Archive for July, 2011

Aeon Of Horus – The Embodiment Of Darkness And Light [2008]

Posted in CD, Metal with tags , , , , , , , on 27th July 2011 by Nico Solheim-Davidson

Band: Aeon Of Horus
Album: The Embodiment Of Darkness And Light
Release year: 2008
Genre: Progressive Death Metal

Hailing from Australia, the four piece death metal out known as Aeon Of Horus [a name also used in Themela for the portrayal of a time of self-realisation] combine technical riffs and drum work with aggressive and violent brutality. Since forming in 2006, Aeon Of Horus have gone to dominate the Australian metal scene with their debut album “The Embodiment Of Darkness And Light”.

”3C321” begins the album with a short, melodic lick in which feral vocals and rugged riffs come straight after. The guitar work is extremely technical, perhaps a bit too technical in places. The drum work is vicious and unrestrained, adding savagery and barbaric stylings to the track. Whilst the track is well composed, it feels as if they is too much going on during in the three and a half minutes. It’s a mediocre track to be beginning the album with.

”Conquering The Speed Of Light” begins with a bit more consistency and less going on in the introduction compared to the previous track. Some of the riffs seem to be more straight forward and with no thrills while there is still a use of technicality through the track. The vocals are certainly beast-like and demonic. The drum work seems to be more acute and calculated as well. “Conquering The Speed Of Light” is certainly an assault upon the listener’s ears – Though this will be no problem for any dedicated fan of death metal. “The Embodiment: Part One – Of Darkness” has a very interesting beginning, being composed only of intense drumming. The guitar section that follows doesn’t seem to favour technicality much, though that’s no problem as the keyboard sections help create an atmosphere. There are some melodic riffs here and there throughout the track which are impressive.

Following after is the track entitled “The Embodiment: Part Two – And Light”. The intro is slower paced for a short while before the face-melting aggression and speed kicks in. The drums are vigilant and acutely played, while the guitars are brutal and angry sounding – the way death metal should be! The vocals are still going strong, retaining the feral, beast-like sound to them. The piano medley during in part of the second half is enchanting, almost like the singing an angel in a world of misery. The acoustic start of “The Pillars” is next, mixed with cunningly played drums. The acoustic guitar sections are masterfully played, lulling the listener into a state of calmness which is soon disrupted by the brutalising onslaught of “Arrogantly Opposing Reality”. The riffs are clever and sharp, whilst barbaric and savage at the same time. The drums are played with great precision, keeping in touch with the rest of the track. The vocals sound slightly like the ones found on a Lamb Of God album, which is no bad thing.

“Icon” is another track with an acoustic beginning, though the track is not entirely acoustic – fortunately enough for those who favour raw, destructive riffs over softer sections. The vocals are on the verge of being black metal vocals in some sections, though still manage to keep a hold of their death metal elements. The riffs can only be described as merciless metal aggression mixed with hateful drum work – the perfect recipe for a good death metal anthem. “Heru-Ra-Ha”, which literally means “Horus sun-flesh” [Also the name of a composite deity in Themela] ruthlessly blasts its way through the album, with intelligent-yet-untamed guitar and drum work, topped with fierce and remorseless sounding vocals. The short acoustic break is unexpected and ruins the track partially, composition wise, however the guitar solo is sheer brilliance and makes one easily forget about the acoustic section.

“As The Earth Shatters (Part One)” is the second to last track of the album. The entire track is calm, solemn and somewhat soothing, composed entirely of orchestration – Which can be a let down for listeners who were expecting neck-breaking riffs and ear-busting drum work. However, “As The Earth Shatters (Part Two)” makes up the let down of the first part as it brings the neck-breaking riffs that the listener is so eager to hear. The drum work is great, sharply composed yet uncivilised at the same time – A great contrast. Listener be warned though, orchestration makes its return on this track as well during in the second half though the raspy, whispered vocals to wonders to make it more enjoyable. The track does end on a final, heavy note fortunately enough.

Australia could soon be the next internationally recognised metal scene – Especially with Aeon of Horus pioneering it. “The Embodiment Of Darkness And Light” is an interesting album indeed. Though there are a few parts which aren’t enjoyable, the album is certainly a genius piece of work and clearly shows the potential of “Aeon Of Horus”. Be you a hardcore fan of death metal or just a casual listener, “The Embodiment Of Darkness And Light” is one album that you must listen to.

