Saturday 8th July 2023
O2 Arena, London
Pioneers of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Iron Maiden, were back on home turf with their extravagant ‘Future Past’ live show, stopping off at The O2 Arena, London on 7th and 8th July 2023. ‘The Future Past World Tour’ comes straight off the back of their mammoth ‘Legacy of The Beast World Tour’ which ran on and off from 2018 - 2022. With a radical shake up of the setlist this tour focused mainly on their latest release, the 2021 album ‘Senjutsu’ and the 1986 ‘Somewhere in Time’ album. The current lineup features Steve Harris – bass, backing vocals (1975-present), Dave Murray - guitars (1976-1977, 1978-present), Adrian Smith – guitars, backing vocals (1980-1990, 1999-present), Bruce Dickinson - lead vocals (1981-1993, 1999-present), Nicko McBrain - drums (1982-present) and Janick Gers - guitars (1990-present).
Iron Maiden has come a long way since their humble beginnings in the East End of London in 1975. Formed in Leyton, by bassist/songwriter Steve Harris, his steadfast determination, devoted dedication and ambitious vision, has steered Maiden's career all the way through. In the early days a myriad of lineup changes ensued, before the right musicians were found that could meet Harris's high standards and vision. The band honed their sound and developed their chops by playing pubs and clubs in and around the East End for several years before getting their first break when they signed with EMI in 1979. Their self-titled debut album was released in 1980 to much critical acclaim and success, reaching number four in the UK Album Charts. After the tour to promote the release of the second studio album, 'Killers', in 1981 vocalist Paul Di'Anno was dismissed, due to his addiction problems which were affecting his performance.
Bruce Dickinson (Samson) was recruited and went on to help Maiden conquer the world with his three-octave vocal range and wild energetic stage antics. Dickinson's first album with Maiden, 1982's 'The Number of the Beast', was also their first album to reach number one in the UK Album Charts. A string of high-quality albums followed including 'Piece of Mind' (1983), 'Powerslave' (1984) and the live release 'Live After Death' (1985). By 'Somewhere in Time' (1986) and 'Seventh Son of a Seventh Son' (1988), the band were experimenting with longer Prog Rock type songs with the addition of keyboards. Things started to unravel by the time of ‘No Prayer for the Dying' (1990) and 'Fear of the Dark' (1992) with guitarist/songwriter Adrian Smith departing in 1990 due to musical differences. Janick Gers (Gillan) was hired in his place. Dickinson also jumped ship in 1993 due to a break down in his relationship with Harris and to concentrate on his solo career.
Undeterred Harris continued with Maiden recruiting new singer Blaze Bayley (Wolfsbane) in 1994. Two albums resulted: 'The X Factor' (1995) and 'Virtual XI' (1998). With both albums deeply dividing fans and sales suffering, Bayley was let go. By 1999 Dickinson and Smith returned and Maiden's resurgence began to rise again with a string of quality studio album releases including 'Brave New World' (2000), 'Dance of Death' (2003), 'A Matter of Life and Death' (2006), 'The Final Frontier' (2010), 'The Book of Souls' (2015) and ‘Senjutsu’ (2021).
The twenty thousand capacity O2 Arena was rammed solid with eager punters on this very hot and sweaty night in July. As the lights dimmed over the cavernous expanses of the arena, the UFO classic ‘Doctor Doctor’ blared out over the PA system elevating the atmosphere to fever pitch with the excitable crowd bouncing and singing along from the off. This song was a huge influence on Maiden's founder Steve Harris and he insists that it is played in its entirety at the opening of every Iron Maiden show. The 'Blade Runner' film theme then followed, and before we had a chance to catch our breath, the band stormed onto the stage with gusto launching into two cuts from the 1986 ‘Somewhere in Time’ album, namely ‘Caught Somewhere in Time’ and ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’. These tracks haven’t been in their live set for almost thirty years! The band was on point and poised for action, ready to dispense a full-on sonic onslaught, loud, heavy, and in-your-face! The interplay between guitarists Murray, Smith and Gers was intensely hypnotic and mesmerisingly mind-blowing! Murray shredded with nimble dexterity; Smith followed a more structured melodic path with Gers augmenting between the two with bewitching panache. Dickinson was adrenalised from the off, darting back and forth across the stage urging the crowd to “Scream for me London”, to which we obliged with unbridled enthusiasm! McBrain and Harris were also locked in, and provided a robustly solid back beat and irrepressible galloping rhythms.
