For the first five minutes of the opening track on Iron Maiden‘s 15th studio album The Final Frontier, you’ll be checking the player to make sure the music is indeed being made by Iron Maiden. “Satellite 15…The Final Frontier” takes its own sweet time reaching the familiar gallop of classic Maiden territory, which makes the moments leading up to it strangely unsettling.
That slow burn is prevalent throughout The Final Frontier. It’s their longest album to date and their most progressive, and for that reason it may a bit off-putting to fans hoping for a return to their ’80s form. The thing is, the band is more popular now worldwide than they were during the ’80s, and they got that way by staying true to their own rules and by not spending too much time looking back.
It’s an impressive thing when a band 30 years into its existence can bring in the largest crowds of its career, particularly when the tour promotes an album that hasn’t even been released and the set list contains material largely collected from the last decade of records and not the more recognizable songs of the past.
If you were to believe vocalist Bruce Dickinson’s claim that Iron Maiden‘s Sunday night performance was the largest attendance that they’ve ever seen during numerous stops in Chicago, then you’d have to acknowledge that the band must be feeling a bit of accomplishment, particularly after they’d nearly been written off entirely during the ’90s.
An argument could be made that Iron Maiden is the best live band in the world today. They certainly command large followers on nearly every continent and each performance is treated with a bombast that is nearly equal to a Wagnerian opera with tinnitus-inducing volume.
It’s no wonder that there are so many live titles already available in Maiden’s catalog. They’re certainly deserving of the format given the visual intensity of each show, the fret-melting guitar (and bass) work, and the manic loyalty of their fan base. Their last outing, Rock In Rio, was a quick-edit, 120-minute homage to the band’s performance at Rio de Janeiro in front of a quarter-million people. It featured nearly one song from every album and it stands as the point where I began to appreciate the band once again. To be able to perform in front of that many people well into their career and to do it without a hint of compromise struck me as incredibly noble.
True story: I was driving around with the little dude in the car seat, listening to Iron Maiden’s Killers. The song that grabbed his attention was “Wrathchild,” which he thought was pronounced “rockchild” because he understood the track is pretty rockin’. So he’s doing the obligatory head-nodding, throwing up the horns like I taught him, and trying to get my attention in the rear view mirror buy saying “Look at me! I’m a wrathchild!” It was one of those bonding moments that make you think the kid will turn out all right.
Later on, we were watching “Full House” together (his choice—he has a thing for toddler-era Olsen twins) when John Stamos appeared in a scene. Stamos was dressed in black, had an electric guitar and that silly looking mane on his head, which prompted the little one to declare “He’s a rockchild too, Daddy.” I had to correct him, of course, because there’s a huge difference between Iron Maiden and John Stamos.
There’s also a huge difference in my musical tastes now than when I first purchased an Iron Maiden album. I’ll admit to not following them too closely for quite some time; I lost track of them during my obligatory “purge everything metal” phase, which I’ve realized was completely stupid as I’ve come to terms with my metal influences. Maiden was one of them, of course, but by the time I reconciled with the genre, Maiden had replaced vocalist Bruce Dickinson and who wants that?