Adrian Smith – Monsters of River and Rock: My Life as Iron Maiden’s Compulsive Angler (Book Review)

When it comes to books by musicians in famous bands, we usually get the stories of famous singers, the frontmen or women about whom most of the attention revolves. This time, with Monsters of River and RockMy Life as Iron Maiden’s Compulsive Angler, out on November 3, 2020 via BMG Books, we are offered a deep look at one of Heavy Metal’s most incredible talents. Adrian Smith, who is best known for being one half of arguably the greatest guitar duo in the history of the genre, manned the axes with Dave Murray from 1980-1988, and again from 1999 to the present day. Here he offers his own personal account of his life as seen through his two greatest passions, music and fishing.

During that first stint, Iron Maiden recorded Killers (1981), Number of the Beast (1982), Piece of Mind (1983), Powerslave (1984), Somewhere In Time (1986), and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988). If his career had stopped right there, and he never wrote another riff, Adrian Smith’s place as one of the most important musicians in Metal would be cemented forever. But there was so much more, from his own solo material to his contributions on that of Bruce Dickinson’s, and of course his return to form in the massively successful second major ark in the Iron Maiden story.

The book emerges during what has been unequivocally the worst year in the fifty or so years since Tony Iommi invented heavy metal. Everything has come to an end, and whether that end is temporary or the opening act on an equally dark future, for now all music fans can really do is try and enjoy what was – Smith’s autobiographical work is a languid and satisfying way to do just that; a glimpse into the mind of a man looked up to by millions.

If readers come into the experience expecting a few thoughts about fishing against a backdrop of tour stories and hi-jinx, they will be a bit confounded. Much of the book goes into intense detail about the intricacies involved with angling, fishing, equipment, and the nuances involved with the sport itself. At times, the hyper-specific digressions into casting methods, fish species and habits, and the types of reels and rods can be a bit intimidating to the neophyte. However, Smith’s immense passion for the pursuit is infectious. His obvious and abiding love for the various species of fish out there, and the reverence he has for them, shows us the heart of a man who cares for the wellbeing of Nature.

Interspersed liberally throughout the book, of course, are a host of anecdotes and stories related to Smith’s time in Iron Maiden. These would have the most obvious appeal, and the way they are hidden within pools of prose about fishing is as tantalizing as the silvery bodies of barbell and perch, and the host of species that have seduced the guitarist and piqued his interest for a lifetime.

Be it a chance encounter with Iron Maiden Founder Steve Harris which led to Smith’s inclusion in the band, or inviting a member of Oasis to their recording studio decades later, Smith casts these snippets of bait into the book to literally hook the reader like fish. Those who bite will be rewarded, as the affable nature of Adrian Smith comes through in his writing.

And there may not be a better view into Smith’s spirit than in the accounts of fishing with his father as a boy, finding amid the industrial slog of London the few places yet untouched by the rampant pollution of the 1960s. Fast forward thirty or forty years, and the man was still slipping off from swanky hotels to drop a line into places as inauspicious as a Miami canal, a Central Park lake, all the way out to vacations in the wilds of British Columbia and New Zealand.

Yet whether he is talking about finding an unnamed pond or joining an expensive exotic expedition, Smith is able to relate to the common mortal. He came from working class roots, and he hasn’t forgotten that. Broadly, his entire outlook is relatable, and when he mentions the hotels that Iron Maiden stayed in on the World Slavery Tour of 1984 – something about moving the couch and roaches scurrying everywhere – and compares them with a certain $90 breakfast of eggs and bacon in modern times, he does not do so with the boastful bravado found in today’s Hip Hop and Pop artists. Nor does he do so with the empty-headed swagger of 1980’s Glam Rock titans spending fistfuls of money on drugs and women. In Adrian Smith we find a humble, shy English kid who struggled with the superstardom that came his way so quickly. And the end result is that it is all terribly appealing.

Smith has as much respect for the guitars he plays as the fish he briefly handles and then releases back into the murk of deep lakes, and his book is something you too will want to dive into and remain within. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Monsters of River and RockMy Life as Iron Maiden’s Compulsive Angler 5 out of 5 stars. 

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