The Living Dead (2 Discs)
posted on 6/2006 By:
When I rolled this set on my magic DnD 20 sided review die of regret and despair I was terrified. I am one of the few who thought Paul DiAnno was a far better vocalist for Iron Maiden than Bruce Dickenson. My take was that Bruce was a better frontman, and definitely lent Maiden a more populist style than DiAnno ever would have, but on record Paul gave Maiden a more frantic, more venomous and less artsy sound which appealed strongly to me. I rank Killers as one of the greatest Metal records ever made, placing it above Number of the Beast and Powerslave, the two Maiden records I consider true classics. Operative word being "I". But I am the only one I can speak for, so deal with it.
So it follows I have a real soft spot for DiAnno, and it hurts me that the music he has made post Maiden simply never suited his vocal style. If anyone should have embraced technical thrash and death, I would have said it was Dianno. Instead he seemed to remain trapped in NWBHM mode, but without the insane riffing and songwriting approach of Harris and Murray his voice never found its compositional compliment again. And of all the old school metal vocalists I probably rooted hardest for Paul to rediscover that insanity he brought to Killers.
So knowing I had to put my shitty, overwrought and hyperbolous critical style to a DiAnno record caused me, for maybe the first time since taking this gig, a little sadness. I have not by any means heard all of DiAnno's post Maiden work, but what I have heard made me... not cringe. It's not as bad as some latter day trad fetishists who think they "get" what they couldn't possibly get. As trad goes, it was above average. But it just wasn't what the voice deserved. It was like, for me at least, John Lennon trying to sing bad lullabies in the seventies. John Fucking Lennon should have been singing on top of cutting edge blues and punk rock, but was trapped in his hippy bullshit for most of that decade. It was physically painful, even if there were some very bright spots, to have to hear the guy who wailed "Money" and "Yer Blues" working his way through shit like the Rock and Roll album.
So it was with DiAnno. I wanted him singing on top of Napalm Death or Voivod. Something with the kind of musical antagony and agony to match his gleeful growls. And I had few illusions about this set being up to the task my head has arbitrarily set for him. So it's with relief I can report that there are some very good DiAnno vehicles on this disc. Unfortunately, there are also some vehicles more properly placed under a David Coverdale than a Paul Dianno.
I have to say, foremost, that Paul's voice has lost very little of its essential throat searing quality. He sounds at this point like the power metal singer everyone else wishes they could be. It also has to be said that the band backing him up is making trad the only way it can be made without sounding cheesy and dated beyond hope. This is, generally speaking, a fucking good traditional metal record.
Which unfortunately opens with a track that almost dissuades one from keeping it on. In fact, "The Living Dead" almost made me think I was right to be terrified of this record. It has sappy keys and slow paced power ballading. Just not the way I would open a record by a singer with a voice like his. BUT! It picks up on the next song, and starts to pull you right back in. And once "War Machine" gets rolling I was back on the bus. No, it's not exactly breaking any established rules but the double kick powered rocker certainly opens the fucking record up and lets it breathe. And on "P.O.V. 2005" the whole record really comes to jesus. This is a track strong enough to make one forget, briefly, about pedigrees and just bang one's fucking head and pump one's fist along with the band.
And that's how the record works. A song that drags you down, a song that lifts you up and a song that rips your kidneys out. When your expectations are low because your biases are high, I would say this makes the whole affair worth some attention. The band smokes, the singer is almost as strong as he was when I first heard him, and the songs are at worst not embarrassingly dated, and at best fucking rippers.
Production is clean and level, but uses too many effects. All the echo dates things when they really needs to sound contemporary. The mix needed some gravel, some beef. It sounds hollow and washed out. Crisp, but lacking immediacy. It's still a quality recording. I just wanted it to be better. The musicianship is excellent, as would befit a veteran metalist.
On the addition of "Symphony of Destruction"... maybe better left off. Regardless of how fucking AWESOME it would be if Mustaine quit singing completely and hooked up DiAnno as the singer for Megadeth, this version is a flat, horribly conceived and executed cover. Paul seems to be trying to channel Billy from Testament, and it just doesn't work.
On the live Maiden covers... sorry, but Harris is really the only one who can pull off the opening bass riff of "Wrathchild". I have heard many try - myself included - but we all just suck it. Steve owns that fucking riff, like Hendrix owns "Purple Haze" and Bonham owns "When the Levee Breaks". Apart from that, the song works surprisingly well. Paul's voice cracks during the drawn out scream but fuck it; love "warts and all" recordings. "Phantom of the Opera" is a very nice take on the song that drove my nascent delving into bass playing as something other than fondling root notes. Ask my mom about that riff. I bet she still has nightmares about the hours and hours I spent trying to put it together, just so I could do SOMETHING Steve Harris did. DiAnno and cohorts do the tune apt justice, and I feel it ends the set on a very high note.
So, the bottom line is that this is a good traditional heavy metal record. Could have been better, but boy it sure could have been a lot worse. DiAnno and band definitely create some magic when everything comes together. I still wish the singer would place his talents in a more extreme setting. Between him and Lemmy I found my love of harsh vocalists two and half decades ago, and if Lemmy was the sound of drunken brawls, DiAnno will always be the sound of homicidal mania. I would so like to hear the musical equivalent in accompaniment. But this is a set to be proud of, by and large, and lovers of old school heavy metal should look into this.
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