With the outside temperature soaring toward 100, Iron Maiden took the stage with its fiery brand of British heavy metal at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on July 21. The Bruce Dickinson-led band ripped through a two-hour set during the penultimate show of its Book of Souls World Tour, which crisscrossed the globe for the past year and a half. (The final show is Saturday night, also in Brooklyn.)
Known for horror-themed theatrics and a grotesque mascot named Eddie, Iron Maiden gave the crowd what it craved: an elaborate fire-and-brimstone set of castle-like ruins complete with billowing smoke, bubbling cauldrons and pillars of fire — and plenty of the aforementioned Eddie. The skeletal, zombie-like creature came in many forms: a show-opening animated video, a giant banner unfurled behind the set, a 10-foot-tall live-action beast that wandered the stage and a towering inflatable head that loomed over the band as it played. At one point, Dickinson donned a gimp mask and paraded around with a hand-held heart that he squirted blood out of.
Some 40 years since forming — and 35 since their landmark album The Number of the Beast, the first to feature Dickinson — the band members showed no signs of slowing down. The 58-year-old Dickinson ran back and forth until he was absolutely drenched with sweat from the oppressively sauna-like air that filled the sold-out arena. (There was a rumor that the singer requested that the venue’s air conditioning be turned down in order to create the punishing sweatbox.)
While Maiden has never had a bona fide mainstream hit, the band certainly had plenty of classic heavy-metal staples to offer the rather tame crowd of mostly men, including “Wrathchild,” “Children of the Damned,” “The Trooper” and “The Number of the Beast.” Even so, nearly half of the 15-song set was from Iron Maiden’s latest album, 2015’s The Book of Souls, including the title track and the lead single, “Speed of Light.” They glaringly left out what is arguably their best-known song, “Run to the Hills,” and “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” the latter of which they are being sued over for copyright infringement.
Throughout it all, Dickinson’s signature operatic voice never gave out — and, yes, he can still hold those high notes.
Filling out the over-the-top theatrical night was opening act Ghost, the Grammy-winning Swedish metal band whose lead singer, Papa Emeritus, dresses up as a demonic anti-Pope while surrounded by his Nameless Ghouls (aka the rest of the band) who don identical silver devil masks. Even though Emeritus was the main attraction while his minions backed him up, the six-member group showed their overall solidarity by wearing matching black-and-white wing-tip shoes.
While they may look like a savage death metal act, Ghost’s music is actually quite melodic. (The group won the 2016 Grammy Award for best metal performance for their single “Cirice.”) The heaviest song of the night came in the form of “Mummy Dust,” which is what you’d think a band like this would sound like all the time. But musically they have more in common with Finnish goth metal group HIM or the Jared Leto-fronted 30 Seconds to Mars than Iron Maiden. The songs are catchy, the lyrics are clear and easy to understand (“even idiots can figure out the lyrics, so sing along,” said Emeritus during closer “Monstrance Clock”), and, dare it be said, the music is borderline poppy.
For an opening act, Ghost’s set had a higher production value than usual, with eerie lighting, black boxes that spewed sky-high smoke and a stained-glass-window backdrop that was reminiscent of church. They’re obviously ready to move on to bigger and better things.