanted. One of the skateboarders I was friendly with was also bored so we wandered around town a bit.

At one point he shows me a tape, an album that just came out. He said it was intense and killer and I should check it out. We went to my house and put it on.

That’s when heavy metal really hit for me. Before I would find thrash a bit off-putting, I was still young and more used to the slickly produced, smoother tones of hair metal and pop rock. But Megadeth eliminated whatever barriers remained between me and headbanging.

It was off to the races after that. It wasn’t always easy for me to come by thrash albums. It was less popular than other stuff so it wasn’t as easy to find. Plus, my tiny hometown wasn’t a mecca of music shopping.

But I made do. I slowly started accumulating Overkill, Testament, and the like. And sure, it wasn’t all about thrash – I did also start with King Diamond around that time, and I’d pick up Judas Priest right around the time Painkiller hit. I’d also, while intending to buy Queensryche’s current hit Empire, wind up with their prior album, Operation: Mindcrime. Though it’s another story for another time, that is my favorite album ever recorded. And this is the time period I acquired it in.

This all sets the table for entering 1991. I’ve touched on it before and will talk more about it again – 1991 was the most important year in music for me. No matter what came before or since, that was the year that blew everything wide open.

That year I’d work my first job over the summer. I was making enough money to have plenty of disposable income for an almost 14 year old. In most cases, a 14 year old’s entire paycheck is disposable income. While I’d previously been into baseball cards and comic books, my focus in 1991 shifted to music and very heavily into metal. I went from having a few tapes to having to buy a new caddy to hold them. (Of course, I wasn’t necessarily paying full market price for all of them, thanks again Columbia House!)

Heavy metal itself is kind of a mutating entity – it doesn’t remain constant, it is always shifting. Just as you find one strain of it, a new one is already being worked on. In the fall of 1991 in freshman algebra class, the guy sitting in front of me asked if I wanted to check out something he was listening to on his walkman. I said sure and got my first dose of Sepultura. It was the title track of Arise. I was instantly hooked and that also set the table for me to go even deeper than thrash.

Going beyond thrash and mainstream metal would take me a bit, though. There is one more metal-related issue to discuss involving 1991. One band refined and polished their sound and absolutey took over the world with it. That band, of course, was Metallica.

I got straight into the “Black Album” when it hit just as I was starting high school. There wasn’t going to be any hair metal parties like I had previously envisioned in high school so Metallica quickly became a badge to define one’s self. Poison posters would be replaced with Nirvana in most lockers, in mine it was Metallica. It was gratifying to be into something that was so popular, some kind of validation or whatever from it. (That’s absolutely a thread for future discussion, too).

But just as I went along wherever we might roam, I also sat with their first four albums. And that was the Metallica I wanted more of. Hell, Master Of Puppets is probably a perfect metal album. Ride The Lightning is ferocious and has some of their best songs on it. I sort of backed into the older albums due to my age, but I would wind up becoming one of the “old guard” Metallica fans who would eventually turn on the Black Album.

There’s another discussion about heavy metal and being young, especially in the early ’90’s, to be had here. For me it was deeper than just liking heavy music. It did mean something more.

As I was growing up I was supposed to be the proto-typical “good kid” – good grades, gifted classes, scholar-athlete type of thing. Well, I hated it. I couldn’t stand the people involved with that stuff, I got messed with one too many times for my tastes in junior high, and I felt the whole thing was soulless and useless. I came from a family of people who did all that stuff and achieved things through it, but I did not see myself on that same path.

My freshman year of high school I rebelled. No more sports – I wasn’t good at them and no one in my scholar-athlete family seemed to care enough to help me get better. No more “honor society” or whatever, I simply quit going to that. I went to school, then went home and sat in my room, listening to metal.

This line of discussion could certainly go on into more issues, deeper issues, all of that. I’ll leave that set where it is for now. I’ve considered writing more along those lines, about the trials of scene and identity as it relates to music. But being real, it gets to be some heavy shit sometimes and I don’t know if it serves my purposes in this day and age. Might be something that pops up down the line, though. We will see.

