To me, IRON MAIDEN is akin to a dear old ex-partner. Someone that I once loved very dearly and even after our passionate affair fizzled out, we remain extremely close friends. IRON MAIDEN was my first love in metal music and even though I hardly listen to them with the fervency I once did, I have this unyielding loyalty to them because they helped make me into who I am today. As such, even if their shows are a bit expensive or in a whole other city, I find the idea of not going to be… impossible to imagine. Their Book of Souls World Tour came through the Kantolan tapahtumapuisto (Kantola Event Park) in Hämeenlinna on June 29th, 2016, with guest bands THE RAVEN AGE, STRATOVARIUS, AMON AMARTH, and SABATON, so I had to be there to see how the new material sounded live!
I hadn’t been to the Kantolan tapahtumapuisto before, so this was a new experience for me. We drove up early and managed to have a good look around once the gates opened. First of all, a few bars were set up outside the event area in the old buildings, which was pretty cool. If you didn’t want to head into the (one time entry only) area, you could sit outside and listen to the music from a distance with a cold one in hand. They also had a big IRON MAIDEN merch booth outside – couldn’t afford the price of admission? Not to worry, you can still get your hands on a shirt or flag, or whatever!
The event area itself is pretty huge. They had a massive food court, a huge bar, what I presumed to be a VIP area, a stand for wheelchair access, and so many toilets that you didn’t have to queue at all. There was plenty of grassy area to lay down and chill, and they had speakers in the back so you were sure to hear everything even if you weren’t up near the stage. And, to add one more level of coolness, they were selling The Trooper beer on tap!
The day started out with a band I hadn’t heard of before – THE RAVEN AGE. In support of their families, IRON MAIDEN once again brought their offspring on tour. This time around it was Steve Harris‘ son, George Harris, playing guitar in this band. They had a bit of a traditional alternative metal sound (not unlike FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH) and a pretty nice, if standard sound overall. They weren’t the most energetic band on stage, likely focusing more on playing well than showmanship, which is natural of a band of that stature at such a big event. The singer was very appreciative of the crowd, and gave one speech to get the crowd to put their hands up, but in good humor, said not to bother with lighters or cell phones because it wasn’t dark out, and introduced the song that I believe was called “Salem’s Fate.” Of all the IRON MAIDEN offspring bands I’ve seen (in this I include Lauren Harris and RISE TO REMAIN), this band undoubtedly had the most potential.
Next up was good ol’ STRATOVARIUS! If you know me, you know that I think this band is made up of a pile of talented people but doesn’t overly appeal to me all that much due to the supreme master of power metal vocals, Timo Kotipelto. This set seemed to be a best-of gig, likely to show off their strengths to the crowd who wasn’t present for their sake. They had a tough spot to fill, following the unfamiliar band but precluding the bigger bands, so it was perhaps to their favor to play the hits like “Eagleheart,” “Black Diamond,” and “Hunting High and Low,” even if that might be a bit boring for fans who see them regularly. Unfortunately, this was a big important gig and Mathias Kupiainen had some sound problems with his guitar that the sound techs were either unaware of or unable to correct. It was a nice set for casual listeners like myself certainly, especially with the inclusion of a nice little bass solo in “Hunting High and Low.”
AMON AMARTH was the mid-day band and the only viking metal group in the line-up. I haven’t seen these guys since I lived in Canada thanks to what I consider excessively expensive ticket prices in these parts, so it was great to get a chance to see them for the first time in maybe 8 years. They started things off with “The Pursuit of Vikings” and “As Loke Falls” and I was admittedly a bit disappointed by their backdrop, until it dropped to reveal the “Jomsviking“ artwork when they played “First Kill.” It then turned out that they had many backdrops that were revealed throughout their set, which was pretty cool for an opener. They were the first band I noticed actually making use of MAIDEN‘s epic lighting set-up, though it was unfortunately completely wasted due to the afternoon sun. I was also a little disappointed that they didn’t have their current viking ship stage prop, but it’s understandable considering they weren’t headlining this gig and it’s probably a hassle to transport and set up. To vocalist Johan Hegg‘s credit, I’ve never seen a Swedish person try to speak so much Finnish in a gig, so props to him! I was really glad to hear “Guardians of Asgaard,” but quite sad to see that they dropped “Valhalla Awaits Me” – I hope it’s still in their regular longer sets when they headline shows because it’s a great track. Of course, we did still get the traditional AMON AMARTH drinking horn toast accompanied by “Raise Your Horns,” and man, have they upgraded to some cool elaborately carved drinking horns these days! Finally, as the music for the always excellent “Twilight of the Thunder God” began, Hegg appeared with a big fake warhammer, which was good for a laugh. Overall they played a nice, teenage nostalgia -inducing set, with a decent mix of hits and new stuff contained in a mere nine songs. I hope to see them come through Helsinki while they’re touring the new album someday soon!