4/5

Nico Davidson

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Vinlanders [Band Review]

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on 27th July 2011 by Nico Solheim-Davidson

Band: Vinlanders
Country: Canada
Genre: Folk Metal
Site:
Vinlanders @ Facebook

Folk Metal, originally a genre that originated in the United Kingdom, has slowly become an international genre with folk metal bands appearing in places like Finland, Argentina and Germany. In the snowy lands of Canada, folk metal is slowly on the rise and part of that rise are “Vinlanders”.

Like any decent folk metal band, Vinlanders have a brilliant use of melodic guitar riffs and folk instrumentation, as can be heard in their song “Duel Of Hundred Lights”. The folks are raspy and aggressive whilst the cleaner vocals have that hint of folk singing to them. The drum work is cleverly done, staying very consistent with the progression of the song. “Vinlanders (Defend The Land)” is a most interesting track to listen to as its introduction has a medieval-meets-Ensiferum sound and there is a use of what sounds to be lyrics in a foreign language which makes the song feel like a native folk song from the olden days. The only issue with these two tracks is that they don’t seem to be heavy enough to be folk metal, though they are brilliantly composed.

”Northern Sea Journey” is very solemn to begin with, due to the slow-paced and gentle introduction. Even the guitars are very solemn in their playing. The folk instrumentation is just brilliant and the clean vocals give the song a very majestic folk feel, though the harsher vocals don’t seem to blend well with the track. The song finishes with an immense use of acoustic guitars, flute medleys and clean vocals. “Exiled” is an odd track to begin with, as the introduction doesn’t quite seem folky though the accordion riff that follows does give the song a more folk-meets-pirate feel which is an improvement. The guitars and drums certainly play their parts well, contrasting with the accordion and harsh vocals. The biggest downfall of the track is that the clean vocals seem to overpower the music in sections, though this is no fault of the band’s.

”Vinlanders” certainly have the potential to be a great folk metal band and could easily be touring alongside the likes of Moonsorrow, Ensiferum and Tyr in the near future. Fans of folk metal should keep an eye – and ear – out for this very talented band in their quest of bringing epic Canadian folk metal to the world.

Nico Davidson

Artania – Night Shall Crown Ye [2011]

Posted in CD, Metal with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on 26th July 2011 by Nico Solheim-Davidson

Band: Artania
Album: Night Shall Crown Ye
Release year: 2011
Genre: Symphonic Black Metal

Russia is known for its cold and cruel winter and its old, bloodthirsty leader Stalin, both of which have shaped Russia into the perfect grim environment for any black metal musician looking for bleak and nihilistic inspiration for their music. The grim environment has done more than just provide inspiration however as it has been the breeding grounds for many underground black metal bands in Russia. In 2007, Artania was born from said breeding ground, with a more black-death metal sound. After several line-up changes, they soon developed a unique blend of symphonic black metal complete with Russian lyrics. “Night Shall Crown Ye” is Artania’s debut album, released originally on May 31st through Graillight Productions in the band’s native Russia but is now available for digital release exclusively through Hunter’s Moon Records.

The air raid sirens of “Alchemic Dream (Demonic Mantra)” begin the album. The symphonic orientated riffs soon follow complete with angsty drums and violent guitar sections. The vocals are a combination of beasty and scary – Probably due to the Russian lyrics they’re screaming. The drum work is very precise and technical, showing great intellectual playing from the drummer. The whispered section is somewhat eerily haunting. The only downside to “Alchemic Dream” is that it doesn’t seem as aggressive as a black metal track usually is – This could be a result of the emphasis on the orchestration or perhaps a fault on the producer’s behalf.

The title track “Night Shall Crown Ye” begins more slow paced with a slightly progressive sound echoing from the drum work. The pace slowly and ever so slightly increases, building up for the appearance of the vocals. To begin with, the vocals are more along the lines of death metal as opposed to black metal. The Russian lyrics help give the track that certain grim touch that very few black metal bands today can pull off. Another key element about the track is the lack of orchestration when compared to the guitars and drums and the use of female vocals is simply enchanting, for lack of a better word. “Mysteries of Order of Priorate Zion” is an aggressive and barbaric track at the start. The vocals have become more hateful and rage-fuelled. There is more use of symphonic elements compared to “Night Shall Crown Ye”, adding a very Gothic sound to it. A big downfall for “Mysteries of Order of Priorate Zion” is that it doesn’t seem as heavy as it’s meant to be.

