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It was a beautiful summer day in August 2007 when a young Romanian, during one of the happiest periods of his life, walked into a music store in Québec. His eye was caught by a sight in the previously unexplored (by him) Iron Maiden section. That sight was the cover of a relatively recent single, The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg. Curiosity turned to surprise when he noticed that the epitaph written on Benjamin Breeg’s tomb was, in fact, written in Romanian. He read it again once, then twice, in order to make sure that he wasn’t delusional. No. There it was. Translated, it reads: Here lies a man about whom little is known. He knew he had to buy that single no matter what, and he did, despite not previously owning any of Iron Maiden’s music. Thus, because of an epitaph on the cover of a single, began my fascination with the legendary heavy metal band.
The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg consists of two tracks: the title track from the then-soon-to-be-released A Matter of Life and Death album and the Radio 1 Legends Session version of the band’s classic epic, Hallowed Be Thy Name. The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg is an excellent example of the new, highly epic style performed by Iron Maiden during these last few years and is representative of the AMOLAD album, being neither the longest nor the shortest track from it. It’s quite a slow-paced track, starting off slowly with a very melodic intro and some soft-spoken verses from Bruce before picking up the pace after about 1 minute and 45 seconds with a series of good, instantly recognizable riffs which, despite the generous length of the song, never get boring. This is all the more amazing once one realises the high amount of repetition involved here, especially during the chorus, which, when coupled with the slow pace of the song, could easily drag on annoyingly for the entire seven minutes but in the end the whole thing comes off as being enjoyable. It’s certainly not the best Iron Maiden track, not even the best from the album it’s on, but it still is quite good. The end is a little abrupt though.
The B-side is a new take on the classic Hallowed Be Thy Name, and it’s a surprisingly good version of the classic song from The Number of the Beast. It’s just slightly drier than the original, both from an instrumental point of view and when listening to Bruce’s vocal work. Oddly enough, the remake is also slightly faster than the original. None of these differences are significant though, with both the remake and the original songs being almost equally enjoyable.
The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg is worth getting, if only for its uniquely entertaining and historical cover as well as the good remake of Hallowed Be Thy Name. It will forever hold a special place in my heart as my first ever Iron Maiden acquisition, having prompted me to get the band’s older albums, and as such is one of my most well-chosen purchases.
Who is Benjamin Breeg? Why is the year of his birth unknown, and yet the year of his death seems to coincide with the beginning of Iron Maiden’s existence? These are likely questions that anyone who has either purchased this single and gazed on the cover art or has struggled to comprehend the lyrics printed for track 7 on their recent LP “A Matter of Life and Death” would ask, and unfortunately I’m not privy to the answers. Some have speculated that the name was their mascot Eddie’s name before he became the corpse and staple of the band’s image, but no confirmation is given from any of the band members. From a marketing standpoint, this saga would make for a great ploy to sell future albums, much in the same way that the Charlotte the Harlot series did for them earlier in their career.
Although quite a long song for a single, “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg” is a good representation of the colossal work that “A Matter of Life and Death” is. There are a series of contrasting sections ranging from the dark and dreary intro that could easily fit in with the gloomy graveyard illustrated on the album cover, followed by an equally dark and heavy body section that reminds me slightly of “The Ghost of the Navigator”, one of my favorite tracks off of the first album of the band’s reunion. It’s not often that Dave Murray gets his name attached to the first single put out for an album, mostly because his songs tend to be outliers when compared to the bulk of the pertaining album’s sound, probably most blatantly in the case of “The Prophecy” off the “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” release. But in this particular case the song is a clear indication of the direction of the album it has been lifted from, which is a heavily progressive album with a lot of long epic songs.
The accompanying track is a recent version of an old Maiden classic “Hallowed be thy Name”, which features the 3 guitar arrangement that has been in service since the year 1999. Amongst the various remakes of this song that have popped up over the years, this is one of the better ones in terms of vocal delivery as Dickinson’s voice is in good shape, although it will probably never be quite as powerful as it was when “The Number of the Beast” was originally recorded back in 1982. The atmosphere of the song is denser than the original, owing both to advances in recording technology and the newer instrumentation, and climaxes at the end with an absolutely kick ass free time ad lib that gives the song a live performance feel minus the audience applause (which tends to be annoying on live CDs after a while).
Although a worthy pair of songs, this single isn’t really worth hunting down unless you’re a rabid Maiden collector like me. The Radio 1 Legends version of “Hallowed be thy Name” can also be found on the Different World single as well, a single which would be more worthwhile as it also contains a solid remake of “The Trooper”. The album art is almost enough to make up for the lack of fan perks to be found on here, but music is what makes the album, not the artwork.