Iron Maiden: Death on the Road Review (DVD)

Edited by: Steve Harris
Starring: Steve Harris, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, Bruce Dickinson, Nicko McBrain & Janick Gers
Format: 3 x DVD Region 2
Running Time: Main Feature 105 Minutes, Extras 200 Minutes

Death on the Road is the first concert DVD released by Iron Maiden since the band made it known that there would be a live release from every tour from now on to beat the bootleggers. Yet this is no mere budget release and marks the best visual package released by Maiden so far.

Not only is the performance from all members of the band exemplary, the production values of the three disk package sets a standard for other bands to follow. It’s not without its faults, we’ll come to those later, but what we have in Death on the Road is an essential package for any self-respecting rock fan.

The gig was recorded as the Westfalenhallen in Dortmund Germany on November 23rd 2003 on the tour to support the album Dance of Death. With such a strong album to support, perhaps the band’s strongest since 1987’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, there’s bound to something special about the performance.

The track listing is as follows:

  • Wildest Dreams
  • Wrathchild
  • Can I Play With Madness
  • The Trooper
  • Dance of Death
  • Rainmaker
  • Brave New World
  • Paschendale
  • Lord of the Flies
  • No More Lies
  • Hallowed Be Thy Name
  • Fear of the Dark
  • Iron Maiden
  • Journeyman
  • The Number of the Beast
  • Run to the Hills

You may be surprised to hear that, for a band that’s been around as long as Iron Maiden, the songs that receive the best reception in the concert footage are the newer tracks. That shows you how good new songs such as Paschendale are and how open minded the band’s fans are.

It’s a shame Dance of Death’s raging epic Montsegur didn’t make it into the set list, but the selection of new tracks is still strong. With a back catalogue as extensive as Maiden’s it must be very hard to put a set list together. As it stands there are no tracks here from Killers, Powerslave, Somewhere In Time, No Prayer for the Dying or Virtual XI. If I’d had my way the track from Seventh Son would have been The Evil That Men Do or The Clairvoyant, rather than Can I Play With Madness, but I’m nitpicking.

From the off the band are in stunning form, I’m not too keen on the set opener, Wildest Dreams, on the album but it sounded electric here at the beginning of the gig. As the lights came on it revealed a theatrical stage set with plenty of room for the band to run around and as you’d expect, Bruce and Harry do plenty of that.

As I said earlier, some of the best moments in Death on the Road come with the new material from Dance of Death. The title track for example is performed to perfection, its lighter, folkier sections segueing well into the more heavy moments. Here Bruce in particular gives a great performance, his voice sounding as good as it has for years.

Adrian Smith seems on particular fine form this evening, perhaps thanks to the strong role he played in writing many of Dance of Death’s finer moments. The highlight of the concert footage for me is the epic new track Paschendale, written from the point of view of the humble Tommy in a World War I trench. An artillery soundtrack and Bruce reading poetry of the era set the mood for what was to follow.

There were theatrics, Bruce singing from the back riser dressed as a Tommy in front of a WWI backdrop – the first the band has used without the mascot Eddie – and behind barbed wire. The rest of the band played it superbly, Paschendale has fantastic dynamics that work well in the live settings. There are some spine tingling moments and it’s here that the concert is at its best.

That’s not to say the older material isn’t played well, Fear of the Dark gets an especially good outing, as does my personal band favourite, Hallowed Be Thy Name. By the time the band finish the set, it’s been a powerhouse performance by one of the best live acts you can see today.

It’s not over yet though, there’s the traditional encore and for Maiden something very different this time. While the band has used acoustic guitars in some live performances in the past, Maiden has never played a full acoustic track. Journeyman, the final song on Dance of Death is an unusual song for the band, where the inspiration of Jethro Tull is there for all to see and there’s not a power chord in site.

I didn’t expect the band to play this track on the tour, but I’m certainly glad they did. After the thunder of the song Iron Maiden and the applause is over, returning to the stage to play this gentle upbeat song is a brave but brilliant move. Bruce has the crowd eating out of his hand as Iron Maiden shows a side of its musicianship audiences rarely get to see. This really is one of the best moments in Maiden’s long and varied visual history.

After that, it’s the traditional sturm and drang of The Number of the Bear and Run to the Hills and it’s thankyouverymuchgoodnight.

So the performance is spot on, but what of the movie itself and the package as a whole? The concert footage is edited once again by bassist and band-founder Steve Harris. He’s been doing this a while now and this is his best effort so far. Early on the editorial style is fast and frenetic but thankfully it does slow down a little after the first few songs.

The editing is very much in the MTV quick cuts style, which is a shame. Maiden’s best concert video is Live After Death, partly due to he editing. The movie went for long sweeping cuts with the focus often staying with a band member through a whole solo. It really was an epic and something Harris hasn’t matched yet with his own work. However he does a pretty good job here compared to earlier efforts. He clearly has talent as an editor, I like the way you can see different themes or style in the way he cuts each song, I just wish he’d slow down a little.

Harris is aided by being able to work with the best quality footage Maiden has ever shot. And thanks to the way the disks have been packaged, you get to enjoy that quality for yourself. So packed with data is the Dolby Digital 5.1 DVD, that Dance of Death also includes another disk with the same concert in 2.0 Stereo. With the high range of tones in the image, the use of smoke and dramatic lighting changes, it’s a nightmare to film and capture on DVD. But the high bit rate of these offerings, thanks to the two separate disks makes for a wonderful crisp clear picture and very strong sound.

The third disk is where you’ll find the extras, like the concert footage the documentaries are presented in 16:9 format. The creative process behind Maiden songs has for long been rather shrouded in mystery, but in a wonderful 75-minute documentary we get to see Dance of Death be recorded, learn how some of the songs came about and watch the process of how the stage production and tour was put together.

What’s clear from watching the documentary footage is how happy the band is, how much passion there still is for their music and how well everyone seems to be getting along. They seem to be falling over each other to point out how much influence they got from each other when writing the album. It’s a fascinating look at a side of the band rarely seen. And we get to see H giving it his best Nigel Tufnell “It’s the sustain,” and “Don’t touch, don’t even point”. Along with the main documentary there are some other shorter features, galleries and promo videos for Wildest Dreams and Rainmaker.

Death on the Road is one of the best music videos I’ve seen; the production values of the package itself and the quality of the recording are second to none. It’s a brilliant document of one of Britain’s best bands and I hope that subsequent releases for the next tours are equally well put together. Death on the Road is a clear labour of love from Steve Harris and it deserves a place on any self-respecting rock fan’s shelf.