The acoustic beginning of “Liturgy in Black Colors” greets the listener unexpectedly. Fortunately for those whom don’t enjoy acoustic guitars, the sound of electric guitars soon blasts through. There is more use of orchestration as well as more black metal screams, which is always a good thing for black metal fans. During the second half of the track, the acoustic guitar appears again, which puts a sudden halt to the energy of the track and the vocals seem to be more demonic, more violent and more spiteful, sounding almost like the blood curdling screams of Abaddon. “San-Grinyol (Theatre Of Death” continues from where the previous track finished, bringing in more use of acoustic instrumentation to begin with before the savagery of the electric guitars and drums breaks in. “San-Grinyol” is clearly more brutal than the previous four tracks and is possibly one of the best on the album so far. The guitar solo is well composed though slightly short.

The assaulting drum work and guitar riffs of “Fogs Of Witches Heath” tears through next, bringing raw, untamed energy and aggression with them. The vocals are more bloodthirsty and savage in their sound, which is both terrifying and awesome. The combination of female vocals and piano medleys is immense, especially when when the track turns heavy again with the female vocals working alongside the harsher vocals, in true beauty and the beast fashion. “Towards Northern Wind” brings a calmer approach to the album whilst retaining a certain element of heaviness at the same time. Disappointingly, there is a lack in the use of orchestration, save for the introduction and the middle section. During one part of the second half, the vocals sound very raspy, which is a great effect for both the album and the track. “Thirteenth Sign Of Nostradamus” can only be described as hauntingly Gothic to begin with before the melodic guitar work kicks in followed by the raw sounding vocals. The whole track seems to be more passionate and energetic than the rest of the album which says a lot considering how energetic the previous tracks are.

The album finishes with “Secrets Of The Moon”, which is another track to feature an acoustic beginning. The female voiceover in Russian adds a very creepy sound which is soon fought off by the sudden – and unexpected – increase of heaviness. The track remains consistent in its brutal aggressiveness. The drum work is intelligent and the guitar sections are immense. “Secrets Of The Moon” is possibly the most brilliant way to end the album.

It’s hard to believe that “Night Shall Crown Ye” is the debut album of Artania, as the album has such a mature sound to it, anyone would think its Artania’s third or fourth album. The sound is unique, brilliant and definitely worth a listen, even if some parts of the album are a let down. Clearly, Russia is a country filled with talented musicians and Artania’s “Night Shall Crown Ye” is evidence of this.

4/5

Nico Davidson

Blackthorn – Gossamer Witchcraft [2010]

Posted in CD, Metal with tags , , , , , , , on 26th July 2011 by Nico Solheim-Davidson

Band: Blackthorn
Album: Gossamer Witchcraft
Release year: 2010
Genre: Extreme Metal/Gothic Metal/Black Metal

It’s not often that one hears of an all-female extreme metal band from Russia, let alone any kind of metal band from Russia, as most of the exposure for metal seems to be in European nations such as Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Scandinavia along with some emerging from the US. However, Blackthorn, made up of five lovely ladies, whom hail from Russia, have been a force not to be messed with in the Russian metal scene, combining gothic and black metal into something new. Their debut album “Gossamer Witchcraft” will be the album to determine their success on the international metal scene.

”Immortelle for a Hollow Grave”, the shortest track on the album, offers up a very mystifying atmosphere with the use of whispers and a haunting piano medley. “Edenbeast” seems to carry on from where “Immortelle for a Hollow Grave” finishes, bringing with it a violent guitar riff and fast-paced orchestration. The drums are machine-like in their playing, yet more brutal and heavy than a drum machine could ever be. The vocals leave something to be desired as their operatic styling doesn’t seem to work along side the aggression of the guitars. The guitar solo is just amazing – Whoever said that a woman can’t solo is clearly wrong. The gothic orchestration of “Necromance” follows after, before the orchestration is wiped away by the guitars. The vocals are different to begin with, favouring good ol’ fashioned death metal grunts and growls but the operatically styled vocals can be heard on this track yet they seem to work with the savagery of the track this time. “Necromance”, put simply, is like a more extreme version of an Epica track.

”The Moon Emerged From Behind Clouds” begins with a faster tempo compared to the two last tracks. The brutality continues on this one as well, fortunately enough for those who enjoy the elements of extreme metal. The soprano vocals are simply memorising and enchanting. The riffs seem to have a bit more melody whilst the drums still have that machine-like precision to them. Classical meets gothic in the form of “Saturnia” during its introduction. The guitar riff that follows has a very death metal sound to it, whilst the drums appear to be lacking slightly in power. The keyboard  and vocal sections add a hint of beauty of the beasty violence of the guitars and drums.

