Iron Maiden live at MSGPhoto by Ms. Jacqueline Cheng. See the whole photo set from MSG here.

Are Iron Maiden more popular now than at any time over the past two decades?

They just might be; in fact, they might even be at the peak of popularity in their entire career.

Metal Insider is reporting that The Final Frontier sold 63,000 copies in the U.S. in its first of release, good enough for a #4 spot on the charts. Though I don’t have data to support this, I’d wager that they’ve had bigger single weeks in their career; but relatively speaking — adjusting for an industry-wide decline over the years/decades — a #4 debut is by far the highest they’ve ever reached. And their 63,000 copies scanned is the most since Bruce returned to the band, too:

Brave New World (2000): 38,000
Dance of Death (2003): 40,000
A Matter of Life and Death (2006): 56,000
The Final Frontier (2010): 63,000

Meanwhile, veteran and newer bands alike are canceling tours and playing to half-filled rooms nationwide, but Maiden are still packing fucking arenas and stadiums. How to explain this phenomenon?

Looks like Old Man Bruce was right after all… because they continue to release new music — and play it live, rather than just going through the album motions — they’re able to stay fresh, relevant, attract new fans and remain monetarily flush.

Despite many fans desires to peg them as a legacy act, against all odds Maiden have fought kicking and screaming to remain a band whose new material is respected. And they’ve been successful at it, but it hasn’t been easy. In 2006 the band toured their new album A Matter of Life and Death and played the whole thing start to finish; many fans grumbled, including this one. This summer they played a setlist consisting of mostly material released in the past ten years; many fans grumbled, but not this one. The lads in Maiden aren’t ignorant; they know full well they’re pissing people off, but they know what they’re doing has a reason.

Maiden’s insistance on releasing new material and playing it live is directly responsible for their resurgence. There’s no other factor at which you can point. Of course, even though I like their new material plenty I’ll admit it doesn’t hold a candle to their classics… but that’s not the point.

It’s not that kids are getting into brand new Maiden songs and then going back and discovering the oldies. It’s that when a band puts a new album out they’ve got a bunch of industry machinery behind them; their name is in the press constantly, they’ve got music videos, they’ve got tour dates, they’ve got buzz. And hearing a band’s name all the time is what’s going to inspire a youngster to say “I’ve heard of this Iron Maiden. I wonder what they sound like?” and via the magic of the Internet they’ll be well on their way down that road we all traveled at some point (via other means) within minutes, discovering the classics and becoming entranced.

Bands that don’t release new music — and in some cases bands that do release new music that happens to suck — don’t get these benefits. Without a new album out (or a good one, anyway), a band’s name won’t be bandied about in the media at all, and their only fanbase will be those who are already familiar with the band. It’s a familiar story for many, many, many bands.

There’s also an artistic element to it from Maiden’s perspective; it’s gotta be awfully hard to go up there and play the same damn songs year after year, and if you can’t be psyched about trying something new it’s hard to consider yourself an artist as opposed to just an entertainer. That excitement is palpable in Maiden’s live show, and without it we’d just be watching a rehearsed drama unfold on stage that wouldn’t feel nearly as exciting. It wouldn’t have that spark. People often wonder how these guys that are approaching 60 have so much energy on stage… it’s because they’re still psyched about what they’re doing, driven by the fact that they’re still creating art, still writing, still pushing themselves.

The proof is in the pudding; when Bruce asked the crowd at MSG how many people there were seeing Maiden for the first time, a shocking portion of the crowd came to a roar. We saw kids — young kids — everywhere. It’s really something.

Of course the fact that Iron Maiden’s records continue to be good doesn’t hurt either.

Long live Maiden. Keep doing what you’re doing, gents.


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