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Hot on the heels of 'Dance of Death' came 'A Matter of Life and Death', a much more well rounded and succinct prog effort from the Maiden lads. Sporting a better production than its predecessor, AMoLaD is more organic and live sounding. The music elaborates on what 'Dance of Death' last accomplished, but improves on all prog elements to stunning effect, all whilst maintaining the classic refined Maiden trademark sound. The album is of course laden with interweaving guitar solos from the trio of Smith, Murray, and Gers and the dominant bass from Harris. Nothing really new in the performance department, but rather what makes this album so special is how well Maiden have managed to create their own brand of progressive metal in this album.
What makes this album a real winner is the masterful songwriting. Every melody, every passage, every vocal line is appropriate and indispensible in the song's context. No song seems bloated or outstays its welcome. Bruce Dickinson's vocals are noticeably aged but still powerful, and unlike 'The Final Frontier' I can't notice any blatant pitch correction. Again, I say this album is very enjoyably organic. Bruce's softer points on the album, particularly in the beginnings of "The Legacy", "Lord of Light", and the entirety of "Out of the Shadows" really showcase the quality of his tone as a vocalist.
A side note which I feel is another positive point for this album is it doesn't have any overly repetitive choruses (i.e., "In a brave new world, a brave new world" x4, "The final frontier, the final frontier" x4). The only possible offender on this point is "For the Greater Good of God", but it circumvents this issue relatively well in my opinion.
The album's opener "Different World" follows in the same path of the preceding album's "Wildest Dreams". This leaves only two more songs under the 6 minute mark, a brisk rocker called "The Pilgrim", and an absolutely lovely, rolling ballad called "Out of the Shadows". Every other song on the album is over six minutes and begins soft, escalating until it kicks into full steam ahead. Despite the similarity of intros, these songs all have their unique characteristics. "The Legacy" begins with haunting acoustic guitars and Bruce's old story teller-like persona. "These Colours Don't Run" and "Brighter than a Thousand Suns" are more bombastic in their explosions from quietude into rage, utilizing their trio-guitar assets to the fullest potential with harmonies galore.
'A Matter of Life and Death' is easily one of Iron Maiden's strongest post-2000 releases, on par with 'Brave New World' (and I would argue it's better!). This is not your classic 'Powerslave' Iron Maiden, but if you're open-minded and interested to see what a mature, experienced band can do to grow and expand upon their trademark sound with resounding success then check this album out and enjoy.
Imagine “The X-Factor” with a straighter live production and Bruce Dickinson on vocals and you get “A Matter of Life and Death” which includes mostly depressing and lengthy mid-tempo tracks about war and other sinister topics. As I am a person who likes to dive into darker territories, I adore the almost constantly bleak atmosphere on this release. One of the best examples on here is the dynamical “These Colours Don’t Run” with an incredibly vivid bass guitar and drum work as well as an epic bridge with sing along parts. It’s also worth mentioning the brutal yet majestic “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” that varies from extremely heavy riffs to almost psychedelic sounds and back again. “For the Greater Good of God” is more melodic and features decent orchestrations that give the track an elegant and mature touch.
Despite several great songs, the record also has its negative sides. Most people might disagree but I think that Blaze Bayley’s sinister, technically limited but incredibly emotional voice added a lot to the atmosphere on “The X-Factor”. Bruce Dickinson is definitely the better singer from a technical point of view but his theatrical high-pitched vocals don’t always fit to this kind of music and topic. The worst example is probably “The Longest Day” which is a song about D-Day which starts in a very bleak and promising way. Then, the high-pitched pre-chorus and chorus sound so happy that it feels inappropriate and odd to me. These vocals scrap the brilliant build-up in the introduction and verses. A darker and more grounded voice would have easily improved the final result.
Another issue is the song writing and the length of the album. Some tracks have really great calmer introductions that add to the atmosphere but in total, seven out of ten tracks have introductions that are stretched to almost three minutes in the worst cases. That’s how an initially interesting idea gets repeated to death and finally becomes very boring and predictable. Especially the second half of the release suffers from that. “The Legacy” is for example one of my least favourite songs of the band in general and I rarely manage to listen to it from the beginning to the end. It’s definitely the weakest album closer ever delivered by the band. The strange, numb and hypnotizing “Lord of Light” took several years to grow a little bit on me. Today, I think it’s a good average tune with a gripping atmosphere and some original ideas but it doesn’t always feel structured and could have been much better with more consistent and shorter song writing. Even a few shorter songs include unnecessary lengths. The power ballad “Out of the Shadows” is a nice melodic track and would have been an example for consistent song writing if the song had ended after three minutes and a half. Instead of doing so, the band added a boring instrumental bridge just to repeat the chorus one more time. I’m sorry but the last two minutes really ruined an otherwise interesting tune to me.
This is why the few shorter and actually consistent tracks stand positively out to me. “Different World” sounds a little bit too similar to “Rainmaker” and is only a good average opener but in the context of the entire album, this song feels really fresh and dynamical. “The Pilgrim” is even better with its oriental sounds that hark back to “The Nomad” six years earlier. I’ve always thought that “The Nomad” was artificially stretched and one of the less memorable tracks on its album and I really prefer the shorter and more energizing “The Pilgrim” where Bruce Dickinson’s joyous and skilled vocals probably fit best on the record as well.
In the end, “A Matter of Live and Death” is neither among Iron Maiden’s greatest nor among their worst releases. It’s a quite good average effort with a consistent atmosphere and vivid production on one side and a few overlong and repetitive tracks with too joyous vocals on the other. We still have to take into consideration that we are talking about Iron Maiden which is maybe the most influential heavy metal band in the world. Hands down, in almost any other band’s discography, this would be a career highlight but if we compare it to other efforts of the British legends, this album can’t entirely convince me. It’s surely a great and almost concept-like release for those who don’t like Blaze Bayley’s vocals but the general feeling and idea behind “The X-Factor” because this is pretty much what you get here.
Iron Maiden have been making consistently great music since Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith returned to the fold in 1999. After the mixed-bag albums they released in the 90s, this was the much needed boost for the band to kick serious arse once again. Often, when bands reunite with 'classic' members and/or they declare a return to their roots, the music they put together in celebration of this is often quite derivative, and therefore usually bland. With Iron Maiden, there is just as much passion and talent shown in recent albums as in their classic output. A Matter of Life and Death is definitely no exception, and is probably the best of the post-Blaze albums.
Starting with the first "reunion" album, Brave New World, the band have gone in a more progressive direction, with the average song lasting longer, some typically lasting between 7-9 minutes. 6 out of the 10 songs on A Matter of Life and Death are in this length range. It's not often that a band is capable of releasing an album with songs of this length where the listener is able to get through it all. However, A Matter of Life and Death is full of great composition and songwriting all the way through. The band have shown off some impressive guitar harmonics and riffs ever since they became a six-piece, three-guitarist band. Bruce Dickinson can still hit some of the very high notes, and this album is clear evidence of that. The songs themselves are just as emotional and daring as the band always have been. Although they have perhaps never changed their style as drastically as some of their contemporaries (e.g. Judas Priest) have, you can hardly say Iron Maiden are "playing it safe" these days, especially when their two most recent albums (this and The Final Frontier) are the two longest studio albums in their career. They still seem to be high in musical and lyrical ideas, which is more than you can say for most other bands their age.
Thematically, many of the album's songs center lyrically around religion, as well as war and the suffering that comes as a consequence, although it is not strictly a concept album. These themes however are clearly represented on the album cover. The atmosphere that the music creates is also darker than Brave New World or Dance of Death, which I felt had a few songs between them that wouldn't sound out of place on an 80s Maiden album. "Different World", the opener for this album, is the only track that I feel that way about on this album. Of course, as I've said, it's usually good for a band not to retrace their steps, but rather to move forward and progress with their sound, no matter how far they are into their career. That is precisely what they do, and they do it better than most.
Several changing time signatures and tempos are present, and "Brighter Than A Thousand Suns" is a good example of the band making a use of these. It starts off with slow, steady drums and guitars which eventually launch into a galloping beat with speedy riffing halfway through, which creates an apocalyptic mood fitting with the lyrical theme of nuclear warfare. It's also one of the album's strongest tracks. Another good example is closing track "The Legacy", a song which discusses the questionable legacy of men going out to war and some of them needlessly dying in battle, and the emotional impact on those who were part of those soldiers' lives. It starts off acoustically, but builds up to a full band assault as Bruce continues to sing with heavy emotion addressing a man lying on his deathbed. The honestly is brutal, and well, so is the music. It is perhaps the best song on the album.
Production wise, the album does just fine. In fact, it was not mastered with any EQ or compression enhancements so that it would carry more of a live sound. This was a smart decision to make as you can hear much of the raw energy from the band, which is fitting for a rather dark album, as it fully allows the passion and emotion to be revealed to the listener, in a way. As well as that, many of the takes used on the album were first takes, which eradicates the chances of the band's playing sounding forced to the listener, or Bruce's voice having less passion and emotion in his delivery, which may come as a result as doing too many takes of the same song. I did, notice, however, in "Brighter Than A Thousand Suns" some problems in the volume of Bruce's vocals, with a few very tiny parts sounding a little too quiet. However, it is no big deal and does little to affect the quality of the song as a whole.
I should hope that in time, A Matter of Life and Death will be seen as one of the greatest heavy metal albums to come out of its decade. Its length may understandably seem off-putting at first, but hopefully within 2 or 3 tracks, any fears that the listener has of the album being too long for its own good should go away. It's the band's best work since their 80s output. Brave New World and Dance of Death are definitely not far behind in terms of quality, but this album just simply tops both of them and should be hailed as one of Iron Maiden's greatest achievements, and a great addition to their legacy.
Good lord, nothing here I would give less than four stars! This epitomizes quality over quantity with a massive 72 minute ride down the warpath spread over only ten songs.
The opener, "Different World", is the album's best proof of Dickinson's durability. He proves his voice is still marvelously powerful even after 10 Iron Maiden records across three decades. Lyrically, it is a regrettably standard rock/metal ode to doing your own thing and "everybody has a different way to view the world" - who cares? But the song is redeemed and then some by Smith's fairly short, yet blistering solo.
Lyrically and melodically, the highlight here is the almost 9 minute masterpiece "Brighter Than a Thousand Suns". You'd be hard pressed in my mind to challenge its candidacy for heavy metal song #1 of the 2000s. The soft vocal intro with slowly building guitar intensity keeps you on the edge of your seat and knocks you right out as Bruce belts out "we will feel the pain of his beginning". This coupled with the first electrification of the simple, yet menacing main riff is brilliant. Much has been sung about atomic war, but little compares to 1000 Suns.
Assuming the listener is not too closed-minded about McBrain's Christianity, "The Pilgrim" comes in as a close second best on this disc. The lyrics are deeply spiritual as all meaningful metal should be (whether you carry or invert your crucifix, the theme of spiritual crisis should strike a chord). As the instruments go, "The Pilgrim" has Nicko's most proficient drum rhythm that you can't help playing along to as well as a subtle, yet unshakable Middle Eastern vibe that matches its psalm-like words.
The back five songs, aside from "Out of the Shadows", follow the example of tracks 2 and 3: long with a soft, dark, mood-building intro verse (or two verses, or two minutes). "The Longest Day" is the bloodiest track here. Its slow, slogging opening perfectly suits its theme of Allied soldiers dragging themselves up over the daunting fortifications of Hitler's Norman Coast. There follows the relatively shorter "Out of the Shadows", whose strange mystical lyrics all wouldn't be out of place on one of Maiden's late-'80s albums (this is not to say that it's out of place here).
As mentioned, tracks 7-10 are more similar to 2, 3 and 5, in both length and in structure. They all feature Iron Maiden's patented slow buildup and my favourite trademark of theirs, the instrumental rhythm solo (see also Metal Church for a band who does that well). Of course, do not skip the lead solo in "Lord of Light". It weaves and winds its way through tastefully used distortion to create a feeling of being pulled down a spiral staircase to the abyss.