“Blackthorn Winter” is another song with a gothic-turns-brutal introduction. Everything, except for the keyboards and vocals, seems faster, more violent and more angry. In some sections, it sounds as if the vocals are struggling to keep up with the tempo of the music. The best thing about the track would have to be energy and passion that just burst out at the listener. “The Blackness I Prowl” has an interesting beginning, being composed of dark orchestration and what could possibly be the sound of a howling wolf. The vocals are so powerful yet so haunting at the same time. The voice over about half way through adds a very horror film-like touch to the track as well. An interesting thing about “The Blackness I prowl” is the emphasis on the orchestration as opposed to the shredding guitars and pounding drums.

The title track “Gossamer Witchcraft” has a good introduction – Combining dark orchestration with narration. There is more emphasis on the orchestration throughout the song, with the guitars having a minor part in comparison though they do appear frequently through the track, fortunately enough for those who enjoy the face-melting riffs. Though the soprano vocals are featured through the track, there does seem to be more work done by the narration and voice overs which is somewhat of a let down but the guitar solo does heavily make up for the let down!

”Will-o-the-wisp” combined orchestration, acoustic guitars, soprano vocals and distorted riffs into a masterpiece of a track. Oddly enough though, it seems vaguely familiar in the eerie déjà vu kind of sense. “The Cobweb Veils Fall Down With Grace” acts as an interlude before the final two songs, bringing a terrifying essence to the album with its dark and melancholy piano medley. The final two tracks are the Russian language editions of “Necromance” and “The Moon Emerged From Behind Clouds”. They are a lot more exciting with Russian lyrics, bringing a sense of despair and horror with them.

Blackthorn certainly are different to most female fronted bands. They are more aggressive and violent in the music and more dramatic and haunting in the vocals – In fact, in terms of heaviness and brutality, they put a lot of male-dominated bands in the extreme metal scene to shame. “Gossamer Witchcraft” is a mammoth of a testament to the skill, talent and musical genius of Blackthorn. It’s a great addition to any extreme and gothic metal fan’s collection and clearly has the potential to be amongst the top metal albums of the century.

5/5

Nico Davidson

Concept Of Time – Breathe [2011]

Posted in CD, Metal with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 26th July 2011 by Nico Solheim-Davidson

Band: Concept Of Time
Album: Breathe
Release year: 2011
Genre: Dark Symphonic Metal

Scotland, a land merged in folklore, Celtic heritage and the history of the bloody politics of the clans is home to a quite varied metal scene. Scotland is probably more known, in terms of metal, for the pirate metal band “Alestorm” than any other band. However, deep in it’s metal underground likes a dark, symphonic metal band called “Concept Of Time” who have been slowly but gradually establishing a fan base in the Scottish underground, gaining interest from webzines and magazines alike. “Concept Of Time” have gone onto support the likes of former Iron Maiden vocalist Blaze Bayley, Serenity, Kamelot and have even gone as far as playing at Bloodstock, sahring the stage with well-known bands such as Nightwish, Alestorm, Opeth and Iced Earth. “Concept Of Time” returned to the studio for the making of their digital release “Breathe”.

The EP begins with “The End Is Just The Beginning” which starts with radio voiceovers and a faded air raid siren. As the radio voice overs end, the song truly begins with a symphonic-heavy section and a driving guitar riff with precise to the beat drum work. The vocals are how they usually are styled in symphonic metal – operatic sounding and powerful. The symphonic sections are certainly well-composed, giving the track extra energy.

“Breathe” the title track, makes its way next with an immense symphonic-stylised intro which makes the song feel tragic and dramatic. The drum and guitar work adds a certain element to “Breathe” as well, making it that more enjoyable. The guitar solo however feels as if it has occurred too soon, leaving the listener expecting some epic to happen straight after it. Later on, the drum work seems to be lacking a little bit in comparison to the orchestration.
The slow and haunting introduction of “Visions” can be heard next before the tempo and heaviness increases while retaining a certain softness. The lack of guitar in some sections is disappointing though the piano and bass combination make up for that, fortunately enough. The guitar solo appears later on in the song, creating a sagaic sound for the track. The EP finishes with “A Dream Of Dystopia”, a track that has more bite, aggression and darkness than the previous three tracks. The vocals sound slightly more ruthless as well but still remain operatic and calm. The orchestration certainly brings with it a very grim, intense and dramatic atmosphere whilst the guitar solo seems to add to the aggression of the song. “A Dream Of Dystopia” finishes on a very solemn note.

