Monthly Archives: September 2015

Maiden Through the Decades: Birth of the Beast Pt 1

The release of Iron Maiden’s 16th album “The Book of Souls” has inspired me to look back over the past decades of the bands 40 year career. Formed in 1975 by Steve Harris the only ongoing member throughout Maiden’s history it took five years before their first studio album in 1980.

Iron Maiden – 1980

Paul Di’Anno on lead vocals, Dave Murray, Denis Stratton on guitar and Clive Burr on the drums Maiden broke onto the music scene with their fast and ferocious sound. Produced in only 13 days the album has a raw, punk like sound which often splits fans of their  later  releases. The opening blast of “Prowler” sets the pace and introduces listeners to the typical Maiden intensity, which doesn’t let up throughout the album. “Sanctuary” added in the 1998 remastered release of the album builds on the same ferocity with its unique opening rift and helps create a great contrast to the slower more atmospheric “Remember Tomorrow” which really kicks into gear with Di’Anno’s drawn out wail 2-minutes in before building to the solo. Freeing itself from the guitar dominance of the opening tracts “Running Free” has a strong drum beat that carries you in a rush through the track. Undeniably the highlight is the 7 – minute epic “Phantom of the Opera” which incorporates elements of prog rock and several time changes that still make it one of my all time favourites. While the end of the album lacks the same intensity with the title track probably the weakest on the album the instrumental “Transylvania” remains up there with the best.

4/5 Eddies

Killers  – 1981

Unfortunately Maiden’s second album is possibly a little disappointing due in part to the short turn around time and the fact that most of the tracks were written before they recorded Iron Maiden as a result Killers lacks the development of a follow-up Album. However, this does not mean that it isn’t worth your time as the fast past “Wrathchild” is like a shoot of adrenaline and is still regularly played live while “Murders in the Rue Morgue” based on the short story by Edgar Allen Poe has a distinctive rift and some catchy speed changes. The surprise of the album for me, “Prodigal Son” incorporates acoustic guitar effectively to create an engaging and different sound that shows the bands depth of musical talent and diversity. The most notable change with Killers is the departure of Denis Stratton and the inclusion of long-term member Adrian Smith who would make an important contribution to song writing on future Albums.

3/5 Eddies

The Number of the Beast – 1982

Maiden’s third studio album for many is when Maiden become Maiden as Bruce Dickson joins the band taking over lead vocals with his distinctive style and range. The album immediately shot to prominence for the controversy over the name and cover art which inspiring claims of Satanism however the free publicity wasn’t necessary as the album speaks for it self. The first drum roll of “Invaders” acts to introduce something special and immediately sets a quick pace. One that is suddenly forgotten with the more melodic “Children of the damned” that allows fans to fully appreciate Dickinson’s more operatic vocals for the first time. The third track “Prisoners” seems to find the balance as the heavy drums keeps a steady rhythm while the guitars race into a familiar gallop until the chorus where Dickinson’s voice takes control and Harris’ underlying base line becomes more obvious. Even with this strong opening three songs really lift the album , starting with the title track. “The number of the beast” opens with the now familiar introduction that quickly establishes the atmosphere before the steady rhythmic guitar kicks in and Dickinson’s lyrics begin to weave their story telling magic climaxing in the solo. The song sets out the format for many future hits but as the drum beat and opening riff of “Run to the Hills” proves Maiden is far from a one trick pony. Moving away from atmospheric style this fast paced gem is all aggression and is one of the perfect examples of the band at full gallop with Harris’ bass driving the track. Just when you may think that the album has reached its height and starts to fade the final bell tolls. “Hallowed be thy name” returns to the story telling of the title track but brings in more curiosity through mirroring the lyrics with distinct changes in pace to represent the mood of Dickson’s protagonist who is quickly running out of time. While any Maiden fan keeps these songs up their with their best, a couple of the songs go missing and lack any of the same power.