I must admit, when I saw the last song was called "The Legacy" I worried that they were hinting this would be their last song ever. And it would have been going out on a good note as the solid main riff rolls down on you like an avalanche. Last, but not least, "The Legacy" features the highlight of Steve Harris' bass work on this record. Not since Trouble's classic "Endtime" back in '84 has anyone used the bass to introduce, then mirror the guitar line so effectively. Dang, it's crushing when that's done right!
As of now, this is the only album to earn an absolute perfect score from me. Listen to it - it's a matter of life and death!
I don't know for the Benjamin Breeg's enigmatic identity but I do clearly hear The Reincarnation of Iron Maiden, over the planetary zenith, once again breaking their own status quo into the most serious, atmospheric LP to date since the record just wipes out most 90's material, making them instantly prepared and reinitiated for the 21st century, Iron Maiden.
This is the 2006 Iron Maiden's expose of revolutionized sound, theatrical epicness, ambience and astonishingly well translated war-like pre-apocalyptic atmosphere of despair, fear, tragedy, hope, victory - making this record capable in general for the delivery of some of the richest atmospherical, emotional and progressional experiences ever produced by the band in one, I'd say most mature LP, again, to this date.
Steve Harris' songwriting skills clearly can not deteriorate. His inspiration will with over the +90% probability result in a successful aspiration of the spirited, creatively hungry listener. "A Matter Of Life And Death" is the opus that lyrically and musically evolves around religious, with sometimes occult thematics, war-like and pacifistic ideals & sentiments making you question the circus that world has become with all the political clowns and pawns. Who are we and where is the religion in this interactive occurrences between god and the mortal one (soldier, guardian of justice etc.), what are the actual meanings and goals that war pandemonium elevates upon nations and their citizens's freedoms & national sovereignty. In short the thematic concept will creatively expand you even beyond the lyrics, making your synaptic connections and subconscious refreshed and enriched with questions and ideas, deeper meanings of the political and social realms we are now very linearly drowning ourselves in, globally, not only in the US of A, if you listen this record with more prosperous goals than with just for the purpose of listening to another record of the legendary NWOBHM trademark band.
Bruce Dickinson again delivers the vocal performance of his life continuously expanding over his own boundaries. We can clearly hear more dedicated operatic and theatric performance that very convincingly compensates over the written tabs and harmonies then melodies, great moody emotional anthems like the initiating track, "Different World". Well done transitions in "For The Greater Good Of God", "The Legacy" etc. it's just astonishingly done and man again reinforced my own reasons for considering him as an absolute icon of heavy metal along with several other names. Melodies are performed with strong emotional transitions and fast - dynamic intervals, of the progressive label worthy.
Nicko's gallops' are greatly placed, his rhythmical sense and the unstoppable percussions still hold his trademark but in a slightly more incremented way in terms of quality drumming (progressive needs). 3 guitar section of Smith, Murray and Gers again accomplishes the interaction, and the sense for melody and interchanges quite masterfully. Solos are fantastic and I just wonder how they pick who performs them, since they are just energetically abundant and powerful, maybe the most serious guitar work ever defined by this band's guitar trio.
Arrangements and mixing were accomplished very well by the producer Kevin Shirley and Maiden definitely found their subject for all the future endeavors, no doubt. Sound is very precise, pure and sonic, making it provenly as a great engineering move since the record was derived directly from the masters, and this is the exact atmosphere and conceptual environment where the quality of the record should be given that character of production.
In an outro of this review, I'd just like to highlight the fact that except the standard audio CD, there is the so called 'special edition' featuring "Making of" short movie that I'd highly recommend for the true fans and zealots alike so that they could then identify the band in a new creative environment by watching the creative process in footage and how naturally they are setting new standards for themselves. This album was a pure Iron Maiden record for the modern ears, with more audible complexity (that's why it's harder to grasp to the standard, "give me The Trooper" fan), progressive dynamic, time interval changes without fill-ins, obviously longer track duration, excellent lyrics and completely spot on theme of the pseudo-concept.
Iron Maiden has done what few could, they transcended and the implicit answer is that they chose the right path in their focus, their work and followers, in a matter of life for the life.
I bought this album when it was new because I was gullible enough to believe the hype. This album is still ridiculously overrated on Amazon.com and some of my fellow metalheads here seem to love it, but I got tired of "A Matter of Life and Death" and put it away after three listenings. It's on my mp3 player and the songs come up on shuffle, but they tend to get skipped. The sheer boredom I felt, and still feel, when I hear this record hasn't gone away and the widespread love for this CD still boggles my mind. "Dance of Death" was forgettable, but this album is flat-out boring to me, and I find it unforgivable that I can't listen to one of my top 3 all-time bands without shutting them off halfway through.
It is silly in my opinion to compare the current Iron Maiden to their heyday in the 80s and early 90s. This is a reformation of the band and needs to be treated as such, not unlike Deep Purple getitng back together in the 80s and having radically different output. That being said, I loved "Brave New World" and not just for the nostalgia. I thought the songs were unique and exciting and I was never bored listening to it. This album... ugh.
First and foremost, Bruce Dickinson spends way too much time singing in his highest register and he simply cannot stay there all the time. He sounds strained and I can't believe they allowed this to go on through most of the record. The first three tracks live off Bruce's straining voice and although he doesn't necessarily sound bad, he certainly doesn't sound good. At least there are decent multi-tracked harmonies on the third track "The Pilgrim", and his mid range sounds awesome as usual, but layed beneath (above?) the harmonized parts, there's the high notes again and they sound strained. It also seems to me that there are simply too much singing here in general, as if the verses and choruses had been extended to match the bloated nature of most songs on "A Matter of Life and Death".
I was going to complain about the lyrics being trite anti-war fodder, but I decided that's not fair. The lyrics are well written and very ambitious, although nothing to sing along with or get excited over. The issue I have more than anything is that I've heard these sentiments so many times (particularly in the last ten years) that it is meaningless to me. Obviously, this concept album is some sort of reaction to the Iraq/Afghan wars and the band goes into great lengths to condemn warfare in general. Fine. Bolt Thrower does it better. So does Motorhead. So did Creedence Clearwater Revival for that matter.
Musically, the familiar bass gallop is ever-present, however most of the musical passages are repeated much more than they should be and rarely kick into high gear. The album plods along for the most part, and even the very nice technical break during "The Longest Day" just doesn't hold my attention. You can see where a lot of care was put into crafting these songs, but Iron Maiden forgot the excitement and certainly forgot when to stop playing.
The instruments are crystal clear. If you like well-produced metal and appreciate near-perfect separation of sound, then this is your album. However, I would postulate that the clarity of sound works to the detriment of Maiden's current 3-guitar attack. I rarely hear anything being done here that couldn't be achieved with two guitars, so that gimmick is wasted for the third album in a row. The only time the three guitar sound jumps out at the listener is during "Out of the Shadows", but of course this same effect is easily accomplished with multi-tracking.
The two singles, "Different World" and "The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg" are an exercise in contrasts. "Different World" opens up the album and it is excellent, fast paced, and the 4:17 running time is just right. "Breeg", conversely, is a swollen tedious mess and should have been off-putting to potential buyers, but in hindsight it sums up the album well. It's the point where I completely start to lose interest in "A Matter of Life nd Death" that's for sure.
God is this album long. I'm forcing myself to listen to it for this review and I like it a bit more than I did before, but it's taking forever just to spin it a half dozen more times in order to properly review. 72 minutes? What for? I will hand it to Maiden for their ballsy move of playing this behemoth all the way through on their tour, but if I was a fan and didn't know beforehand I would have been pissed.
Don't believe the hype on this one.
Empires rise and fall, men age with their gods and kings, stars ignite and contract, asteroid belts continue to hover across the firmament, and through it all, Iron Maiden continues to slog forth relentlessly, bringing their aged and fermented heavy metal to new generations of bright eyed youngsters and those crazy bastards that loved them all along. As of 2006 I cannot say I had any expectations whatsoever from this rusted old tank. They had thrilled me from 1980-1988, flirted with me for a few years beyond that, had me filing for divorce for the latter half of the 90s, had a quick encounter of makeup metal at the turn of the century, and then hung me out to dry once more. A Matter of Life and Death was just another frame of time, as sure as my morning coffee but doubtfully as sweet.
I had felt Dance of Death might function more realistically under the title 'Dance of Dragged Feet', but that album had come and gone without much offense, simply a dull endeavor rather than an outrage. At 72 minutes, this was going to be the longest Maiden album yet, surpassing the numbing duration of The X Factor, and no Derek Riggs cover in sight, instead adorned with a decent piece by comics illustrator Tim Bradstreet. The album has a nice, bright sound to it which I felt was lacking on its predecessor, and this is in part due to the lack of a final 'mastering'. Iron Maiden wanted to stick it straight to your gut, and so they did. It sounds great. But what of the songs?
Once I finished listening through the first track to this 14th album, "Different World", I had at least the impression that they were going to wring out some late inspirational tears as they did with Brave New World. For this track reminds me quite a lot of "Wicker Man", with the same emotional ballast and accessible hooks. It's not as powerful, but it will suffice, especially if the rest of the album can carry the torch. I was eager to listen to "These Colours Don't Run", partially inspired by the entire Ozzfest/Sharon Osbourne vs. Iron Maiden with hardcore kids and eggs debacle, but blown into a far broader meaning here through the lyrics. Great song title, but the song is little more than average, with a chorus that feels redundant. "Brighter Than a Thousand Suns" is a solid enough tune, with some cool guitar melodies that arch beyond Bruce's verses, but I didn't find much in the way of payoff lying in ambush in the nearly 9 minutes of time it took to finish.
"The Pilgrim" has one of the band's traipsing folk-like memories shorn off at the neck towards a thrusting rhythm, then morphing into an acceptable, atmospheric chorus with some nice backing vocals. "The Longest Day" is powerful and emotional, but riff-wise it's simply not all that meaty, playing its best moments through the chorus guitar melody. "Out of the Shadows" is a gently flowing ballad with a few minutes where the chords erupt or the lead shines, but I'll be honest, unless it's being blared right before my ears, I tend to entirely forget its existence. "The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg" was the first single to this album, and again, a couple of minutes of ballad with clean guitars before you get to the metal bits, and those are at least somewhat catchy for the dirty groove of the guitars that spawns the chords. But it doesn't support the 7+ minute length.
And from there out, all the songs are pretty long. "For the Greater Good of God" is over 9 minutes, and has its highs and lows, though everything aside from the stunning melodic chorus feels redundant with tracks that the band has written in the past. I was excited to see a track called "Lord of Light", as this is one of my favorite science fiction novels, from the acclaimed Roger Zelazny. Of course, like "Childhood's End" on Fear of the Dark, the song has little in common with the book except for the title, though some of the fiery images in the lyrics might remind one of the characters. Unfortunate! As for the song itself, it slowly escalates into a fairly powerful groove, with Dickinson going off at every opportunity. "The Legacy" is another track to start off with acoustic guitars and slowly climb itself up to the actual metal, a tactic the band has used far too many times since their heyday in the 80s. But there is some eventual payoff here, and it's probably one of the better songs overall on the album, like a Maiden prog-rock opus once more over 9 minutes.
Overall, A Matter of Life and Death is not really a matter of life or death...but it damn well sounds good, with perhaps the best production to mine ears since the band's 80s albums that I so fawn over. I feel this another album where much fat could be trimmed down about the actual pork, in particular the excess use of mellow intros which the band needs to just kick in the nuts. Even the better songs don't exactly scream out with replay value here, but there are many pleasant melodies scattered throughout and the performance of Dickinson is nothing to scoff at.
Highlights: Different World, For the Greater Good of God, The Legacy
Here comes the Maiden Machine, rolling through the parade with its flags raised high. A new Iron Maiden album is always a cause for celebration, even though their works up until this point since the 80s had been a bit inconsistent and middling in quality, not always hitting the highs we had expected from them before. But still, it was Maiden! One of the most dependable and solid metal bands ever, one of the epochal bands that just about everyone can name a song or two they like from. It didn't matter that the newest albums like Brave New World and Dance of Death had a bit of dragging filler, because the general mood was still a triumphant one that we associated with Iron Maiden at their best. And they have continued this fiery momentum with the newest, entitled A Matter of Life and Death.
