Craig Chisholm reviews Iron Maiden at AECC. Photos by Craig Chisholm.
One of the biggest names in the history of heavy metal returned to Aberdeen for the second time in just 18 months to perform an exclusive Scottish date in front of a sold-out audience.
With the larger Hydro venue in Glasgow being used as part of the 2018 European Athletics Championships, the Exhibition Centre provided the bands only date north of the border in what must count as an intimate show for a band more used to headlining stadiums and festivals.
For metal fans in the North East, Glasgow’s loss was Aberdeen’s gain as the AECC hosted the most extravagant, theatrical, over-the-top, and, arguably, one of the greatest performances ever seen in the arena.
However, before they were treated to Maiden’s powerhouse set they also had one of the leading lights in modern Metal to contend with. Killswitch Engage have been around since the turn of the century and provided an energetic, pulverising set that’s rarely delivered by headliners, let alone a support band.
The Metalcore band from Massachusetts stormed through a dozen songs in their all-too-brief set. From opener ‘Strength of Mind’ to the closing cover of Dio’s ‘Holy Diver’ the band were relentless in their energy.
Pausing briefly only to praise the “beautiful city” of Aberdeen – and to speak of his hatred towards our wasps! – the bands set was a masterclass in arena heavy metal that would have blown many a headliner off their own stage.
However, Iron Maiden are not of that many. With four decades of touring and recording behind them they are consummate professionals and masters of the stage – despite all of the band now nearing what most normal people would consider retirement age.
Fortunately, Maiden are anything but normal and retirement seems a long way off as the six band members show energy and stamina on stage that would leave people half their age gasping for breath and begging for a rest.
With no new album to promote, the tour is thematically linked to their ‘Legacy of the Beast’ video game which gives them a good excuse to trawl through their back catalogue and pull out some deep cuts, old favourites and tireless classics.
Opening with ‘Aces High’ from 1984’s ‘Powerslave’ LP, the stage is, quite literally, set for a show of epic proportions as a near full size Spitfire is dangled above the band as they power tirelessly through the opener.
Singer Bruce Dickinson comes tearing onto the stage as the track opens and jumps, leg wide open, in the air for a number that’s quite epic, even by their standards.
After the song has finished, and the spitfire has retreated into the stage and out of sight, a quick one-two of old classics ‘Where Eagles Dare’ and ‘2 Minutes to Midnight’ follows before Dickinson addresses the crowd for what he says will be the only time during the bands marathon set.
Referring to the spitfire, he praises the “brave men, a third [his] age” that were fighting Nazis and fascism.
It’s a thought provoking and humbling monologue that holds resonance in the current climate of fear and uncertainty and the rise of the so-called alt-right.
He then introduces the next song and how much of an honour is to play it in Scotland before the band play their Scottish themed track ‘The Clansman’.
From then till the main set closer -the eponymously titled ‘Iron Maiden’ – the music is left to do the talking.
However, the band’s theatricality is given full reign during most of these tracks – the bands mascot, the giant zombie-like figure Eddie, comes onstage to engage in a swordfight with Dickinson during ‘The Trooper’.
Dickinson lugs a lit-up cross around the stage whilst performing ‘Sign of The Cross’.
A giant demonic head appears at the rear of the stage during erstwhile classic ‘The Number of the Beast’ and Dickinson fires flame throwers at a giant winged angelic figure during ‘The Flight of Icarus’.
At any other concert such theatrics would be in danger of falling into Pantomime.
But Maiden perform it with a knowing wink and a nod to their fans who are lapping up every move on stage by the legendary six piece.
The band wrap up the near two hour long show with a triple song encore of 1987’s ‘The Evil That Men Do’ and a couple of early 80s classics ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ and ‘Run to The Hills’.
Despite the length of the set and the energy sapping heat, there’s no doubt that the band and their fans – many of whom have travelled from all over Europe to watch them – could have happily went for another couple of hours of, what surely, must be one of the greatest stage shows in Maiden’s history.