4.5 / 5 Eddies

Piece of Mind – 1983

Considered by many fans to be Maiden’s best album Piece of Mind capitalizes on the bands popularity after Number of the Beast. The opening track “Where Eagles Dare” grabs your attention with the opening drum roll before the guitar riff races away. New drummer Nicko McBrian makes a strong first impression as his cymbal work carries the song throughout while the guitars give it a real aggressive feel fitting of the classic WW2 film. One of Dickerson greatest song writing contributions “Revelations” slows the pace down and focuses on building atmosphere with its more meta-physical content and literary quotations. The first single from the album “Flight of Icarus” is one of Maiden’s simpler and easier tracks to listen to as it has a distinctive rhythm where the guitars and drums combine to give a sense of the mythical Icarus rising to sun and doesn’t require any deeper thought. The second single however has always captured my attention with its historical links, literary references and film clip. My all time favourite track “The Trooper” just delivers everything I expect in spades combining this rich content with Maiden’s galloping style to give a real sense of the horses charging with the steady rhythm of Harris’ bass underneath the repeating guitar riff and Nicko’s military drums. Finished with Dickinson’s rushed lyrics that creates the desperation of the soldiers racing to their deaths, it’s simply perfect. Unfortunately the second part of the Album drops away a little, but Nicko’s backwards message at the start of “Still life” is a quick stab at the satanic critics while “Sun and Steel” continues the military theme carrying through the album with a catchy chorus. Ultimately the grand finale is no “Hallowed be thy Name” but “To Tame a Land” still uses some good changes in pace where the music can build with Dickinson’s lyrics towards the galloping instrumental bridge and the climax. The now stable line up delivers a very cohesive album and while not every song is an absolute hit there are no real weaknesses unlike the previous releases.

5/5 Eddies

Stay tuned for part 2 of my retrospective look at Iron Maiden’s back catalogue when I finish off the glorious 80s, till then up the Irons.


Iron Maiden’s Book Of Souls tops Official Albums Chart

Iron Maiden’s Book Of Souls tops Official Albums Chart

Number 1 in the UK, Belgium, Italy, Finland, Germany and a handful of others. Unfortunately my fellow Auzzie’s need to jump on board as the book of souls is only at number 2 and that goes double for my friends in the US at number 4. Lets all show that mainstream crap what real music is.

Apple’s going Pro

August was definitely dominated by Microsoft with the increasing downloads of Windows 10 and GamesCom providing plenty of tech news to talk about. September has always been Apple’s time to shine and they did not disappoint their die hard loyal fans. The mid cycle update to the iPhone, a new iPad with some accessories and finally an improved version of Apple TV gives us a lot to cover.

iPhone 6s

It’s Apple’s long established custom to provide a one year update on thier current handset and keep the existing body. This year the iPhone 6 and 6+ get the S treatment with the addition of new features and upgraded spec. Most notably is the new 3D touch technology which reacts to the pressure being applied by the user. Internaly it comes with an A9 processor, 2GB of RAM and a 12 mega-pixal camera which should all give users an overall improved performance. On top of these updates to the existing specs is the introduction of a new rose gold handset. I doubt any of these changes will intice existing iPhone 6 users to upgrade prematually but I’m sure Apple will stiĺl experience good sales as more iPhone 5 user decide to take the plunge.

iPad Pro

A larger screen iPad has been rumoured for a while so Apple’s announcement suprised nobody. It’s clearly built to impress with a 12.9 inch screen, 2732 x 2048 resolution and four built in speakers. It also has a clear performance boost over the existing iPad Air with a A9X processor and 4GB of RAM in order to capatilise on iOS9’s new side by side multi-tasking. Beyond the tablet itself Apple have shown off a couple of key new accessories in the Apple Pencil and attachable keyboard. On paper it looks like a powerful device for those poeple who like using iOS but it is still unknown whether it’s the device that will reinvigurate Apple’s tablet sales.

Unusally it hasn’t been all positive media for Apple’s latest tablet as most tech analysts and arm chair enthusiasts like myself have been quick to recognise the similarities with Microsoft’s Surface Pro.  Many have even been bringing up Steve Jobs comment about inculding a stylus
which really has no relevence any more due to the developments of digitizers and the rest of the tech industry. In addition the promotion of Microsoft Office for iOS has got some attention, an inclusion that really shows both tech companies changing mentality. Firstly, Microsoft recognised that they can’t ignore iOS users and the value of tieing them to their services while Apple seems to have admited that thier own iWorks suite has trouble competing with Office in the professional market place.