So, why is this album so good? Because it takes the classic Maiden sound and boldly steps into new territories, and it does it well. The other two before this one were experimental, but they were experimental in small doses, and they didn't really take an entire album in one focused direction. This album does that, with a whole album full of Iron Maiden at their most mature and gripping, with all the grandeur of the 80s Maiden not attempted to be shamelessly replicated, but rather just done up in the more modern and restrained style that this album pushes forward. There is a subtle prog notion at work here, but the focus is mostly just on huge, rolling soundscapes of riffs and melodies that can sound foreboding or uplifting or even warlike on some tracks, like the commanding and powerful "The Longest Day." THAT'S what this album is good for. I can lose myself in the huge, massive sound of this album. It is completely encompassing, and yet it still sounds like a Maiden album 100%. Here we see a classic band taking on a new sound that is actually challenging and more complex than the older material. That isn't something that happens often.
So let's recap: This is both classic Maiden and not classic Maiden. Confused yet? Good. The emotional quality of the work on here is just astoundingly high. Every band member plays to his full potential. Everything is huge and searing, soulful and poignant, like the soundtrack to some great epic movie or novel, if it was done in metallic form. Bruce Dickinson's voice soars above the clouds, meshing with the massive guitar harmonies and the thundering bass beautifully, and the drum sound is as heavy as a house. This really is just about the heaviest thing Maiden has ever done, and maybe also the most emotive and arresting, too. Just listen to "Out of the Shadows"; good god what a gorgeous song. That isn't usually a word I would use to describe Iron Maiden, but it fits here, as this song is a nicely flowing balladic number with a chorus so heartwarming that you'll never be down again listening to it. One of Maiden's all time best.
Generally I would say the songs on here are good for one of two reasons most of the time, if not both: they are either heavy and galloping and epic, or extremely emotional, as talked about above. I don't think Maiden have ever done a song quite as pugilistic and punishing as "Brighter than a Thousand Suns," for example, with its crushing, soul-searing riff and monstrous chorus. "Lord of Light," likewise, has an angry, borderline Thrashy riff that will break your windows, as well as perhaps the most uncharacteristic mood and tone of any Maiden song, including any of the Blaze-era ones, with its candlelit theatrics making a pretty good picture of the band getting ready for some kind of occult ritual. Not exactly Maidenesque, but the song rules. "Different World" and "The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg" are perhaps the friendliest and most amiable of the songs here and they sound like classic Maiden, and in contrast, "For the Greater Good of God" could almost be on some kind of a film score with its pomposity and grandiose nature.
"The Pilgrim" is one of the more atmospheric numbers here, with its wandering motif and emotional chords conjuring in my mind the image of a sun-drenched plateau of sand and rocks, traveled mercilessly by those searching for a new place to settle and live, and it's a grower, probably the most inaccessible song on here, oddly enough. I didn't like it so much the first few times I heard it. I already mentioned "The Longest Day," but I'm mentioning it again, because it's the most well balanced on here; the best example of being both poignant and heavily epic and masterful. I'd say this is the best one on here, too, but that wouldn't be true; there are too many good songs on this album to choose just one. Whatever the case, "The Longest Day" is extremely captivating, with Bruce's wailing on the chorus combining with the somber and yet also triumphant guitar attack to create a real knockout of a song.
The nine minute "The Legacy" closes off the album with a narrative tale that sums up the album: this is the Maiden legacy, without a doubt. These guys are not slowing down, they are not pandering to burnt out husks who expect them to rerecord "The Trooper" and "2 Minutes to Midnight," and they are doing exactly what they want to do. For a band this old and influential to still be knocking heads against trends and remaining (highly) relevant is very cool and hopeful. I have nothing to say to the people who don't think this album is good, so I'll end my review by saying that Iron Maiden are truly a landmark, truly inimitable. May they live long and produce more great music and enjoy themselves wholeheartedly. Up the Irons!
Upon initially listening to A Matter of Life and Death, I thought I had recognized something no one else had noticed: namely, that this was perhaps one of the finest Christian metal albums I had ever heard. Well, upon further research and some gentle corrections from others, I have been forced to revise that opinion a bit. I still think there are some remarkable thematic elements that have fascinating parallels with Christian theology, and in that way, this is perhaps a more Christian album than many albums that purport to be contemporary Christian music. That being said, I don't think Iron Maiden set out to make a Christian record. I think they approached themes of life and death, peace and war, sin and salvation, with their customary integrity and honesty, and tapped into some universal themes.
Allow me to illuminate my point a bit. The song that initially caught my attention and got me examining the lyrics was "For the Greater Good of God." The last section piqued my curiosity: "He gave his life for us, He fell upon the cross/ To die for all of those who never mourn His loss/ It wasn't meant for us to fell the pain again/ Tell me why... Tell me why..." My initial thought was, this could be on a Petra album. Except, in a sense, this song is more honest and introspective than most of Petra's lyrics have ever been. This lyric is obviously referencing the death of Jesus, but it is asking a very valid question: Why? why do it, when no one seems to care?
There are some other excellent examples of theological introspection on the album, not to mention some thought provoking meditations on the horrors and stupidities of war. In the song "Brighter Than a Thousand Suns," the last line is "Holy Father, we have sinned..." In the Making of A Matter of Life and Death documentary, Bruce Dickinson talks about this song being about the Manhattan Project, perhaps one of the most horrifying attempts of humankind to "play God."
Then there's "Lord of Light" which I initially thought was about Jesus. Well, it turns out I was wrong--it's specifically about Satan, or Lucifer (which literally means "light bringer" in Latin). Bruce Dickinson has described the song as taking the position that maybe the "guy downstairs" got a bit of a bad rap. Still, I think it is significant from a religious perspective to examine the "relationship" between God and Satan. After all, in the Bible, the Book of Job describes God talking to Satan as if they were old pals. I know some of my Christian brethren and sistren would find the idea that God and Satan could have some meaningful dialogue an idea that borders on blasphemous, but I don't think they have done their homework. Besides, this song has a fascinating musical development. It starts very quietly, almost broodingly, the guitars just percolating along, then there's a pause right before things erupt in a fury. I think it's a great dramatic description of an argument between the "! guy downstairs" and his old boss. Which leads me to what really separates this album from some of the dreck in Christian "metal": the music.
I've seen some complaints about some of Iron Maiden's recent albums, how they don't rock as hard any more, etc. When it comes to this album, I completely disagree; A Matter of Life and Death rocks as hard as anything they've ever done. A perfect example is the aforementioned "For the Greater Good of God," which has vocals that rise in intensity, matched only by the equally stunning guitar riffs. The intensity builds until the very end, when the passage I quoted above interrupts, as if the experience has emotionally drained him until all he can get out is that question of "Why?" In general on this album, Bruce spends a lot of time in his high range, which matches the emotionaly intensity of the lyrics quite well. Also, several of the songs begin with a quietly seething energy, which serves as an introduction to the power that follows ("Brighter Than a Thousand Suns," for example). Perhaps those who complain about the heaviness of the sound (or lack thereof) don't appreciate the sublteties of beginning a piece with a controlled fury that later erupts. I believe the conviction with which Bruce sings, combined with the solid rhythmic drive of the rest of the band, form a perfectly matched combination of lyrical intensity, emotional power, and constant forward motion. Neither the lyrics nor the music seem to me to outshine each other; each serves the other.
Nicko McBrain has been very straightforward about his conversion to Christianity, as well as his decision to remain in the band, and I can't help but think that may have had an impact on the direction that this album took. But I don't want to give short shrift to the other guys, and their spiritual insights. This album may or may not be a "Christian album" in the strictest sense. But I wll tell you from a Christian standpoint that it is more insightful, harder rocking, and better produced than just about any album that purports to be Christian rock. The music is of an exceptionally high quality, and the lyrical content is powerful, honest, and to my way of thinking, highly thought provoking.
I'm confused by all the praise this album receives on the internet since I haven't met a single person face to face who has had anything positive to say about this album. I'm a tremendous fan of Iron Maiden's early work and Bruce Dickinson's solo albums with Roy Z but nothing post Seventh Son has really done anything for me. This album is no exception and in fact I think this is a step in the absolute wrong direction. I'm not some death metal fan with no love for the classics of the genre. I’m a follower of the NWOBHM first and foremost but I expect a band as influential and innovative as Maiden to sound that way, not to stagnate in mediocrity.
The first thing that really needs to be addressed is the production, I find it to be overly quiet and ineffectual. I'm all for having dynamics and not brick walling the music in the mastering process but this album sounds as if it wasn't mastered at all. I'm a bassist, Harris is a huge influence on me but he's a little high in the mix even for my taste. The music just doesn’t have the raw power that you’d expect from a band with three guitarists. I’ve felt that since No Prayer for the Dying, Maiden’s music has really taken a steep decline in the heaviness department, it just doesn‘t have that adrenaline inducing, galloping bottom end that it used to. I had hoped that bringing Adrian back while retaining Janick might beef up their sound but, as with the previous two albums, they’re not really attempting anything that couldn’t be achieved just as well with two guitar players and a little overdubbing
I found the songwriting to be really artificial in parts, the riffs don't really flow into one another very well. It seems almost like the band took a bunch of riffs and tacked them together. It all sounds really forced; not the organic, from the heart sound of Beast or Killers. Another weakness in the songwriting in my opinion is that almost every chorus is the title of the song sung over and over, this lyrical repetition isn't uncommon on newer Maiden albums but given the more progressive (read: repetitious) nature of this album, it tends to wear down on the listener faster than before.
There aren't really any flaws in the vocals or musicianship that were immediately discernable, Bruce is still holding on to the title of "Air Raid Siren". Maiden is still a very formidable live act and have aged quite gracefully in that respect but they've suffered incredibly in the songwriting and lyrically departments. It’s really upsetting to me because I wanted to enjoy this album, I don’t find any pleasure in nitpicking through it’s flaws. I understand this album is meant to be progressive and epic, I’ve given it plenty of chances in numerous states of mind but this album just doesn’t speak to me.
I guess as a fan it's not my place to tell Maiden that they're going down the wrong path, they've certainly earned their place in heavy metal history and it would be foolish for me to try to sway them from their artistic vision but personally I would love nothing more than for Maiden to pull off their equivalent of Judas Priest's Painkiller. A crushingly heavy reinvention of their trademark sound that redefines them and takes them to new heights of musical complexity, speed and brutality. Such an album would certainly bring fans like myself back into the fold but judging from way things have been going since the reunion; this dream is never going to come true. Hopefully Bruce has some more albums with Roy Z up his sleeve.
Because Iron Maiden has refused to undergo any monumental paradigm shifts in their thirty year career, their music has become a double-edged sword. Some assert that because a substantial portion of the band’s discography sounds analogous, it is iconic. Maiden never sold out and they always stuck to their guns, doing what they do best. On the other hand, some assert that because Maiden has remained entirely faithful to their sound throughout their career (at least, with Bruce Dickinson fronting), they have become boring. Their discography is plagued by filler and is both underwhelming and never-evolving.
I am of a stance that lies in-between these radical opinions. I adore much of Iron Maiden’s trademarked brand, but I am bored by an equal handful of it. The band’s greatest strength is its never-changing approach to all that is metal, melodic and fun, but, at the same time, this strength is also their biggest weakness.
A Matter of Life and Death, the group’s latest studio release, sees all of the band’s strengths become weaknesses. The album is enjoyable to listen to, but it isn’t particularly fresh or original, and it’s held hostage by run-of-the-mill material in abundance. Every band member sounds good, and most of them sound interested, but they don’t sound like they used to and they don’t sound all that inspired.
