Essay:A Very Metal Christmas
An essay by Ace McWicked. The original copy is being held hostage by an editor who refuses to let me have it back despite the fact the bastard never printed it in the magazine. So here I reproduce it. Enjoy
It was 8pm, December 23rd 2006 and there I was, standing at the bar in Earls Court, west London.
I was negotiating the purchase of another beer and waiting for the main act to start.
The warm up act had finished and people were pouring through the doors, eager to find their seats or get up the front to the main stage, standing room only and only for the true believers.
The bartender muttered something in my direction so I fumbled some change from my wallet, brought a pint and took a curious look around me. Men and woman were moving all over the place, a sea of bodies with heads full of long unruly hair, mostly dressed in black and sporting studs and t-shirts bearing the name of the act we were all here to see. I am in no way cool enough to wear my hair in mullet fashion however I had on a black Diesel t-shirt and a studded leather wristband. I felt that was enough for me.
I necked down my beer, purchased another and rather haphazardly moved into the crowd. I lit a cigarette and was immediately approached by some kind of "official" who strikingly noticeable in this sea of black by sporting a bright and obnoxious yellow shirt. I was advised that this was a non smoking venue so I claimed ignorance and stubbed it; only to relight another once his back was turned.
I headed towards the main stage, I felt slightly headachy, had a numb tongue, a pronounced shuffling gait but felt on top of my game nonetheless. I had purchased my tickets some months previously and was terribly excited about the ensuing melee. But I had problems with the guards almost immediately. It seemed I wasn’t allowed on the main floor. I asked why, was I not properly attired? I shook my studded wristband at the man, not thinking about the beer in my hand as it spilt down onto my shoes.
Ahhhh I see, I wasn’t in possession of the sliver wristband which is required to have access to the stage. All attempts at sneaking past would now be thwarted as they knew what I looked like. I wandered off back towards the bar, brought two pints, was advised once more that this was a non smoking venue, worried about my dwindling cigarette supply and made my way to my designated area whilst slopping beer on the floor and sniffing hectically. My seat was not too shabby, though quite high up I was directly above the stage and crowd. A good view I thought as the lights went down and the crowd swelled and swayed. Suddenly, with bolt of light and a fiery explosion, a guitar riff pierced the air and Iron Maiden, in full heavy metal regalia, took the stage. So it begins…
Formed in 1975 by bassist Steve Harris (who is notably the only original Iron Maiden member), Iron Maiden was part and parcel of East London’s punk circuit. Though they would go on to spur the new wave of British Heavy Metal in the late 70’s which was also associated with Def Leppard, Motorhead and Saxon (older British metal bands, such as Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, were in decline by this time), they didn’t release a studio album until 1980 after being picked up by EMI. The first album, titled ‘Iron Maiden’, reached number 4 on the UK charts within a week and propelled Iron Maiden into the limelight and led them to opening for bands such as KISS and the legendary, not to mention leather clad and rather campy, Judas Priest.
The first album is very heavy with punk influences, being the style of the time, but after the release of the second album, Killers, Iron Maiden as a band began drinking heavily. Like with most bands of the era, the drinking led to some self destructive traits causing the original lead singer, Paul Di’Anno, to be fired and former Samson lead singer, Bruce Dickinson (who when not singing for Iron Maiden can be found on the History Channel telling us stories about World War 2 and Panzer Tanks. He is also a world class champ at fencing – go figure), to be hired.
And so began the golden era of Iron Maiden. The first release with Dickinson at the helm was ‘The Number of The Beast’, which became Iron Maiden’s first number one album. It was on the heels of this success that Iron Maiden entered in their most notable and seminal period.
The albums that followed, Piece of Mind, Powerslave, Somewhere in Time and Seventh Son of the Seventh Son, became the defining moments and cemented Iron Maiden in metal history. A string of successful singles were produced over this 7 year period including, but not limited too, ‘Flight of the Icarus’, ‘2 Minutes to Midnight’, ‘Aces High’, ‘The Trooper’, ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’, ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ and ‘666 the Number of the Beast’. An interesting point to make about these classic tunes is that many of them have their roots in mythology, history and literature. ‘Flight of the Icarus’ is a classical Greek tale about the foolish gentleman who made wings of wax, flew too close to the sun and proceeded to fall to the ground as his wings melted in the heat.
‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is a heavy metal retelling of the famous poem by English poet, Samuel Coleridge. The poem centres on a ship captain who kills an Albatross. He is cursed to wear the Albatross round his neck as his ship drifts and the crew die one by one before the Ancient Mariner repents his sins and is saved though cursed to wander the earth telling his tale.
Also based on a famous poem, ‘The Trooper’ is a retelling of the Lord Tennyson poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade, in which a cavalry unit is sent against cannons and other heavy types of heavy artillery during the Crimean war, with an expected result. Another point to note is that American heavy metal ban, Megadeath, also wrote a song based upon this poem.
Bruce Dickinson left Iron Maiden after the release of ‘Fear of the Dark’ in 1993 and Iron Maiden began an obscure decline. Of the next few years they released 4 albums, none of which were a commercial success, and were egged at the Ozzfest 2005 after failures in the sound system. Even Sharon Osborne, wife of Ozzy Osborne, claimed on stage the Bruce Dickinson was a “prick” (Dickinson rejoined Iron Maiden in 1999 after a disappointing solo career) and she subsequently was booed off stage. I never liked the skanky harpy anyway.
Whilst on the topic of random, and inconsequential, Iron Maiden trivia it is also interesting to note that Patrick McGoohan, creator and star of TV’s ill-fated ‘The Prisoner’ did a voice over for an Iron Maiden track by the same name. Whilst McGoohan was all keen, Frank Herbert – author of Dune, was not interested. Perhaps he felt it too unbecoming for a man of his stature? Perhaps it was his incredible dislike of heavy metal music? I believe it was actually the latter.
With Bruce Dickinson back at the helm and the release of the new album, ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ – an album detailing war, religion and how those two topics intertwine, Iron Maiden concluded their world tour with this, the concert of December 23rd 2006, London. I was feeling fine, a little jittery and talkative perhaps and maybe I annoyed or possibly scared the couple next to me by jabbering wildly about topics I have no interest in.
I recalled one Christmas, in fact I recalled one day exactly 19 years ago to the day where I found myself strolling around a music store. After purchasing my mother John Farnham’s classic single, ‘You’re the Voice’ with ‘Take the Pressure Down’ on the B-Side for her Christmas present, I suddenly found myself holding Iron Maidens ‘Piece of Mind’ album out to the record store clerk. Quite the purchase for an 9 year old.
Jesus, 18 years ago to the day. Now, suddenly here I find myself, a little older but none the wiser, listening to these bad boys of my youth, live on stage. Though I was slightly let down that Iron Maiden played the new album in its entirety, hence I was not able to sing along, there was still nothing better than watching ageing metalers bound about the stage, leaping, star jumping, pulling off long and protracted guitar solos, drum solos and long power slides across the stage as the tall figure of Iron Maidens mascot, Eddie, stumbled around in the background. A full to capacity crowd screamed and wailed below me and in just over an hour, Maiden had finished the album rendition and moved on the classics like ‘Fear of the Dark’ (most of which is sung by the crowd), ‘2 Minutes to Midnight’ and ‘Hallowed be thy Name’. My god! The excitement! The sheer brilliance of it all! Looking down on the crowd and watching 8000+ hands all banging away in rhythm whilst Bruce Dickinson holds his speaker out to the masses and a voice, two voices, 10,000 voices scream, Fear of the dark, fear of the daaaaaaaark! I have a constant fear that something’s always near.
Suddenly hear your own voice screaming in unison. Sweat pours, teeth chatter and beer spills down on to the seat in front of you. Fucking wonderful.
But then it’s over. The band finished the encore, no more power slides, no more waving their guitar necks in the air and rocking out next to the bassist. Bruce Dickenson now gives his Christmas message and the band leaves the darkening stage. You find yourself on your cellphone jabbering at your girlfriend. Your pants are falling down in Leicester Square and you’re searching for an off-licence at 12:30am on a Sunday morning, Christmas Eve.
Rock and Roll, Very Metal.