Iron Maiden

Lon­don O2 Arena

Classic Rock - - Live! - Words: Stephen Dalton Pho­tos: John McMurtrie

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.

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