Out of Russia: Fans fail to turn heavy at Iron Maiden's last hurrah

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW - It was a venture the British Council would never get involved in, though there were still plenty of Union Jacks, mostly stitched on to black leather jackets and embellished with gobs of white paint reading 'Death', 'Kill', 'Vomit' and other universally recognised words from the vocabulary of Metalhead Esperanto.

To try to keep such sentiments confined to words and away from action, the organisers made an offer, more an ultimatum really, to the salivating crowd: 'If you behave tonight and don't rip out any chairs, then we promise to bring you more big acts.'

The venue was Moscow's Olympisky stadium, a mammoth crumbling hulk left over from the last hurrah of Communism - Leonid Brezhnev's 1980 Olympic Games - and pressed into service the other night for the last hurrah of a great British institution instead: the heavy metal rock band Iron Maiden.

For those who do not follow such things, a bit of background: the band's lead singer of 11 years, Bruce Dickinson - author of the 1991 hit single 'Take your Daughter to the Slaughter', as well as a pair of scatalogical novels, The Adventures of Lord Iffy Boatrace and The Missionary Position - is leaving to pursue a solo and, he hopes, marginally more mellow career. (Incidentally, anyone interested in taking his place in the band should send a CV, tape and photograph to 82, Bishops Bridge Road, London W2 6BB).

For men who helped pioneer nastiness as an art form, they are remarkably pleasant in person. But sadly their glory days may be over. And it is for this reason that Moscow, the last stop on their last world tour, has earned a firm place in the history of rock'n'roll. It may also be remembered as the scene of what may be the world's earliest heavy metal event - the concert started at 6pm.

The grand farewell for one of Britain's loudest bands was missed by most of those Russians able to appreciate it. The greed of the promoter, Stas Namin, saw to that. Ticket prices ranged from 5,000 to 60,000 roubles ( pounds 3- pounds 40) - only a bit less than Boris Yeltsin takes home in a month. Much of the stadium was empty. The area in front of the stage, which should have been packed with ecstatic fans, was filled with rows of plastic chairs, many of them vacant, and policemen, most of them covering their ears.

To be fair, the promoters did have a few excuses for charging so much. These were on display in the parking lot - six huge trailers and 3,000 boxes stuffed with the amplifiers, lights and other paraphernalia needed to keep heavy-metal fans happy; 25 olive-green troop carriers packed with militia; and two military communications vans. It looked as if they were expecting Adolf Hitler rather than a group of English musicians.

In the end, all the guns and clubs were not needed. In fact, for a heavy- metal crowd, the audience was a model of decorum. 'I did not see any amateur psychotics or anything else like that staring back at me from the audience,' said Iron Maiden's departing vocalist after the final show. 'I did not see any budding Charles Mansons in the front row. It was very encouraging. A very positive sign.'

It was also unusual.

Heavy metal is big in Russia and Iron Maiden knows the audience well. 'It is universal. There is something about our music that appeals directly to the permanent, slightly pissed-off adolescent, frustrated and angry but not quite angry enough to turn into a petrol-bomber, only angry enough to sit in the back of the class drawing monsters and seething,' said the singer.

Russians have a lot to seethe about. And metalisti, as they are known, have been gathering under various guises for years. One of the first public concerts, though it could not be called that at the time, took place in 1987 at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations. The audience sat in padded arm chairs and discussed the philosophy of rock music. Heavy metal was pretty earnest back then.

It is a lot nastier now. One of the biggest bands at the moment is called Death Vomit. Their new album, which they hope to sell abroad, features a blood-smeared woman giving birth to a monster. They eschew the system of labelling the disc side A and side B in favour of side death and side vomit. A list of the song titles gives the flavour of their music: 'She is Dead', 'The Howling' and 'Leprous'. The songs are performed in Russian.

The top two songs in the Russian charts, known as the Khit Parad, are 'Sadism' and 'Order of Satan'. Both are by Korosia Metalia (Corroded Metal), a hugely popular band, particularly among young fascists who admire the lead singer, known as Spider. His big song is called 'Kill the Sunarefa' (the Russian equivalent of 'Wog'). 'It's a great song,' snarled Andrei Sokolov, backstage at the end of Iron Maiden's last concert, 'but I cannot explain to you why because I am too drunk.'

Iron Maiden themselves belong to an altogether more innocent age, the kinder, more gentle era of heavy metal when you could be angry without being homicidal. In Russia these days it is an important nuance.

(Photograph omitted)