Iron Maiden’s twin electric guitars scream out hyperactive solos, the bass and drums machine-gun thunder, the operatic alley-cat vocals reach a crescendo.
The eyes of Eddie -- a giant statue of a zombie -- literally light up in demonic red as the chorus is bellowed out.
The East London heavy-metal band is coming to the end of its world tour, playing its home territory at the O2 Arena.
You might ask, why would anyone listen to Iron Maiden in 2011? It’s 30 years since Maiden’s heyday, when teenage boys started wearing its T-shirts with pride.
In 2011, Maiden is bigger business than ever. “The Final Frontier,” its 15th studio album, reached No. 1 in more than 20 countries. The group has sold more than 85 million records. It has performed in India, Indonesia and Peru as well as the more usual U.S., Europe and Australia tour staples.
Iron Maiden led the New Wave of British heavy metal as rock became harder, louder and faster. The influence of the blues was stripped away. Maiden’s easy choruses provided a perfect refuge for young males bewildered by the onslaught of hormones. The lyrics delved into fantasy and horror. A dress code involving shirts picturing the grotesque, grinning zombie sealed the deal.
Resolutely untechnological and lacking any of the usual audiovisual trickery, the Maiden show relies on old-fashioned musicianship. Vocalist Bruce Dickinson belts out favorites such as “The Trooper” and “The Number of the Beast,” each with a different painted backdrop.
Maiden was never cool, unlike the raw Motorhead or the brutal Venom. It was never as aggressive as thrash metal bands, Metallica and Slayer. Current rival Mastodon has more complex riffing, Ghost offers more bombastic choruses, Slipknot better grisly slapstick and Lamb of God delivers more pummeling rage.
Still, much contemporary metal is for specialist fans. Iron Maiden’s appeal is broader.
In the crowd, men with faded tattoos and blue denim play imaginary guitars. There are girlfriends and even whole families happily screaming along and wearing their Eddie shirts.
Walk around almost any city for a day and you are sure to see at least one person wearing a Maiden shirt. Lady Gaga is a fan. There’s more to Maiden than teenage boys.
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(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)