It’s not hard to see why Concept Of Time have become a successful and domineering force in Scotland’s (and the UK’s) underground metal scene. The band is clearly made up of talented musicians, each of whom bring something different to the songs. “Breathe” is definitely a release worth adding to any symphonic metal fan’s collection.

4/5

Nico Davidson

Pictures Of Pain – The Reckoning [2011]

Posted in CD, Metal with tags , , , , , , , , , on 25th July 2011 by Nico Solheim-Davidson

Band: Pictures Of Pain
Album: The Reckoning
Release year: 2011
Genre: Melodic Metal

Pictures Of Pain are described as a “melodic metal band with a unique sound”. They hail from grim and frostbitten lands of Norway, a country renowned for its history, mythology and black metal. Originally, forming in 2005, Pictures Of Pain have gone on to support bands such as Kamelot, Ensiferum and Leaves’ Eyes.

The introduction of “Betrayal” is certainly a unique one. Its calm, melodic and slightly progressive with sudden, short-lived sections of heaviness which are combined with black metal styled vocals. The track does turn aggressive. The vocals are different to how one would expect them to be to they sound to be a combination of both power metal and black metal styled vocals. There is a major use of clean vocals throughout the song as well, which helps keep the track interesting. The drums are precise and intelligently played. In some sections, the cleaner vocals do spoil the song a bit when they begin to scream in the old skool metal way.

”Far Beyond” begins in a similar fashion, only the introduction has more of a hypnotic yet eerie sound to it. The vocals are more clean on this track as well, whilst the guitars have lightened up a little bit but still bring that driving force of metal with them. The melodic riffs are also featured, which is a good thing for those who are fond of the more melodic sections. “Eternal Rage” is more slow paced to begin with, with a slight progressive feel to the drums. The vocals can be scarcely heard to begin with which is slightly disappointing, though they soon become more audible. They contrast brilliantly between harsh and bloodthirsty to clean and powerful-sounding. The slow, calming section towards the middle is certainly a refreshing sound from the onslaught of heavy, face-melting metal found in the majority of the first track. The guitar solo is well composed and a brilliant addition to “Eternal Rage”. The only issue as such with this one is the length, as the casual listener would possibly get bored after the first half of the track.

”Deviator” blasts its way next, with a an old skool meets modern metal sound. The vocals are reminiscent of Judas Priest and Venom. The riffs and drum work are very savage yet well composed at the same time. “Sign Of Times” is another slow-paced song yet just as epic as the tracks before it. The melodic riffs are just brilliant and the drums certainly bounce off the guitars very well. However, the clean vocals are lacking a fair bit compared to the music. The clean and eerie introductory riff of “Years Of Disgrace” which suddenly transforms into an aggressive and barbaric assault of metal upon the listener’s ear drums. Interestingly, the track switches between the soft, clean sections and the heavily aggressive sections very well.

Next is the title track, “The Reckoning”. The intro is more brutal than expected whilst keeping the smoothness of the melodic riffs. The vocals are strong and powerful, almost operatic sounding. “The Reckoning” certainly has a very power metal sound to it. The screams aren’t too bad on this track, they just don’t seem to go with the riffs. The drums are almost machine like in their precision and power. “Final State” follows after with a majestic intro. The vocals are mesmerising and epic. The riffs can only truly be described as sagaic whilst the screams are somewhat demonic sounding, mixing well with the more aggressive sections of the track.

The final two tracks of the album are demos form 2005 and 2006. “From The Ashes”, the demo from 2006, is next. It certainly is very different from the rest of the album and shows how much Pictures Of Pain’s sound has evolved. “From The Ashes” seems to have more emphasis on the harsh screaming and the rough and raw riffs as opposed to a clean and crisp sound. The final song of the album is “Guardian Of Tears”, the demo from 2005. Again, it is different to the rest of the album due to the raw, untamed sound of the guitars and drums. The sound is also more distorted as well, giving it a more underground and in-your-face sound.

There is no doubt that Pictures Of Pain have a very unique sound. Each track seems to be different from the other whilst retaining that certain sound that Pictures Of Pain are working hard to create. Even the vocals seem to be different on each track. “The Reckoning” is clearly an album for those bored of the same old generic sound that most bands seem to have these days as it is fresher and more exciting than most albums out at the moment.

