The iron maiden finally returned to Euskal Herria. It had been nine hard years without her presence and that fact was amply noted at the reception of the respectable: and it is that a sincere and passionate collective clamor accompanied the sextet during the hour and three-quarters that the gig lasted. An authentic show with a thousand and one effects and interactions (both with the monster-mascot of more than three meters and with the public) that made this concert unforgettable for those who were lucky enough to attend it. However, and almost above everything, hovered a sense of victory and total communion among the heavy community. A collective intergenerational celebration, even when the average age was easily over forty-five, and the feeling of claiming an entire musical culture and (almost) no longer a way of living but of feeling music. Iron Maiden it surpassed its last shows in this same venue in 2013 and 2014. Its central position as a unifying element in the history of Heavy Metal is still intact, and it roars almost with more transcendence than ever.
It is true that sometimes everything stays at home, but before someone jumps on me, I have to accept that The Raven Age it’s a good group. Damn, of course it is: refined technique, well-structured songs and a well-constructed and bound finish. The band of the son of Steve Harris (George, guitarist and only original member that continues) enjoyed a great presence of the public (three quarters full on the track, or that sensation was given from above), although far from filling the stands. Unfortunately we couldn’t catch them from the beginning, although on the way we could listen to a sample from the beginning: “Nostradamus” and “Forgive & Forget”, respectively, although for sure they played “Parasite” before.
Once settled, we were able to appreciate a well-established band with the aforementioned support from the public. That at 7:45 p.m. an opening act has that support is not something that happens every day. From the stands (pulling back to the left), the sound was not fully appreciable and at times seemed quite muddled. Even so, the strength of a song like “Tears of stone” kept them afloat, with those measured and cohesive structures: verse-chorus or even more assiduously used verse-bridge-chorus and start again. Everything is well measured and executed, lacking -perhaps- an extra point of explosiveness and punch in front of those immaculate voices and pleasant melodies.
“Seventh heaven”, on the other hand, sounded like a steamroller from the beginning. This was the first song that was not from the new album. Harris’ guitar solo uploaded to the platform, joined by vocalist Matt James’s subsequent handling of an already delivered audience and whom he made chant in unison, made it the best of the concert. But there was still more: to begin with, they matched that last one with “Angel in disgrace” in another show of strength and grit to finish on top with some impressive treble from Matt.
“Grave of the fireflies”, eight minutes long, sounded exquisite and was met with acclaim from the public, who later had Matt illuminate the BEC with their mobiles: the image was spectacular. George Harris, Matt Cox (bass), Matt James and Tommy Gentry (guitar) all took center stage together for another knockout. The five of them left with a “Thank you my friends” from Matt and it took a while for them to return. So much so that it even looked like they weren’t going out.
They did it with the return to the new album (the recent “Blood omen”) with the dizzying solos of “Serpents tongue”. There were several moments in which the guitars could not be heard well, although the choirs for two and three voices (present in almost the entire show) made us enjoy ourselves a lot. The roar of the audience at the end confirmed their acceptance. And the last goodbye came with the famous “Fleur de Lis”, immaculate and almost nothing if we compare it with, for example, “Seventh heaven”. With this we do not want to say that it is not Metal (don’t be rude), we only make a comparison. The success of The Raven Age on this tour it is a fact, and according to what was seen at the BEC he already had a sector of the public won beforehand.
35 minutes were the ones that separated that last moment with the beginning of the main show. Iron Maiden they were going to receive impressive support, but they also had a few things to prove.
1) Overcome the last two shows in this same venue.
2) Bruce Dickinson’s voice status.
3) Emerging victorious from the risky bet with the repertoire.
Anyone who has seen them on this tour or read about their concerts may think that the list is unnecessary, but reading or even watching Youtube videos is not the same as seeing it in situ. That is why I speak in the first person, and I can assure you that they overcame all the challenges that were presented to them. The 2013 and 2014 concerts weren’t entirely perfect; In comparison (I’m talking about personal impressions), what they have done in 2023 has surpassed them and will surely leave a greater mark than those. Bruce is singing better than in 2013 and the repertoire, although risky, was not a problem, surely due to the quality of the new songs. We will delve into this topic below.
