One of the greatest live acts around rallies the biggest crowd of the weekend for an operatic rock history lesson that’s all but unbeatable
History means everything to Iron Maiden. Brining WWII England, 14th century Japan and Napoleonic France to life in Donnington Park, the world conquering gods of heavy metal lead the festival on a trip through their own past, spanning 40 plus albums of hits big enough to level Leicestershire.
The last time Iron Maiden shared a poster with Kiss at Donnington was also the first time they both played Monsters Of Rock in 1988, but while Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons came back to Download to say goodbye, Bruce Dickinson makes it known that he’s got no intention of going away anytime soon. Leaping out of an wooden Japanese village dressed as a samurai (with leather trousers), the veteran rocker looks and sounds like he’s still at the very top of his game.
Joined by Nicko McBrain on drums and the faultless four-strong guitar line of Steve Harris, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers (most of which are wearing their own band T-shirts, all pulling off some of the biggest riffs of the night), Maiden is still about 80% Bruce Dickinson – jumping and screaming and powerhousing through every song like the star of his own musical.
In fact, there’s something very Andrew Lloyd Webber about the whole show – with The Phantom Of The (rock) Opera just nod among many in a gloriously analogue set built with real theatre backdrops instead of screens, and Dickinson’s 4.25 octave voice easily the most impressive special effect on show.
Not that the set-pieces are kept low-key. Iron Maiden’s set might be old-school, but there’s still room for Eddie (the 10-ft stilt walking zombie who duels with Dickinson on stage), a giant inflatable Satan head and a chance for Dickinson to dual-wield twin flamethrowers during ‘Flight Of Icarus’.
Opening with three tracks from recent double album Senjutsu, Maiden leave the stage for a few minutes while the Japanese set gets redressed into a church (“excuse me a minute folks, we’re just moving house”). From there, the rest of the set is one long, epic hit after another – with ‘Blood Brothers’, ‘Sign Of The Cross’, ‘Fear Of The Dark’, ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’, ‘The Number Of The Beast’ and their own self-titled theme ending the set. Two encores see them fill in any gaps with the likes of ‘The Trooper’ and biggest hit ‘Run To The Hills’, before they close on ‘Aces High’ – flying a full-sized Spitfire from the ceiling as the fireworks pop.
Playing to the biggest crowd of their tour so far, Maiden find themselves back home again at Download – with 65,000 fans wearing Eddie patches almost outroaring Dickinson. “Ha Ha!” he cackles, only half in character. “Iron Maiden kills again!”
Tickets for Download 2023 are on sale now, available here.