Honouring 1986’s Somewhere in Time and 2021’s Senjutsu in equal measure, Iron Maiden, the British metal masters, are still finding new ways to integrate decades-old music into a must-see live show.
It’s hard to think of an album that charted in eight countries’ top 10s and contained a generation-spanning song as ‘underrated’, but that’s precisely what Somewhere in Time was. Although Iron Maiden’s synthy sci-fi disc gave the world ‘Wasted Years’ in 1986, being released between fan-favourite Powerslave and the boldly progressive Seventh Son of a Seventh Son hindered its legacy. Plus, its tour was one of the band’s few to never get immortalised on a live video.
It’s only taken 37 years for Maiden to give their sixth album its flowers. The Beast’s new run of shows is called ‘The Future Past Tour’, and they’re making it live up to its name, juxtaposing the futuristic concepts of Somewhere… with the feudal-Japan-inspired imagery of 2021’s Senjutsu. Such is the power of this mighty metal force: they can anchor the lion’s share of a setlist around just two of their 17 studio albums and still cram arenas with impatient crowds.
Maiden aren’t shy about worshipping the most under-celebrated release of their ’80s heyday, either. After the lights of the Motorpoint Arena dim and a tape plays the opening guitar melodies of ‘Caught Somewhere in Time’, the band arrive in front of a backdrop depicting drizzled, futuristic streets à la Blade Runner. Frontman Bruce Dickinson, whose cosplaying spanned from Light Brigade soldier to World War II pilot when his sextet headlined Download last year, rocks up dressed like Doc Brown. “Tiiiiiime! Is always on my siiiide!” the time-travel-themed lyrics declare, and Brucey blares them with such authority that you immediately understand why fans have nicknamed him ‘The Air Raid Siren’.
— Iron Maiden (@IronMaiden) July 4, 2023
The singer’s also the most flamboyant 60-something you’ll ever see. Despite the two-hour-set, he’s a tornado of momentum, leaving no part of the two-tiered stage unexplored while commanding his crowd through a parade of claps, waves and ever-reliable “Scream for me!”’s. Maiden’s five instrumentalists are spry as well: guitarist Janick Gers skips his way through the songs and bassist Steve Harris – undisputedly the band’s creative leader – tirelessly bounces and headbangs.
Of course, this being Maiden, the music’s just as flamboyant as the men making it. ‘Caught…’ is an opera of guitar virtuosity, hummable lead lines segueing into fast-fingered soloing from Janick, Adrian Smith and Dave Murray. ‘Can I Play with Madness?’ is a particularly rapturous ride, its powerhouse chorus layered on top of galloping low-end and Nicko McBrain’s drumming. The grandeur ascends even further as the nine-minute ‘Alexander the Great’ makes its decades-overdue live debut.
Admittedly (lead single ‘The Writing on the Wall’ notwithstanding), Maiden’s aura of majesty dips during the Senjutsu cuts. ‘Death of the Celts’ and ‘Hell on Earth’ especially demonstrate a band that, despite their visual energy, sound plodding and ponderous in their older age. Fortunately, the production goes overboard to compensate, smoke machines and pyrotechnics operating at 11 to retain a sense of spectacle.
Fan euphoria and on-stage excess unite during ‘Heaven Can Wait’: between its towering choruses, Bruce unveils a gatling gun on-stage, then fires pyro at a bloke on stilts dressed as a 10-foot-tall cyborg. It’s thoroughbred heavy metal pomp, perfected during this band’s near-half-century of existence. Aptly, finale ‘Wasted Years’ honours that history, video screens showing artworks from years gone by as Bruce howls, “Realise you’re living in the golden years!”
With Maiden’s sexagenarian members now themselves in their golden years, they clearly know they’re a nostalgia band. Yet, what’s impressive is their ability to be original while giving their diehards that essential ’80s fix. Time won’t always be on these ageing masters’ side but, right now, they’re still finding new ways to make their decades-old material must-see stuff.
Iron Maiden will play Utilita Arena, Birmingham, tonight (4th July) and The O2 Arena, London, on Friday 7th and Saturday 8th July.