Iron Maiden’s first UK show to unveil the new look line-up, rejuvenated and increased with the return to the fold of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith must surely rate as the most anticipated gig of the year here in the UK. So much so that the show was named – ‘Metal 2000’ – and featured a three band bill including event openers Entombed, thrash titans Slayer and of course the band that are causing all the headlines at the moment – Iron Maiden. There’s no doubt that when Bruce and ‘Smithy’ rejoined last year British fans were mightily pissed off at the fact the band quickly took off on a short European jaunt with Megadeth in tow, even crossing the pond to the States to showcase the new line-up and promote the ‘Ed Hunter’ release without even one show in good old Blighty. I must admit as a fan I can see how strange that appeared, but with my journalist hat on it was obvious to me that Harris and Co didn’t want to hit UK fans immediately with the new look Maiden seeing as Blaze Bayley hardly had time to pack his bags before Dickinson was holding the mic’ and helping take the band on to arena status again. Speaking to the band late last year I was told that the official reason they didn’t play the UK at that time was purely business reasons and the fact they wanted to return to Britain and play a special gig that would be an event, not just something that would be seen as – ‘just another Maiden gig.’ Rumours abounded they would resurrect Donington this year to headline the world famous Monsters Of Rock Festival that has been sadly missing on these shores since 1996, but it seems the lads chose June 16th at Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre in London to be that special show – hence the title – Metal 2000.
The 20,000 capacity gig had sold out within weeks, but with a show time running order indicating curfew for Maiden to be off stage at 10.40pm(!) it’ s hardly surprising that when Swedish thrashers Entombed hit the stage at approximately 6.30pm the venue was barely a quarter full. Many more were in the venue but avidly buying merchandise from the vast array available for Maiden and Slayer devotees. Not ones to let this relative cavernous space faze them the band have played enough shows to draw from pure professionalism to soldier on – though the response to them was apathetic to say the least. Suffering from the usual ‘cannon fodder’ mentality that P.A crews have on events such as this, some of the hit ’em hard, hit ’em fast material the band delivered was lost in a terrible sound mix until ‘To Ride, Shoot Straight And Speak…’ levelled out (re: you could actually hear the guitars at last!), to give the band probably their best response of the night. Trouble is Entombed are fantastic in your local sweaty rock club, but put them in an arena with largely disinterested punters and the band have a struggle on their hands. Despite all this the Swedes gave it their best-shot drawing on older material and traditional stage faves such as ‘Seeing Red’ and ‘Won’t Back Down’ to incite what support was down at the front for them. I’ve seen them play much better shows but tonight they definitely showed their metal!
It was a totally different turn of events for the dark lords themselves – Slayer. As the houselights went down the now familiar Slayer double headed Eagle backdrop unfurled behind a wall of Marshall cabs as the eerie intro tape heralded the onslaught that was to come. Bigger amps, better sound and more lights, the bands status demanded it and the sheer intensity of the Slayer experience wouldn’t be the same without it. The riffs slice out like hot knifes through butter, Tom Araya windmills his lank dark mop of hair like always and each song is delivered with the military precision Slayer have now become renowned for. All the usual crowd pleasers were aired including ‘South Of Heaven, ‘Dead Skin Mask’, Mandatory Suicide’ War Ensemble’ and ‘Reign In Blood’ all crush and rip into you with a vicious sonic assault. Virtually as soon as the band hit the stage the front third of the standing floor area of the arena started to writhe and thrash showing even in the sterile surroundings of an arena such as Earl’s Court, brutal, blood and guts metal can still get people ‘slammin.’ Slayer are probably one of metals most uncompromising bands and have a fanatical following wherever they play. Earl’s Court was no different. They came, they saw, they ‘slayed!’ Enough said!
And so to headliners – Iron Maiden. By now the punters had bought and guzzled enough overpriced booze, got the T-shirts and the hall was crammed to capacity as the houselights went down for the last time resulting in a tumultuous roar as Maiden came blasting out from the wings, firing on all cylinders with set opener ‘The Wicker Man.’ Against the album cover backdrop which was bathed in a blue light, Bruce ran up the ramps that went all the way around the back of McBrain’s gigantic drum kit. This was it, what every self-respecting metal fan in London had been waiting for and boy did they get it. A quick salvo of tracks from the new album and well received they were to and the band delved into the back catalogue with ‘Wrathchild’ and the anthemic ‘2 Minutes To Midnight’. The latter causing virtually everybody in Earl’s Court to sing along to the chorus. Then came the plodding ‘Sign Of The Cross’, an average Maiden song at the best of times then another newy ‘The Mercenary’ thankfully picked up the tempo before the lads once again dipped into the back catalogue to give us ‘The Trooper.’ Midway through the track Bruce legged it up the ramps (for the hundredth time at least!) and grabbed a huge union jack flag. Stirring stuff but this is the sort of theatrics most Maiden fans drool over. ‘Dream Of Mirrors’ from the new album shows just how committed the band are to proving how much they believe in the new material and whilst in a live setting such as this it did cause a lull seeing as it was followed by ‘The Clansman’ – these tracks do display the amazing musicianship the band possesses in particular Gers, Murray and Smith’s amazing guitar talents, not forgetting Gers now legendary posturing and posing. If you saw the guy sling his guitar around his body once he did it ten times that when you weren’t watching and as for prancing and dancing the lads got magic feet. Energy, I won’t hazard a guess where he gets it from. His partners in crime are no slouches especially Bruce, but you know its business as usual when you see Steve Harris grinning, foot on monitor in the pose they’ll probably have to bury him in! Seriously though the band aren’t going through the motions. This is clearly an outfit out to prove they’re capable of being as big as they ever were. Okay, so it might not happen, but it won’t be for the want of trying. As expected on comes Eddie during ‘The Evil That Men Do ‘ quickly to be hounded off the stage by the ever animated Gers while the band get on with ‘Fear Of The Dark.’ A really brooding version that surely hit the spot on the night. Last track of the set is ‘Iron Maiden’, back to the roots with a vengeance you might say. It might have sounded a tad out of place after the newer material but the crowd lapped it up. During the track a huge Wicker Man stage prop rose up from behind the drum kit to be set alight seemingly with Bruce and four white-gowned nubile young ladies (the band are calling them the vestal virgins – cough!) trapped inside. But you knew there’d be encores and encores there were. Superbly timed at this point of the show the band ripped into ‘Number Of The Beast’ – the crowd went ape! ‘Hallowed Be They Name’ and ‘Sanctuary’ keep the crowd levels high and before you know it, the last chords were struck and the band pose for the now familiar front stage photo line-up and it’s a hands up from all band members as Bruce promises they’ll be back in England before Christmas. Already a few journalists have gone into print questioning the bands choice of set list. Well all I can say to that is how the hell can a band with a back catalogue as long and high in quality as Iron Maiden play every classic and every track that will please each individuals taste. Obviously I’d have liked to hear a few that weren’t included, but hey, the band can’t play everything! All in all the set was well paced and covered all points of the bands career. The fact of the matter is that Iron Maiden are back and better than most fans have ever seen or heard them. Believe me – you really had to be there!