Live Review: Iron Maiden & Fear Factorby Mitch Goldman
Masquerade, Atlanta, GA 3/7/96
This tour represents a serious clash of metal cultures. Iron Maiden, who in the early '80s led the then-dubbed New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement (usually referred to as NWOBHM), on a comeback tour, of sorts, certainly represent the old wave of '80s metal: lurid album covers, leather pants, screaming lead singers, posing ("shape throwing") guitarists, fantasy lyrics. Fear Factory, in sharp contrast, are a total '90s unit; combining elements of death metal, traditional metal, and industrial music, FF are about as "today" as a metal band can get. Needless to say, this perceived metal dissonance makes for an odd, and oddly enjoyable, double bill.
FF have been around for a few years. Formed at the beginning of the decade in L.A., FF have released two excellent albums: 1992's Soul of a New Machine, and last year's Demanufacture. Soul is the template by which FF forge all their subsequent music: a mix of death-metal drum tempos and vocal growls with more traditional high-pitched vocals, odd keyboard effects, sampling, and low-pitched, post-thrash guitars. Their live show has gotten significantly better over the last three years; where in '93 their set sounded cluttered, as if singer Burton Bell and guitarist Dino Cazzare were colliding with the samples and the low end rhythms, FF now sounds like a fully integrated unit. Their set at the Masquerade was as tight and balanced as I've ever heard them. Newer material like "Self Bias Resistor" and "Demanufacture" have more fully fleshed-out melodic content than previous tunes like "Big God/Raped Souls"; yet the entire set sounded as if it were all of a piece. Unfortunately, the Maiden die-hards in the audience did not know what to make of the FF gang . . . despite some intense moshing in the pit near the stage, the packed house greeted FF's 40 minute-plus set with mostly indifference.
Iron Maiden, unlike FF, have been hoeing quite a long row since their formation in the mid '70s by then-high school student Steve Harris. Band members have come and gone since then (Harris is the only original member, though guitarist Dave Murray has been with the Maiden crew since their debut LP in 1980), but Maiden plows on, still mining that soaring, operatic, epic-metal vein they explored so successfully and effortlessly on classic albums like The Number of the Beast (1982), Piece of Mind (1983), and Powerslave (1984). The departure of longtime lead singer Bruce Dickinson three years ago seemed to ring the death knell of this venerable outfit, but the band regrouped and hired unknown singer Blaze Bailey, with whom they recorded last year's The X Factor, their tenth studio record. X Factor represents a return, of sorts, to the kind of lengthy, war-inspired epics that built Maiden's reputation and audience a dozen or more years ago. While Bailey's voice is no match for Dickenson's Wagnerian tenor, X Factor is clearly Maiden's best studio work in nearly 8 years.
But the rock audience is fickle, and Maidenís brand of metal (and, alas, metal in general) has been in a serious slump in terms of sales and hipness since Nirvana showed the world a new way to rock heavy. Maiden once headlined hockey arenas (and stadiums in Europe); now they're crossing the US playing small theaters and even smaller clubs. You have to wonder if the boys arenít remembering the embarrassing US tour documented in the satirical rock film This is Spinal Tap; if ever there were a real-life Spinal Tap, a british hard-rock group forgotten by time, left behind by fashion, and spat on by critics, Maiden is it.
Luckily, Maiden showed no awareness of career problems or the passage of time in their Atlanta show. Focusing largely on new material (with about half or more of the set devoted to tried-and-true classics), the band was in fine form. Steve Harris remains an astounding bassist, incorporating melodic and harmonic components in his low-end turf (and remaining, to this day, perhaps the most influential metal bass player ever); Dave Murray and Janick Gers traded fast and soaring lead guitar parts, sounding especially great on their trademark "twin lead" sound (borrowed, like all hard-rock twin lead configurations, from Thin Lizzy); and drummer Nicko McBrain showed off his not-inconsiderable rhythm chops throughout the set (the guy is a tireless drumming machine!). Blaze's vocals were the only sticking point of the show; while he sounded great on the new material (much improved over his performance on the studio versions) he had a bit of trouble matching Dickenson's vocals on the classic tunes. On some, like "The Evil that Men Do" (from 1988's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son) and "Heaven Can Wait" (from 1986s Somewhere in Time) he took the vocals into a lower register without even attempting to hit the range Bruce worked with such ease (a smart move, actually). On tunes like "The Clairvoyant" (also from Seventh Son) and "The Trooper" (from Piece of Mind) his voice actually cracked, causing grimaces from the fans.
But Blaze sounded truly great on new tunes like "Lord of the Flies" and the epic "Sign of the Cross." And the band sounded as good as ever; instrumentally tight, full of energy, and clearly enjoying themselves onstage. If they can find a way to rework the classic material to make it less awkward for Blaze to sing, they can continue to move forward (or at least sideways!). Iím not optimistic about the future for the band, though . . . with the state of metal, poor album sales, and seriously diminished demand for tickets, I wouldnít be surprised to see Maiden pack it in and call it a day after this tour. Which actually would be a shame, because inside these middle-aged, leather-wearing Brits beats the heart of a great metal band. Even the youngsters in bands like Fear Factory would acknowledge that without Maiden's legacy, the current state of metal would look very different, if it existed at all.
Fear Factory (10:00-10:43)
Iron Maiden (11:19-1:05)
Man on the Edge
The Number of the Beast