To claim that the record is devoid of anything worthwhile would be a lie. Opener “Different World” is excellent, as is “The Pilgrim” and “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg”, but to be honest probably the only reason I’m mentioning those tracks is because they’re the last three songs I heard off the album before writing this review. I cannot stress enough just how generic A Matter of Life and Death is, a quality that makes much of the album forgettable despite its moments of solidity.
I must note that if you like a vast majority of Iron Maiden’s music, you will probably like this effort. It isn’t one of their weakest works, it just isn’t very memorable. Ten years from now no one will give a shit that A Matter of Life and Death ever existed. Iron Maiden and Killers will still be remembered for being the band’s first records, The Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind and Powerslave will still be three of heavy metal’s most influential discs ever and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son will still be highly acclaimed, but no one will talk about A Matter of Life and Death. The album marks one of the beginning points of the band’s downslide, which is to be expected after all these years, but it shouldn’t be forgiven.
To put it bluntly, A Matter of Life and Death is exactly what you’d expect from Maiden in 2006. It’s not terrible, but it isn’t all that good, and next to even the band’s middle-tier efforts it flutters. Those who love Iron Maiden will marginally like the record, and those who hate Maiden will especially hate the record, but for those of us who fall into none of these categories, expect more of the same, except with nothing of significance or note to warrant a listen.
© Kevin Martell (TheOutlawXanadu)
I’ve been a fan since I first heard Wasted Years somewhere in ’86 and keeping track of the band ever since. There are albums I still play monthly and some albums collecting dust (mostly the 1992-1998 era). I have been playing this album now every few months since it came out about two years ago and I must conclude this is the worst Maiden album since the reunion with Smith and Dickinson. Is it bad? No, it is pretty enjoyable but somehow it just doesn’t grab my attention the whole time and the previous two studio albums just made more sense.
Biggest problem really is the laid back atmosphere surrounding “A Matter of Life and Death ”. Of course there are some sparse up tempo moments but as a whole the album just wanders along in a slow pace. Even the fastest and shortest song (“Different World”) is a bit too tame when listening to it and keeping songs like Moonchild or Aces High in mind. What makes this more obvious is the way Dickinson sings his way through the song. I’m missing some aggression, some rawness. It’s just too nice. I’m really missing that raging heavy metal feeling.
Another annoying aspect is the fact that there are many long songs here and the efficiency is lacking at some important moments. The album could have done with some shorter and simpler (heavier) songs to keep the balance. Whereas the old Maiden released albums with 70-80 percent short(er) songs and one or two epic ones, it is the other way around these days since the reunion.
Now this wouldn’t have been a problem if all the long songs would’ve had the same quality as, let’s say, “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner”, “Afraid To Shoot Strangers”, “Blood Brothers” or even “The Clansman”. However most of the longer songs on this album aren’t really all that epic. Some of them are actually sounding like overlong singles with stretched verses and (more obvious) stretched middle sections with numerous solos, breaks and melodies after which the band repeats a chorus once or twice again. It is starting to sound like stretching for the sake of stretching. I can’t really think of any reason why they should do this, but they did. A song like “These Colours Don't Run” simply would have been better about two minutes shorter at least. The chorus is a typical rock chorus that doesn’t fit into a lengthy 7 minute epic.
The only lengthy song here that really has an epic feeling, is “For the Greater Good of God” which stays interesting the full 9:24 minutes. Following closely is “The Longest Day” which also is very entertaining. The song “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg” is the only song on which one can find anything resembling a classic metal riff (the rest of the album is more about chords and melodies) and therefore sounds refreshing in the “Stranger In A Strange Land” kind of way. The song however is – once again – overlong! Talking about the Somewhere in Time era, the chorus of “Lord Of light” could have come straight from that period.
The point is that Harris, Smith and Dickinson used to write effective songs in the early days and this album sounds as if they went into a rehearsal room with just a few ideas and the whole band started jamming. I can imagine it being far more fun for the band doing it this way but a lot of the songs on this album could have been (and should have been) more to the point.
What makes the compositional sloppiness more obvious is the production. Three guitarists is much but they pulled it off on Brave New World earlier. This time the guitar sound is a mess. It is foggy, messy and even extremely blurry at times. Some songs here could have done better with a more Piece Of Mind-Powerslave era crunchy dry sound or even the simplistic No Prayer For The Dying approach. The drums have never sounded good since the early nineties and they are flat once again. The vocals are too up front in the mix and sound too dry and un-produced. The balance is really missing, making the album sound like a live demo at times.
Also I really do dislike the cheesy chorus of “Out of the Shadows”. The song feels like a lesser annoying version of the hideous “Wasting Love” (Fear Of The Dark, 1992) and I skip it each time. Maiden just shouldn’t write these awful ballads anymore. The lyrics are okay though.
Now I know it sounds as if I’m totally bashing the album. But in the end it really is just a typical Maiden album and one would immediately recognise them. However it is one of their most dull and laid back ones and it cannot compete with the earlier Brave New World yet it is more consistent than Dance Of Death. The presence of “The Longest Days”, “Benjamin Breeg” and “For the Greater Good of God” however makes the album worth owning if you’re a die-hard Maiden supporter. But please, put the balls back into Maiden next time!
It is very rare that a prominent old band releases a good record. It is even rarer that such a record matches the classics that made them famous in the first place. As for such a record being a nearly complete departure from their '80s classic sound, and being even better than almost all of the classic '80s material, Iron Maiden's A Matter of Life and Death may be a first. This is not your father's Iron Maiden. You will not find the likes of "The Trooper" on the record. Imagine 1995's The X Factor, only infinitely better. Instead of being galloping and triumphant, A Matter of Life and Death is dark, grim, epic as all hell, and more complex than anything they have ever created before. This record could almost qualify for the prog metal genre. And Blaze Bayley is nowhere to be found.
There is only one song (the opener "Different World") which is under five minutes, and two songs ("For The Greater Good of God" and "The Legacy") that exceed nine minutes. "For The Greater Good of God" is only nine seconds shorter than Dream Theater's prog-metal anthem "Metropolis Pt. 1". However, you can rest assured that all of this time is put to good use, with the one exception of the filler "Lord of Light" (a Janick Gers track, of course). Iron Maiden have long since moved beyond the Opeth-esque bloat of '90s stinkers like "The Angel and the Gambler".
The songs are intricately structured, with seamless time and tempo changes. For once, the soft intros that have become a New Maiden trademark feel fully integrated, rather than tacked on (the opening of "The Legacy" is particularly effective, with the acoustic guitars and Bruce Dickinson's creepy lullaby-esque vocal passage telling the story of chemical warfare victims producing one of the most unsettling atmospheres ever to grace a Maiden song).
For once, Kevin Shirley actually got the production right. The snare doesn't have the hollow metallic sound that it had in the last two albums, and the guitar tone is rich and natural-sounding. Steve Harris's bass is perhaps a touch too dark, sometimes turning to mud underneath the guitars. The most striking thing about the production is the excellent dynamics. This isn't the crude soft/quiet dichotomy of emo bands; Iron Maiden recognize the idea of there being an actual continuum of loudness, and use dynamics to subtly or not so subtly control the tension or flow of the song. The most dramatic example is "The Longest Day", which has a goosebump-inducing buildup that makes it perhaps the best Maiden song ever (yes, better than "Hallowed Be Thy Name").
Bruce Dickinson's vocal performance is quite amazing for a 48-year-old man, and though his high range is eroded a bit from the early '80s (you can hear him straining to reach the high notes in "These Colours Don't Run"), he has all the power and drama of his glory days. However, some of his true knockout performances come in the softer sections, where he displays a versatility honed by years of experimentation in his solo work. From the bone-chilling, downright scary narrative in "The Longest Day"'s opening, to the aforementioned sinister crooning of "The Legacy", Bruce has a lot more up his sleeve than the "air raid siren" wailing of the '80s (contrast this with his attempts at softer singing on the '80s records, which often sounded forced at best and comical at worst, especially the cringe-worthy verse of "The Evil That Men Do").
The excellent cover artwork indicates that war, and the most common cause of war in modern times, religion, are the lyrical focus of "A Matter of Life and Death". The lyrics are mostly excellent (a couple of songs suffer from Repetitive Chorus Syndrome, especially "The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg" and "For The Greater Good of God"), in stark contrast to the juvenile irrelevancy of arch-rivals Judas Priest or the blind hatred of America and anything associated with it exhibited by idiots like Dave Mustaine of Megadeth.
"Different World" is the only classically Maiden song offered, a fast-paced rocker with some sincere if rather un-metal lyrics about the dull reality of getting old (all right, lyricist Adrian Smith probably is not at all strapped for material wealth, but money doesn't buy happiness. Just ask Kurt Cobain.). The vocals on the chorus, unusually for Maiden, are subdued compared to the high-flying verse (a tribute to Thin Lizzy, the band says). it's an interesting reversal of the norm, and the song is better for it.
"These Colours Don't Run" is about patriotism, duty, and the bonds that form between soldiers (all of which are very real, whatever pacifists might say). The song is bookended by bittersweet, soulful guitar harmonies, contrasted by the bravado-laden chorus and truly thrilling bridge unison. Could be a little faster, but it's otherwise good.
"Brighter Than A Thousand Suns" sweeps away anything that's left of the classic Maiden "happy" sound with a mercilessly heavy, brooding 7/4 riff and a more malevolent vocal treatment from Dickinson. As opposed to the traditional melodic soundscape, this is positively crushing--all the more fitting for a song about the atom bomb.
Synth figures prominently in "The Pilgrim", which features some tricky, lurching proggy rhythms from McBrain and background string patches providing an almost Eastern sound. The song is otherwise rather unremarkable, and seems like it could've been a good single.
"The Longest Day" is the most majestic song ever written by Iron Maiden. Ever. This, almost three decades after their debut, is their new masterpiece. The steady, inexorable escalation of the first couple of verses is breathtaking, its grim tone echoing the horrific slaughter of Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy in World War II, and then the song explodes into an anthemic chorus expressing a forlorn hope in the face of the Axis onslaught. The song is not relentlessly desolate like the World War I epic "Paschendale" from the previous album Dance of Death, as that would be inappropriate. The battle of Passchendaele was a senseless waste of human life in the name of realpolitik, while the battle of Normandy was a struggle to dislodge the appalling Third Reich tyranny from France--one of the closest equivalents to a "good versus evil" battle that history has ever borne witness to. The ludicrously technical 15/8 instrumental section takes the song to a climax, and then the song winds back down to the solemn bass gallop that began it. This is one of those songs that just transcends mere music and becomes an experience. It's just that awesome.
Haunting half-acoustic piece "Out of the Shadows" settles down a bit from the epic overload of "The Longest Day". dealing with the cruel reality of being born into a third world country where life is cheap, death is early, and pain is omnipresent. Those born in America, Europe, or Japan are lucky. This song gives us an emotional reminder of the lot of people who didn't share our luck.
"The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg" was the album's first single and preceded by a bunch of teasers and mind games put out by the band. I didn't follow the press campaign, so I can only gather that the song appears to be about a man who has returned from the dead into a cursed half-life. The song continues the mellower mood of "Out of the Shadows", with haunting bell-like bass lines that take advantage of Steve Harris's "clanky" style and an a sad, desperate vocal delivery from Bruce., before abruptly exploding into a heavy riff. The song grinds away with a mood of near panic as the titular character is beset by all manner of nightmares and curses. The bridge speeds things up a bit with an extra-heavy, almost thrash-like rendition of the traditional Maiden gallop and menacing palm-muted riffs. The ending is a bit of a let-down as it crashes abruptly into an abbreviated version of the opening bass line rather than winding down naturally.
"For the Greater Good of God" probes the motivations of the "Islamist" Muslim fundamentalists who strive to their dying breath to destroy Western civilization. The tone of the lyrics is rather unorthodox, appearing to ask God himself if he supports the slaughter carried out in his name ("Are you a man of peace or a man of holy war? / Too many sides to you, don't know which anymore..."). The song is relentlessly technical, with convoluted bass lines, some of the highest vocal lines since the early '80s (Bruce seems to struggle with the chorus), and an insane Dream Theater-like instrumental section packed with wild off-time riffs and furious shredding. While previous songs flirted with progressive metal, this is the real deal, expansive, demanding, and thought-provoking, the way "thinking man's metal" is supposed to be.
