The tribute album concept has been around for a few years. With torchsong albums dedicated to Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix and others on the shelf, you would think anyone worthy of being done homage was already covered. However, a group that many in the public had overlooked but not the 90s generation of heavy metal and heavy music ensembles is the one-and-only Iron Maiden. With revisionism all the rage, perhaps Maiden can find its way into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame one day, seeing how now even RUSH has made it.
On this 11-track retrospective of Iron Maiden music, “A Call to Irons” (1998) contains a continuum of interpretations of the classic headbangers’ repertoire. The disc kicks off with Steel Prophet charging through “Ides of March/Purgatory.” What the take lacks in over-the-top treatment is more than made up for with raw energy. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the group did it in one take live in the studio.
Ancient Wisdom goes in a different direction laying down “Powerslave” as a more guttural growler—quite the departure from Bruce Dickinson’s operatic style on the original. Nonetheless, after several listens, this version came to grow on me. A couple of cuts that did not—even after extensive exposure—were Vital Remains on “The Trooper,” even though the guitar playing mimicked Steve Harris very effectively, and Opera IX on “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” for similar reasons—doing the songs in the manner of Gwar—Vital Signs as the masculine and Opera IX as the feminine. Gwar was a groundbreaking act in its own way, but one Gwar is enough for the recording industry.
Solitude Aeturnus imprinted on my mind the lyrics of “Hallowed be Thy Name,” with the imagery of a prisoner on death row waiting for sundown to be strung up. The earnest desperateness of the singing impressed no end. While turning in a reasonable cover job, Opeth nevertheless disappointed on “Remember Tomorrow.” Hailed in some quarters as the next great progressive rock group—they once opened for Dream Theater and couldn’t live up to the hype on that occasion either—Opeth brought forth no virtuoso performance. Evoken also reminded me of Gwar on “Strange World,” but the spoken-word interludes lightened the aural burden to some extent.
The compilation closes out again nearer to the actual driving Maiden sound with Absu on the instrumental “Transylvania,” bringing us back to the time of the Dark Ages, shadowy castles and when counts with questionable drinking habits went all medieval on our a***s. As Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, portraying the namesakes in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” might have said when confronted with the literal iron maiden, “party on dude!”