In rock and metal music scenes, it’s not uncommon for bands to push the boundaries. Ozzy Osbourne once bit the head of a bat on stage (he would have thought it was a plastic replica, not the real one); Alice Cooper posed nude with a boa constrictor; KISS mixed the blood of the band members with the ink used to print their 1977 Marvel comics.
But few bands have taken the macabre spectacle to the level of Iron Maiden (The number of the beast, Fear of the dark), who put on a concert in August 1993 in London which remains one of the most unique live music shows ever produced. That’s because it’s not often that the guitarist’s disembodied hands are still able to play the correct chord, or that the lead singer is beheaded during the show’s grand finale.
There will be blood
Raise hell was the brainchild of Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG), a pay-per-view production company that had been successful with a New Kids on the Block special in 1990 that turned out to be one of the most successful pay-TV events. most profitable in history up to this point. While boxing has traditionally been the most lucrative offering for cable subscribers, SEG believed there was an untapped market in the roughly 12 million households that had the capacity to purchase a premium event.
Their next effort would be a drastic departure from a boy group. “They wanted to do a concert based on a hell party concept,” UK-based magician Simon Drake told Mental Floss.
SEG envisioned a show that would combine heavy metal and theater. They first reached out to Ricky Jay, a well-respected sleight-of-hand expert and occasional actor. Jay, in turn, recommended Drake, who had achieved his fair share of viscerally intense illusions on British television and in his own series, The secret cabaret. Drake could, for example, choose to saw an assistant in half. Then he just wouldn’t bother to put her back on her feet.
“I think I was voted ‘Most Violent Magician’ on a TV show,” Drake laughs. “I had a kind of [Quentin] Tarantino is approaching the age of magic. It was a hot and cold shower approach. One minute you would do something nasty and the next it would be something enchanting. Assuming, of course, that audiences can ignore any residual stage blood.
SEG and Drake began discussing which musicians could best complete his tours. Ministry was an option; so was Ozzy Osbourne. “Then they heard that I had done a live performance to promote an Iron Maiden album, Fear of the dark“Says Drake.” I asked them to get involved and they were delighted to do so.
“Buckets of blood”
Iron Maiden was formed in 1975 by bassist Steve Harris and eventually settled into a lineup that included Harris, vocalist Bruce Dickinson, guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, and drummer Clive Burr. (Dickinson, Harris, and Murray eventually appeared on the special, along with guitarist Janick Gers and drummer Nicko McBrain.) They released seven hit albums in the 1980s, drawing an avid fan as well as critics during the Panic Hysteria. 1980s satanic who saw metal bands accused of improperly influencing teenagers to self-destructive behaviors. But that was in the ’90s, and some bloodletting on stage seemed just controversial enough without eliciting too much contempt.
As he repeated the magic sequences, Drake was surprised that SEG wanted more, not less, of the red stuff. “I remember the producers saying, ‘No, Simon, more blood!’ Truly? ‘Yes! Buckets of blood! “
With SEG and Drake in agreement on Iron Maiden, Drake went to Portugal, where the band was on tour, to prepare for the special. “I wrote down a bunch of ideas, like cutting off Stevie’s arms and playing a solo with them,” Drake says. “The solo I played with Iron Maiden on stage is every fan’s dream.”
The final illusions were a mix of songs Drake had played before and others that were only in the prototype stage, with Drake showing them off for the first time during the gig: “Like chopping off a guy’s head and play football with it, or tear a girl’s heart apart. It was totally fair for this show.
Because the venue was to accommodate both Drake and Iron Maiden, the production chose not to book a conventional music room and instead headed to Pinewood Studios, the legendary movie scene in Iver Heath, England, just outside London which has hosted a number of the James Bond films as well as Star wars and countless other big budget productions. “It was a real audience of Iron Maiden fans and my TV fans,” Drake says. “It was an L-shaped stage; we carried loads of fans there. I don’t know how many people. It was either 500 or 1000.”
Iron Maiden performed a total of 17 songs, while Drake performed his increasingly ghoulish stage illusions. He took a knife and plunged it into his forearm, causing both blood to flow on stage and a chorus of “Oahhhhh!” a crowd; he twisted the limbs of one helper like a Stretch Armstrong doll and put a drill through another helper’s head. As well as playing with the guitarist’s newly severed hands, Drake ended the show by kidnapping Dickinson and placing him inside a true Iron Maiden – a largely apocryphal medieval torture device in which the victims were trapped in a spike sandwich – before “Eddie”, the group’s monstrous mascot, placed his severed head on a pole. Drake himself got his reward when Eddie then impaled him on a stake.
The show was well received by fans of Iron Maiden and Drake, but didn’t have much of an impact when it aired on U.S. pay-per-view television for $ 19.95 on August 28, 1993. On the one hand, the Grand Guignol style was not to everyone’s taste. When the concert aired on British television, Drake says, three of the bloodiest towers were removed; during early detection, a cadre of SEG passed out from all the blood.
It was clear that combat sports, not concerts, were the future of pay-per-view. While most viewers couldn’t make it to Las Vegas for a big fight, they could probably catch a concert tour passing through their city. Following this trend, SEG chose to pursue another bloody show, this one very real. They made their debut in the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993.
As for Drake: Even though he enjoyed collaborating with the band, the experience was not entirely positive.
“Television can be disappointing in some ways,” he says. “A lot of the stuff I rehearsed was about the music of Metallica, Jeff Beck and others. Then [SEG] nicknamed the music from the library on it. Their job is to save money. My job is to create interesting entertainment.
And although Drake never subscribed to the idea that hard rock or metal music could have a negative influence, he found himself disturbed by the public reaction to some of his most horrific illusions. “I was playing in this pastiche, kind of a violent horror monster,” he says. “But watching the fans scream, they really didn’t see it as a joke. They saw it as real. They didn’t really understand what I was doing.
Following Raise hell, Drake removed the horror character he portrayed on stage. He also stopped making television and even performing in other places, preferring to create his own. For the past 25 years, Drake has managed the House of Magic in London, where he and other performers provide a unique mix of shows, haunted tours, and food.
“We just had a vegan wedding,” Drake laughs. It’s a far cry from Iron Maiden, but fans of the group will continue to appear. And Drake is pretty sure he’s still got Bruce Dickinson’s severed head somewhere.