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Iron Maiden's heavy metal sermon is loud and clear

Attire for church usually includes suits and Sunday best dresses. At the Agganis Arena on Friday night the sartorial choices ran more toward tattered tour shirts and leather.

But there is no question that the dudes of all ages in the sellout crowd had come to worship with both solemnity and ecstasy.

In this case the deity in question was Iron Maiden and the scripture that of the veteran British band's canon of considered cacophony.

Depending on your opinion of the sextet's new album, ``A Matter of Life and Death," it was either a triumph of triplet-based heavy metal nirvana celebrating continued creative vitality or a well-played but disappointing snub to the greatest hits that have afforded the band the ability to make new albums and play arenas nearly 30 years into its career. Either way, Iron Maiden shredded.

It did so in service to that album -- a collection of average but heartfelt anti-war and do - unto - others messages -- which the band played front to back on a stage decked out like a WWII bunker complete with sandbag walls and two levels for tensile - throated and tireless vocalist Bruce Dickinson to use as a runway.

The response to songs like the yearning ``Different World," the gang chant ``These Colours Don't Run" and the high - power - ballad drama of ``The Legacy" ranged from unbridled shout - along enthusiasm to hearty loyalist cheers. While the new tunes employ age-old Maiden techniques -- brawny rhythms, creepy vocal opens to histrionic chorus detonations, squealy guitar solos -- it was the post ``Life" quintet of more familiar tracks for which the crowd exploded into a sea of air drummers, guitarists , and unhinged headbangers. (Tellingly , it was also when the smoke machine went into overdrive). Longtime album cover mascot Eddie made several appearances -- both on the changing stage backdrops and in person. He rose atop a tank at the conclusion of ``Iron Maiden" and in the form of a giant puppet -- complete with helmet, combat gear , and a rifle draping his skeletal frame -- lock stepping and saluting through ``The Evil That Men Do."

The night came to a thunderous close with ``Hallowed Be Thy Name." And if the close to the two - hour sermon didn't contain all the messages the congregation had hoped it might, that doesn't mean it wasn't well worth hearing.

Welsh quartet Bullet for My Valentine filled the undercard slot with simpatico riffage.

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