"Lord of Light" is just plain dull, a plodder that could've been pulled from the Blaze Bayley era. The chorus riff is truly annoying, a lame groove figure that sounds like it was taken from a Pantera song. Every gem must have a flaw, I guess...
"The Legacy" continues the prog rock mood of "For The Greater Good of God", with Bruce Dickinson sounding like Peter Gabriel of Genesis in places, a linear progression through sections that are not repeated, and the total lack of a chorus of any kind. The song is almost like a recap of the entire album, swinging between soft and heavy, fast and slow, and Bruce displaying several different vocal styles. The lyrics, too, offer a sort of summary of the album's themes, describing the horrors of war, the cruel and hard world we live in, and the grim fate that often awaits tyrants. Towards the end, the song takes another turn, becoming more hopeful and suggesting that the world is slowly becoming a better place, year by year, before gently petering out with a soft acoustic denouement.
A Matter of Life and Death is a truly essential Maiden record, the best since Seventh Son at the very least, and, I think, the starting point for where they should go with their sound. Even if the melodic proto-power-pop-metal of the '80s made their name, there's a limit to how long you can keep doing one thing. Besides, do you really want them to put out yet another clone of "The Trooper"?
Well, reading over these reviews. I feel I’m in a very small group of people who absolutely loathed A Matter of Life or Death. I waited with high hopes, thinking, “Yes, finally, some new Maiden”. And then the goddamn album was released. I took one listen and refused to listen to it again. About a year later, I had another listen, just to do this review and nothing has improved.
I have no problem with long songs. I am a massive Dream Theater fan; I love long songs IF they need to be long. None of these songs need to be over about 4 minutes….maybe 5… They just don’t. They have 3 or 4 riffs in them, and then it’s all repeated 7 thousand times. I just don’t get it. How can such a might band have fallen so far?
The first thing that comes to mind is how they actually managed to make Dance Of Death work. Sure the songs were long, sure they had a fair few slower sections, but the songs were catchy, and the fire was still there. On this album, the fire is gone. It’s an album full of “We can’t gallop anymore so we’ll just march, single file over a cliff”. As someone pointed out, they were never going to exceed the expectations set by Powerslave, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son or Number of the Best, but they didn’t have to. All they had to do was release another album full of decent songs, like they have with Dance of Death and Brave New World. Instead, we’re treated to this plodding, behemoth of an album that would feel more at home as a 70’s rock album, than a 00’s metal album.
I can understand the complaint that they are indeed, getting on in years, but come on. If they can still do a two-hour set of songs like Run to the Hills, Number of the Beast, The Trooper and Aces High, then surely they can write another album filled songs with a similar feel? They’ve managed to keep the same sound for so long, surely it could’ve held out for at least another album?
Apparently not. Because everything on this album reeks of “We can’t do it anymore”. Even the production is not as high-quality as everyone claims, but almost sounds like they deliberately wanted a return to 80’s production, with no bottom end (even though the bass is annoyingly, the loudest instrument) and only the most basic of drum tones.
I’m sorry, but as a devote Iron Maiden fan, I expect satisfaction, and I was not satisfied in any way by this album.
When I first saw the track list for the latest Maiden album and noticed the length of most of the songs, I could hardly believe my eyes. What the hell, an album full of nine-minute epics, with only four out of ten songs shorter than seven minutes (well, more like three, since These Colours Don’t Run just barely misses that mark)?! These guys must be out of their minds!
This didn’t bode well at all, especially considering the last time Maiden treated us to an album comprised almost entirely of long-winded epics, it ended up as quite a disaster. Fortunately, while comparable in mood and atmosphere, A Matter of Life and Death avoids the mistakes that dogged The X-Factor and also eliminates many of the glitches found on the first two albums since the band reunited with singer Bruce Dickinson.
A Matter of Life and Death achieves a quite remarkable feat: Despite being ridiculously long, it never gets boring, and despite its somber mood and thoughtful lyrics, it never gets wimpy. On the contrary, this is the heaviest album Maiden have done since Bruce came back, easily topping both Brave New World and Dance of Death in that department. This can mainly be attributed to two factors: great riffing and much better production values.
Maiden’s latest offering has in abundance what previous albums often lacked, namely distinct guitar riffs that define and carry the individual songs. Tracks like Brighter Than a Thousand Suns, The Pilgrim, The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg or Lord of Light (reminiscent of Bruce’s solo career, this is one of the heaviest songs Maiden have ever done, with a monstrous main riff almost bordering on thrash) are all driven by heavy riffs that immediately get stuck in the listener’s head, something that can’t be said about very many songs on other recent Maiden albums.
Another strength of A Matter of Life and Death is the very decent production, marking the first time Kevin Shirley has delivered the goods on a Maiden studio album. The triple axe attack truly shines and makes its presence felt throughout the album rather than only during some scattered passages, as was the case on Brave New World and Dance of Death. However, that doesn’t mean the other instruments take a backseat to the guitars. Nicko’s drums and Steve’s bass are given plenty of room as well, with Bruce’s vocals once again being the icing on the cake. It’s nice to hear his voice is still in great shape after all these years – actually, it sounds much better than it did in the early nineties, when Bruce came up with lackluster performances on No Prayer for the Dying and Fear of the Dark.
As far as songwriting is concerned, Maiden have done an admirable job this time around. These songs may be somewhat extended, but they never make you long for the fast forward button. Whereas the problem with many epics on Maiden’s recent albums was their rather predictable structure – long acoustic intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, guitar solos traded off for several minutes, chorus repeated several times, acoustic outro –, A Matter of Life and Death isn’t predictable at all, keeping things fresh with plenty of tempo changes and lots of unexpected twists and turns. Good examples are the amazing Brighter than a Thousand Suns with that formidable up-tempo part seemingly coming out of nowhere and giving the listener a thorough kick in the behind, Lord of Light with that gloomy mid-section emanating a deeply sinister atmosphere and providing a great build-up to the song’s grand finale, and The Legacy, which doesn’t even have a traditional chorus at all. Speaking of choruses, Maiden have apparently realized that repeating them ad nauseam in almost every song isn’t a very good idea, since this issue has largely been fixed this time around. On the whole, the songwriting is very consistent, as all songs maintain a very high level and there are no fillers to be found. (No, not even the opener Different World, which may be a bit of a run-of-the-mill rocker, but still works very well in the context of the more intricate compositions on this record.)
In the end, I really can’t find much that’s not to like about this album. Maiden have made a significant step forward in almost every way, making this a better effort than both Brave New World and Dance of Death. Those were excellent as well, but they also had some obvious flaws. For the most part, these flaws have been eliminated on A Matter of Life and Death, so I can’t see why I shouldn’t give this a very high rating. Maiden haven’t been this good in almost twenty years, and if they can keep it up, I’m definitely looking forward to their future work!
Choicest cuts: Brighter than a Thousand Suns, The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg, For the Greater Good of God, Lord of Light
Yes you read my title correctly. This is the greatest Iron Maiden album ever.
I am a huge Iron Maiden fan. I've scrutinized every album, heard every song, seen their live show on more than one occasion, watched their DVDs, and learned their catalog on both guitar and bass. When this album came out, I was a little nervous that it wouldn't be good. Dance of Death was good, though had some bad flaws. When I first listened to A Matter of Life and Death, I thought to myself, "well this is pretty good". Yet over 9 months later, this album has slowly creeped into my favorite metal albums list (which includes mostly black metal and doom metal). Don't think you can listen to this album once and understand it - in order to appreciate it, you need to listen to it at least 10-15 times.
Why is this album so good? It excels on every level on which Iron Maiden is expected. I analyzed it in terms of production, vocals, drums, bass, guitars, and songwriting.
First of all, the production is stellar. Every instrument is given its chance to shine. Yet the music has a dark and brooding tone, in part because of the way each piece was written, and in part because of the tone that the engineer/musician employed. I think I am most pleased with the drum sound, which is both heavy and crystal clear at the same time. Older Iron Maiden releases did not have both the necessary wallop and the gossamer hi-range that is needed for drums on a good metal release.
The vocals are superb, and is one of Bruce's best performances ever. Witness the lines about halfway through The Legacy, when he sings " Left to all our golden sons; all to pick up on the peace / You could have all to them - a little chance... at least. " I can't think of a better example of the sheer power and strength of Bruce's high-pitched voice.
Nicko's drums give this album the driving force that it needs to be their best album. Nicko is not the fastest or more technically skilled drummer in metal, but he doesn't need to be. Just listen to the beat he creates with the China cymbal in "The Pilgrim" at about 1:37. It's absolutely brilliant, something that will stick out to you even after the album is over.
Steve's bass is standout as usual. Memorable moments include the intro to "For the Greater Good of God" and the thumping rhythm to the end of "The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg".
Guitarwork, both lead and rhythm is also great. Iron Maiden's riffs are some of the most influential in all of metal, and yet they come up with great new ones here. Listen to the simple, yet exceedingly heavy introduction to "Brighter Than A Thousand Suns", the lead line behind the chorus in "For the Greater Glory of God", or the classical piece at the beginning of "The Legacy". Adrian's solo in "Lord of Light" is one of his best and is a highlight of the album.
Finally, the songwriting - the aspect that will make or break an album. Iron Maiden are pros at songwriting, and it shows in this album. The album has a distinctly epic feel, something that should not be unfamiliar to Iron Maiden fans. The lyrics are all profound and serious, dealing with war, darkness, life struggles, conspiracy, religion, and patriotism. Yes the album is long, and yet some reviewers complained about that! I want to say thank you, Iron Maiden, for fitting so much good music on this disc. Iron Maiden did not create this to be their next "Number of the Beast" or "Piece of Mind", consisting of a combination of epics and short and easily-identifiable anthems like "The Trooper" and "Run to the Hills". Those are all great pieces, yet with A Matter of Life and Death, Maiden has done something more. They've been together for over 30 years, and they've showcased a mature and profound piece of music as a fruit of their work. Thanks Bruce, Dave, Steve, Adrian, Janick, and Nicko.
I made the controversial statement that this is Maiden's best. Go out and buy it and give it a few months of listening. Maybe you'll agree. It's hard to deny, though, that this is an excellent heavy metal release.
Best songs: For the Greater Good of God, The Legacy, The Longest Day
A Matter of Life and Death can be considered Iron Maiden's most ambitious album to date. By their own admission, the songs were influenced more by the music of prog bands such as Yes, Genesis and Wishbone Ash than by the energy or pace of the metal which we all know and love from them. This is apparent not only in the mammoth length of most of the songs, but in the musical tone of the album. In the mellow intros, it feels almost as if the band is performing right next to you saying, "Hey, check this out."
"Different World" is a simple and enjoyable way to kick off the album and it could be argued that if the rest of the album followed in the same vein with the same energy, this would have been more appealing to fans of classic Maiden (like me!). Not a band content to live off their glory days, from there the album eases into a much more deliberate and calculated affair. Not a single song after the first track is under five minutes in length. This can make the album seem tedious and bloated if one decides to listen to the CD from beginning to end. However, if each song is taken on its own one can better appreciate the simplicity of the riffs and the complexity of the structure without asking, "Is it over yet?"
"These Colours Don't Run" is a powerful song about how every soldier in every country probably feels when called to duty. The lyrics express a universal sense of humanity without coming across as sentimental or patronizing. "The Pilgrim" is about an extreme right-wing religious cult who leave their homeland in anger and shame in order to found a new colony where no one opposes their religious beliefs for fear of persecution. They will be the masters now! They call the new nation, America. Haha... It would be very easy to go into great detail about the lyrics of each song, but that just gives you an idea of how thought-provoking and intelligent A Matter of Life and Death is. "For the Greater Good of God"... nah, I'll need another paragraph to talk about that one. The music, of course, is just as challenging. Their sound is a natural progression from the previous two albums up to the present. However, there are some aspects of this album which would have been better left alone or reworked.
