Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson made a triumphant debut in Slovakia
It was almost as if the six-member British rockers had planned the awesome storm as a stunt to whip their followers into a frenzy. As the firmament raged, entrances to the amphitheatre remained bolted; fans passed the time drinking beer, howling at the night and waiting. When 20:00 came and went with the gates still barred, three rascals scaled the ticket booth and began waving a large British flag, prompting the rain-soaked crowd to thrash at the fence, chanting, "Eee-ron! Eee-ron!"
Eventually the show, which provided a rare opportunity for Slovakia's heavy metal faithful to let loose their collective fervour, finally arrived. After a 60 minute delay, the band took the stage and blazed through a two hour mixture of new songs and old favourites such as The Number of the Beast and Two Minutes to Midnight. Driven by a capacity crowd that pumped their fists and shouted incessantly, the sextet relinquished the stage only after three encores.
The night in Banská Bystrica was Iron Maiden's third trip to Slovakia, the previous two being to Bratislava in 1993 and Žilina in 1997. "They came to the centre of Slovakia this time for two reasons," said Jana Pelikánová, assistant director of PKO Banská Bystrica and organiser of the Maiden concert. "To give fans from all over Slovakia a central location to meet, and because the centre of Slovakia is particularly heavy metal-oriented. We weren't surprised that the concert was a sell-out."
While the number of Slovak heavy metal enthusiasts has remained large enough to draw Maiden three times, other groups have not followed suit. Indeed, Metallica and Megadeth, who came on a twin-billing to Bratislava in 1993, are the only other two major metal bands ever to visit Slovakia.
Because of this dearth of performances it's all the more exciting for fans when a big name actually does make it to Slovakia. "When my friends and I heard that Maiden were coming directly to Bystrica we couldn't believe it," said Rišo Rikard, a 22 year-old elevator repairmen from Sliač, a small town outside of Zvolen. As he waited in the rain for the show to start his figure brimmed with anticipation. "Even though I come from a small village there are 20 of us here."
Matej Kimlicko, a 23 year-old student of philosophy at Comenius University who made the trek from Bratislava, compared the show with the band's previous Slovak performances: "It was a fantastic concert, better than the first two in Slovakia mostly because [original lead singer] Bruce Dickinson was back with the band."
Aside from his interest in Iron Maiden, Kimlicko is a member of a 300-strong fan club of the German metal band Helloween centred in Zvolen, and he reviews CDs for a Slovak heavy metal Internet site. He explained that the genre became popular in Slovakia in the early 80's and has remained strong despite the vacuum of domestic bands and the infrequency of live concerts from abroad.
Kimlicko even went so far as to say that although heavy metal started in the US and England, its status in Slovakia was currently stronger. "In America in the 80's the scene was perfect, but then came Nirvana and it all died. This I cannot understand," he said ruefully. "Nowadays even Metallica is playing pop music."
While interest in America may have largely gone the way of tongue-in-cheek nostalgia, heavy metal in Slovakia never went through the process of coming to a peak and then burning out. According to Martin Skála, manager of the Victory music store in Bratislava, 25% of his sales still come from heavy metal bands. "Perhaps heavy metal was slightly more popular in the 80s, but that generation is still alive and kicking," he said. "Once you leave Bratislava you especially see the interest."
Explaining this popularity, however, is no easier in Slovakia than anywhere else in the world. A professor of music history at Comenius, who refused to be named when he learned he was being questioned for an article about heavy metal, seemed irritated by heavy metal's firm foothold in Slovak society. "In terms of music, heavy metal is, with very few exceptions, thought out and performed at an extremely low level. It is a phenomenon that must have socio-cultural roots because it has no artistic value," he said crossly.
But 15,000 soaking-wet, ecstatic Maiden fans begged to differ. At the end of the concert in Bystrica, Bruce Dickinson saluted the throngs, saying, "You guys are great. And we'd like to thank you for coming out in such large numbers despite the rain." Judging by the crazed glow on their faces, they would all do it again in a heartbeat.
Additional reporting by Zuzana Habšudová
19. Jun 2000 at 0:00 | Matthew J. Reynolds