So will the iPad Pro make an impact on the tablet landscape? Personally I’m not sure Apple have addressed the right aspects of the iPad to attract thier target audience. Since many of the drawbacks of iOS still remain as while it now allows multi-tasking it cannot run desktop applications. In addition the small 32GB internal storage on the base model will likely frustrate some users and may be a key limitation for those reluctant to invest more money. Finally, I think the iPad Pro could easily impact Apple’s other product lines as customers are unlikely to purchase a Pro and a smaller iPad, while others might decide to give up thier MacBook.  Obviously, this does not take into account new customers so we will just have to wait and see.

Apple TV

The much awaited update to Apple’s side project has delivered a few key developments and makes Apple competitive in the living room space. Most notably is the new TVos which has an easy to use interface and connects to the apps store to allow users to download anything from different streaming services or games. This new operating system also brings Siri into your living room and importantly she comes with the ability to search content across applications. Apple’s personal assistant can be accessed from the new remote which also includes a touch pad for navigation and a Wii like motion tracker that when combined with the improved internal specs makes the new set top box capable of breaking in as a low cost gaming option.

These improvement makes the Apple TV a legitimate option compared to competitors but it isn’t necessarily a game changer with similar features already available. Despite this the added functionality of AirPlay and Apple’s legion of devoted fans combined with a sensible price tag means that I believe sales will show strong growth.

Overall Apple didn’t really announce anything new but rather refreshed and reinvigorated existing products. Of course the iPhone 6S and 6S+ will the usual landslide but the others are a bit harder to predict so we’ll check back in the next couple of months.


An Iron Soul part 2: Maiden’s “The book of souls” continued

In stark contrast to the atmospheric “If eternity should fail”, disc 2 begins with the intense and galloping “Death or Glory” which follows in the footsteps of “Aces High” as it tells the story of WWI tri-planes. The guitar really complements this concept as the riff seems to climb before falling back down to earth and rushes Dickinson’s well composed lyrics to give the impression of dog fighting. Through all this is Harris’ customary bass line which really gives the song a truly Maiden feel.

Reprising the opening from 1986’s “Wasted Years” is “Shadow of the Valley” a reasonably safe song which struggles to stick in my mind Beyond the first 30 seconds. In many ways it reminds me of 2010’s “Isle of Avalon” but fails to reach any of the same heights and doesn’t really distinguish itself from the rest of the album.

Dedicated to the memory of Robin Williams, “Tears of a Clown” is a powerful and well written reminder about the dangers of depression. To start the guitar seems to halt mind riff as the energy wants to build it stops and is concluded by Nicko’s drums which remain noticeable throughout the song. It is however Dickinson’s vocals carried by the rhythmic bass that makes the track. Not only are they clear and easy to follow but from personal experience they made me reject on aspects of my own minor struggles with depression. It is a fitting tribute to actor who gave everyone years of laughter and whose personal struggles went unnoticed through the public façade, perhaps giving us a final lesson to look beyond the surface.

“The Man of Sorrows” has a bit more of a stripped back and raw sound reminiscent of the bands earlier work but at a noticeably slower pace. Dickinson’s operatic vocal style is in full effect with different length notes dominating the song before the guitar solo adds a little more intensity. Like, ” Shadows of the Valley” this track fails to really distinguish itself however it is reasonable entertaining if not memorable and provides a moment to take a breath before the grand finally.