"Out of the Shadows" should probably not have been an Iron Maiden song. At least, not a song that should have made it onto a full-length album. It's acoustic riffs and gentle vibe just seem out of place here. Also, even listening to one song at a time one can't help but wonder why almost every song needs to begin with a moody instrumental intro backed up by soft vocals. With a few exceptions, most notably "The Longest Day," Maiden would've been better off just getting to the song instead of doing an unnecessary buildup. In addition, the eighth-triplet riff near the end of "The Legacy" is derivative of many other Iron Maiden songs which somewhat lessens the impact of the ending.
In terms of performance, it's Iron friggin Maiden!!! The youthful energy of their classic albums is long gone, but none of these guys have lost anything in terms of musical ability. This is by no means a sellout album or even a more accessible mainstream album. On A Matter of Life and Death, Iron Maiden have melded metal and prog into something that doesn't rely on frequent time signature changes or sixty-fourth note solos to amaze listeners because this is a band that forsakes ostentation for the greater good of the song.
Overall, this is an album for fans who enjoy a long journey with each song. With each listen one can find nuances of melody, rhythm, harmony and can appreciate the ambition and complexity of this album. Simply put, Iron Maiden still rules.
Honestly the worst thing this band has ever done. Ever. Period. I've loved Maiden since as long as I can remember, but I can not bring myself to say something good about this album with a straight face. It's that bad.
Let's get something straight, Maiden has been doing the same thing ever since No Prayer for the Dying, nothing has changed since that album.... except the songs are exponentially longer, far more repetitive (if you can imagine such a thing), less imaginative, and for some reason I'll never understand, even more highly praised. The one phrase chorus has plagued this band ever since they got the good sense to boot Bayley out and bring back the god that is Dickinson, the annoyance experienced on Brave New World is amplified by some inhuman number on this atrocity. Brighter Than A Thousand Suns is the most boring, plodding, piss all annoying track I've possibly ever heard. And this is coming from Iron Maiden! The gods! WHY??! Steve Harris is one of my favorite bassists and possibly my prime influence in my own playing and writing, and here he is, talking a thousand steps backwards from the unabashed progressivism of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son!
I understand that they can never top the songwriting genius of Powerslave or SSoaSS, but this isn't even humorous. I can honestly compare this to Metallica, and feel perfectly justified. The deal with St. Anger, the whole "the only reason this song is 8 minutes long is because it is quite literally a four minute song repeated front to back twice" is ever apparent here. It takes damn near a half an hour to listen to the last three songs. Read that last sentence again. That's right. I could understand if the songs structures fucking varied every once in a while, but they never do. They're not epic, they're not progressive, they're boring and plodding.
To be fair, there are a few decent riffs thrown in here and there, but it's hard to find amidst all the recycled, boring, and unimaginative pap that fills this record.
As much as I love IM, as much as they've influenced me, this has proven once and for all that they are far from infallible. I'll never understand why the drooling fanboys eat this shit up so readily and are so quick to hail it as a masterpiece. Listen to this, then listen to Number of the Beast or Piece of Mind.... you'll see what I mean.
Ditch this shit.
Iron Maiden. How much can a person say about Iron Maiden that every other respectable metal head doesn’t already know? And if you are a metal head and you haven’t listened to A Matter of Life and Death then maybe you should – right now. Because this is one of the best albums of the year, even if it doesn’t sound like the Iron Maiden many of use grew up listening to.
A Matter of Life and Death is down-right progressive in nature, including songs with length and multiple time and rhythm changes. The album is epic but not forcibly epic as was the case with most of Dance of Death. The songs are written in that progressive/epic manner and are likely played as such. For fans of the older Iron Maiden style (fast melodies and shorter songs) then this album may not sit well with you. As a fan of the older Iron Maiden I know at first this album didn’t digest well in my head. But as a fan of Iron Maiden I know that this is how they are now and not much is going to change that.
When a person first throws in the album, they are going to hear the first track, “Different World”, which is definitely the most radio friendly and older styled song on the album. This is also by far my favorite track because it is a little speedier and upbeat. The rest of the album is a lot slower (about mid-paced) and full of soaring melodies and galloping beats. The guitar work (despite having three full time guitarists now) is simplified on this album and the melodies are a focusing element on the entire song, rather than being the main part. I don’t really understand why when a band has three extremely talents guitarists they don’t use them to their full potential – but it doesn’t detract from the music at all.
The bass work (oh – how Steve Harris is a badass) is once again his stylized galloping riffs which help keep the songs from slowing too much. His bass is a little loud in comparison to the guitars but Iron Maiden has always had a very forward bass sound so it doesn’t bother me that much. The drumming is simplistic but very effective in creating a structure for the progressive stylings in the music. The drums are unique in the writing with lots of great cymbal work.
Bruce Dickinson is at the top of his game on A Matter of Life and Death. The longer and more epic songs allow him to really throw his operatic vocal style out and give it his entire heart. His solo career seems to be the place for the shorter faster songs anymore – and this really shows what a great big voice he has.
The album itself is seamless in its presentation. Songs flow very well and even though it has a more progressive feel to it – there are none of those sudden time changes that sometimes discourage me from listening. Most of the time changes are gradual and the listener can follow at ease. The lyrics of the album help to give it an overall epic feeling with songs about understanding, World War II (I love the historical aspects of Iron Maiden), and even the sacrifices one makes in the name of God. One of the most interesting lyrical albums released in the last few years it’s nice to hear a song that supports the idea of dying for ones country for honor (in the context of World War II, I would assume).
Overall, A Matter of Life and Death is a massive achievement for Iron Maiden. It may not be a Powerslave in its conception but its delivery as a progressive metal album is superb. Fans of the faster and to-the-point Iron Maiden probably won’t love this as much but in the end this is by far one of the most brilliantly made albums I’ve heard.
Songs to check out: Different World, Brighter than a Thousand Suns, For the Greater Good of God, The Longest Day.
2006 has proven to be a truly amazing year for metal, seeing the consistently solid releases of many metal acts in its various sub-genres. Staying true to what they’ve always been about, Iron Maiden has succeeded once again in standing out amongst a stiff set of competitors and has created a magnum opus that carries many of the elements of their glory days. A Matter of Life and Death can be summed up as a great album both in terms of quality and quantity. Whereas on previous efforts Maiden had a small collection of grand epics, on this album they completely dominate the overall flow of things.
In my opinion, this is the first album where Maiden has successfully exploited the larger instrumentation that they gained in late 1999 to its fullest potential. All of the songs contain a variety of contrasting parts, particularly in the guitars, that almost give it an orchestral quality. Steve Harris’ bass parts are consistently heavy in the same vain that first began on “Fear of the Dark”, and his keyboard work is tasteful and provides a great atmospheric effect to serve as a counterpoint to the hard edged guitar and bass lines. Nicko’s drumming is on point, as it consistently has been through Maiden’s ups and downs since he first joined the band.
However, the person who really shines on this album more than anyone else is Bruce Dickinson. After rejoining Maiden his vocal work has consistently been on an uptrend back towards the original power that they possessed on “Somewhere in Time”. Considering that there is a lack of vocal overdubs, also that many of these vocal tracks were done in one take, and that the melodies are extremely exposed Bruce’s performance on here can be summed up as spellbinding.
The songs on here are all enormous undertakings as 7 out of 10 break the 6 minute mark. All of these songs contain a host of intricate changes in texture, feel, and intensity. “Brighter than a Thousand Suns” has several amazing transitions from quiet atmospheric sections to triumphant speed sections, spearheaded by Bruce’s highly animated vocal presence. “The Longest Day” begins ominously, as Bruce explores his lower range and the primary instrumental theme is quite haunting. Much like a classical symphony, this song has a very gradual yet highly dramatic build up from it’s intro to its first anthem-like chorus. “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg” reminds me heavily of the beginning of Dave Murray’s compositional effort on “Déjà vu” on the “Somewhere in Time” album at times, although it is not a speed metal song.
“For the Greater Good of God” is heavily bass driven and reminds me of the better songs off “The X Factor”. Although it is the longest track on here, it is one of the more catchy tracks on here, rivaling “Heaven Can Wait” in terms of sing along value live, particularly at the chorus. “The Legacy” has a lot of intricate acoustic guitar devices and more of the atmospheric elements that dominates the longer tracks on here, and lyrically is probably among the more riveting tracks on here. “Lord of Light” is another incredibly haunting track, be it the gloomy intro with the somber vocals, or the hard edged body of the song which contains an equally ominous vocal performance. “These Colors Don’t Run” is a typical Maiden take on patriotism lyrically, although musically it carries many of the more progressive elements that define all the other epics on here.
The shorter tracks are equally as powerful, though likely more accessible as they don’t contain nearly as many musical twists and turns. “Different World” is a solid speed anthem that follows suit from such recent Maiden tracks as “The Wicker Man” and “The Rainmaker”. “The Pilgrim” is a straight forward up tempo rocker, although the primary theme occurs over a rather interesting dance-like feel. “Out of the Shadows” is a bit more of a progressive rock sounding track with an acoustic guitar line that reminds me of their older material with Paul Di’anno at the helm.
In conclusion, this is the most powerful release that Maiden has put out in quite a while. If there is any flaw in it, it is that the individual songs tend to be so long and complex that there may be some accessibility issues. “Somewhere in Time” and “Killers” were both masterpieces primarily because they had the right balance of shorter and longer songs, whereas this album is almost completely devoid of tracks under the 5 minute mark. Most of the Maiden faithful will like this album, as will fans of Power/Progressive Metal.
Following up a masterpiece like Dance of Death was always going to be difficult even for a band like Maiden but as always they’ve had a right go at it. They’ve done it in the only way they could have and that is by doing it differently.
This album is both a step forward and a step back musically. It’s a lot more technically developed than Dance of Death and the guitar trio really come into their own here. However this album also represents a musical paradigm shift back to the X Factor days. Gone are the catchy melodies of Dance of Death which are replaced by a broody and dark atmosphere.
One thing one must not do with “A Matter of Life and Death” is judge it on the first listen. It’s taken me a good three months and at least 40-50 listens to really get into and understand it (which is why the late review).
As I said it’s nowhere near as catchy as Dance of Death and on the first listen no songs really stick out. The album does seem to follow one musical theme (though not reflected in the lyrics which are pretty similar to those on Dance of Death) but ends up getting a bit tedious after a while. And at this stage it’s just the typically brilliant solos that prevent me from skipping most of the songs. This is especially evident on songs like the weak opener “Different Worlds” (which has to be their weakest opener ever) and the overlong “The Longest Day”. Maiden solos however, have always been superb and this album is no exception.
The first part of the album features the nadir of musicality that any album can suffer from – filler. The opener, “These Colors Don’t Run”, “The Pilgrim” and “The Longest Day” may not have been on the album and it wouldn’t have made any difference. The only song of the first five that’s worth much is “Brighter than a Thousand Suns” specifically for containing one of the two moments on the album that screams HEAVY FUCKING METAL and makes you throw the horns and BANG YOUR HEAD in the form of the riff that supports the first solo section (the other such moment being during the solo section of “Lord of Light”).
These songs do have some good points though and the individual riffs may just have worked if they had better usage and while they’ve lost some of their previous charm thankfully they’re no less ingenious. Just when you get tired of listening to one riff/triplet they’ll switch to the next (except on “These Colors don’t Run” which suffers from overuse of one mildly interesting riff-set). And while the intro-riff-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-new riff-solo-old riff-chorus pattern may get a bit repetitive after a while (especially by the time you get to the musical quagmire that is “The Longest Day”) they end with five top songs that essentially save the album.
And HELL do they save the album. We start with the short and sweet ballad “Out of the Shadows” that precedes the onslaught of brilliance. This in itself isn’t all that special but here is the cue for a refreshing shift in mood and musical emphasis from the moody darkness of songs like “Brighter than a Thousand Suns” to the cheerful goofy smile inducing brilliance that we’ve come to expect of Maiden over the years. They’re right up there with the best of the glory days. First up is the strange choice of single “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg” which may be mid-paced but certainly doesn’t bore. The riff is fun while it lasts and the instrumentation is superb (strangely reminiscent at times of Metallica during the good times). This one also contains Bruce’s best performance on this album (his voice’s age is showing now).
