Family logistics are always a bit of a nightmare as some of you out there will know. Said logistics are also the reason for me missing most of the gig by the first support band on this fine, warm summer evening in Jyske Bank Boxen in Herning, Denmark.
THE RAVEN AGE have the honour of supporting the mighty Iron Maiden on the Book of Souls Tour. Supporting a household, even legendary name like Maiden is a double-edged sword: You will be exposed to a LOT of people, but, let’s face it, they are not there for you and the majority really don’t give a toss if you’re there and what you do. For all they know, you might be the reason the main act isn’t playing a bit longer. Hard odds.
That said, the three songs I get to hear show that these British new-comers have something on offer. Their modern melodic metal does provoke nodding heads and tapping feet among the audience, and The Raven Age are appropriately applauded between songs. No enemies made by these young lads on this evening, methinks. The sound is decent, although not perfect. The sound situation is something I’ll come back to very soon…
One of the biggest releases for me last year was GHOST‘s ‘Meliora’. It is an amazing album. I’ve only ever seen the Swedish satanic preachers once (as support for Metallica in 2014), and back then they weren’t really on my radar. It was enjoyable, but nothing I’d chase. It’s different now. ‘Meliora’ has so utterly convinced me that this band is nothing short of awesome. So, yes, I’m looking forward to letting Papa Emeritus III and his nameless ghouls take me to a higher, err, deeper place with their well-produced and extremely catchy retro-heavy rock.
It’s not going to happen, though. Not tonight, anyway.
I shit you not when I say that I’m not even sure what the first three songs are. I THINK the first tune is From the Pinnacle to the Pit, but, honestly, the sound is a complete mess. Guitars and bass are oddly undefined in the soundscape, and however elegantly he is dressed, Papa’s voice is pratically booming over the P.A., creating a reverb effect that makes his words impossible to distinguish. Reverb gone heywire? Desperate, I move from the tenth row down to the sound engineer’s island a bit further back, hoping that this is where the sound is good. Not the case. I move even further back, still not better. When Ghost play the fourth song, the brilliant Cirice, things improve slightly, but it’s still a stark contrast to the perfected product that is their latest album.
Seemingly unaware of the terror of sound that we’re experiencing in front of the stage, Papa and the ghouls strut around the stage in their infinite coolness, most surely doing a fab job. Between Absolution and Monstrance Clock, Papa ventures into a far too long biology lesson, which is of course also a bit hard to follow due to the constant boom that resounds in Jyske Bank Boxen. Papa also manages to fall flat on his back into what appears to be a hole in the stage. Sadly, the sound guy has also fallen into a hole of sorts. He most certainly has ruined an experience I had hoped would be near-religious. A great pity, that.
But, surely, all things will be in place for Maiden? I mean, IRON fookin’ MAIDEN – gotta have the best sound, right?! As it is the custom, UFO’s Doctor Doctor forebodes the coming of Iron Maiden, and even if the 15.000 capacity Jyske Bank Boxen isn’t sold out, the approximately 12.500 people in here make a fair amount of noise. Now the exciting bit comes: Will Maiden or will they not play ‘The Book of Souls’ in its entirety? I hear concerned voices in the hallways, and think back to the ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ tour when Steve and the boys pulled that nasty trick on us.
At this point I discover that my press ticket not only gives access to sandwiches and beverages in the press room, but actually also has a seat number to it, and for the first time ever, I’m going to sit down for an entire Iron Maiden concert, sitting right next to one of Denmark’s most famous (or rather infamous) music reviewers. He’s known for slagging off just about anyone. He reveals that he already did drag Ghost through the mud. Righto.
With a fantastic view over the crowd as well as the stage (although a bit distant as you can see from this picture), I can see the lights finally dimming and the intro video begins.
This is loud. I mean, really loud.
If Eternity Should Fail from ‘The Book of Souls’ begins. Uhuh, are they actually going to play the entire bloody album? And, my goodness, it is loud!
The sound guy must have decided that Iron Maiden should be in Spinal Tap mode tonight and play on 11, because this is almost ridiculous. The infamous reviewer next to me is squirming because of the sheer loudness. I usually bring earplugs along to concerts just in case, but, sadly, I’ve forgotten them today. Anyhoo, let’s see what happens on stage:
Bruce, Steve and Janick are in full swing showing that they are still agile and in good shape, running around stage, constantly moving. Dave and Adrian are as always stoicly roaming the stage floor. Nicko is bashing the skins with undimished fervour, something which I secretly think is a bit of a miracle considering the back and arthritis problems that haunt the drummer. It’s not as if you can’t tell that the Maiden guys are no longer spring chicks. Harris is not banging his head with quite the same energy as he was when I saw them the first time in 1991, and they certainly all look…well, as old as they are.