But the die was cast in 1991 – I was a metalhead. Of course people in my family scoffed at it, declarinig it was “just a phase.” I know many a metalhead has heard that.

Of course it’s just a phase. It’s a phase that is 30 years strong now and has no end in sight. Hails and horns, brothers and sisters – we’re riding this train of “satanic death rock crap” all the way to the end.

My First Concert

As I grew up I went hard into music. I’ve discussed some of my earliest memories here, and a bit about my time with hair metal here. And more are coming, I’m building up to that pivotal year of 1991 where everything went wide open for me (and it might require more than one post to go over everything).

But for now I want to set aside my journey through tastes, genres and movements and get into a different memory – my first concert.

I always have been an album listener. A lot of my time has been spent at home with an album playing either as background noise or with my full attention focused on it. It’s the crux of what I do and my primary method of digesting music.

But, if you’re into music at all, you’re gonna go see a band live. It’s almost inevitable. I know the vast majority of music fans go to see live shows. I do know some people that bow out due to social anxiety concerns or other issues, but by and large we’re gonna pack the house and rock out with our favorite acts.

Before I get into my first actual show, let me take a minute to talk about what was almost my first show. Summer of 1991 – as I’ve said, the most important year in my music journey and also a year that the music landscape was pretty well blown apart and rebuilt.

I would be entering my freshmen year of high school that August, just as I turned 14. Like many, I had a friend who was in my grade but a few years older. He had his driver’s license and a car, and he had tickets to a hot show in St. Louis at a newly-opened outdoor amphitheater. He offered to take me.

Now, I won’t say I grew up sheltered, but perhaps semi-sheltered would be a fair description. If I was gonna go to this show I would have to just go and lie, saying I was spending the night at someone’s house. I could have plausibly done it but I decided against it. I was kind of a chickenshit kid and I feared the consequences, even if that was an abstract notion.

So the show I didn’t go to didn’t wind up being just a show. It was Skid Row opening for Guns N’ Roses. It was the infamous “Riverport Riot” show where Axl Rose stormed off stage after confronting a picture-taker up front. The crowd tore the new amphitheater apart for 3 hours after the band left the stage.

I could not imagine my life in high school if 13 year old me got caught up in a riot at a Guns N’ Roses concert over an hour away from where I lived. It wouldn’t have been much of a life, I know that much. As it was, my decision not to go at least left me to a quiet life of relative freedom, even if all I really did was listen to music and play video games. It would have been one hell of a story and perhaps worth it, but in the end it is what it is.

Now, let’s get to the point – my first actual concert. 3 year after the infamous St. Louis riot I was in a different place musically. I had been totally taken with what we now call extreme metal. I’d spent the last year-plus immersed in the true metal underground – death metal, grind, and the (literally) combustible black metal scene. Though back then death metal was my true jam.

And so it would be that death metal became my first ever concert. The bill was Cannibal Corpse with support from Grave and Samael at a place called Club 367 in north St. Louis. This meant that I saw Cannibal Corpse on The Bleeding tour, Grave on Soulless and Samael on Ceremony Of Opposites. For those unfamiliar with metal’s underground in 1994, that is one hell of a touring lineup.

There was a local opener whose name escapes me all these years later. They were a competent death metal band though I never heard a thing about them after that show. I got my first taste of “moshing” while they were on, though that was a pretty half-assed affair with just me and the friends I was with. I did stay out of the pit during the main attractions.

Samael played next and were absolutely unreal. We were all mesmerized by the keyboard player who just stood still as a statue while jamming out along with Samael’s cacophony of blackened hellfire. I don’t remember if I’d heard Ceremony… before then but I sure as hell did afterward.

Same tour, a show several days later

Grave were next and I was already used to their brand of the Stockholm death metal sound, with that goddamn guitar tone that gives people headaches. Thankfully I don’t get headaches so I was, and am to this day, still all about it.

Grave’s full show from the same show just several days after I saw them

The main event, of course, was Cannibal Corpse. Touring behind their just-released opus The Bleeding and also finding interest through their appearance in the hit movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, the band were riding about as high as a death metal act could expect to in the early stages of the genre’s existence.

