NWOBHM is an acronym that lives in the shadows and doesn’t roll off the tongue with any ease at all. However, its importance to rock fans is prime. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal began in the late 1970s. Just as British punk rock, British heavy metal was spawned from the social strife, poverty and unemployment caused by lousy politics and economic recession in the early to mid 70s. Both styles of music plugged into the anger, boredom and malaise of British youth and fermented into a jagged roar of aggression and speed. While punks championed the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Damned, metalheads worshipped Motörhead, Saxon and especially, Iron Maiden.
Formed on Christmas Day, 1975 in East London by bassist and songwriter, Steve Harris, Maiden went through a revolving door of singers before settling on Paul Di’Anno. Unfortunately, his drug use escalated to an unmanageable point, forcing the band to dismiss him after three years and two albums. Following Di’Anno, vocal duties were handed to soon-to-be pilot/fencer/author/entrepreneur, Bruce Dickinson. The singer’s addition signaled the solidification of Iron Maiden’s present roster as Harris, Dickinson, guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith and drummer, Nicko McBrain. Third guitarist, Janick Gers joined in 1990. The band’s third album, Number of the Beast, released in 1982 served as its breakthrough with fan favourites, Run To The Hills along with the title track. As their popularity rose with successive releases, Piece of Mind, Powerslave and Somewhere in Time, so did the quality and smarts of their lyrical and musical content. Founder/bassist Steve Harris has written almost the entirety of the band’s catalogue. While he started out writing songs with titles and themes lifted directly from movies and television, various histories have always been his interest. No rock, much less metal band has chronicled war and religion from different angles so succinctly. Songs like Two Minutes To Midnight, Aces High, Where Eagles Dare, Die With Your Boots On and The Trooper (a take on Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade) are miniature history lessons wrapped in searing riffs and pounding drums. Add to it the the four-octave, operatic siren of Bruce Dickinson’s voice and thumping gallup of Harris’ bass. The combination is what sets Iron Maiden apart from all other metal bands.
For the band’s sixteenth studio album, Book of Souls, all non-drumming members of the band contributed musical ideas that formed into a double album. While it does contain a loose theme of the powerful Mayan civilization and their abrupt decline, the album also touches upon religion, depression and another telling of aerial battles (they like what they like!). The album’s release was put on hold while Bruce Dickinson was treated after a cancerous tumour was found on his tongue. What can only be imagined as horror for a rock vocalist, luckily Dickinson’s treatment was successful and the band staged one of their largest tours to date. The first leg of the Book of Souls tour started in Sunrise, Florida in February 2016 and concluded the following August. It started up again in Belgium in April 2017 after an eight month break and came to its final halt last Saturday with two sold out shows at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, NY. Along the way, Iron Maiden played 117 shows in 36 countries. Amazingly, Bruce Dickinson piloted a Boeing 747, to haul the band, crew and over 12 tons of gear for the majority of these dates, though they finished the tour with a fleet of buses and 18 wheeled trucks. The Book of Souls tour played only 6 Canadian dates, but brought the band to Toronto at the Air Canada Centre in April 2016 and on this July 15th back to the Budweiser Stage.
The show began with a short video depicting band mascot, Eddie, running through the jungle. Then, Dickinson appeared onstage singing the opening lines of If Eternity Should Fail acapella into a smoking temple cauldron before pyro announced the leaping arrival of the rest of the band. They played the next song off the new album, Speed of Light, before dipping into the archives to perform Wrathchild off 1981’s Killers album. Dickinson introduced Children of the Damned with a lengthy supposition that any audience members born in 1983 may well have been conceived to the song and therefore are the song’s byname. A note here with regards to aging rockers. Apart from whippersnapper, Dickinson at the spry age of 58, Iron Maiden members are all in their 60s. Yet, they bounded and raced across the stage tirelessly for the entire show. As a photographer, they were a challenge to shoot as they rarely stayed in one position for more than a second before running to the other side of the stage to throw a pose. It was a joy to see, especially Dickinson following his health issues.
The setlist jumped to the past with songs like The Trooper and Powerslave (with accompanying changes to the elaborate backdrops) and back to the present with the title track off the latest album and The Great Unknown. The set ended with the band’s namesake tune, Iron Maiden from their freshman release of the same name (a rare move of the 70s pulled by both Black Sabbath and Motörhead). A three song encore of The Number of the Beast, Blood Brothers and Wasted Years (your author’s favourite Maiden jam) closed the show. The band took their bows and left the stage to the howl and cheers of 15,000 fans chanting ‘Maiden!”