“Scream for me Long Beach…!”….As far as iconic moments go in heavy metal, these five words surely rank up there with that opening riff to ‘Ace of Spades’, Ozzy biting a head off a bat and the death of Metallica as a metal band. Bellowed out from a frontman whose lank hair and studded wristbands were matched in sheer metal mayhem by a voice that sounded like a foghorn, they were a clarion call to a rabid crowd of metal fans eager to lap up every moment of the exhilarating gig that they were witness to. Iron Maiden were a band at the height of their powers, on their biggest tour to date with the World Slavery Tour. The music would do the talking, those five words were the invite in.
To a 13 year old in 1986 they were a gateway to another world. A world that would remain out of reach for at least a couple more years, but through this album, lay a groundwork of expectations. Of course, lightning rarely strikes twice and for every Iron Maiden gig there are a hundred gigs that, as good as they may be, don’t quite hit those heady heights. Instead you got a benchmark set which would, at least within the heavy metal genre, lead to all those other bands attempting to up their game to at least match that thrill that can be summed up by those five words. It’s not just about the words though, it’s something else. It’s the reaction that the band get.
After a start which may well rank as one of the greatest openings to a live gig ever…want proof? ‘Aces High’, ‘Two Minutes To Midnight’, ‘The Trooper’…’Revelations’ (I mean, fucking hell!), it’s hardly as if the crowd needs any more encouragement. It’s now that Bruce Dickinson takes the first opportunity to utter those words, leading to the crowd joining Icarus in his flight to the sun. ‘Flight Of Icarus’ was never a classic as a studio release, here it becomes symbolic of a band heading for fiery heights. Unlike Icarus, Maiden manage to veer away from burn-out though, and remain at incendiary level for the rest of the gig.
It’s interesting to listen back to this album now as whilst it’s certainly a relic of its time, as are all live albums in reality, the music retains a certain timeless quality. A lot of this is due to the fact that Iron Maiden have never been cool, and so have never been pinned to one moment in music. Yes, they were standard bearers for the NWOBHM scene, but in shedding Paul D’ianno and replacing him with Bruce Dickinson, they become something else, something almost indefinable. They were metal, there is no denying that, and in songs such as ‘Powerslave’ they were channelling the vein that was set in place by the likes of Dio with his allusions to goblins and wizards. Maiden replaced that, and probably a lot of street credibility given how popular Dungeons And Dragons was at the time, with lyrics based on history. Take the aforementioned ‘Powerslave’, a song about Egyptian Pharaohs and sacrifice. It could very well have veered into B-movie territory, only here the lyrics probe into mythology bringing a reality, albeit a distant one, to the proceedings. When the band explode their way through it on this album, the crowd are simply pawns in a time in history long gone. Each roar is a scream for sacrifice as Dickinson stands aloft his own pyramid, the stage.
Anyone who has ever gone to an Iron Maiden gig will be able to bring to mind the enormous sense of community that is prevalent. On Live After Death it sounds like a celebration of a band who have finally got to that plateau where they deserve to be. They would get bigger in terms of album sales and venues, but they would never again have the sense of vitality that they have on Live After Death. If you scour the photos provided on the inner sleeve of the vinyl (because lets face it, how else should you listen to it?) you see a band still in their late twenties or early thirties, pulling goofy poses. There is nothing dangerous about them, yet when you place them next to photos from their live performance you see a change take shape. You see a band in complete dedication and belief in what they are doing.
The second time you hear those magic five words “Scream for me Long Beach…!” are prior to their eponymous song ‘Iron Maiden’. By now the gig has turned into full blown metal party. The prog of ‘Rime Of The Ancient Mariner’ and ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ may have demonstrated the chops of a band who were always unsure about the NWOBHM label that was thrust upon them, but it is on this song that they really drill down into the essence of the band. The galloping riffs, the call to arms vocals, the careening drums, it’s an explosion of sound which is only really matched by ‘Wrathchild’ later on. It’s interesting to note that this is a song not originally sung by Dickinson either. For him there is no hierarchy of song though, the fans come first, with the bands history being very much a part of that experience. It’s something that carries on to this day as he continues to sing not only the songs of D’ianno but also of Blaze Bayley. Of course, the chief songwriter Steve Harris is no doubt the one with the final say on what gets played but nevertheless. It’s that passion and devotion to producing the best Iron Maiden experience ever that courses through not just the veins of each individual band member, but through this live album too.
The fourth side always rankled a bit. Recorded in Hammersmith, rather than Long Beach, it broke up the flow of the album as a live gig. It was common practice for a live album to use multiple sources, and unusually it was the Hammersmith show which was released as a video accompaniment to the album. Video concerts were usually an afterthought though, and whilst it does deliver the visual experience, it never quite matches the full blown majesty of the album. A lot of that is down to imagination. Returning back to that 13 year old, hearing those five words for the first time, a picture was formed in the mind of a gig of absolute epic proportions. With no comparison for measure of size, or anything for that matter, the 13 year old who had still to attend their first gig was able to draw up a picture which would remain with them forever. Even now, hundreds of gigs and thirty years down the line it still stands as the benchmark for what a gig experience should be like. Even after all these years Live After Death ranks is one of the greatest live albums ever. And as for “Scream for me Long Beach..!”, well, the place may have changed but the iconic nature didn’t and that 13 year old eventually got to hear them in the flesh under it’s new phrase…”Scream for me Donington…!”.