London O2 Arena
The heavy metal maestros remain in a class of their own.
Empires crumble, dynasties die out, entire galaxies fizzle into darkness, but Iron Maiden endure. Perennially uncool to the gatekeepers of highbrow taste, but still reliably packing out huge arenas across the globe after more than 40 years, these stout yeomen of Middle English metal are a fascinating self-contained phenomenon.
If the nostalgic, patriotic, Brexit-leaning heartlands of Britain could be distilled into an operatic rock pageant, it might look and sound a lot like this show. The Maiden formula is conservative, bombastic and as subtle as a drunken pig-wrestling contest. And yet, after all these decades, they still deliver an amazing spectacle unlike anything else in heavy music.
Partly modelled on a 2016 computer game of the same name, the Legacy Of The Beast tour is vintage Maiden in its essentials, but with theatricality levels pushed to new heights. The split-level stage moves through several thematic chapters, from war-torn battlefield to Hammer Horror
Hogwarts to flame-grilled underworld hellscape. The band’s signature painted backdrops provide visual accompaniment, maintaining an admirably perverse loyalty to analogue-age craftsmanship, which increasingly sets Maiden apart from their peers.
That said, the band have clearly upgraded their props, pyrotechnics and lighting design in recent years. This O2 show opens with an almost life-sized replica of a Spitfire suspended high over Nicko McBrain’s half-concealed drum pit, and it ends with molten lava effects engulfing the entire stage. In between there are flame-jizzing fire cannons, mid-air explosives, giant inflatable demons and multiple costume changes.
The band have also evolved into the perfect vehicle for Bruce Dickinson to re-enact all his teenage Boy’s Own adventure fantasies on a grand scale. For the breakneck machine-gun blast of opening number Aces High, he sports Biggles goggles and vintage pilot gear. During the frenetic triple-guitar runs of
The Trooper, he becomes a swashbuckling swordsman locking blades with a lumbering, 12-foot-tall version of the band’s skull-faced mascot Eddie. With the thunderous Old Testament churn of Revelations, he dons the dark robes of a sinister religious brotherhood. And for the octave-vaulting Maiden classic Fear Of The Dark, he garbs himself as a Victorian prowler in top hat, greatcoat and spooky
Low on sex, humour or nuance, Maiden’s maximalist blunderbuss approach is both strength and weakness during this two-hour set. On the plus side, the sheer clobbering momentum of McBrain’s powerhouse drumming, wedded to the triple-guitar blitzkrieg attack of Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers, leaves scant room for boredom to take hold. Less impressively, the lack of variation in tempo and tone does grate after a while. For all their high-voltage delivery, Maiden are surprisingly limited in their narrow stylistic range.
But one agreeable element of this show is its generous spread of rare tracks that have been absent from Maiden concerts for a decade or longer. Not played live since 2005, Where Eagles Dare arrives like a stampede of horses, guitars vaulting and snorting while Dickinson throws alpine explorer shapes against a snowy mountain tableau. The Clansman, dormant since 2003, is a cod-Celtic folk-metal jig that sees the singer swinging a blood-soaked claymore while Eddie is depicted in blue-faced Braveheart make-up. Add a few maypole-dancing goblins and this would be pure Spinal Tap.
The semi-rarity Sign Of The Cross, last aired in 2011, is another refreshing revival with its discordant doom-metal drones and Gregorian-style chants. Maiden have never been an experimental band, but there are teasing nods to prog and post-rock sonics buried in their sound that they could fruitfully probe a little more. Another very welcome archive curio is Flight Of Icarus, not heard live since 1986, which Dickinson performs with flamethrowers strapped to each arm as a winged figure looms across the stage, a giant silver Icarus with echoes of Antony Gormley’s Angel Of The North. This fiery set piece would fit into one of Rammstein’s shows, and it’s a pleasing reminder that Maiden can sometimes transcend their steam-age panto-metal aesthetic to create something of real timeless beauty.
The usually garrulous Dickinson keeps his chat fairly minimal all night, aside from a Churchillian mini-speech about the courage of the young RAF pilots who helped vanquish the Nazi menace, as if World War II happened last week rather than 70-plus years ago.
He also draws clumsy parallels between the Battle of Britain and the martyrdom of Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace, which jars a little as the English were heroes in the former scenario and villains in the latter. He stops just short of making a pro-Brexit party political broadcast, but that appears to be the very large elephant in this even larger room. Dickinson may be smarter than most hard-rock singers, but he can go full Alan Partridge at times.
Taking place just days after Dickinson’s 60th birthday, this show is the climax of a threemonth run of European dates. And yet the singer remains in impressively energised, highjumping, turbo-screaming mode all night. Three years after being treated for mouth cancer, he appears in almost superhuman good health, lithe and irrepressible. The only comparable rock icons that come to mind during his performance are Bono and Bruce Springsteen, singers of a similar vintage who are still giving equally operatic, athletic, grand-scale performances. Despite their countless millions and outside interests, it seems these veteran survivors still want the big prize badly enough. They crave the roar of a huge crowd.
A cluster of all-time classics including The Evil That Men Do and Run To The Hills provides the reliably roof-raising finale. During the latter, Dickinson prances around the stage astride a tiny toy horse before detonating a phalanx of stage fireworks with a giant cartoon plunger.
For all their Middle English conservatism, there remains a charmingly goofy, childlike innocence about Maiden live shows. Where other 60-year-old rock frontmen strain to channel their 16-year-old selves, Dickinson is still indulging his inner six-year-old, still clearly having a ball with the biggest toy box in the world. Their massive anthems may sometimes lack finesse, but their giddy enthusiasm is hugely infectious.
‘There remains a charmingly goofy, childlike innocence about Maiden shows.’
Flying high: Bruce Dickinson is on irrepressible form. “Scream for me, London!” The Maiden army lap up the spectacular show.
Killers: Dave Murray (left) and Janick Gers.Basses high: Steve Harris is the heart andsoul of the band. Maiden England: the band wrap up their tour in style. mask. He’s the Mr Benn of metal, every song a doorway to a new dressing-up adventure. Maiden’s iconic imagery in full ef fect.