Anyone sick of SABATON yet? Yeah, us neither. Though I dare them to start a gig with something other than the de facto “Ghost Division” opener one of these days. Their set and stage performance, while always full of great energy and good music, is actually getting a little repetitive after so many successive views. How many SABATON traditions did we see in one short gig? Joakim Brodén mentioning his goosebumps from the crowd’s enthusiasm and that he talks too much – check! The crowd chanting raucously to “Swedish Pagans” – check! At least two Finland-themed songs (this time “Soldier of Three Armies” and “Talvisota”) – check! Clap-clap-hey in “Carolus Rex” (sung in English) – check! Brodén getting his own guitar to help rock out in “Resist and Bite” – check! Basically, it was a standard show, from the set of hits to the matching white camo pants. I really enjoy Hannes van Dahl‘s playing, though it was brought to my attention that he’s got a rather strange set-up: there were two bass drums, but instead of having a mic on both and kicking both with a pedal, only the right one had a mic and van Dahl used a double pedal. It was also a bit of a shame that they left their tank behind, likely for the same reason I suspected AMON AMARTH left their Viking ship behind, though they did bring some of the mortars to keep up the atmosphere. The Swedish warriors were also the first to bring out the pyros for us to bring a little more kick into their show. It was noteworthy that they played the new release, “The Lost Battalion,” though perhaps they’re not comfortable with it enough yet because the stage energy took a nose-dive during that song. They got some laughs afterward when Chris Rörland asked if we wanted another new song and then began singing “Wind of Change” (SCORPION) and proved that he can’t whistle on command. They ended the set with “Primo Victoria,” though left out “Metal Crüe” this time around. It was an okay show, but there was certainly nothing new (other than the new song).
Enough of the opening bands though – I know why you’re really here! The crowd began getting properly loud as the 21:00 hour drew near. You could feel the electric buzz of excitement when their 1995 UFO cover, “Doctor Doctor,” started playing and the crowd began singing along. Iron Maiden kicked things off with the two starting tracks from “The Book of Souls” – “If Eternity Should Fail” and “Speed of Light.” Unfortunately, some big, obnoxious young guys began smashing their way up to the front, which was pretty uncool. It was sad to note right away that the sound problems continued – I can’t speak for the rest of the park, but if you were right up front, you probably didn’t hear a single high note from Bruce Dickinson throughout the show because the mic cut out every time, and again stayed this way for the entire gig.
So what do you expect from an IRON MAIDEN show? First of all, on an album release tour, you have to throw the dice and bet on which classics you’re going to hear. On this night, we were fortunate to hear “Children of the Damned,” “The Trooper,” “Powerslave,” “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” “Fear of the Dark,” and “Iron Maiden” in the main set. I might be alone in this, but I’d be really okay if they dropped out “The Trooper” and even “Hallowed be Thy Name” in favor for something else. They’re classics and definite crowd hits for sure – you haven’t seen a crowd roar until you’ve seen a “The Trooper” roar – but they’re also songs that I’ve personally heard so many times in my life that I don’t get all that much of a thrill from either of them anymore, particularly “The Trooper.” As for new music, we got a fair bit more than I expected. After the aforementioned two songs, we got to hear “Tears of a Clown” (naturally dedicated to Robin Williams), “The Red and the Black,” “Death and Glory,” and “The Book of Souls” (a story of the fall of a civilization and the hopes that history does not repeat itself) – a nice set of some of the best of their new tracks. I admit to some serious disappointment that “Empire of the Clouds” wasn’t included in this set. I understand that it would be a pain to drag a keyboard around for Bruce for the one song, and having a backing track is unspeakable, and it’s a long song that would take up the space of two other songs… but I imagine if they’re not playing it on this album tour, we may never hear it live, and that’s truly a shame.