Six minutes before the hour, the inevitable “Doctor Doctor” by UFO began to play, a prelude so many times to the great show, with an absolutely dedicated BEC, jumping and singing the song as if we were in the middle of a concert. Seeing thousands of people chanting and humming to the instrumental parts shows why Heavy Metal is a style that has so much roots, dedication and so many tribal cues. We will hardly be able to witness a more incisive self-vindication and “here we are” in most of the manifestations of popular culture.
Vangelis’s movie ending theme “Blade Runner” played next, adding even more anticipation to the beginning of the show, which inevitably came with “Caught somewhere in time”. The audience was overjoyed and chanted the chorus with perhaps more zeal than its successor “Stranger in a strange land”. Of the disk “Somewhere in time” five songs would sound, the same as the last one “Senjutsu” (2021), with which there was only room for five more songs from the rest of his discography. It is true that the songs of the “Somewhere in time” they had uneven reception (all were very well received, but some much more, it is understood), and, on the other hand, choosing five new songs, which are not exactly short, takes a lot of time: forty minutes in total, almost nothing.
Even so, and as we have already pointed out in the introduction, the quality of the last album (damn, the best since “Brave new world” at least!) was a determining factor both in the quality of the show and in its reception. And it is that the validity of “The writing on the wall” is indisputable. Maiden returns on this latest album to build singable songs and attractive choruses, perhaps faded in so many minutes but always with the stamp of quality present. Adrian Smith made the introduction with the acoustic to attack immediately with the electric, an electric that he wore with special brilliance throughout the concert, without detracting from Dave Murray or Janick Gers of course.
“Days of future past” is the short one on the album, only four minutes long, a real joy with its inevitable instrumental intro and the consequent rise typical of the maiden. In this one, Bruce’s voice suffers a bit. Another one from the last album, the voluptuous “The time machine”, was enormous and pleasant. One of the few concessions to the eighties came from the hand of “The prisoner”, an indisputable classic although not at the level of, for example, “Halloweed be thy name” in terms of significance and popularity. Even so, the exaltation of the public was worthy of admiration.
The new album has another ten-minute hit called “Death of the celts”, in which the stage was covered in smoke and the backstage screen evoked a Celtic landscape. The very structure and drive of the song inevitably drags you into developments that seem designed to carry you on the air with their crescendos. And the guitar riff festival took the party to the top in a festive atmosphere like few others. The phase that followed was the most explosive of the night with no less than five eighties songs one after the other.
“Can I play with madness” was an absolute triumph that impressed us, “Heaven can wait” made the audience jump and brought the three guitarists and Steve Harris together in the middle of the stage in an image that stuck with us; “Alexander the great” increased the legend and regaled us with solos from Janick and Dave; “Fear of the dark”… well, you can imagine the revelry and the collective roar. And already as the only concession of Paul DiAnno’s stage, the immortal and never surpassed “Iron Maiden”. Bruce also had the detail to talk about our country (The Basque Country) and to spell Bilbo with his five letters.
The last sample of the new album was with “Hell on Earth”, which lasts no less than eleven minutes. You have to have them well positioned to play this one after the previous ones, but the song displays all its epic in a particularly efficient way and lets itself be loved in its rises, falls and developments, but above all it has a classic aftertaste that makes it special. In this show there was no shortage of the typical fights with the monster, an evolved Eddie who battles against Bruce with laser shots, smoke, explosions and a whole paraphernalia that combines music and performance in a more than entertaining way. The blazes of fire precisely coordinated with the music make your hair stand on end. The direction they go, even the type of flare matches the duration of the notes. Awesome.
We know that Steve Harris, the absolute leader, no longer spends the entire concert up and down and running non-stop, but damn, at his age he still maintains all his charisma, he hit a few races and we also saw him jump on more than one occasion. Bruce handled the public at his whim and with a solvency and know how to be remarkable. He made the fans sing by sectors, made them move their arms from side to side, do the wave… all at the service of the show. “The Trooper”, eternal and mythical, and “Wasted years” (very famous), put the finishing touch to a concert that we could describe as memorable. “Always look on the bright side of live”, the final theme of “La vida de Brian”, unequivocally signaled the end of the show. Incredible, as always, to see thousands of people sing the song at the top of their lungs in a ritual that will always accompany them. Let’s hope the maiden doesn’t make us wait too long next time.