Category Archives: Music

Iron Maiden “Legacy of the Beast” Tour Review

Iron Maiden’s lineup as it has stood since 1999: Dave Murray (G), Adrian Smith (G), Janick Gers (G), Bruce Dickinson (V), Steve Harris (B), and Nicko McBrain (D).

Just six months after our Judas Priest concert, Omri and I found a chance to see Iron Maiden in Concord, Northern CA, on Tuesday evening, September 27, 2022. This was a date on Iron Maiden’s “Legacy of the Beast” world tour. I didn’t know this, but “Legacy of the Beast” was a successful video game that the band launched last decade. The tour was originally scheduled for 2019 and was then postponed for years due to COVID. While waiting out the pandemic, Iron Maiden recorded and released its 17th studio album, Senjutsu.

Taking our seats high stage left. Iron Maiden is still drawing new young fans along with lifetime diehards like me and the silver-haired couple behind us.

Iron Maiden has been one of my favorite bands since I fell in love with Piece of Mind in 1990. I’d seen them live at least twice before: The 1992 Fear of the Dark tour (before Omri was born!) and the 2005 Ozzfest (the San Bernardino performance with the now-infamous tiff between Bruce Dickinson and the Osbournes!).

It was a different concert experience this decade. I was impressed by numerous themes this time, not least of which was their longevity and stability. When I first saw Iron Maiden live, I never would have guessed that I’d be seeing the same five guys (reunited with Adrian Smith) 30 years later! Despite that, the band is still living in the present and reinventing itself. And the stage spectacle of an Iron Maiden concert has gotten absolutely colossal.

The highwater mark of Iron Maiden’s career was the first trilogy of albums with Bruce Dickinson: Number of the Beast (1982), Piece of Mind (’83), and Powerslave (’84). When I saw them in decades past, they stuck to this canon for the most part. On this tour date, they were determined not to be a nostalgia act. They came out of the gate with three songs from their new album! I have now learned that these three tracks were Senjutsu, Stratego, and The Writing on the Wall. I think that this was a very gutsy move. I’m sure that most people in attendance had never heard these songs nor were particularly interested in hearing new material. By playing three new songs in a row, the band sent a message that they still take themselves seriously as a creative force, and they demanded us to give “new Maiden” a chance.

I believe it paid off. These songs were gripping and presented extremely well. The set opened with a drum set flashing like lightning, and then the band played in a blue-tinted Japanese village with a Samurai Eddie. The Writing on the Wall has an incredible animated video that would have fit perfectly into the Heavy Metal movie, with phantom motorcycle gangs and Eddie wreaking mayhem. This album’s plodding tempos and dark atmosphere remind me of The Chemical Wedding, a Bruce Dickinson solo album from 1998 that features Adrian Smith on guitar. I surmised (correctly, as it turns out) that Dickinson and Smith did a lot of the songwriting on this album. By the end of the third song, I was surprised by the concert’s direction but convinced that the band is still an important creative force.

Though I got some good photos from this concert, my video footage isn’t very impressive. I ran into some copyright notices while trying to post videos as well. I will link to pre-existing videos on YouTube.

Then they started to dip into their hit list. By the time the full set was over, about half of their selections were drawn from the three bestselling albums mentioned above. There were a few more post-1990 selections, including two songs from the ’90s when Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith had taken a hiatus! Sign of the Cross and The Clansman were originally sung by Blaze Bayley. These songs were new to my ear, and very unexpected choices, but I especially found Sign of the Cross to be a strong track.

Everything about the concert was HUGE! I don’t remember such theatric spectacle in decades past. Two giant Eddies came out to wield swords. The set changed from the Japanese village to a gothic cathedral for Revelation, and then we got a fiery hellscape for songs like Sign of the Cross and Number of the Beast. When they played their eponymous song, the inflatable Eddie-monster head behind them was the size of a hot air balloon craft. For their final encore, Aces High, a half-size WWII fighter jet was suspended over the stage. Bruce Dickinson made a few wardrobe changes to suit the songs. I didn’t remember earlier Iron Maiden concerts being so extravagant with their elaborate sets, enormous props, and pyrotechnics. I think that they have been continuously developing their stagecraft year after year, to the point that their live shows are now in the same league as Kiss, Pink Floyd, and The Rolling Stones.

Senjutsu-Eddie towers over Dave Murray
A whale-sized Eddie head
“Aces High” fighter jet

The musicians are all still performing at their peak. Dickinson can’t quite reach all the glory notes that he hit in his youth, which is understandable after a bout with throat cancer. But his voice is still as strong as ever in his freakish G-to-high-C tessitura.

The only thing that an Iron Maiden fan can “complain” about is that their repertoire is now far too lengthy for one concert. I would have liked to hear Dance of Death, Phantom of the Opera, Mother Russia, the list goes on. They are not currently performing any songs from Somewhere in Time or Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, their first two synth-heavy albums. I have long wondered why Harris chooses to keep three guitarists in the band instead of swapping one of them out for a keyboardist.