“For the Greater Good of God” showcases all of their talent and rushes past despite the fact that it’s all of 9 minutes long and the slightly repetitious chorus. It features the best guitar work (compositionally) on the album. “Lord of Light” is a slightly unusual track considering the standard Maiden style. The first triplet’s a good 5 and a half minutes into the song and until then both the tone and the style of riffing remind me more of Painkiller era Judas Priest rather than anything Maiden’s done before. This is however the most technical track on the album and if not for the one to come would have been the best one.
The last song though is the real masterpiece of this album. “The Legacy” is probably the best they’ve written since…hell I don’t think they’ve every done anything quite like this. The way it starts off probably makes you think “They’ve gone and done Journeyman all over again” however when it picks up pace it rocks. Not only does it rock but it does so without ever losing focus. It’s by no means their heaviest song but that hardly matters.
It’s hard to pick out why this song is just as good as it is. Maybe it’s because of the lyrics that perfectly sum up all the shit in the world right now. Maybe it’s because of how Maiden in their usual impeccable manner, perfectly use the melancholy melody to convey their message. I remember using the word cheerful however this is anything but. The opening acoustic meandering may sound simple but it’s effective and haunting nonetheless. It sets you up perfectly for to aural onslaught to come. To use an analogy Steve Harris would like it’s like a good football (soccer) team passing the ball around in the defense and midfield before playing the killer pass forward for the goal. The heavier portions are slightly symphonic but this time they’ve got it right (unlike Dance of Death where they overdid it). I started off the review hoping not to give any one song too much attention but if any song deserves it, it is The Legacy. This is by far their best work since anything off Fear of the Dark and this album is worth it just for that.
Technically there are very few complaints I have with this album. Bruce’s age is showing but the rest of the band’s performance covers for that. I like the integration of synth and symphonic elements which works a lot better on here than on Dance of Death. The production is different from earlier but that’s merely to accentuate the atmosphere that they obviously wanted. The only things I can think of is that perhaps Janick’s guitar could have been a little louder and a little more double bass would have been good. But these are minor details and take little away from the album.
This is a good album. It’s not better than Dance of Death but can hold its own against it any day. It’s got its fair share of brilliant songs but also unlike Dance of Death has some filler (which is what prevented a 90+ rating). When you buy it don’t expect anything like Dance of Death. You won’t get it. What you will get is Maiden kicking your ass with the album that The X Factor wishes it was. This Maiden is different. It’s a mature Maiden and it may be very different from the old one but it’s not any worse for it.
I always get nervous before hearing a new album from a band I like. So many questions arise: Will it be good? Will it be something original? Will it get old? Well, after hearing Iron Maiden's new album, I can finally exhale. I've been awaiting the release of "A Matter Of Life And Death" since it was announced, and after many listens, it's safe to say this is defiantly one of Maiden's best releases. "A Matter Of Life And Death" is one of the most exhilarating albums of Maiden's legacy and is bound to become another classic album in their discography.
Just like all of Maiden's post millennia material, "A Matter Of Life And Death" continues to exercise the progressive influences that began with "Brave New World." Just about every song on this album contains a good amount of progression along side the typical speedy Maiden style. "The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg" is solid proof of how the progressive influences mix with the standard heavy metal tone. This is mainly shown from the soft intro and the fast paced instrumental section. Tracks like "Out Of The Shadows" and "The Legacy" opt toward a more progressive driven sound because of the solos, keyboards, and the common presence of acoustic guitars. Aside from the progressive surroundings, some tracks on this album lean toward the heavy metal side of Maiden's influences rather then the progressive elements. "Different World" and "The Pilgrim" are the best examples of how some songs on "A Matter Of Life And Death" are accompanied by a more heavy metal driven sound due to their faster riffs and shorten time lengths. These songs still manage to remain progressive, but the faster musicianship and short time lengths are dominant on these tracks.
Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers put on a damn good guitar show. "These Colours Don't Run" is a great example of how this brilliant trio plays traditional heavy metal riffs that have hints of melody and sound quite similar to post millennia material. The guitars take a different path on "Brighter Than A Thousand Suns" with the darker tone and faster riffs, and I swear that's a thrash riff on "Lord Of Light!"
“A Matter Of Life And Death” has Bruce Dickinson doing what he does best, which is singing his guts out. After all those years in Maiden and his solo project, Bruce is still able to have a voice that doesn't sound scratchy or weak. Bruce has some really great singing moments during most of the songs. During “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns,” Bruce bellows out the chorus with his signature high notes and steals the show from the rest of his bandmates.”Out Of The Shadows” has Bruce blending his mellow vocals with an acoustic guitar that makes a beautiful sound to the listener’s ears. There is also a bit experimenting with the vocals. During the chorus of “Different World,” there is an added backing vocal that makes the song seem more memorable, but it’s also something different. “The Legacy” also features a strange vocal effect on Bruce’s voice that makes it sound a bit faint, but it fits the mood of the song perfectly.
When being compared to previous albums, the lyrical themes on "A Matter Of Life And Death" are darker and more controversial. A good portion of the lyrics are built around war, but there is a topic that Maiden haven't really touched on before: religion connecting to violence. "Brighter Than A Thousand Suns" and "For The Greater Good Of God" deal with war that was caused by religion. One lyric that really stand out to me is the stanza "Whatever would Albert have said to his god about how he made war with the sun. E=Mc^2 you can relate how we make god with our hand's" from "Brighter Then A Thousand Suns." This is an extremely intelligent lyric because it relates with the E=Mc^2 (energy = mass times the speed of light squared) theory and how it was used to make nuclear weapons and how the term "God" could be used as a weapon. The lyrics on this album are some of the best these guys have ever wrote.
I was completely blown away with "A Matter Of Life And Death." Call me crazy, but I think this is their best album in a long time; dare I say since "Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son?" Out of the three Iron Maiden albums released since Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith came back into the band, "A Matter Of Life And Death" is defiantly the best one. If you enjoy metal in general, I highly recommend you get this.
This review was orginally written for: www.Thrashpit.com
Maiden meticulously triumph once again with another magnum opus of majesty and might for the greater good of All That Is. This band of brothers fly the flag of freedom assuring that these colours don't run to the hilt. The divine dichotomy denotes that the meaning of life is a matter of death. With an incandescent fervor, brighter than a thousand suns, the legacy lives on. Presently, Mankind may dwell in a different world; but, from our noble birth - out of the shadows - unto our death, when we embrace the lord of light - faith endures and the eternal spirit within us all thrives, so that the pilgrim may flower and flourish.
The revolution for the fourteenth Maiden killer studio classic commences with the cry of "Eddie" as my speakers resound the wicker manish melody of a Different World. As Maiden explore the matter of life and death, they act as observers and spectators over a world violently spinning out of control. Concepts concerning war and religion are rife. 'Harry' has returned to his heavier, more pronounced and prominent bass signature. Adrian and Davey re-muster the galloping, gallant guitar riffage, just as Janick continues with his progressive seventies rock restive. The brigand Bruce bruits his alchemical invasion with even more discursive exploration of gnostic nocturnes. Meanwhile, Nicko audaciously hammers his heartbeat into perdition. Kevin surely knows how to produce a Maiden masterpiece.
Yes, war is a reality, as the album artwork intimates and vividly portrays this scenario of crucial conflict. Bruce himself has witnessed the horror epic firsthand. He has seen the grisly barbarism and carnality; yet he is also amazed by Mankind's ability to rise above catastrophic consequence, and thereby prosper. Bruce, born in '58 grew up in the cold war era, when the threat of nuclear attack was imminent. Nowadays, we are forced to be faced with impending terrorism. Bruce delves into these dutiful probabilities on tracks like Brighter Than A Thousand Suns which alludes to the Manhatten Project - a rush to become like God in favor of nuclear technology: "Out of the universe, a strange love is born, unholy union - trinity reformed...acid veils of love and hate - chain letters of Satan... cold fusion and fury..".
Homage is also demonstrated diligently as Maiden honour the war heroes of the D-day Normandy invasion. This is a musical 'Saving Private Ryan' rendition with realistic battle banter felt through Buce's vocal cadence and Mr. McBrain's machine gun drumming. The Longest Day deals with eyewitness accounts told from the perspective of 18 year old men who are willing to die for their cause: "...to turn men from flesh and blood to steel; from paper soldiers to boats on the beach...". With the bellicose covenant of confidence on These Colours Don't Run, Bruce illustrates the warheart patriot ready and willing to die for his flag and country. For him morality is non-negotiable, everyone is a hero as this song is told from the soldiers personal perspective.
Steve Harris has always had infinite, wild dreams of mirrors, mystery, and miracles when viewing the brave new world and celebrating the moribund dance of death. Again spiritual truths are underway for the flight of the navigator sailing the thin line between love and hate. This clairvoyant creatively continues this cautionary tale with the portrayal of the fictive man of mystery in The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg. The Pilgrim is an inward journey juxtaposing Eastern arabesques with alluring antiquities anticipating hermetic causality: "spirit holy, life eternal, raise me up, take me home - pilgrim sunrise pagan - sunset onward journey begun...".
Whether it's Bruce begging our pardon for the fallen angel - The Lord Of Light - whom he feels was served a really raw deal; or his fathoming the mysteries of birth where one is absolutely special and king for a day. Songs such as Out Of The Shadows, with it's career solo careening ghost of continuety, clearly elucidate the known fact that amidst cogent controversy, Maiden prevail. The epic closer, The Legacy lingers with concepts of truth which lies in the genesis of accoustic narration fortold through nursery like rhymes and relevant, rampant reverberation. The sonnet solos and strident strumming suggest spontaneous orchestral organization. This grandiose epic serves as the perfect closure for the climactic CD which initiates the listener from the onset with such thought provoking lyrical litanies.
The stellar standout song which underscores the live, love, and learn mentallity is to be found in the addage 'Ad Maijorem Dei Gloriam' or For The Greater Good Of God. Bruce may ironically sound like Cat Stevens letting the pussy into the cradle of filth and lucre; yet overall his vocal performance is outstanding, as he reaches such octaves as never before attained. The true parousia or second coming for me occured when Bruce rejoined Iron Maiden in 2000. The music of Maiden is so illusive and transcendent, the moral and message is ancient and simply Socratic: "All that I know with absolute certainty is that I know nothing; so to thy own self be true". While meditating and meandering through my inner peace of mind, my soul still searches for wisdom like the nomad knowing how to tame a land.
This is precicesly why I love Iron Maiden and metal is my way of life. There have been no wasted years, only joy. I'm in sanctuary from here to eternity with no fear of the dark or judgement of heaven. I am the journeyman on the edge who endeavours forever and ever to look for the truth; since I'm the educated fool with a future real. I'm the prodigal son purified by my own private purgatory, and I'm the stranger in a strange land ever experiencing deja-vu as a matter of life and death caught somewhere in time, so for now...heaven can wait.
as origianlly posted at www.metalcovenant.com
Iron Maiden’s newest release, A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, continues in the vein of progressive material that began with Seventh Son, evolved in Brave New World and Dance of Death, and finally culminates in their newest album. Gone are almost all concessions to brevity such as The Wickerman, The Fallen Angel, or Wildest Dreams. This latest outing emphasizes meandering structures, time signature changes, and Maiden’s fondest lyrical tropes: war and social commentary.
The songs are at a much more serene pace than on most previous albums, with the fastest pieces being the shortest: Different World and The Pilgrim. Although each is competently executed in traditional Maiden style, there is little depth to them, either lyrically or musically. The bulk of this album lies in the extended epics like For the Greater Good of God, Brighter Than a Thousand Suns, and The Legacy. Some may complain that the songs are too long for their own good, with far too much time spent on undistorted introes and outroes. However, at least most of the songs do not succumb to Maiden’s classic Achille’s Heel of having far too much chorus repetition. In fact, The Legacy (surely Gers’s finest composition) is written without any chorus at all; its narrative format works fantastically for its exploration of truth and promises.
