So I dropped the family off at the Anchorage airport, and starting at 4am, had four hours in the car for the return trip.
During this time I became a fan of Iron Maiden.
The backdrop is random enough. See, just recently I’ve started going through all the recorded music I have, and happened across a collection of “80s metal” that a Colorado friend put together for my education. He gave it to me oh, probably 2004 or so; it’s not like it hasn’t been sitting idle for over a decade! I don’t recall ever actually going through it before, until now. I saw it, remembered the context, and thought it would be cool to reconnect with some names I haven’t really thought about in some time: Van Halen, Metallica, AC/DC, etc.–none of which I’d really paid too much attention to before. And it’s been eye-opening, too: I have a very different ear now than I did back even in the early ‘oughts, to say nothing of the Eighties; more of that stuff holds up well than I’d have ever guessed, and I’ve been having a ball with what one internet buddy calls the “retro-education”. Now I’m starting to move on to names I didn’t pay any attention to at all at the time.
First up was Judas Priest, which I’m still working out for myself. There seems to be much to like in there, and particularly I’ve got to hand it to Rob Halford as a fairly astonishing vocal stylist, but thus far the group is still a bit of hit or miss; what I really need is a couple of good listening sessions in a better audio environment than the acoustic mess that is the Jeep.
Today, I decided to spin the collection’s anthology of Iron Maiden for the trip home. It’s not that the family car’s acoustic environment is good, per se, but it’s “good enough”, miles better than the Jeep, and of course with such a drive my full attention was available. The anthology was essentially 2-3 tracks each from the studio albums of the 1980s.
In a word: wow!
I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but what I heard was impressive. Probably I was still suffering from a good deal of latent musical snobbery from my own past; you know, the stereotypic sort of “this metal stuff is all the same and not that interesting”, “not as high-class as the more progressive stuff I like”, and above all, the notion that any act that concerned with its theatrical, visual image simply can’t be taken that seriously. Which makes it right and proper that I should have such blasted right out of me by actually listening honestly. (My own history is certainly replete with eye-rolling moments I’d rather forget, but have to own.)
Regardless of where I may wind up on Judas Priest by contrast, Maiden spoke to me immediately, and in a variety of ways that really stuck out. The part of me that’s learning a bit about audio production noted the really excellent separation and clarity of instruments in the mixes, even during really heavy-sounding passages, on most of the records. Too, I was repeatedly struck by the crispness and inventiveness of the rhythm section; with both drummers, these guys are really good at driving the beat with the syncopated parts of the subdivisions, and yet no matter how adventurous they got with doing different things in the blend, not once in what I heard did they fail to rock. Both the tone and style of the bass jumped out at me right away as well, along with a number of examples of harmonic movement (in the bass in particular) I would not have expected from blokes simply thrashing about; somehow when I went later to do a bit of summary reading on the band, it was totally unsurprising to find that bassist (Steve) Harris is a principal writer. (I’m still new to bass guitar signal processing, but I’m starting to really appreciate this notion of an aggressive and distorted note attack on a bass guitar, which then blooms into a much cleaner note, just saturated enough to stand out in the mix. Harris may become a specific item of study in that regard!)
I thought the writing was quite good; the tunes never bog down in monotony, and really there is always something quirky and defining going on, even when covering otherwise well-known musical territory. As well, it seems to me like I can actually hear joy in the way the group plays with rhythm; given the topical territory it sounds odd to hear myself using that word, but still, that’s the way I hear it. With more time I’ll have to pay some better attention to the words themselves; as usual I’m listening to the music first, the voice as instrument second, and only then the lyrical content of the words themselves.
Needless to say, I had figured I’d probably gain an appreciation I hadn’t had before; I’d heard from several friends over the years that the group was worth a listen, but had never got around to doing it properly. I wasn’t quite prepared for how much so, though, and once again am happy to admit my error in not giving a proper test drive sooner.
More retro-education to follow!