Next up was a trio of bangers from side one of the 2021 ‘Senjutsu’ album; ‘The Writing on the Wall’, ‘Days of Future Past’ and ‘The Time Machine’. A rampant trawl through the ravaged passages of time all wrapped up in Heavy Metal euphoria! Pure class. The Maiden juggernaut was back in town promoting one of their most ambitious albums to date, 'Senjutsu'. An enthralling cornucopia of intricate Prog Metal that has some fans divided. Personally, I think it is great!
A step back in time to 1982 ensued with ‘The Prisoner’ from the ‘Number of the Beast’ album. Perhaps not my first choice from this album, but a good performance from all and the fans loved it. Returning to ‘Senjutsu’ for the monumental ‘Death of the Celts’ was more on the money for me. This one clocks in at around the ten-minute mark and takes you on a wildly chaotic trip through the ravages of history! Astutely clever time changes and deftly inventive interludes added to the overall drama of the piece. The band was clearly taking the performance seriously, and were focused on the job in hand. The delivery was quite stunning. Onto 1988 with ‘Can I Play with Madness’ from the masterpiece that is ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’ album. Never fails to delight.
The time was right for a return to the ‘Somewhere in Time’ album and the sing-along ‘Heaven Can Wait’, with Gers getting to play some of Smith's original guitar solos here. This was the first time in the set we got to see Eddie, the bands scary looking mascot whose image has been used on album covers, videos and merchandise since the beginning of the band's career. A larger-than-life size replica Eddie appears at every gig under a different guise depending on the theme of a particular tour. On this tour he appears twice in the show, firstly on this number under the guise of a 'Blade Runner' styled cyborg, exactly like the one that appears on the cover of the ‘Somewhere in Time’ album. For added theatrical effect, Dickinson and cyborg Eddie had a pretend gun fight during the song's performance!
Sticking with the ‘Somewhere in Time’ album, we were surprised to witness a rare live outing of the superb ‘Alexander the Great’. In fact, this was the very first tour that this track has been played live, taking another deep delve into the historic past with a tale of conquering distant lands. A spectacularly resplendent piece of music with many twists, turns, quirky time changes and galloping rhythms. Quite Proggy in places and a hint as to what was to come on the 1988 ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’ album. Definitely one of the many highlights of the show.
Shifting proceedings into the 90s came the anthemic and crowd pleaser, ‘Fear of the Dark’, which never fails to captivate and send chills down the spine! The crowd was at fever pitch and in good voice. Last song of the main set was the timeless classic ‘Iron Maiden’ from the first album released in 1980, still one of my favorite Maiden albums to this day. This segment of the show saw the second appearance of Eddie, this time in the guise of a Japanese Samurai soldier. The stage was ablaze with pyrotechnics as the song came to an almighty climax!
After several minutes of deafening roars from the zealously passionate crowd, the band returned to the stage for the epic ‘Hell on Earth’, another lengthy track from the ‘Senjutsu’ album, clocking in at just over eleven minutes. It is fair to say these lengthy Proggy songs divide fans, but I really like them! It has to be said that Bruce Dickinson's vocals are sounding as good as ever on this tour with his mid to low register being enormously resonate. There have been quite a few media comments that McBrain’s drumming is not quite what it used to be. He has stated that he has simplified some of the double bass drum parts and tom-tom fills on some songs, but I didn't feel like any of these changes affected the performance in any way. His unrelenting energy and steadfast precision were there throughout the one- hour fifty-minute performance.
To bring unity to the Prog naysayers the tried and tested ‘The Trooper’ from the 1983 ‘Piece of Mind’ album elevated the atmosphere and galvanised the room. Closing proceedings came the eminently glorious Adrian Smith penned ‘Wasted Years’ from the ‘Somewhere in Time’ album. A dazzling end to another triumphant Iron Maiden show. Much sweat was dripped, exhausted bodies abound, but happy faces all round.
Steven C. Gilbert