Next up is Speed of Light, so another ‘The Book of Souls’ track. The wonderful, catchy riff drowns completely in the booming sound. Aargh!
After Speed of Light, Bruce takes some time (too long, I’d wager) to talk about age, or, as he calls it, legacy. The reverb effect is still awfully present as it was during Ghost. When Dickinson then announces that they will now play Children of the Damned, the audience goes frantic. Perhaps from relief. And despite the ridiculous volume level, it is indeed great to hear this classic tune. Tears of a Clown from ‘The Book of Souls’ is up next and indeed less spectacular, but alright – in fact better live than on the album. A brief bass solo from Steve, then The Red and the Black. Honestly, it’s a long song, and it doesn’t at all have the Rime of the Ancient Mariner potential. It’s alright, but no more than that.
An old friend of mine who’s also here tonight sends me a text: ‘Gers is having his own party, eh?’. Indeed, he is. Foot and leg on the monitor, prancing around, sliding his guitar up and down and around himself, grimacing, the guy has a ball. No matter how much a lot of people complained in the past about Janick’s stage antics, it is more than anything life confirming to watch a guy who’s close to 60 do this. At the same time, I have a complete relapse into boyhood fandom as the camera zooms in on Steve Harris’ fingers and their dance over the four strings. Still a bloody miracle, it is.
By the time a change of the backdrop announces that The Trooper is the next song, the mighty roar of the Danish crowd goes up. And my ears are sort of levelled out and have gotten used to the silly volume level although it’s still not cool. The Trooper is blistering. Powerslave follows, offering one of the highlights for me tonight. It is such an amazing song. Bruce is wearing a mask for this one. It looks like a combination of the Spawn and an S/M mask of sorts. Interesting.
Death or Glory from the new album sees the volume going up one notch again, which is NOT a good thing. This is by the way where Bruce wears a toy monkey around his neck and does a mock fight with Janick.
Where The Red and the Black didn’t really work, the title track off ‘The Book of Souls’ is a big positive surprise, and actually turns out to have that element of Rime of the Ancient Mariner epicness live. Lots of atmosphere and power. Great tune. And speaking of great tunes; Hallowed Be Thy Name is just another one of those. No, Dickinson can’t hold the ‘running loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow’ as long as he used to, and he can’t do the high-pitched stuff the same way he did it in 1984, but it is still a magnificent song by all accounts.
The epic intro to Fear of the Dark is perceived with a roar of joy by the crowd in Jyske Bank Boxen. This is the biggest sing-along tune tonight as far as I can judge. No wonder with an infectious chorus like that.
As I sit there and watch Iron Maiden launch into a sharp, vibrant and to-the-point version of their theme song, Iron Maiden, I have one of those moments where I realise how great this band is, and what they have done for rock and metal music. Just think how utterly this music must have blown away people back in 1977/1978. The intensity, the attitude, it must have been amazing to have been there, in the pubs around London, watching this grow.
And these lads moved on to create the uber-classics like this next one, the first of the encores, The Number of the Beast. You think you’ve already listened to this song too many times, but, hell, why not once more?
At this stage, Dickinson takes some time out to do his little speech about peace, love and harmony stuff, relating to the Orlando and Paris killings, and how metal is a brotherhood. This naturally leads into Bloodbrothers, a song which many consider one of Maiden’s greatest anthems. It does have that quality, even if the song is actually a bit clunky composition wise. The chorus gives you goose bumps if you have any kind of feelings, and most of us sentimental metal guys do.
I can’t even begin to explain how much Wasted Years means to me. An Iron Maiden cannot end on a better note than this if you ask me. Despite the fact that the booming sound half-way kills the beauty of it, it’s still a high.
What can I say? Iron Maiden did a fantastic job, but the sound crew screwed up. Whether Ghost did a fab job, I’m not sure, but I’d like to think they did – I couldn’t really tell! Something to consider for the next metal gig at Jyske Bank Boxen, I reckon.
Here’s a snippet of Powerslave. I’m not a fan of Apple products, but I’m impressed how the iPhone didn’t melt whilst recording this…
Up the irons!