Dickinson himself was clearly not even remotely restricted by his brush with cancer, and if anything, perhaps has a new love of life as a result because in all the times I’ve seen them, he’s been energetic, but never this lively or straight-up goofy. During “Tears of a Clown” he was chasing his bandmates around on stage with a fire extinguisher (and at one point cracked up laughing so hard that he couldn’t sing), and for “Death and Glory” he had a stuffed orangutan around is neck that he proceeded to torment Adrian Smith with (“climb like a monkey,” and so on). At first we thought it might’ve been laundry day at MAIDEN HQ because he spent about half of the set in a back hoodie, but when the army jacket and Union Jack flags came out for “The Trooper,” we were reassured. For “Powerslave” he had a shiny luchador mask and jumped around like a gleeful child, and for “Hallowed Be Thy Name” he had a dramatized entrance with a noose. He also had a mad scientist jacket and gloves for “The Book of Souls”… but we’ll get to that.
The other thing you have to love in IRON MAIDEN‘s gigs is the quality of the stage show. First of all, the props were incredible. I loved the Mayan style, ancient ropes, and overall jungle ruins -look of the whole thing. Their light set-up was phenomenal and they had flames and fog coming from everywhere, including an urn at the top center of stage that Bruce appeared behind as the show started. There’s no IRON MAIDEN gig without at least five backdrops, and I lost count at some point because they changed every two songs or so, blending a few classics in with a lot of the incredible new artwork. I’ll say it again – “The Book of Souls” artwork is the best they’ve had since Derek Riggs. And the other requirement? At least one Eddie! The newest incarnation was the cover art version, and Bruce, in his mad scientist attire, managed to rip his heart out and taunt him with it, and Janick Gers at other times was dashing in and out from between his feet. I could feel myself getting even more hyped up when it showed up on stage. The same happened when the big inflatable Eddie slowly began to rise from behind the stage props, covered in tiny mechanical-looking devices that turned out to be small fireworks! So cool! We also got the big inflatable goat-headed devil during the first encore track, “Number of the Beast!”
The guys on stage continue to play exceptionally well, keeping to their standards. Dave Murray and Adrian Smith (guitars) are the laid-back solo artists and rockers (the latter consistently running out of picks because he kept throwing them to the crowd), while Janick Gers (guitars) is the showman, throwing his guitar all over the place. Nicko McBrain manages to still be one of the top drummers in this worldwide scene, flawlessly keeping time, and Steve Harris (bass) continues to prove why he’s a legend with his unique style! Together, they form one tight package that played songs new and old with equal passion and skill. Dickinson also mentioned that McBrain had also recently had a birthday, but since he doesn’t like to use the word “old,” he now refers to them as “legacy.” He also mentioned the “legacy” crowd, wondering who had been MAIDEN fans when “Children of the Damned” came out, and who hadn’t even been born yet (and wondered how many children may have, in fact, been conceived to that song). But back to McBrain‘s recent birthday – it was actually really cool to hear the chants of “Nicko, Nicko!” come from way at the back of the stadium and wash forward up to the front like a tidal wave.
After “Iron Maiden” closed out the main set and we had heard “Number of the Beast,” Bruce Dickinson pointed out the fan clubs that have been following them around (they had their own shirts for Finland) and a few flags from people who had traveled great distances to see them, and expressed his sincere gratitude for people of all ages, races, genders, etc coming together from all over the world to see them play. In tribute, they dedicated “Blood Brothers” to the crowd. They then closed out the night with “Wasted Years” and left the stage to the now-traditional Monty Python track, “Always Look at the Bright Side of Life.”
This is one band you seriously should check out at least once in your life even if you’re not a fan. Even if classic metal like MAIDEN isn’t up your alley, it’s impossible to leave one of their gigs without being at least a little bit impressed. Dickinson has twice the energy and showmanship of men half his age and vocal range, and the rest of the band are tenured professors at the Metal Academy of Being Straight-Up Fucking Awesome. A big congratulations to these guys for getting their gold record backstage before the show, as they definitely earned it. The new material was even better in a live scenario and the energy was the best I’ve seen from them. Age be damned, these guys are still at the top of their game, and if you haven’t seen their live show yet… GET ON IT!
Intro (tape): Doctor Doctor (UFO cover)
1. If Eternity Should Fail
2. Speed of Light
3. Children of the Damned
4. Tears of a Clown
5. The Red and the Black
6. The Trooper
8. Death or Glory
9. The Book of Souls
10. Hallowed Be Thy Name
11. Fear of the Dark
12. Iron Maiden
13. The Number of the Beast
14. Blood Brothers
15. Wasted Years
Outro (tape): Always Look at the Bright Side of Life (Monty Python)
Written by Bear Wiseman