Iron Maiden

The metal legends put memories of a half-empty Maysfield Leisure Centre behind them

The last time Iron Maiden played Belfast it was to a half-full Maysfield Leisure Centre, with unloved frontman, Blaze Bayley, at the helm. But a lot has changed since 1996.

For one thing, metal is back in vogue, Maiden themselves have reunited with veteran vocalist Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith, and this time around, they're playing the Odyssey Arena.

The rejuvenated six-piece bask in the glory of a decade of huge-selling comeback albums (last year’s The Final Frontier was their highest-charting in the US ever). And yet, rather oddly, this is the only gig on their UK tour not to have sold out in advance.

On the night, however, Maiden’s die-hard fans – and they don’t die much harder than this mob – are out in force, some having queued since the previous evening for a place near the front.

According to the official line, this is the band’s first Belfast show since 1993 (it seems the fans aren’t the only ones who would rather forget the Bayley era), and hopes are high for a classics-heavy setlist.

But hopes are dashed when, after a testily drawn-out intro, Dickinson and Co appear on stage before launching into a brace of numbers from their latest album.

‘Satellite 15… The Final Frontier’ and ‘El Dorado’ are decent enough, but it takes third track ‘2 Minutes to Midnight’ to really rouse the crowd. Yet the excitement subsides as Maiden settle into a run of newer songs – six in a row, in fact, several of which push the 10-minute mark.

Their commitment to the new material is admirable, but who really wants to hear ‘The Talisman’ when you could have ‘Aces High’, or ‘When the Wild Wind Blows’ instead of ‘Run to the Hills’?

There is a fine line between keeping things fresh and simply being stubborn, and Maiden balance on the razor’s edge between heavy duty and heavy going.

Still, the closing triple whammy of ‘The Evil That Men Do’, ‘Fear of the Dark’ and the eponymous ‘Iron Maiden’ (see below) machine-gun-blasts everyone a new cranium, leaving a blistering encore of ‘The Number of the Beast’, ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ and ‘Running Free’ to shake out any remaining dandruff.

Throughout, Dickinson seems less enthused with proceedings than usual, though he wins massive applause with a speech about everyone being welcome in ‘Maiden World’ (‘We don’t care if you’re Protestant, Catholic or a Jedi…’).

It’s a shame, then, that they don’t have the bottle to include ‘The Trooper’ in the set, despite it having been played at every other gig on this leg of the tour.

The seminal single seems to have been dropped due to its supposedly inflammatory lyrics (despite it being about the Crimean War, not any Irish conflict), and the fact that Dickinson traditionally brandishes a Union Flag while singing it.

It says a lot about the small-mindedness of some people in Northern Ireland that Maiden can perform the song in every other country in the world (38 on this tour so far, including Russia ferchrissakes), but not here.

But any arguments about politics are quickly forgotten with the appearance of monstrous mascot Eddie, as a guitar-toting alien for this sci-fi-themed tour. It is, as ever, a moment of gonzo genius and ends the night on a high.