The set was electric, covering several tunes from the new album as well as classics cuts from their back catalog. I stood in awe more than anything – I was just a dumb 17 year old punk ass from a cowtown who was probably a bit out of his depth at a big city death metal show. It’d be a few years before I was a fixture at such shows.

After the show Cannibal Corpse hung out in the parking lot. I got my CD copy of The Bleeding signed by Alex Webster and Jack Owens. Unfortunately I misplaced it years later and no longer have it. I do still have the shirt I got at that show, although these days it’s something I just hold on to for sentiment rather than something I wear.

The full Cannibal Corpse set in Houston on 10/27, just six days after I saw them in St. Louis

We went back to school as the death metal warriors, which meant everyone else wondered what in the hell we were listening to. But that was just fine with me – I didn’t really care for the norms of high school life in general or specifically mine, so being the disaffected underground metal freak was plenty fine with me. Thankfully that didn’t have any repercussions, as it did for others around that time.

I guess it’s fitting that I saw this show in my last year of high school. Not quite a year later I’d be in boot camp and off to an entirely different world. And all 3 bands at that show would move on to different eras – Samael would reinvent their sound several times over the years, Grave would take a long hiatus before returning in the early 2000’s, and Cannibal Corpse would famously part ways with Chris Barnes and bring on George “Corpsegrinder” Fischer to send them off in a different direction. There’s probably something to be said for coming of age coupled with enjoying the moment and shifting tides as well an absolute loss of permanence, but I can find that in just about everything so it’s a thread I’ll leave for other adventures.

That was my first concert, my first show, my first real experience with live music. I’d go on to have many, many more and several of those will be covered as we press on with the chronicle of my journey. I still sit all these decades later with perhaps a bit of hearing loss, a pile of black t-shirts with band logos, and a sometimes hazy recollection of shows I’ve been to. But I can still remember that first time like it was yesterday, or at least like it wasn’t that long ago. It certainly was, but it was a hell of a time.

House Of Hair

I outlined before the first part of my journey through life with music a few weeks ago. It’s time to get to the next step in that process. I left off in the mid-1980’s where I was starting to assemble a bit of a cassette collection.

Well, what did people rock out to in the mid- and late-80’s? Come on, you know.

It was the glory days of hair metal.

Yeah, I thought they were girls the first time I saw the cover…

Yes, hair metal. The saccharine love ballads and railed out rockers performed by androgynous men in very tight-fitting clothing and great make-up. They ruled the airwaves back then and there was no escaping it. For a semi-sheltered, naive kid growing up in the Midwest, nothing shouted out to me louder than the bombastic party culture of the 1980’s hair metal rock star. It was the polar opposite of life as I knew it.

Hair metal was everywhere. It was all over MTV, on the radio, on magazine covers all over grocery store media racks. People far and wide adopted styles based on the scene – big hair, acid washed jeans, blinding and garish accessories. It was a fast, loud and eye-catching time.

For me it was what shaped me as I entered double-digit age and approached that all-important mark of adolescence. All the cool kids in grades above me at school were all-in on hair metal and they were setting the stage for what I’d be when I got there. They would move on and pass the torch to me and my crew and we’d live forever in glourious hair metal harmony.

Guess not. Thanks, Kurt.

As for what exactly I got into, well, it was everything. You couldn’t leave your house without tripping over some new hair band’s tape. Every day a new hard rocker or sappy ballad would premeire on MTV. I didn’t really keep track of what was what – I just consumed, as all good ’80’s kids were programmed to do.

I wasn’t really exercising any quality control. I was too young for that, just put in the tape and jam out, you know? Thankfully for all of us, the record labels also weren’t exercising any quality control. Gainful employment in the late ’80’s involved somewhat being able to play an instrument and sing about driving fast or liking girls.

It doesn’t mean that good music didn’t exist back then. I can go back today and check out stuff like Cindarella, Tesla, Ratt and Skid Row and find some great music. I can just as easily find a million copycat bands and less than stellar efforts, but even today there is room for curating high-level hair metal music.