The album’s triumph and possibly the bands magnum opus “Empire of the clouds” doesn’t sound anything like an Iron Maiden song. Opening with Dickinson on Piano and building a layered orchestral melody the song foreshadows the tragic events of the history it is about to tell while also symbolising the beauty of the havens. As the song develops the music begins to tell the story alongside the lyrics as Nicko’s military drums softly allude to the idea of Empire and the Airships own roots while the melody of the piano is gradually taken over by the mimicking guitar as it builds towards its final flight. The well composed lyrics with their multiple meanings like the obvious reference to the our father, in the  ‘kingdom yet to come’ while alluding to the notion of an Empire united by Air travel symbolised by the title, to the imagery of the ‘silver ghost’ make this one of Maiden’s most finely crafted tracks. This well constructed build up changes with the approaching storm as guitar’s quicken their pace begin to drive the Airship towards France this instrumental movement forms the basis for the songs outstanding solos before giving way to the turbulent description of the tragedy. This raising torrent resolves itself with the crash and the piano returns with its sombre tones and bury the ‘Empire of the Clouds’ along with the 48 victims of the tragedy.

Maiden’s longest ever track at 18 minutes carries ever second better than other songs of similar length like In – The – Gadda – Da- Vida and is their purest example of storytelling. After multiple listens I can recognise why Steve Harris labelled the song a masterpiece as it has distinct movements, multiple layers and elements of a classical overture as the music itself inspires listeners to imagine scenes and moods. Personally, I can’t help but put “Empire of the Clouds” up their with “Rime of the Ancient Marnier” as the best epics produced by the band over their 40 year history.

Maiden have their own ‘Empire of the Clouds’ as they take the new Ed Force One across the continents in 2016

The album as a whole is simply brilliant with variations in pace and melody Maiden is able to combine their established sound with new elements. At 92 minutes it might be an exercise in endurance for some but as someone who has easily spent hours in the last few weeks listening to their back catalogue non-stop this isn’t a problem. Even so the divide between discs makes “The book of souls” work as two separate albums of more manageable length. While not every song reaches the same heights the album delivers  two clear standouts  that sit amongst the bands best work, “The Red and the Black” and “Empire of the Clouds” makes it arguebly their most complete effort since “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” in 1988 but for me it is a toss up with “The Final Frontier”.

4.5/5 Eddies

Up the Irons!!

Check out the first half of my review here.


An Iron Soul part 1: Maiden’s “The Book of Souls” review

It has been 5 years since the release of “The Final Frontier” but Iron Maiden’s 16th album is now available around the world. Even after 40 years the band has still been able to break new ground and it has had me revisiting their entire back catalogue in anticipation. Not one to wait I was keen to get my hands on a CD for my car straight after work on September 4 and spent the rest of my afternoon rocking out to “The Book of Souls”.  If your like me and have scanned the web for any reviews you’ll have seen the usual official music commentary which has been largely very positive and a more mixed reception by some fans so I thought I’d take the time to do a detailed review.

The first track “If Eternity should fail” creates a real atmosphere for the album with the South American inspired introduction and Dickinson’s echoing lyrics before it kicks into gear with the usual Maiden gallop. The heavy guitar riff drives the track and noticeable slows for the chorus where Nicko’s cymbal work becomes more noticeable. It’s a catchy track and easy for fans to pick up the lyrics so I wouldn’t be surprised if it appears in the set list for the 2016 tour. My only criticism is the addition of Dickinson’s distorted soliloquy at the conclusion which I fell detracts from the song as an individual track but it works as part of the album to introduce the recurring themes present in the album.

“Speed of Light” is a much simpler song with a faster pace and a traditional Dickinson wail it immediately feels more familiar. Yet, even this seemingly straight forward track introduces a cowbell to demonstrate Maiden’s willingness to experiment with new elements. The first single of the album has grown on me after a few listens as the rush is starts the adrenaline pumping and Dickinson’s vocals are easy to belt out while I’m driving.  The energy is quickly shifted by the soft distinctive guitar introduction of “The Great Unknown” which I found really draw me into the track after the intensity of the previous song before the customary change of pace assured in with Nicko’s drums. Unlike some of the other tracks on the album the continuation of the riff through the song instantly made this one of my favourites.