As is expected in any Maiden album, stunning guitar work abounds. The solos in The Longest Day evoke the roiling seas and the ebb and flow of battle; For the Greater Good of God contains guitar work that is simply sublime; and Lord of Light features what is possibly Maiden’s thrashiest riffing. The bass forms an extremely solid underpinning for the Three Amigos as Steve plays brilliant melodic lines.
On most songs, Bruce sings fantastically; particularly the acoustic-tinged mellow song about birth Out of the Shadows, where he finally sounds completely relaxed with the softer segments and the verses in The Longest Day, in which he builds up an incredible sense of foreboding along with the chugging guitars and thudding drums. Unfortunately, he sounds somewhat out of place and strained on These Colours Don’t Run and Lord of Light, but it’s generally passable and no degradation to his reputation.
The album is not perfect, however, and suffers from several flaws. The most painful is The Longest Day’s chorus: after the incredibly potent imagery conjured up by the verse (“all summers long, the drills to build the machine/to turn man from flesh and blood to steel”), Bruce erupts into a painfully silly and out-of-place chorus, nearly destroying the value of the song and creating what is possibly Iron Maiden’s single most anti-climactic moment. These Colours Don’t Run is utterly bland, and it takes several listens just to discover that some of the solos are tolerable. And, of course, the songs are longer than average and slower-paced than average, and the listener who wants a concise, rapid-fire album is better off listening to Number of the Beast or Killers.
Overall, this outing is one of Iron Maiden’s absolute best. The progressive elements of their style are in full force, resulting in one of their most unique albums and most powerful. The lyrics are almost universally well-written, the songs have depth in their structure and riffing, and as a whole the album represents a simultaneous return to Maiden’s traditional sound and a shocking evolution of it.
The release of a new Iron Maiden album tends to cause a lot of mixed opinions. The inevitable grizzling and complaining tends to reach a crescendo, then settles down as those with patience allow the album to sink in and appreciate it for what it is. The same pattern has already been established at the time of the last two albums' releases, and it's as predictable as clockwork. Not to worry, because those of us who appreciate Iron Maiden's recent maturation into a prog-tinged, midpaced style will appreciate this album just as much as the last two. A Matter of Life and Death, Iron Maiden studio album number 14 and the third with the current lineup of Dickinson, Smith, Murray, Gers, Harris and McBrain, is a winner in every sense.
This is Maiden in a very contemplative, serious mood. In that sense, it's a fair bit less upbeat than Brave New World and Dance of Death. Shades of the darkness surrounding The X Factor make a return here, although it's still nowhere near as morbid as that particular dark horse. The lyrics focus mostly on either current world events (although addressed through universal themes, without specific references, CNN metal this is not), or the more philosophical themes explored quite widely on Dance of Death. As usual, war plays a major role, with tracks like "These Colours Don't Run", "Brighter Than A Thousand Suns" and "The Longest Day" all exploring humanity's longstanding efforts to kill each other en masse for the sake of religion or a piece of land. The closest it gets to CNN metal is "For the Greater Good of God", which is an obvious stab at Islamic terrorist bullshit, but even that one is wide-ranging enough not to lump itself in with the likes of Kreator or Vile's recent lyrical silliness. One title which initially frightened me a bit was "Lord of Light". Initially, I figured that Nicko had taken over the pen and delivered an ode to his favourite judeo-christian figurehead. As it turns out, the absolute opposite applies- It's a tongue-in-cheek exploration of Lucifer's "good side", so to speak.
Musically, this is Iron Fucking Maiden, no more and no less. There are no glaring surprises or bullshit modern nu-shite influences, no stupid divergences into genre-splicing, nothing but pure, unadulterated epic heavy metal. The three guitarists blend in perfect unison, Nicko delivers thunderous drumming (he pulled out a 30 year old snare for this album, and it sounds absolutely monstrous), 'Arry clicks and widdles away like there's no tomorrow, and Bruce Dickinson is his usual impeccable self. Sure, he doesn't sound like he's just had his balls whacked with a cricket bat, but so fucking what? Compared to how, for example, Robert Plant or Ozzy sounded at his current age, he's in absolutely brilliant form and delivers another impassioned, energetic performance as expected. There's a wry nod to "Children of the Damned" in the intro to "The Longest Day" too, although any amusement is quickly erased by the following song's deadly serious retelling of the D-Day landing. All 10 songs here are ridiculously consistent, mostly surpassing the 7-minute mark, but never getting boring. For any band to make an album last 72 minutes without losing the plot is a remarkable feat, and this is the second time Iron Maiden have pulled it off. A lot of the songs follow the pattern established on the last few albums of a quiet buildup leading into the main body of the song, sometimes being reprised later on. This approach gives the material a welcome sense of dynamics which fits well with the overall dark theme, allowing the music enough breathing room to not become stifling.
This is an Iron Maiden album for Iron Maiden fans. Those who have matured along with the band will appreciate it, those who delude themselves into thinking it's still 1985 will impotently attempt to criticize it, and the world will keep turning. Another great thing to note is that EMI have given up on the copy-control bullshit, so this is a proper CD rather than an inferior pseudo-CD, and the first edition comes with a great DVD containing a highly entertaining 30-minute documentary covering the final stages of recording (although a lot of the banter is unintelligible due to thick accents and the obvious raw camcorder sound mix, no ADR to speak of here), the "Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg" video clip and another studio-footage clip.
Originally published at www.metalcrypt.com (c) 2006.
This one really shocked me. I was skeptical, as was everyone and I downplayed it every chance I had - now the band's back to slap me in the face for my sins. It was an exercise in futility - after all, this is Maiden, the most consistent and highly regarded band in all of metal. It's definetly a grower as well - one doesn't grasp the beauty and the atmosphere of this masterpiece in just one listen. All I can say is, the band's aged really well - unlike mentors Judas Priest and Deep Purple. One might label the the album as being on 'overdrive' by merely looking at the length of the songs but fortunately this isn't the case.You will notice that the longest songs themselves do not feature any sort of extended soloing, the album keeps the Maiden tradition of keeping riffs and rhythm high on the charts. This isn't Dream Theater or Opeth, this is Iron Maiden - what they do, they do with conviction.
The band's gone way way down the progressive and epic route. This is Maiden undoubtedly, but Maiden at their most progressive and atmospheric. It is rather dangerous for a classic metal band to go to such extreme progressive leanings - but one can't help but like this. The atmosphere really seeps in, you can almost smell the gun powder and see barren wastelands around you as you listen. Maiden have always had this unique, wonderful ability in being able to conjure images of the lyrics in the listener - the bridge of "Ghost Of The Navigator" resembles a ship sinking desperately in wrathful waters, "The Nomad" brings to mind a suny desert with a desolate man walking about it, "Hallowed Be Thy Name" (Best song ever, easily) expertly brings to mind a prisoners insecurities before he is lead to the gallows and his remorseless reconcilation later to his fate. Here too, the listener feels himself being transported back to the war laden 40's. Once the album is complete - he is abruptly thrown off back to the present, to find that it isn't much different. That's basically the message Maiden are trying to send through to the listener here, and they do it damn well!
All instruments play an equal role in the albums success. Nicko drumming resembles the death march of a batallion of soldiers as they march into the unknown and then he shifts breathtakingly to a more relaxed drum style and then he breaks into some really insane, refreshing creative stuff. Nicko has always been in the shadow of Clive Burr's superior drumming skills but he gets better as he grows older and now he's in Clive Burr territory following Burr's principle of being 'Catchy, fast, furious and creative at the same time'. Despite the albums immense atmospheric leanings, it strangely has Maiden's heaviest guitar tone. Adrian, Dave and Janick all do an absolutely awesome job on guitars. The soloing here is perfect and the riffing remains heavy but lapses into these amazing 'atmospheric bridges' that all the songs contain. Steve is as usual excellent on bass although his bass guitar isn't as pronounced in the mix as it was in Maiden's earlier stuff. Everyone accepts that Bruce's vocals have sharply reduced in quality since the early days, but one cannot deny he does an excellent job here - he merely does what is needed to be done with perfection and emotion intact and doesn't lapse into the excesses one sees in so many Modern Metal bands these days. There are lots of surprises here as well, and they all work - for example, the riff of Lord Of The Light which is rather atypical for how the song actually began. "The Legacy" has the great acoustic intro and follows with a riff ripped off directly from "Gutter Ballet" (Savatage - title track for Gutter Ballet. Amazing song, one of metal's best ballads) which itself stole a song from Maiden's "Hallowed Be Thy Name".
I feel I don't need to divulge into the detailed explanations of the songs by doing a track-by-track review as it would only spoil the grandeur of the album for a listener. I re-instate that the album must NOT be dismissed on first listen, it takes some time to really seep into the listener. This certainly is Maiden's best since Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son (In my opinion the best metal album ever ;)). It takes the best parts of The X Factor ("The Sign Of The Cross" especially, the band certainly re-listened to it and took cues from it) and combines it with the vintage Maiden sound to create what Brave New World and Dance Of Death could have been. This may very well be the last Maiden album in a long time, but they certainly faded away with a blast of the amazing.
Conclusion - Amazing album, best Maiden album since 7th Son. Very atmospheric and epic. Must be listened to rigorously till it clicks.
Choice picks of the lot - Brighter Than A Thousand Suns, The Longest Day, Out Of The Shadows, The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg, Lord Of Light, The Legacy.
And my long wait has come to an end. Here it is, the new Maiden. This one has had me pumped for awhile now. Ever since I saw that video for Benjamin Breeg hit the net I've been salivating for this album and every new song that came out just left me wanting more.
Now that I have it... I can truely say this IS the Maiden album I was wanting in every way. The sound is smooth and flowing, the songs are loaded with hooks, and this album manages to be both patented Maiden yet strikingly adventurous. I loved Brave New World, but it was sort of a safe album that tried to recapture and in a way repeat what had been done before. Understandable as it was their attempt to bring the Maiden sound back from life support and say 'Hey, Bruce is back'. DoD then tried to experiment but came off as awkward at times. I read in an interview with Bruce that he thought this album was experimental but came much more naturally and I have to say his assessment is 100% right.
There was a time when every Maiden album really had it's own identity and sound... and that time is back. There are a couple standards here like These Colours Don't Run and The Pilgrim which follow a mid-paced gallop and would not be out of place on an album like BNW. These are two of the shorter tracks and probably the most direct on the album. The Pilgrim does have some interesting dual layer vocals of Bruce in his mid and high range though which work quite well. Different World is also fairly direct but is insanely catchy and features a chorus with a somewhat different vocal sound by Bruce that I really enjoy. Another short but sweet track is Out Of The Shadows which is an utterly incredible song that harkens back to a sound I've not heard from Maiden in some time. A truely passionate ballad the likes of which I don't think I've heard since Children Of The Damned.
This album is mostly geared towards epic sounding songs, with 6 tracks clocking in over 7 minutes in length. Most all of these start with a slow and soft intro and build into very powerful tracks that simply work. The most immediately striking remains The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg with it's heavy crunch guitar and fucking awesome vocals. What the last couple Maiden songs have really been missing is a classic single and this one just succeeds with flying colors. It drew me in the moment I heard it and it stands out from the rest of the album. It is just one of those instant classic songs and is every bit as good as the classic Maiden singles in my opinion.
In conclusion, this is Maiden... but not just Maiden you've heard before, which is extremely refreshing. It's nice hearing them bring something new to the table and making it work beautifully. The one thing I can say as a sort of con to this album is that the many times over repeated choruses remain in a couple tracks, but that's never really bothered me anyways. As long as the chorus is good and delivered with conviction, I don't mind hearing it a few times over. All in all, I can't imagine any fan of Maiden being displeased with this album.
Highlights: The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg, Out Of The Shadows, Different World, For The Greater Good of God