And yes, I realize the very definition of hair metal can be questioned. Who is or who isn’t hair metal? Is Tesla really a hair band? I don’t really think so but in all reality it’s hard to seperate every corner case from the larger scene of that time period.

Everything would culminate in one album purchase, one band who would put a stamp on everything for me at the end of the ’80’s. The very band who started this whole hair metal mess in the first place released their 5th album right as I was turning 12 and getting ready to enter the 1990’s.

Motley Crue were the ultimate bad boys of hair metal. They were the ones who brought this music to life and turned the Sunset Strip into ground zero for ’80’s music. They were larger than life and apparently stronger than death. They put out the songs that defined the era and were the act that most everyone aspired to be.

I wound up getting Dr. Feelgood on tape as a gift for some thing or another and that was the moment when I became completely obsessed with music. I played that damn album over and over and over again. I played it when we vistied relatives out of town, I played it when I was at home, I played it everywhere I could play it.

That was what changed everything for me and sent me into the ’90’s ready to be a complete music junkie. That’s exactly what would happen, but of course that’s another story for another time.

As for hair metal, well, it definitely lefts its impression on me. The goofy, slight kid with some bleached jeans, high-top shoes and a jean jacket with a Poison patch on it really did enjoy his time with that scene. I wasn’t exclusively into it, hell I was already listening to Iron Maiden at this time and was on a crash course to the heavier end of the spectrum. But in that place in that time, I was all about that oft-derided hair metal scene. From now to Ragnarok, make mine hair.

Feels Like The First Time

I suppose it might be wise to offer a bit on how I got into music in the first place. I’ll do these in pieces over time since there’s a lot of ground to cover.

I am getting a bit long in the tooth these days but I think I’ve pinpointed the first memory I have of actually sitting for awhile and listening to music. It would have been in the early ’80’s – I am guessing here but I think it was ’83. I would have turned 6 that year but was probably still 5 at the time.

I was over at my grandparents’ house staying the evening and my uncle’s room there was uninhabited for the night. I sat with his stereo and his – wait for it – 8 track collection.

I don’t remember exactly what all I jammed out to that evening but I very much recall hearing Jimi Hendrix. That would stick with me to this very day and Hendrix is one of my favorite artists of all time.

I wouldn’t get into having my own music until several years later. In the intervening time I would absorb it through the usual mediums of the time – from relatives’ collections on huge old stereo systems that are now retro and worth money, on the radio, and on the up-and-coming music video channel on cable TV. (What was its name?)

I’d hear and like a lot of the big names of the day – The Police, John Mellencamp, Springsteen, and all the various one-hit wonders of the time. But the one that really got me was Van Halen. I’m far from the only one – Van Halen truly rocked the world. They were the ones who, more than anyone, launched me onto the path I’ve been on all these years.

I was 9 when my mom finally relented with my unending demands for my own music and she bought me a record, straight off the shelf of our local Wal-Mart in Cowtown USA. It was one of the most popular records of the year and probably not something a lot of people would do much but sneer at today, but dammit it was mine. It was Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet.

I’ll be upfront about it – I still dig it to this day. Excellent songwriting and fun stuff to jam out to. I won’t say I’m a huge fan of their whole catalog but this album gets it done for me.

After that my family took the hint and started buying me music as gifts. I’d get the standard fare for the time – hair metal, Michael Jackson, that sort of thing. It’d be a few years until I got into anything off the beaten path, but that’s a whole other story.

The process of discovery was the great thing about the early days. It was easy to do back then, music was massive business and was all over the place. It was also nice to be too young to be into the gatekeeping, elitism and smugness that would come in later years. It was simply a matter of enjoying something that was cool and moving on from stuff that wasn’t.

Alas, the joy and innocence of childhood discovery is long since lost to the ages. But it’s always cool to think back on how a lifetime of musical enjoyment and appreciation began. And somehow there are a series of straight lines to draw from here to extreme metal, and to country, and somehow later curving back to Britrock and shoegaze. But we’ll get there.