Compilations are often thrown together with little thought and consideration. Most of the time they consist only of songs that have been hugely successful as singles. While this Best Of does include many of the songs we know and love, Maiden decided to do something a little different with this release. The inclusion of live tracks throughout the album, really sets this release apart from other compilations and encourages the dedicated fan to pick up an album they otherwise may have left in the record store. It really is a value-added proposition for the consumer and I praise the band and the record label for attempting to do something different.
Some of you may be concerned with the flow of the album and how the mix of studio and live performances blend together. Well, I can set your mind at ease by letting you know the mastering is exceptional and all music, live and studio recorded, is perfectly matched. Yes, I acknowledge many live performances are tweaked in the studio, but I’m not even going to entertain that thought as the entire album experience is a worthy piece of musical art.
Speaking of art, the cover art alone offers enough justification to purchase this compilation on vinyl. That is one badass cover!
Over the years I have always appreciated a compilation album; they are great for car journeys and gifts. This Maiden release is so compelling that I may even pick up a copy on CD for my son. I keep buying him compilation albums by all the greatest musicians, across all genres, as I feel it gives him a broad knowledge and appreciation of music. Yes, I could always set up a TIDAL Family Plan, but as much as I adore TIDAL, it is impersonal compared to a CD that can be gifted, held, and grabbed on the way to the car. Not to mention he gets to experience the all-important liner notes.
Intro (Churchill's Speech) is simply a spoken introduction to the live performance of Aces High.
Aces High (Live) is an exceptional performance. Yes, as I mentioned earlier, I’m aware that many live recordings are not as 'live' as many would hope. However, I simply don't care as the essence of the performance is present. While I'm not saying that Maiden used studio trickery to achieve this sound, I also can't ignore the possibility as it is sonically perfect.
2 Minutes To Midnight is a killer track. I love it!
Every time I listen to The Trooper I immediately recall and want to watch, Metal Evolution – The Series. If you haven't checked it out, it is a must see! Seriously, I give you permission to stop reading and give it a look. Back to the song and The Trooper is Iron Maiden 101. You will, if you haven't already, be turning this up to 11. The Trooper has to be one of the best Maiden recordings ever with a guitar riff that is perfect in every sense of the word. However, I tend to feel that way about most of their work. They are great, aren’t they?
Wasted Years has some incredible musicality. However, I tend to get listening fatigue by the end of the song. That isn’t to say it is a bad song, just that I lack a connection with it. Perhaps it is due to listening to it countless times over the years, or perhaps it has been due to hearing a lacklustre master. Thankfully the mastering on this release is fantastic and the song has never sounded better in my opinion. It is full and spacious with all drum elements, even the cymbals, sounding just as they should. You can hear the shimmer of the high hats as they dissolve throughout the soundstage. It no longer sounds like it was recorded using pots, pans, and tin cans. The mastering is another justification for picking up the vinyl release, provided it isn't a picture disc release. While some audiophiles may still proclaim it to not be perfect, it is perfect for Maiden.
Children Of The Damned is about as mellow as Maiden gets, but what an incredible song. I absolutely love it!
The Number Of The Beast is a fantastic song, but I'm not sure which master they used as the cymbal crashes are horrid. They sound like someone has been hitting really thin sheets of aluminium. It's a shame because this one element impacts my appreciation of the song.
Run To The Hills is a favourite of mine. As I listen to this album, I am struck by the sonic journey Iron Maiden continually takes us on. They are one of the best, if not the best, in my opinion!
Phantom Of The Opera (Live) is an exceptional song and this live performance is a perfect rendition of the song. While I'm not a fan of going to live concerts, as I have had bad sonic experiences, Maiden is one that I wish I had seen when they last toured Australia. That said, I still haven’t got over the horrid sound of AC/DC’s last concert in Sydney. The music was out-of-sync and the mix wasn't the greatest, to begin with. That experience really tarnished my appreciation of the band and I swore to never let another live performance have that impact on me. Hence, I missed out on Maiden only a few months later.
The Evil That Men Do has some excellent guitar work, although that could be said about every Maiden recording. They really are the definition of a riff-based band. While The Evil That Men Do isn’t my favourite Maiden song, it is a worthy inclusion and feels well suited to the lineup of selected songs. For me, however, I believe my indifferent towards the song stems from it being too similar, in style, to The Trooper.
Wrathchild (Live) is another hard hitting live performance. The lead guitar work is exquisite!
Can I Play With Madness has some excellent elements, but I feel the repetition of ‘Can I Play With Madness’, with regards to the vocal chorus, is a little too much to tolerate upon repeat plays.
Powerslave is a killer song with an addictively smooth rhythm.
Hallowed Be Thy Name is one of my all-time favourite Maiden tunes. It really doesn't get much better than this. Pure perfection!
Iron Maiden (Live) is a fantastic way to close the album, although the song doesn’t match the tonality and polish heard throughout the album. Yes, it sounds like Maiden, but it also sounds like a bonus track was randomly included at the last minute. That said, I love this song and without a doubt, I feel compelled to listen to the compilation again and stay within Maiden's catalogue.
Overall, this is one Iron Maiden release that you must add to your collection. While it only deals with a small portion of their career, it’s an era in which they were most prolific.
For this review, I listened to the TIDAL Masters/MQA 24/88.2 kHz edition. It is exceptional and shows off the capabilities of MQA. I'll be completely honest and say that as much as I would like to own this release on vinyl, if I couldn't track down a copy, I wouldn't be disappointed with only being able to listen to the MQA edition. I have also listened to the 16/44.1 kHz TIDAL Hi-Fi edition and while the mastering is excellent, it is louder and doesn't sound as full and rich as the MQA edition. MQA is simply one step closer to the original master and while debate rages on, in the audiophile community, I am simply enjoying the music. I honestly haven't heard Maiden sound this good. Their entire catalogue is available in MQA and I can thoroughly recommend each and every one.
Somewhere Back In Time – The Best Of: 1980-1989 is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (FLAC 16/44.1 kHz), and iTunes (Mastered For iTunes). For those who prefer streaming, this compilation is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.