Sunday night, I saw Iron Maiden’s Book of Souls concert, with the Swedish band Ghost opening for them. Here’s my review.
I should get this out of the way. I’ve been an Iron Maiden fan since junior high. I was the only kid who liked Rime of the Ancient Mariner in English class, because of Iron Maiden’s song about the poem. Also, I happen to think that Book of Souls may be their best work. It’s powerful stuff.
I say all this so you can understand my bias here.
There are Maiden fans who think it blasphemy that Book of Souls is their best work. Most of these would look at either The Number of the Beast or Powerslave, and I can see their point. Both are excellent albums, with great songs throughout that have stood the test of time.
This last is important to me. I liked Iron Maiden in junior high. Over the last four decades, that liking has turned into love as I’ve seen more and more the depth of that music over the years. Many are the bands or songs who I initially liked, but now don’t really care if I ever hear again. Nirvana is one of those.
In any case, Book of Souls is an incredibly good album. It will not produce radio hits like The Trooper or Run to the Hills, but that’s irrelevant. Iron Maiden consists of six musicians who took music seriously when they were young, have fought a bunch of battles, including among themselves, and have come out the other side with great skill and a tremendous understanding of each other.
The songs on Book of Souls are closer to symphonic music than to 80s metal. No song is shorter than 4:59, three are longer than 10 minutes, including Empire of the Clouds at 18:01. It is a perfectly Iron Maiden thing to do that they released Empire of the Clouds as one of the two singles. They really don’t care about the “radio” way of doing things as opposed to the music.
The iconoclast in me loves that.
Anyway, Empire of the Clouds tells the tale of the R101 airship incident in 1930. More people were killed in its crash than the Hindenberg, actually. It’s a great song of dreaming big, the risks that entails, death, and bravery. It’s 18 minutes of swirling music that dreams big and risks boredom, but sails on through.
The other 10 minute plus songs, The Red and the Black and The Book of Souls are also songs that could be too long, but instead are simply opportunities for the musicians to push themselves. The closest things to “radio” songs are The Speed of Light and If Eternity Should Fail, are actually too good, too complex, though shorter, to do well on the radio.
Obviously, I could go on about how much I love Book of Souls, but let’s talk about the concert. First, one of the things about Iron Maiden that I’ve appreciated for some time is their confidence. I’ve seen a lot of bands choose a mediocre opening act lest that act outshine the headliner.
Maiden doesn’t have that problem. They chose Ghost, which is a very good band in its own right, with a large following of their own. They may not be megastars in heavy metal like Maiden, but they are not chopped liver.
And Ghost was excellent. I’d heard some of their stuff before, but I didn’t realize quite how good they really were. They create a cool, slow atmosphere while hammering the music. Great combination. They’re not the hardest metal out there, but they put on a great show. I loved the interplay between guitarists before Cirice.
When watching Iron Maiden in concert one is immediately struck by the energy of Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer. He’s almost 59. He’s survived cancer. Yet he bounces around the stage and pours it all out. By the end of the show, he is drenched in sweat. He’s talked in interviews many times how much a performer owes to an audience, and by the end of an Iron Maiden show, there’s no doubt he lives up to his own expectations.
Maiden has three guitarists, which is not unique, but is uncommon. The disadvantage is that there’s a lot of redundancy in sound. The advantage is there’s a lot of redundancy in sound. By that I mean that one guitarist can carry the song along while allowing the other two to add to it. For Maiden, what this means is that Adrian Smith does a lot of the carrying along, freeing Janick Gers to be a wild showman doing tricks with his guitar while playing and Dave Murray to add intricate and rousing riffs. Smith gets his own chance to show off at times, too, as they all take turns carrying the song along, but Gers and Murray are the most obvious beneficiaries.
The rhythm section is one of the best around. Not on Rush’s level, but then who is? Nicko McBrain, the drummer, is very good, and Steve Harris, the bassist, is the master of Iron Maiden. It’s been his baby all along, with everyone else coming and going at various times.
This may not be Iron Maiden’s only lineup in its history, but this is the iconic lineup. And it shows with the quality of music since they came back together in the late 90s. They are better than ever.
They are also known for interesting sets, and this did not disappoint. The best aspect was the raised area all around the main performance area that allowed Dickinson to bounce around. Did I mention he’s an energetic performer?
Not surprisingly, with a library of 16 studio albums, there were songs I would have liked to hear. Hallowed Be Thy Name is my personal favorite Maiden song and that wasn’t on this tour. Run to the Hills is one of the most commercially successful songs they have and that was not played, which I didn’t mind actually. However, I would love to hear Empire of the Clouds live. I think Maiden would make an amazing production of it, but it is a long song and would take the place of two or three others, so I understand why they didn’t.
It would be a cool thing, though, if Maiden did a one-time Fathom Events thing where they played Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Empire of the Clouds, and other long-form songs. Then they could release a DVD. I’d buy that.
Anyway, they did play The Red and the Black, which is 13 minutes or so, so it isn’t like they looked for the shortest songs. 6 of the 12 songs in the main part of the concert were off Book of Souls, though the encore was entirely from earlier stuff (The Number of the Beast, Blood Brothers, and Wasted Years). If Eternity Should Fail is a great song to lead off an album and a concert.
I went to the concert with my sweetie. She’s not a Maiden fan, so she mostly enjoyed the show because I enjoyed the show.
So she enjoyed it a lot.
Even if you’re not a big Iron Maiden fan, they put on a good show. Go see them some time, you’ll be impressed.