4.5/5

Nico Davidson

Iron Maiden w/Airbourne @ Motorpoint Arena [Live Review]

Posted in Gig, Live with tags , , , , , , on 25th July 2011 by Nico Solheim-Davidson

Band: Iron Maiden, Airbourne
Location: Motorpoint Arena, Sheffield
Date: 24th July 2011

Airbourne and Iron Maiden – a Match ‘Maiden’ Heaven

Australian heavy metallers ‘Airbourne’ and home-grown titans of metal ‘Iron Maiden’ stormed Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena last night.  The sold-out stadium thrummed with the energy of thousands of metalheads – from very young to very old, from Maiden virgins (losing their ‘maidenheads’?) to veteran fans – all eagerly anticipating what was certain to be a night of metal that would never be forgotten.

Airbourne –

I feel genuinely sorry for any band who supports Iron Maiden – such is nature of most Maiden fans that if (through dark voodoo witchcraft) a Maiden support band was created with Janis Joplin and Ronnie James Dio on vocals, Jimi Hendrix on guitar, Mozart on keyboards and Cliff Burton on bass, the crowd would still watch with politeness and mild disinterest, wandering to and from the merch table and the food stalls, killing time until Maiden started.

However, Airbourne held the crowd’s attention and more – exploding onto the stage from the outset with ‘Raise the Flag’. As driving riffs, supported by heavy, thundering bass, flew toward the heavens, Joel O’Keeffe hurdled monitors, playing ferociously. Ably supported by David Roads and Justin Street on backing vocals, the chorus instantly incited the crowd, shouting ‘Raise the flag!’ with fists pumped high into the air.  Screaming scales throughout the solo and outro reminded the audience that, while the main riffs in this song sound simple, the band is made up of talented musicians whose guitar playing will tear your face off.

Slowing the pace down with ‘Cheap Wine and Cheaper Women’, Airbourne brandish their heavy rock influences both in the almost country rock-style build up but also in their stage show, with synchronised headbanging and guitar swaying.

Ryan O’Keeffe’s drumming is clear; he drives the tempo changes and adds some unexpected syncopation at times, which suggests that, while these guys are firmly rooted in classic hard rock and heavy metal, they aren’t bound by the expectations of the genre – they are willing to experiment and create their own identity.

Justin Street’s bass playing is solid as a rock, providing a strong foundation upon which David Roads and Joel O’Keeffe can build their pyramids of power chords under spiralling riffs and complex solos. Roads’ rhythm is animated and pounds along, giving the set a feel of consistent acceleration.

Joel O’Keeffe’s voice is like a laser – precise, strong , and cutting – capable of destroying cities or performing intricate surgery. He tactically uses it, oscillating easily between a powerful, classic rock style falsetto that appears to slice through the stage fog as it drifts down from the catwalk and a lower, gravelly baritone timbre that reverberates against the stadium walls.

Throughout their set (which continued – Steel Town; Diamond in the Rough; Blackjack; No Way but the Hard Way; Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast; Stand Up for Rock & Roll; Runnin’ Wild), Airbourne continued to prove themselves as future legends of rock, ready to receive the torch from the bands who established the genre (and clearly inspire their playing) begin to retire.

Iron Maiden

As the stage crew performed their duties, shrouded behind a mysterious black curtain, the atmosphere in the venue steadily climbed, zeppelin-like, toward the sky. The scent of beer and hot dogs pervaded the air and such was the excitement that even the quick line checks on the guitars and vocals brought cheers from the enthusiastic crowd. As the opening strains of UFO’s ‘Doctor Doctor’ tantalised the ears of the waiting crowd, the sense of euphoria and anticipation reached the stratosphere.

The lights dimmed and ‘Satellite 15’ began. Frenetically flashing red lights and on-screen video melted with the surreal, progressive music, masking the removal of the black curtain and the reveal of the set. Behind the flashing red lights, all that could be seen of the set was a dark back cloth, studded with the pinprick lights of stars – a thousand points of light. This was mirrored in the crowd with the pale glow from mobile phones and digital cameras, ready to record the moment for posterity – or possibly for YouTube. (Good luck to Motorpoint with enforcing their ‘no cameras or recording devices’ policy!)

As the band crashed into ‘The Final Frontier’, the stage lights illuminated a set which can best be described as ‘retro-futuristic’ with white ‘communication’ towers either side and a grey semicircle which suggests a 2001-style satellite (labelled ‘S-15’ as a clear nod to the opening track). The starscape remained illuminated throughout tracks from The Final Frontier, though a number of dropcloths were used throughout the show to support and occasionally introduce the more classic Maiden tracks.  Throughout ‘The Final Frontier’ and the second song (‘El Dorado’) Steve Harris commanded the stage with his signature stance, using his bass like a rifle and pretending to shoot crowd members.  Janick Gers rested his heel upon the edge of the set as if he was stretching out his hamstring – and, judging by the marathon he proceeded to run on the Motorpoint stage, this is, most likely, exactly what he was doing!

