The Iron Maiden's large cult following has been waiting four years for a new album, the longest the veteran British metal band has gone between records since debuting in 1980.
That album, "The Final Frontier," will hit the streets Aug. 17, which makes for tricky timing given that Maiden is on tour right now. The band has released one song, "El Dorado," which is turning up on the set list, but other than that, the new material will have to wait for a future tour.
Playing any more than that is "impossible," says Janick Gers, part of the band's three-guitar attack.
"Back in the early '80s you could probably do that, but now with YouTube and downloading, the songs would be all out before the album was out."
That would seem to set the stage for a greatest-hits tour, but that's not on Maiden's mind this time. When the band hits the First Niagara Pavilion Wednesday for its first show here in five years, the 16-song set list will focus heavily on the last three albums -- "Brave New World," "Dance of Death" and "A Matter of Life and Death."
"We did the 'Somewhere Back in Time' tour last time, and that kind of dealt with the '80s, and the time before that we did 'Life and Death,' just the one album we played on that tour," the guitarist says. "I think it's really important if you're going to remain a valid band that you play your new stuff because otherwise you become a kind of a parody of what you started out doing. You can't go out and play the greatest hits every time. It's important to play the newer songs because we really believe in them."
That may cause a little dissension in the ranks for fans wanting to hear more from albums like "The Number of the Beast" and "Powerslave," but the band has a rationale for that.
"We have so many kids coming to the gigs," the guitarist says. "When we do 80,000 people in Stockholm, I would say half of them are between 15 and 18. In Canada, it's been the same. That's the difference between us and a lot of other bands. There's a lot of youth getting into this band, and I'm talking kids with patches and all the gear on. Everywhere we go in the world, there's a tremendous amount of young people, and that's uplifting."
If that's the case, Iron Maiden is managing to draw young people despite the fact that the metal bands they've been growing up on, from Slipknot on, are much heavier than the British New Wave variety.
"My whole attitude towards music is it has to have a melody," Mr. Gers says. "Heavy music, I love it hard and I like that real powerful rock 'n' roll, but it has to have a melody, and if you lack melody, then you lose everything that it's about, and you play to a minority section of people. We play music that is very heavy but also has high and low points, and there are lots of melodies. We've got a great singer, an incredible singer, and we use him to his utmost. He sings his heart out every time we go out there."
The guitarist promises that the range will be evident on "The Final Frontier," which was recorded over six weeks in the Bahamas, site of some of the band's classic recordings between 1983 and 1986. The 10-track album is filled with lengthy jams, including the 11-minute closer "When the Wild Wind Blows."
"We're in progressive stage with the band now," the guitarist says. "We're taking it to extremes. The new album, I'm really proud of it, 'cause the one song we released isn't indicative of the rest of the album -- there's so many different feels and ways of playing on the album. We go through some different attitudes and take you to different places. There's a lot of long thematic tunes on this album. And some very varied music."
"The Final Frontier" will be the band's 15th album during its 35-year career. Mr. Gers joined back in 1990 when Adrian Smith left and stayed on when the guitarist returned in 1999.
Did he foresee still being a part of Iron Maiden 20 years later?
"It's been fun, and as long as we enjoy it and it feels valid and the fans are still coming and we have great concerts, I'd like to carry on. And the minute I don't enjoy it and we don't deliver, I wouldn't want to carry on as a parody act doing a cabaret show.
"We're kind of intransigent. We never change. We know what we want. And it's in the music. We're never going to do a pop song, for instance. We're never going to do a song to try and get on the charts. We're just going to do what we think is right, and we did that through the '90s when grunge was popular and people wouldn't listen to rock anymore, and there were stations out there saying, 'We're not going to play any more rock 'n' roll.' We just kept on touring and stuck to our guns, and that's one of the reasons I think we're still around."
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org ; 412-263-2576.