Oh no! not another Iron Maiden tribute. That's the case but there are great differences between this tribute and previous works that make it deserve this highlight. First of all it is not issued by a collection of old school rock bands trying to boost their retirement, nor a mangle of unknown wannabe tribute musicians. Neither does it come from established musicians in other genres that want to venture into the rock world and cash in dividends. And in second place because this LP avoids being the same boring parcours through the old school radio hit list.
Thomas Zwijsen is a very young classical guitar student that happens to be an Iron Maiden fan. He has studied Flamenco, Jazz and Classical, already achieving remarkable technical capacities. About one year ago he started producing arrangements of his favourite songs for the classical guitar; he uploaded some home recordings to YouTube and showed to his friends. A couple million views later he decided to go to studio and record these tracks properly; the end result is Nylon Maiden, released earlier this month and reviewed below.
An old school short track that opens the Powerslave (1984) LP. The interpretation of the chorus with a downbeat on the basses is quite re-freshening. By highlighting the melody Thomas sets the scene to what the album will be. Apart from the original recording, the interpretation of the intro and outro is the most brilliant I ever heard.
An odd song for Maiden with a melancholic vibe to it. Blended with the 3 minute format it made the delight of fans (old and new) becoming one of the most memorable songs of the Dance Of Death (2003) LP. The interpretation is irreprehensible, both on tempo and melody, fully exposing all the beauty within this composition and faithfully transmitting the drama originally cast on the song by Dave's guitar and Bruce's voice. One of the high points of the album already at the second track.
This is an iconic Iron Maiden song, a 4 minute hit single with a folkish melodic structure where the guitars take the traditional role vocals have in pop music. Thomas pays here tribute to Maiden's proto-symphonic legacy again without reprimand, eve though lacking the traditional audience sing-along. It is the oldest song on the record, from the 1983 LP Piece of Mind.
Dance Of Death
Now things get serious. This is the title track of the eponymous 2003 LP, blending Mideavel and Baroque themes, a trademark of modern Iron Maiden. The nylon string guitar is at home in this context, with several simultaneous studio tracks bringing out all the beauty of the instrument, and of course, of the melody. And there is also a drum set, the first appearance in the album of a guest musician. Thomas takes the listener through all the successive melodies of the song, again portraying irreprehensibly the original phrases produced by vocals and guitars. This song is very different from the old school short and folkish compositions for which Maiden is renown, and it is here that the listener starts understanding this album is something special.
Can I Play With Madness
This was the first single out of the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988) LP and the only song in that album that didn't dive into progressive territories. This LP ended up being a huge success and Maiden had to release three more singles on it. Thomas pays the correct homage to what was essentially a joke, brilliantly capturing the jocosity and irony of the exercise.
This is a song out of the Brave New World (2000) LP, that gathered the three guitar players for the first time. It is a mellow composition, again with Mideavel motifs and way outside the traditional Metal universe. It was intended as a thank you to all music fans that supported the band and its legacy through time, in spite of variable interest from the media. The slower tempo makes it perfect for the classical guitar and Thomas takes full advantage, producing one of the strongest moments in the album. In truth, I must say I never noticed this song was this beautiful. Thank you Thomas, this is what Maiden is about.
And here we get to the serious side of Seventh Son Son of a Seventh Son. This was one of the major highlights of that LP that the band played live for years on end. It originally featured multiple synthesizers that Thomas transposed to the classical guitar with great mastery. I feel he even found something more in the melody that was originally hidden or overcast; simply brilliant. Thomas tries the first full dash into Flamenco during the chorus, highly contrasting with the symphonic mood of the song. It is not perfect, but it highlights how the compositions of the band by this time were getting systematically more elaborate.
Another odd dash by Maiden into a mellow, sad melody on the matters of the heart, found in the Fear of the Dark (1991) LP. Another guest musician appears, this time playing violin to produce the original vocal melodies. The contrasts between basses and trebles is very well portrayed, although it doesn't fully capture the transition from the folk to the electrical guitar in the original. Still, profound beauty emanates from this interpretation, again adding something up to the original.
Here finally something to criticise. This song was written by Adrian Smith and is much more into the Pop field, in spite of some embodied sadness. It was the first single out of the Somewhere in Time (1986) LP and remains still today a fan favourite, replicated by numerous other bands and tribute acts. Although Thomas' performance is again technically irreprehensible, he opts for a fast tempo that steals away some of the inner beauty of the song, present in other interpretations. This eagerness is perhaps a product of Thomas' young age, but the final result is still well framed into the LP.
Thomas is almost neighbours with Blaze Bayle, Maiden's voice during the 1990s, since the Englishman married a Belgian. One day Thomas asked Blaze to record a song with him, to which the later promptly accepted. A collaboration born between the two that now includes constant touring together. The Clansman is one of the memorable songs from a somewhat strange LP titled Virtual XI (1998). At this time the band was diving into progressive paths way outside the traditional Metal realm, that perhaps due to Blaze's influence was getting ever more melancholic. Thomas boldness stands out again in this take of another long composition, fully capturing the feelings of the several melodies, from peacefulness, to angst, to anthem. Here the tempo and the arrangement are just right; and so is Blaze, perhaps even better than in the original LP. I can only congratulate Thomas for this effort, again Maiden's essence is fully here.
This is a bit difficult for me. Talisman is a monument present in Maiden's latest LP, The Final Frontier (2010), that might be one of the most brilliant pieces of music ever written by the band. Talisman encloses in itself all the elements that please both to old school and progressive fans; without a single guitar improvisation it takes the listener through multiple and alternating musical landscapes. Thomas tries to play special homage in this song by including electric guitar, electric bass and drums (the former two with guest musicians). It is not that the end result is bad, it is unfortunately just a bit less brilliant than the amateurish version Thomas uploaded to YouTube. In the video version, despite some ugly tempo fluctuations, the electric instruments fully respect the classical guitar; in the LP I feel they sometimes hide the rich spectrum of the nylon strings. Don't let me water the LP down over this, Talisman is one of those songs that shall perpetuate itself in time; as a celebration of Iron Maiden's music, there isn't much to point to Thomas and his team. It is just my expectation of brilliance.
It isn't fair to classify an album without original material as a Masterpiece, but I must say that anyone with the slightest appreciation for Maiden's music must own Nylon Maiden. There are many other tributes to Iron Maiden out there, even with parallel classical flavours, like the string tribute or the piano tribute, but this LP is way ahead of everything else. Why? In first place because Thomas is technically an outstanding musician, but most importantly, for his boldness in fully embracing the progressive side of Maiden, leaving the hit singles for second plan. This LP is the product of someone that totally loves Iron Maiden's music and shares that passion without pretensions.
Finally, this LP entirely explains why so many people, younger and elder, love Iron Maiden: their music is simply beautiful.