Review: Iron Maiden & Killswitch Engage – The SSE Arena, Belfast
On a humid Thursday night in Belfast, a metal show rolled into town carrying one of the genre’s heavyweights in the form of titans Iron Maiden. When the show was rumoured and subsequently announced there was an excited tension in the online community with thousands seeking to obtain tickets – by any means necessary. Needless to say Northern Ireland’s heavy metal fans attended in their numbers and got every last drop for their money.
Ahead of the actual performance it should be mentioned that tonight’s event was a ticketless affair which caused a bit of confusion amongst fans. Hundreds took to social media to question policies and confirm procedures leading to official Maiden accounts confirming ticket entry for a number of cities. While entry was quite slow with payment cards taking upwards of ten seconds to confirm each purchase, Iron Maiden and responsible parties should be commended for their work to combat touts and maintain integrity for ticket holders and genuine fans.
To “warm up” for the headline act, American metal outfit Killswitch Engage were drafted in with their repertoire of core hits and the crowd size on them entering the stage confirmed their popularity and cemented their position within the metal ranks.
Jesse Leach fronts the band as the ever lively Adam Dutkiewicz provides the moving parts to their performance. The band are musically brilliant with their set ranging from old to new. ‘Hate By Design‘ is a particular favourite of mine showcasing their stop-start riff-making and necessity for a strong vocal. They smash it every time.
Old tunes like ‘End of Heartache’ and ‘My Last Serenade’ come across as anthems as the thousands already in attendance attest to with swaying arms and horns pumping the air. You’d be forgiven for thinking of Howard Jones and comparing when a number of hits came during the Jones era but Leach remains an absolute foundation of the performance nailing every note and striking up hour-long relationships with corners of the arena.
While its not a match made in heaven, the appreciation from both performer and crowd is mutual. One that both feel the need to applaud. And regardless of who they are performing to, Killswitch nail it every fucking time.
Now for the main act and the wait isn’t too long. The Legacy of The Beast tour has opened and closed at the same time every night of the tour and it is calculated and regimented every step of the way. As lights dim, two men dressed in army gear marched to each end of the stage to UFO’s ‘Doctor Doctor’ before pulling away the stage covers to reveal a camo-clad set before Harris, Gers, Murray and Smith come running on stage for ‘Aces High’ as a Spitfire plane looms overhead. Dickinson emerges in true fashion dashing across the stage and leaping into the air off an on-stage monitor. This is the Iron Maiden show.
‘2 Minutes to Midnight’ is the catalyst for the crowd to erupt and it becomes deafening at points with every single member of the floor screaming and banging along with the band. Dickinson addresses the crowd in what he admits will be his solitary converse with those in attendance. He talks about the order of tonight’s performances, how the stage-dressing and show-props will tell their story and how accidentally the appearance of the Spitfire in their set is prominent due to this year marking the 100th year of the Royal Air Force. He continues to address how everyone should fight for what they believe in and continue their quest for freedom before the fantastic performance of ‘The Clansman’.
Iron Maiden have rightfully earned their place in music legend. They have sold millions of records, spanned decades and their music have been passed through generations. Young and old erupted when the opening bars of ‘The Trooper’ echoed through the arena and the venue vibrated as feet bounced off the floor. ‘The Wickerman’ proved a crowd-favourite as Dickinson continued his challenge of covering each inch of the stage. Multiple dress changes and gadgets were swapped as Bruce and co performed without fail to perfection, note after note.
It’s easy to get lost in the music as each guitarist battles for the highest note, conquering their fret-board like it’s the first time they’ve played. Gers in particular is a seasoned performer. As he continues to slay solo after solo, he kicks the air and swings the guitar like he is in his twenties and if tonight is anything to go by – he might certainly still feel like it. Murray gets lost in the music as he closes his eyes throughout solos with everyone in attendance wishing they could feel what he feels all while Harris runs across the stage before breaking, rattling the bass pointing towards his ‘victims’ in the crowd. It’s mesmerizing and entralling and each of us couldn’t get enough.
And while we thought it couldn’t get better, it did. ‘Fear of The Dark’ brought the roof down all while Dickinson trumped over the stage around McBrain’s head carrying handheld flamethrowers and telling Belfast to scream – louder, louder and louder once more. They replied graciously. ‘Number of The Beast’ was welcomed with beers flying as Harris performed the opening riff, queuing the essential Maiden drive into the fast-paced verse each and every time. Then ‘Iron Maiden’. Do I really have to explain that moment? Think fireworks, solos and screaming.
It was that time of the night. The encore. Three songs. ‘The Evil That Men Do’, ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ and ‘Run to the Hills’. Judging by each reception, I think Maiden know exactly what they are doing.
In honesty, I don’t think people will get much from this review. Iron Maiden are much more than musicians. Everyone knows that they must be good to still be around 40 years after forming. They still play to thousands night after night in nearly every major city across the world. Iron Maiden have created a legacy as this was not just a performance. This was a show. You had to be there. Just like millions of pounds are poured into creating TV series and films for our cinemas, this tour was carefully crafted, broken down into tiny segments and worked upon night after night.
Without doubt Dickinson and co will have played a major part in the final product. Not one person leaving that arena will have thought they haven’t got value for money. Iron Maiden haven’t just performed to x number of people. They have created memories in each and every person leaving that venue. It will live on in our minds for years to come.
It was easily one of the best shows Northern Ireland has seen this year. Perhaps one of the best shows Northern Ireland has ever witnessed?