However, it is quickly overshadowed by the bass at the start of the epic, “The Red and The Black” which quickly explodes into a galloping riff that gives the song a militant feel as it mirrors the rhythm of the drums. The psychological themes of the song are somewhat reminiscent of Stendhal’s book of the same name where the main character is often battling contrasting ideas and presenting a façade to  those around him. This literary link had already got my attention before I listened to the track but the changes of pace, Dickinson’s lyrics, the melody and the inclusion of some ripping solos during the instrumental bridge instantly made this my favourite song off the album. Even before I was finished with the first listen I was busy humming the rhythm, always a good sign.

The faster pace of “When the river runs deep” caught me by surprise after the deliberate pace of the previous track. The guitars seem to race Dickson to the chorus before slowing and allowing Harris’ rhythm  to come through behind the vocals to capture your attention. After this intensive burst of speed comes the title track, “The Book of Souls” which has a real sense of theatre, starting with an acoustic guitar and an almost tribal riff. The song is reminiscent of 1984’s “Powerslave” as the lyrics deal with the religious practices and beliefs of an ancient civilization. Like the earlier epic it starts with a very deliberate pace before it gives way to a strong guitar solo and starts racing towards the finish with a fast gallop reminiscent of classic Maiden.

This 92 minute album is best appreciated in two halves as this provides time to reflect and re-listen to some of the more demanding tracks with that in mind stay tuned for part 2 and my closing thoughts.

Up the Irons!!

Continue reading part 2 here.


Intel’s Skylake is finally here

It’s taken some time but Skylake is finally a reality. Intel has been working towards this point since the development of the tablet market in and other chip makers started to muscle in on thier market. No one has ever question Intel’s ability to deliver the best processing power which is why Apple made the switch for its Mac computers. The problem has always been power consumption and heat which has limited there application in tablets.

Haswell released in 2013 after more then two years in development was the first step in Intel’s attempt to fix the status quo. It made it poosible to start putting Intel chips in convertable devices that were starting to become popular with Windows 8 it also brought a significant improvement to battery life as the Surface Pro 1 and 2 clearly demonstated. In the mobile market place Intel followed this up quickly with the release of the Broadwell Architecture and the Core M processor a lighter more power efficent CPU which achieved the same clock speeds on turbo boost as existing Haswell chips with a 4.5 W TDP ( Thermal Design Power) compared to the 15w TDP of a core i5. Suddenly, Intel had a CPU that could compete in the compact market and we saw an increase in hybrid devices in addition to a thinner MacBook.

It is this development that Skylake is set to continue. Firstly, by introducing sub-categries to the Core m line with m3, m5 and m7. Early test show the m7 can clock 3.1ghz at turbo compared to the broadwell core m at 2.9 and the old haswell i5 at 2, it also boast a better intergration of DDR3 memory. However that’s not all, Skylake promises to bring improved battery life with intel saying we’ll get 10 hours of 1080p playback on a charge and finally a 40% increase in graphics. This is definitely impressive progress since 2013.

This development means the next few months could be really interesting as we will likely be seeing a lot more Windows 10 tablets and hybrids, hopefully starting with a new Surface Pro. It’s also worth thinking about Apple’s expected release of an iPad Pro on the 9th and whether they have a skylake suprise or purhaps thier attempt to reinvigorate thier tablet sales may all ready be outdated. We may if rumours are true even see Microsoft announce a few flagship Windows Phones with an Intel chip to take advantage of Continuum in Windows 10. Maybe Skylake coupled with the successful launch of Microsoft newest OS might just return WinTel to the good old days.

Windows 10: A varied experience

D-Day has been and gone for Microsoft’s latest operating system and so far with around 75 million downloads in the first month it appears to be a resounding success, obviously the free upgrade has helped to boost early adaptation. In fact Microsoft’s reservation system most likely tempered the initial rush as the process has deliberately delayed access in stages to prevent over extending their serves. Although the delay makes sense it didn’t take long for me to get annoyed with waiting and use the insider media creation tool to upgrade all my computers as I’m certain others have been doing since the 29th of July. Across my devices I have had a varied experience, including a few little teething problems, yet overall I’m impressed with how the OS has developed from early builds and the new developments that Windows 10 has brought to the PC.

