Review by Paul Quinton
It’s tempting to start this review with a variation on an old riddle, namely ‘When is a tribute band not a tribute band?’ It’s not normally Midlands Rocks’ policy to review tribute bands, not even the most successful ones like the Australian Pink Floyd. After all, there’s so much new and original music about, and so many new and hugely talented bands out there, in all rock genres and sub-genres, there seems little point in turning our attention to what are essentially covers bands. So why Maiden United? How are they different from the rest?
I think I can give you three reasons why Maiden United are worth listening to. Firstly the personnel. For members of established and successful bands like Ruud Jolie and Mike Coolen of Within Temptation and Threshold’s Damien Wilson to be doing this makes it at least worth a listen, but why Maiden United, and not, say, the Ultimate Eagles, who include in their line-up Danny Vaughn of Tyketto and Chris Childs of Thunder? The answer to that lies in the second reason, the music itself. As good as the Ultimate Eagles are, and I would argue that they’re currently far more dynamic and entertaining than the original band are these days, they still do fairly faithful reproductions of the originals, whereas Maiden United do something very different, stripping each song down to its elements, and while there are occasional embellishments, such as Apocalyptica’s Perttu Kivilaakso contributing cello to ‘Infinite Dreams’ and ‘The Evil That Men Do’, the understated backing lets both Wilson’s superb singing to come to the fore and also allows the listener to really appreciate how good some of Maiden’s lyrics really are.
These aren’t just acoustic versions of Maiden songs, performed as the originals, only substituting electric guitars for acoustic ones, it’s clear that a lot of thought and work has gone into the arrangements, in an effort to create something very different. ‘Old pictures in new frames’ as Robert Plant said at the time of the Unledded project with Jimmy Page, which makes it an interesting exercise to listen to the album without having the track listing to hand. It often takes longer than you might be expecting to identify a couple of songs, even familiar ones like ‘Two Minutes to Midnight’.
The best examples of this are on ‘The Evil That Men Do’ and, perhaps a surprising choice for the album, ‘Prowler’, from Maiden’s very first album, of course. This version of ‘Prowler’ loses some of the swagger and bravado of the original and instead brings out the lyrics’ more sinister side, while still giving the character an element of tragedy. It’s a terrific performance by Damian Wilson, and as it doesn’t seem to be widely known that he was in the frame for the Maiden job between Bruce Dickinson leaving and Blaze Bayley being recruited, it does make you wonder how different history might have been had the band opted for Damian.
Credit also goes to the band for delving into some of the less well explored reaches of Maiden’s back catalogue, including the introduction to ‘Moonchild’ to open and close the album (namely the ‘Seven Deadly Sins Parts One and Two’ included in the track listing). Whereas an ordinary Maiden tribute could be expected to have a highly predicable set-list, and I’m sure everyone reading this could make a pretty accurate prediction of what it might be, finding songs like ‘Flash of The Blade’ and ‘Only The Good Die Young’ in the album’s contents just makes listening to the album the whole thing even more engrossing.
Finally, the third reason why this album is worth a listen: it’s a fascinating, intriguing and highly enjoyable album in its own right. It gives you an entirely new perspective on what may be very familiar songs, and, to answer a question put to me when I first suggested reviewing the album, it definitely rocks.
1. Seven Deadly Sins Part 1
2. Only The Good Die Young
3. Two Minutes To Midnight
5. Flash Of The Blade
6. Children Of The Damned
7. Infinite Dreams
8. 22 Acacia Avenue
9. The Evil That Men Do
10. Wasted Years
11. Seven Deadly Sins Part 2.