Manchester Evening News Arena

Let's just hope the nu-metallers scattered among the mullet hordes are only here out of perverse curiosity.

“Please,” reads the adulterated sign on one of Halford’s mic stands, “show your ass.” How we laugh. Nervously. As the grisly reality of this trip into the dark heart of ye olde heavy medal becomes apparent. Ex-Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford’s new outfit heralds his return – after a stint in The Pastels, perhaps – to base metal. And every tune, from ‘Stained Class’ to, oh yes, ‘Riding On The Wind’, is a baroque arrangement of riffing, gurning and whining, widdy-widdly widdling. Apart from ‘Breaking The Law’ (now call-and-response crowd-pleaser ‘Breaking The What?’) which is like Mötorhead breaking for the border. Halford, resplendent in ornate leather chaps and matching jacket, sounds like Montserrat Caballe giving birth to Beelzebub. It is, however, a strangely tame apocalypse, compared to, say, the ‘heaviosity’ of Slipknot.

If Halford are bloated, well – tattoo my foreskin and call me Thor – Avenger Of The Northern Plains, ver Maiden are fit to burst. As only a band with their own rope-slides, fireworks, Wicker Man and Incredible Hulk-version of Eddy can be. But, the (un)intentional laughs to be had at this kitsch spectacle soon wear thin. And not just because ‘Ghost Of The Navigator’, ‘Blood Brothers’, ‘Sign Of The Cross’ [I]et al[/I] are never-ending, fret-melting epics far removed from the urgency of ‘Run To The Hills’.

No, for all heavy metal’s supposed self-awareness, for all its claims to be a bit of tongue-in-cheek escapism, Iron Maiden seem pretty po-faced and with scant appreciation of irony. Bruce Dickinson, for instance, has a long rant about press “wankers” and their massive egos. Later, he will be hoisted up on a crucifix complete with angel’s wings.

Similarly, ‘The Mercenary’, ‘The Trooper’ and ‘Clansman’ (Dickinson waving a battle-scarred Union Jack in front of a fantastical historical battle scene) seem like vicarious assertions of some knuckle-dragging masculinity through air-guitar and/or pseudo-mystical militaristic imagery rather than a bit of period fun. “No”, Dickinson screams, “we can’t let them take any more of the land of the free!” What? In case they try and ban Dungeons & Dragons?

Iron Maiden are an anachronism. There’s nothing to re-evaluate. Let’s just hope the nu-metallers scattered among the mullet hordes are only here out of perverse curiosity.

Tony Naylor