The first of the old classics ‘Two Minutes to Midnight’ brought the crowd to a frenzy, desperately shouting ‘Two! Minutes! To midnight!’ as they press toward the stage. Dickenson strikes a good balance with this song, bringing the crowd in and allowing them to feel a part of the moment, while still singing most of the song himself.  It can be a temptation for bands as well established as Maiden (with a strong fan base who know their music) to allow their vocalist to become somewhat lazy and let the crowd sing most of their well-known songs – yet Dickenson remains in control the entire time.

‘The Talisman’ could easily become a muddy mess through the jangling, occasionally discordant beginning; however, Nico’s skilful drumming keeps the song moving forward and somehow the discord and non-standard timing… just works. It proves that Maiden are willing to keep changing, keep pushing themselves as musicians, keep progressing – rather than simply sticking to a tried and true formula.  ‘The Talisman’ also shows off Dickenson’s low bass range, proving that – despite being known for his screaming, soprano-like falsetto, he can provide just as much power in the bellows of the basement.

The first song introduced by Dickenson was ‘Coming Home’. He explained that whenever they go on a world tour, they always fly the same way – so that they are ‘coming home’. Dickenson again strikes a balance with the crowd – the audience feels as if it is a part of the Maiden community, with millions of people worldwide, without bordering on the cheese exhibited by other musicians who can often come across as a motivational speaker in their crowd interactions! Dickenson also assured the crowd – to wild applause – that, despite the album and tour being named The Final Frontier, Iron Maiden are not retiring.

For this reviewer, personally, the gig was really kick started as Iron Maiden revealed the dropcloth for and spoken introduction sample to ‘Dance of Death’.  The stage darkened to create a mysterious mood and Dickenson was illuminated in pink and orange dancing lights that suggested a mystical fire. The first tempo change in this song seemed to be slower than other live recordings of the song; however, this was very effective as it allowed for more time to establish the story and atmosphere. This was the first song in the set that was highly theatrical and Dickenson’s storytelling skills were ably supported by  the lighting – dramatically ending with Dickenson ‘blowing away’ the spirits, at which point the gold faded from the lighting palette and the band were bathed in blue light, throwing larger-than-life shadows against the dropcloth.

As the final strains of ‘Dance of Death’ faded, the dropcloth for ‘The Trooper’ was revealed. The audience’s raucous cheer was the entire introduction Maiden needed – the iconic, harmonised opening, perfectly synchronised, blasted throughout the arena as all four guitarists took centre stage. Dickenson’s mid-song costume change into classical British military regalia, along with triumphant waving of larger-than-life Union flags charged the atmosphere further and created a fevered air of celebration.

The dropcloth which suggests ‘The Wickerman’ was next to be revealed behind the set – and, again, the cheers of the crowd careened into the introduction. Strong, chugging guitars from Adrian Smith and Dave Murray drove the song forward, train-like, and built a bridge which brought the tempo down from ‘The Trooper’ to…

‘Blood Brothers’. Dramatically drenched in blood-red lighting and sentimentally introduced by referencing recent tragedies in Oslo and Japan, a sense of togetherness was created – without relying on references to an ‘army’ of fans, as so many other bands do. Bringing 13,500 people together in a sense of belonging and collective identity should be challenging – however, the anthemic chorus passionately delivered by all members of the band – and belted by all members of the crowd – created a sense of unity and wholeness which was reinforced by mobile phones being held high, swaying in time – the modern version of swinging a lighter in the air!

The final song of the slower portion of the programme takes the audience back to The Final Frontierwith ‘When the Wild Wind Blows’. Already feeling banded together from ‘Blood Brothers’, the band now creates a sense of intimacy during the plaintive atmosphere of the introduction, with precision harmony from the guitars and bass. So many Maiden songs are unfathomably complex, with riffs that intertwine like ivy and gallop faster and more frenetically than a racehorse. ‘When the Wild Wind Blows’ is the opposite – the simplicity of the guitars and vocals evokes a feeling of emptiness, innocence and sorrow backed by a thinly veiled passion. Inspired by the graphic novel ‘When the Wind Blows’ (which details the tragic subject of radiation poisoning from nuclear fallout), the lyrics overbrim with human emotion – sympathy, terror, pity, heartache. The circular nature of the song creates a sense of finality and though the themes fit into the futuristic ‘Final Frontier’ concept, there is a terrifying premonition that this could, one day soon, be very real. The audience becomes still, almost unmoving as the song concludes, before exploding with excitement for…

‘The Evil That Men Do’. Following the dramatically harmonised introduction, all guitarists – while energetic before – start to really come out of their shells. As I watch the musicians dashing back and forth across the stage, I can’t help but wonder if, like Michael Flatley of Lord of the Dance, the musicians in Maiden lose half a stone of body weight in each performance.

