For those about to rock ... heavy metal set to be the soundtrack of summer
Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Kiss among 1980s acts leading genre's resurgence
Gene Simmons of Kiss.
Owen Gibson, media correspondent
Saturday May 24, 2008
Turn the volume to 11 and set the pyrotechnics to stun. For those ageing fans about to rock, perhaps less energetically than before, the concert promoters and marketing men salute you.
This summer will see a slew of 1980s heavy metal acts releasing new material and playing live to hundreds of thousands of ageing rockers keen to swap their suit jackets for faded denim.
In 2007 it was the AOR reformations of the Police, Genesis and the Eagles that sold out arenas around the world and kept the cash registers ringing among loyal older record buyers who still purchase CDs and have the money for expensive concert tickets and merchandise.
But this summer it will be a string of superannuated rockers - including Kiss, Def Leppard, Whitesnake, Meat Loaf, Metallica, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest - who are being relied upon to catch the next wave of nostalgia. Enthusiasts believe a range of factors have led to the long-derided heavy metal genre undergoing a renaissance.
The popularity of the video game Guitar Hero, which requires players to strum along to classic tracks with a plastic axe, has brought classic heavy metal to a new audience.
Meanwhile, vintage heavy metal T-shirts have been a favourite with fashionistas in recent years, and younger artists such as Jimmy Eat World and My Chemical Romance have cited older bands as influences.
"Guitar Hero has had a big impact in bringing these songs to a new generation. iTunes has also had a big effect. However old you are, you want to hear the best music," said Paul Brannigan, editor of rock magazine Kerrang!
The Download festival, which began predominantly as a home for a wave of so-called nu-metal acts, this year looks more like a retirement home for classic artists.
Kiss, the US group led by Gene Simmons and famed for their iconic makeup, will play their only UK gig of the summer at Donington Park, and Birmingham-born heavy metal pioneers Judas Priest will play their first gig there since Monsters of Rock in 1980.
"It's suddenly very cool whereas before people wouldn't dare admit to liking this music," said Andy Copping, vice-president, music at concert promoter Live Nation. "More and more people want to relive what they were doing 25 years ago and it's really taking off for these 1980s acts. For the most part these bands are just unbelievably good live - they put on big, big shows."
With live music re-established as a viable leisure option for all ages in refurbished venues like the O2 arena in east London and Wembley stadium, audiences are increasingly demanding more bang for their buck.
Other older acts to appear at Download include Motorhead, Saxon and Testament. Elsewhere, Iron Maiden - one of the most popular heavy metal acts during the 1980s - have toured almost constantly since frontman Bruce Dickinson rejoined the band in 1999.
In July they are expected to sell out Twickenham rugby stadium in south-west London, playing in front of 55,000 people. The setlist will concentrate on the band's 1980s albums and feature a set design inspired by the 1984 release Powerslave.
Artists nervously eyeing sliding CD sales have recently alighted upon band-related merchandise and touring as revenue generators that might fill the gap. But heavy metal bands have long relied on those twin income streams to survive away from the mainstream. Copping said some made more from merchandise than ticket sales.
"If you take a band like Iron Maiden, you can go anywhere in the world and you'll see their skeletal mascot Eddie on T-shirts on everyone from five to 50," said Brannigan, whose magazine is planning a tribute CD with versions of Iron Maiden songs by more recent acts to coincide with their July concert.
He draws a distinction between artists like Iron Maiden and Metallica, who are still attracting new fans, and the likes of Def Leppard and Whitesnake who appeal mainly to their original audiences. Meat Loaf, the singer best known for his Bat Out of Hell trilogy of albums, is also planning to tour this summer.
Many of the acts have reunited not only to play live but also to record new material. Whitesnake recently achieved their best chart placing for 30 years, Judas Priest are planning a concept album with a Nostradamus theme, and the release schedules for this autumn are packed with other rock acts.
Def Leppard, the Sheffield band that enjoyed huge transatlantic success in the late 1980s with hits like Pour Some Sugar On Me and Animal, released a new album last month. They will co-headline UK arenas this summer with Whitesnake, with fellow ageing rockers Thunder supporting on some dates.
And AC/DC, often considered one of the most influential groups of all time for albums including Back in Black, are also in the studio finishing a new album - their first for eight years - and are widely rumoured to be planning live dates to follow its release later this year.
Kiss, Judas Priest, Motorhead Download festival, Donington Park, June 13
Saxon, Testament Download festival, Donington Park, June 14
Def Leppard, Whitesnake Glasgow SECC, June 17, then touring
Meat Loaf Home Park stadium, Plymouth, June 27, then touring
Iron Maiden Twickenham stadium, July 5
Metallica Reading festival, August 24