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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.