DELL Studio – Intel Core Duo

My old laptop has taken a beating over the years and has been relegated to a portable DVD player over the last year but it has been useful to test out the preview builds of Windows 10. Over the last few months I’ve seen the changes Microsoft has brought to the task screen, notifications and settings all of which work towards making it easier for uses to access information. Many of these elements may have gone unnoticed after the return of the start menu but they more subtly blend elements from Windows 8 and introduce new features like multiple desktops to the Windows ecosystem. The start menu does definitely make the OS more easily adaptable to existing Windows 7 users but I personally feel that its  actually the ability of opening new Modern apps in a traditional windowed UI that makes Windows 10 a massive improvement as a desktop OS, after all who needs a 15″ calculator. The implementation of these developments alongside the noticeable improvements in speed and performance have resurrected my old laptop as if it was almost a new machine, it has even been brought off the bench and used properly for the first time in over a year.

Surface Pro 1 – Intel Core i5

Frustratingly, this has been the device I’ve had the most trouble with since upgrading which considering how much I use it at work has been a little inconvenient. Immediately after the upgrade I was having battery life problems, especially after any substantial period not in use, unfortunately the computer hasn’t been hibernating properly and randomly wakes up inside my case. However, this has been easily solved by shutting down which has only been a minor unconvinced especially since the surface boots so quickly. In addition,  the touch cover sometimes  remains active when flipped back behind the tablet and the screen’s touch points seemed to be less sensitive. Eventually this issues reached a tipping point and I choose to do a clean install using the reset feature built into windows. Despite the added hassle of re-installing all my important apps this has helped to clear the unwanted trash from my surface, freeing up space while solving all my problems.

Regardless of these little headaches I have been generally impressed with Windows 10’s changes to the modern UI introduced with Windows 8 as subtle developments make it blend more seamlessly with the desktop mode. The removal of the maligned charms bar is just the beginning as the desktop like taskbar and vertical scrolling also serve to tie in the start screen with the desktop interface and the revamped start menu. In the same way the notifications centre and task button new across the operating systems remains the same in both interfaces, these element make Windows 10 feel more cohesive and less the Jekyll and Hyde of its  predecessor. Beyond the look of the OS one of Microsoft’s biggest new features, Continuum really comes into its own on this type of hybrid device as it detects the presence of my type cover and changes the interface accordingly. The other major development that has improved usability is the opening of traditional windows applications in a full screen mode rather then automatically kicking the user into the desktop mode. These improvements are more then enough for anyone using a hybrid or touch device to take advantage of the free upgrade and leave Windows 8 behind.

Dell Inspiration 2310 All In One

In recent months my Dell all in one has been struggling so the upgrade to Windows 10 provided an ideal opportunity to do a clean install. Once I finished the upgrade my experience on the desktop has been very similar to my old laptop with a noticeable improvement in performance. The main feature of windows 10 I wanted to test out on the desktop was Xbox streaming which works exceptionally well depending on your home network. Originally, after connecting to my Xbox One and performing a test my network did not even support the minimum requirements. Much to my surprise this did not prevent me from streaming as it was still possible to play the original Perfect Dark thanks to Rare Replay with some shuttering. This was never going to satisfy me, so after a quick network upgrade I was glade to find my system now capable of the achieving the extra high resolute introduced in Microsoft’s update.

Final Thoughts

These are not the only new features and changes with Windows 10 as their is the introduction of a new browser in Microsoft Edge which is a clear improvement on Internet Explorer and just needs to be updated to allow extension as well as the Mac like inclusion of multiple desktops. Additionally, you might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana since it has been one of the major developments implanted in Windows 10. Unfortunately, as some of you might know on launch Cortana was limited to just 4 countries and Australia was one of many to miss out. Microsoft have promised to start rolling out the service to more uses later this year with the promise that Cortana will be individual to each culture, hopefully that will mean a digital assistant that can understand the Auzzie accent.  Regardless of these features and the slight disappointment of our Halo themed friend I can confidently recommend an upgrade, just think about talking the extra time to do a clean install.