Nothing rankles a metal-thrash band more these days than Saddam Hussein. Sure, MTV and television evangelists took their shots when Iron Maiden and Anthrax pummeled a mostly male, denim and leather crowd at the Patriot Center Friday night, but Saddam incurred most of the wrath. Maiden's lead singer Bruce Dickinson even took a banner from some fans that read "No Prayer for Saddam," a reference to the band's new album "No Prayer for the Dying," and posted it behind him.

Given the fact that Iron Maiden has licensed concessionaires to sell T-shirts and programs at the usual inflated arena-rock prices, Dickinson's rants about MTV's commercialism seemed silly at best. Still, the crowd ate it up along with everything else the British band served up, whether it was a tedious series of old album tracks rooted in mysticism or the more topical "Holy Smoke." Newcomer Janick Gers matched Dickinson's energy onstage, and the combination of his guitar playing and the band's ghoulish and gargantuan props offered momentary relief from Dickinson's one-dimensional howl.

Anthrax's opening set was far more aggressive, borrowing from punk, metal, hip-hop and rap, and relying heavily on Charlie Benante's double-bass-drum kit for momentum. Did anyone seem to mind that the lyrics to "Keep It in the Family" and other songs were obliterated in the process? Not on your life. Rhythm -- dense, unrelenting and monotonous -- ruled.