Interestingly, as I write this, I see that their next planned tour, the Future Past Tour of 2023 – ’24, will “revisit Somewhere In Time“, which is probably my favorite Iron Maiden album of them all. Maybe I’ll see you there next year!

Omri rocking out to “Run to the Hills”

Judas Priest / Queensryche: “50 Heavy Metal Years” Tour

Yeah, that’s what we came for!

I hadn’t been to a rock concert in years. (Has it been decades now?) They’ve gotten so damned expensive, and I’ve already seen most of the greats at least once. You know, last century. Now I have a younger girlfriend, Omri, who is discovering rock music for the first time. When she got hooked on some Judas Priest videos, and then discovered that they were on tour near us, I couldn’t resist. We attended the “50 Heavy Metal Years” tour in Phoenix, AZ on March 16. We loved it! It was one of my favorite concert events ever. But here’s my full critical take.

Omri and I take our seats

Queensryche was the opening act. This was another of my favorites back in the day, so I made sure that we got to the concert in time for this full set. Queensryche and Judas Priest now both squarely qualify as “Dinosaur Rock” bands. Their commercial success, popularity, and influence peaked long ago. But that’s what I like about concerts like this. Their casual fans — the ones who’d fill stadiums when the bands were trendy — stayed at home. We got to see these powerhouse acts in a theater (the kind where you’d go to see a play or musical) with a core of passionate lifelong fans. Omri was surrounded by middle-aged men. They were excited to see her, not just because she’s beautiful, but because she’s a young new recruit! They couldn’t stop regaling her with tales of their concert history and recommending bands to listen to.

For my sensibilities, the sound crew hasn’t adapted to the small-venue phase of these bands’ career. It was far louder than necessary for a space that size. I know, who ever complains about sound levels at a heavy metal concert?! But honestly, sometimes less is more. Stadium speakers weren’t meant for theater acoustics, so the sound was a bit mushy for my liking.

The fundamental question that Dinosaur Rock fans must ask ourselves is whether to accept changes in personnel. There are many purists who lose interest after one original member rotates out. While I have my favorite lineups, it’s getting late in the game for rock history. Changes are inevitable. I have come to appreciate the bands that persevere for decades no matter what they have to do to survive. If we can accept turnover in our favorite sports teams, why not bands?

Queensryche, featuring two original members and three newer ones.

That is a particularly salient question for Queensryche, which has been without signature-sound vocalist Geoff Tate for several years now. The two remaining original members are guitarist Michael Wilton and bassist Eddie Jackson. The band opted for a Tate sound-alike singer. There aren’t many of them in the world, and I have to admit that they plugged in a pretty damned good replacement in Todd La Torre. I was especially impressed when I read later that La Torre considers himself primarily a drummer, and only started singing as an afterthought. I sometimes feel that La Torre goes out of his way to mimic Tate down to every last inflection. He gets into that Uncanny Valley where he sounds so close to Tate that it bothers you that it isn’t Tate. I’ve seen an interview where he claims to have found his own distinct style. I don’t hear it, but again — he is definitely up to the challenge of the Queensryche repertoire.

I was surprised that Queensryche kept digging into its earliest albums. Although the band has albums as recent as 2019, every single song in this set came from 1983 – 1990. I was doubly surprised when Judas Priest did the same thing. The only song that postdated 1990 in this entire concert was Judas Priest’s “Lightning Strike” from 2018. Of course, the old material is what most fans came to hear, but bands usually like to try circulating and selling their newer material. That especially would have made sense with the “50 Heavy Metal Years” theme. Having heard a few 21st century Judas Priest songs, frankly, I think they would have been solid contributions to this set. Nevertheless, I have to agree, I am not very familiar with either band’s repertoire since 1990, so I was pleased to hear many old favorites. Queensryche, in particular, played so much of its old hardcore geek metal that it almost seemed like a deliberate attempt to weed out casual Empire fans!

A few other choices surprised me. Judas Priest played some tracks from my favorite under-rated albums, such as “Desert Plains” (Point of Entry, 1981) and even “Blood Red Skies” (Ram It Down, 1988). I don’t think I’d ever heard Judas Priest play a song from Ram It Down live; for years they seemed to go into denial that they’d ever made this album, the long-lost sleeper between Screaming for Vengeance and Painkiller. Judging from reactions around me, Blood Red Skies was actually a fan favorite for the evening (Omri agreed!)

I created a YouTube playlist of both bands’ full set lists for this evening’s show. These are official videos, many of them quite old, not recordings from the concert.

This playlist presents all the songs played at this concert, in order.

And now I must come to my most controversial assessment. Rob Halford’s voice is aging. I heard him in concert at least three times in the ’90s and ’00s. Each time, I was blown away by the strength, elasticity, and purity of his voice. I give him kudos to what he is still doing now, but I could tell that he is simply not capable of keeping up with his younger self. As a former heavy metal vocalist wannabe myself, I know the pains of navigating the break between chest voice and head voice. Most mere mortals like me have a gap there spanning about a third, where both vocal modes are weak and crossing that point is vocally exhausting. Halford used to breeze through that part of the range like a canary. Now he falls into a mute spot there. His upper range is no longer clear. Apparently, the only way he can reach his highest notes now is with Bryan Johnson-esque fry vocals. I don’t see or hear many people discussing this. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe people don’t want to say anything because we all love Halford.