As the band ‘winds up’ to play ‘Fear of the Dark’, again, the tempo of the introduction felt more in keeping with the studio version than with live versions – however, as soon as the distortion kicked in with Dickenson’s powerful scream, the band returned to the delirious pace with which they had bombarded the rest of the set. This is the second piece which was highly theatrical and skilled camera work from the crew displayed Dickenson’s exaggerated facial expressions to the arena. Dashing back and forth upon the top of the set, he was upstaged by the appearance of the robotic ‘Eddie’ who arrived onstage to boisterous cheers. Gers took the opportunity to spend the remainder of the song repeatedly running between Eddie’s legs and around his back – to the great amusement of the crowd – which was emphasised by the display of the ‘Eddie Cam’, which gave the audience a clear point-of-view shot from Eddie’s perspective. Adrian Smith’s solo was delivered with a gargantuan grin as he leaned over the crowd, holding his guitar off to one side.  During this song in particular, it was obvious that the musicians in Iron Maiden love what they do and are genuinely thankful to their fans – who ensure that they have the best job in the world.

Ending the main set on the iconic ‘Iron Maiden’, the tumultuous pace continued. Gers, in particular, swung his guitar around his neck, played under his arm and behind his back, all while constantly dancing his way around the stage, his intricate footwork highlighted by his white trainers, aglow from the blacklights –all without missing a note.  Harris’s hands seem to positively fly around the neck of his bass, plucking the strings faster than the speed of sound. Through the lens of the onstage camera, his hands seemed like two spiders that had taken several amphetamines and then had a spider-sized cup of coffee. Eddie made another appearance here – this time as a larger-than-life animatronic creature who arose from behind the set and perused the arena, surveying the audience and band. Finishing on a legendary crash ending, McBrain shows his true skills, circling his oversized kit at a deranged pace, which was reflected by the electrical storm of lighting. As the guitarists threw their plectrums to the crowd, McBrain his drumsticks and Dickenson his sweat-covered hat (ew), the arena became a lion that roared for more.

Personally, I find the notion of encores irritating. The audience knows that the band has more songs – the band knows they have more songs – just play them! However, it has now become an expected convention of live music that headlining bands leave, wait for a shout and then come back to finish the set. Maiden judged the timing effectively, returning to stage after letting the tension build but not after so long that the audience lost momentum.
The first encore, ‘The Number of the Beast’ garnered high accolades from the crowd, complete with dramatic red lighting and an animatronic devil who crouched threateningly upon the set. Dickenson again proved his legendary lung capacity with his striking, theatrical scream that bridges the introduction and the main riff.  Straddling monitors in their symbolic poses, Maiden reaped more commendation from the crowd. From above, the sea of arms, clapping, waving, pulsating toward the stage, in time with the vigorous beat of the drums and bass, was reminiscent of the surface of an alien planet and reflected the earlier, futuristic theme of the evening.

The second encore, ‘Hallowed be Thy Name’ was simply phenomenal. The passion in Bruce’s voice belies the terror of a man about to die, questioning God’s existence and motives. Similarly passionate playing creates the atmosphere of terror, placing the audience into the perspective of the persona of the song. More behind-the-back playing, swinging, twirling in circles from all band members encouraged an already enthusiastic crowd – they must have played the song thousands of times, yet still make it seem fresh, which shows the respect they have for their fans. Though the band has repeatedly played this song, each gig is someone’s first Maiden experience and for that reason, the band keeps their performances special. (Besides, if I had written a song as epic as ‘Hallowed’, I would want to play it thousands of times too!)

Happy, bouncy positivity ends the encore with the feel-good ‘Running Free’ and it is pleasing to see that, after so many years, Dickinson still introduces the band, giving everyone a time to shine. Metronomic drums and bass keep the rhythm going as the guitars and vocals seem to almost play, child-like, over the top.  Laughter and merriment reign throughout the dancing audience as the song finishes and the band retreat offstage – genuinely, this time.
As the exiting audience is reminded to ‘Always look on the bright side of life’, I personally left with a buoyed spirit – with metal in my heart and tinnitus in my ears.

Melissa Adams