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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.