The first weekend of September was to mark a milestone for the coincidence of new releases from Drake and Kanye West, something like an update on the Blur-Oasis confrontation carried over to new pop. But what few took into account was that the podium of the charts was going to be disputed by Iron Maiden with their seventeenth album. Senjutsu (the art of war, in Japanese) rose to number one in sales in Spain, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland, above the two divos and artists trendy like Olivia Rodrigo or Billie Eilish. In England it was in second place, and in the United States, in third, the highest position that the group has obtained in that country in its entire career.
His immediately previous jobs were also global sales phenomena: The Book of Souls (2015) reached number one in 24 countries, while The Final Frontier (2010) obtained it in 19, including Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Colombia (where Senjutsu has not yet been released). But what is truly new is the reception it is having by specialized critics, including traditionally half-hearted publications with the heavy metal. In the Metacritic aggregator, which collects the scores of Anglo-Saxon critics, it has an 86 out of 100, five stars out of five in The Guardian, four in NME and Rolling Stone, and a 7.4 out of 10 on the web Pitchfork. In Spain, this week Rockdelux published a rave review of the album, something unusual, since they had hardly ever written about the British band.
Iron Maiden, formed in London in 1975, apparently saw their heyday in the first half of the 1980s, when they became the most popular group in the world. heavy metal, a style that in those years took the whole world by storm. To this day, it can be said that only The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Queen surpass them in sales figures within British rock. But this longevity and, above all, this resurrection nobody expected. At the dawn of the 21st century, when people began to speak for the first or second time – many more would come later – that rock had died, Iron Maiden seemed like a completely finished group, which could only aspire to live on the nostalgia of what achieved in the eighties. “They were in total decline. Audiences from all over Galicia, León and Asturias had come to see them, but the sound was terrible and they were at the lowest level they had ever seen ”, recalls Henrique García Rodríguez, sociologist and supporter of the group, who attended their concert in the field Os Remedios football team, in Orense, in May 1998.
On that tour, the Maidens also played in the Plaza de Toros de Laguna de Duero (Burgos), the velodromes of Valencia and San Sebastián, the Palacio de los Deportes in Madrid and the Vall d ‘Hebrón Pavilion in Barcelona. All of them were medium-capacity venues that contrast with the current ones. His last concert here was at Madrid’s Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, in 2018, and the next visit, scheduled for July 29, 2022, will be at the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona. According to Joe Pérez-Orive, head of marketing in Spain of the megapromotor Live Nation, there are barely (being generous) 20 artists in the world who can fill a venue with that capacity today. What, then, is the secret to Iron Maiden being at such a high level today?
“They have played conservative and they have done very well,” says Tito Lesende, a music journalist who was a huge fan of the band in his teens, waiting for the cast at the record store to take home the first copy of each new album. “They have managed to manage their assets. It has been enough for them to offer albums with a more than acceptable quality, to dose their deliveries and to become strong on tours, where they exploit their own legend. The years have passed and they have endured with dignity, from London punk and suburbial to see their t-shirts for sale in Inditex stores. Iron Maiden’s iconography has been pop culture for many years now. Even when the band rests, their image is everywhere ”, highlights the journalist.
His speech is supported by a quick count of celebrities who have been seen at some point wearing clothes with his logo: Madonna, Maradona, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Justin Bieber, Drew Barrymore, Charlize Theron, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Selena Gomez, David Beckham, Cameron Diaz, Michael Fassbender, Paul Gascoigne, Pilar Rubio …
Lesende recently wrote about the band in his book The 100 best rock albums live a collation of Live After Death (1985). “I think that album collects everything Iron Maiden will be remembered for. Everything important is there, and what has come after is a formal extension of that, a more boring version of the same formula ”, he maintains. Another pro fan, illustrator Juanjo Sáez (whose passion for the Maidens is reflected in his collection Emotional hit and in his animated series Heavies you will have), dares to say that “they are, together with Sonic Youth, the group with the most remarkable stages throughout their own discography”.
Sáez has followed the entire career of the British, although also far from his adolescent fervor. “The last two have not reached me much, but I understand why they like them. They have created a world that connects with each generation of young people, like the Harry Potter saga or The Lord of the rings. They touch on universal themes such as freedom, rebellion, the struggle for identity, and they do so without fear of being naïve or naive, and we must also add the nostalgia factor for all of us who are almost 50 or 50 and few. It is an infallible product ”, argues the artist.
“Rock is a classic genre and many of its references have been projected over time as theme parks of their own”, adds Lesende. “That’s The Rolling Stones, AC / DC or Iron Maiden from the late eighties, when rock shows started to become social experiences. In contrast to the other groups I’ve mentioned, Iron Maiden has focused its graphic hook on a fantasy creation, the monster Eddie. [la mascota con aspecto de zombi que protagoniza todas sus portadas y les acompaña en el escenario]. This has allowed them to develop a series of conceptual possibilities that have boosted their appeal and their marketing capabilities: Eddie can travel to space, to Egypt, to the future, to the world of the dead or, as now, to Japan. In this sense, each of its releases has its own character and becomes a kind of collectible. They are a rock group, no doubt, but also a commercial product like Star Wars, Cirque du Soleil or Harry Potter”.
Within the rock narrative, the promotional cliché of stating that certain groups (this is valid for both heavies as for Extremoduro, Marea, Camela or El Barrio) they have managed to maintain a great popular impact without the support of the mainstream media and always operating outside of fashion trends. In the case of Iron Maiden, that’s only half true. “The Spotify algorithm sells me their new album every day. Also to other colleagues, some of whom had never played his songs. The media heavies they turn to them because they are active apostles and the presence of Iron Maiden and the monster Eddie is latent all the time; it just takes a commercial stimulus for that volcano to ignite, ”says Lesende.
“They have a good logo, a good name and good marketing campaigns outside of what is established,” explains Juanjo Sáez. “They still look authentic and underground without being it, and they do that by not appearing on television. But they also work as a company, everything is very calculated and, for example, and unlike Metallica, they are not against piracy because they know that they depend on kids who do not have money to buy their records, but they need them to renew its audience and fill huge stadiums in countries where purchasing power is lower. They are smart people, they have created their own way of doing business with music and they have written great songs ”.
There are other aspects that testify to the good business vision of the British band. Already in 1984, they offered a historical tour on the other side of the Iron Curtain, which has assured them an almost religious fidelity among the public of Eastern Europe. Latin America or India have been other key territories for them over the last few years. “Having a global vision is key for an artist. Finding your markets and concentrating the effort on them is decisive in your income statement and the engagement with the fans, ”says Joe Pérez-Orive. “But I would dare to say that one of the successes of Iron Maiden and its relevance throughout the years is marked by its bassist and main songwriter, Steve Harris,” he adds. “He is a persistent and intelligent guy, he was inspired by the Beatles’ career and has always used three elements that underpin the group’s global success: first, a powerful and transgressive image. Then some great songs with an appetite for a continuous hymn, with lyrics about not surrendering to the enemy and helping the weak, that inspire and lift your spirits supported by riding guitars and solos megamelodic. And finally, a hard-working and thunderous live show. More than adapting to the environment, the environment has adapted to Iron Maiden ”, he concludes.
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