For me it was kind of emotional, though. I have a 30-year history with Judas Priest concerts. Now I feel that an era has passed. The Rob Halford that I knew just isn’t there anymore. Juxtaposed with the Queensryche performance, it made me ponder an unthinkable question. Would I prefer to see Judas Priest with Ripper Owens? I’d choose 20th century Halford over Owens any time. (That’s what recordings are for). But honestly, I think that Owens (who is two decades younger) is stronger than Halford today.

Speaking of the old-timers, it was great to see two other original band members there. Bassist Ian Hill has been in Judas Priest slightly longer than Rob Halford. The original dual guitar lineup of K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton has now been replaced by younger blood. Downing’s replacement, Richie Faulkner, is phenomenal. He electrified the stage from start to finish. Tipton’s touring stand-in, Andy Sneap, didn’t make as much of an impression on me. He is better known as a producer, and he is not well embedded with this band yet. Tipton, who has Parkinson’s Disease, still plays in the studio. In fact, he still does a little touring too. He hides out backstage through most of the set, but then Rob Halford calls Tipton on stage to join the band for a couple of encore songs. Tipton coming in for “Metal Gods” got one of the biggest cheers of the night.

Tipton (L) and Hill

I am also happy to see that Travis Scott has been with the band this long. One of the interesting quirks about Judas Priest is that, through its entire heyday, it didn’t have a steady drummer. Travis Scott is “the new guy” who came on board for the Painkiller album. Now he introduces the song Painkiller every night of this tour, three decades later.

Tribute to Mike Howe

Mike Howe (1965 – 2021) young and middle-aged

I’m old enough to have grown up while heavy metal music was being invented, and young enough to have not outgrown it yet. I was in the generation most shaped by this genre, which I’m sure seems intimidating to most Baby Boomers and kitschy to most Millennials.

This week, we middle-aged metalheads were shocked by the unexpected death of Mike Howe, lead singer of Metal Church. He was barely older than I. Metal Church was a thrash metal band — one of the earliest, purest, and best in that sub-genre — yet somehow they never became a household name. I first discovered their 1989 album “Blessing in Disguise” when a college friend lent it to me on cassette. Everything about the band impressed me. There were no weak links.

One thing you’ll notice about the band photo is that there were five members. This means that Howe was a designated vocalist. Unlike the quartets Metallica, Slayer, or Megadeth, whose singers were all primarily instrumentalists, Metal Church hired Howe only for his voice and front man stage presence.

Thrash metal is not about beautiful voices, though Howe could evoke a haunting tone in his midrange. He sang in what I call the “brat” style, that gritty falsetto that you hear in Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Guns ‘n’ Roses, etc. It’s a sound that I couldn’t emulate even if I tried. I feel that “powerful” is the most apt adjective for Howe’s vocal performances. Also unlike many other thrash bands, Metal Church wrote rangy melodic vocal lines in the “power metal” style. Howe handled the melodies with spot-on pitch control and an intense up-front focus that is unusual for this style. I often felt that he adopted the growl of Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine and actually, well, sang with it. Howe recorded harmony vocals. Sometimes he doubled himself in octaves, which gave his voice a fuller sound. At other times, it was true harmony, which added great depth to the song. Metal Church’s music was always dark and virtuosic. Their lyrics were sometimes juvenile but usually thought-provoking.

If Metal Church is new to you, or if you “just don’t get” thrash metal, give this song a try first: the radio / video-friendly version of “Badlands” (all my recommendations appear at the bottom of this post). The vocals come in after just 12 seconds, and I think you’ll have to agree that, by the 1:00 mark, they definitely grip your attention!

If you’re looking to travel further down the Metal Church rabbit hole, I would next refer you to some of their great epic songs. “Anthem to the Estranged” is about people going through the worst moments of their life like homelessness or alcoholism. “Rest in Pieces” is about the sinking of the Titanic. “Little Boy” is about the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. I embed my favorite versions of each video below.

As for their full albums, in my opinion “Blessing in Disguise” (1989) and “Hanging in the Balance” (1993) are in a class of their own. “The Human Factor” (1991) was from the same era, though that one escaped my attention until recently. After decades apart, Howe and Metal Church reunited for the albums “XI” (2016) and “Damned if you Do” (2018). I am not familiar with them at all. There are several other Metal Church albums with different vocalists.

And without further adieu, here are those recommendations:

“Badlands” from “Blessing in Disguise” (lyrics)

“Anthem to the Estranged” from “Blessing in Disguise”

“Rest in Pieces” from “Blessing in Disguise”: A fan video with footage from the film “Titanic”

“Little Boy” from “Hanging in the Balance” (lyrics)

“Blessing in Disguise” full album

“Hanging in the Balance” full album