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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)