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Iron Maiden

A Matter of Life and Death

Review by Rick Damigella

The mighty Iron Maiden unleashes its third new studio album of the 21st century and its fourteenth overall with A Matter of Life and Death. The album debuted in the US Billboard Album charts in the Top 10, a first for Maiden, and dropped at number one in Europe and number two in Canada - not bad for a band with nearly three decades of music under their studded leather belts. The new album also marks the third studio release since popular front man Bruce Dickinson and six stringer Adrian Smith returned to the band.

These three latest Iron Maiden discs have been concept albums unto themselves. This time out the theme of death is revisited (from the previous Dance of Death) with an emphasis on war at the center. Even though artist Derek Riggs has retired from creating Maiden’s album covers with the band’s seventh man and mascot, Eddie, the cover is no less striking and “Eddie the ‘ed” is there in his ghoulish glory. A Matter of Life and Death also marks Maiden’s longest album to date, clocking in over 72 minutes.

What hardcore fans already know and what you need to know if you don’t already have this disc, is just how new, fresh and vital Iron Maiden sounds. Whereas many bands of their tenure have thrown in the towel on new music or simply phone it in when it comes to new material, Iron Maiden are producing some of the best music of their careers. Like a neutral country, Iron Maiden doesn’t take sides in this tale of war and death. There is no glorified flag waving and no sermons against the notion of war. Instead, Maiden play the character, no matter whom that may be, looking both out and in on the subject matter. The listener will not come away from A Matter of Life and Death feeling war torn themselves, but will be glad they joined up and went behind the lines of this prog-metal assault.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Different World
Drummer Nicko McBrain gets the first word in on this album as the song opens. This is arguably a hit single waiting to happen. All the right hooks from Maiden’s triple threat guitar front line and a sing along chorus with intelligent lyrics that are the Maiden trademark are present here. This is the shortest track on the album with all the others tracking in between five and nine minutes with an average of about seven minutes per song.
These Colours Don’t Run
A decidedly mellow guitar intro explodes into a full bore Maiden attack after one minute in. The album’s concept takes on the theme of war, from historical standpoints to the idea of war in heaven. The theme here is the valor of the fighting soldier, whoever the everyman (woman) character is, and their travels to the front like their forefathers did before them. War isn’t glorified here, but those who fight it are.
Brighter Than A Thousand Suns
Of all the tracks on the album, only three run under six minutes in length. This is one of the nearly nine minute epics that will enrapture the listener with its killer riffs. Try and pick out all three guitarists. They are all there and are all unique, however, the mixing of the album has blended the battleaxes of Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers into a wall of six string sound that must be heard to be believed.
The Pilgrim
Very few bands have been able to copy the twin guitar voices that Iron Maiden had a hand in creating. This song’s intro is pure, vintage Maiden. You hear it and you know it is Iron Maiden. The sonic tapestry being woven by the band is totally original, no rehashing of past glories, but it sounds like it wouldn’t have been out of place on Powerslave.
The Longest Day
Even if you are not from England, growing up with tales from your grandparents about the Battle of Britain and D-Day, Iron Maiden have single handedly written volumes of music that bring the tales of World War II so vividly to life, you feel as if you are right there on the front line or behind the control stick of a Spitfire. This latest tale follows in the footsteps of Powerslave’s “Aces High” but takes you into battle, Sten machine gun in hand, as you land at Omaha Beach on D-Day.
Out of the Shadows
A heavy, mid tempo opening actually slows down into a prog-metal-blues jam, with blistering vocalesque guitar parts and what could arguably one of Bruce Dickinson’s most unique vocal performances. An almost ballad like delivery gently pulls you in before his characteristic vocals break through. If they still let lighters into concerts, this is where you hold one up. It’s the powerful, classic Maiden sound in a package that feels like newly conquered territory.
The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg
The disc’s first single is seemingly not what one would think of as single material. It has an epic name, an epic length (over seven minutes) and an epic sound that only Iron Maiden could muster. The quiet, melodic two-minute opening utterly explodes into a crunchy riff detonation. Steve Harris’ bass and Nicko McBrain’s drum propel the track expertly. There is already much debate as to the meaning of this song on message boards across the ‘Net. Expect this to be played on their new tour and expect it to be as powerful as it is here. Music videos for this and “Different World” along with a making of the album documentary are included on the bonus DVD in DigiPak versions of the album.
For the Greater Good of God
Very few artists would dare or can tread into the territory explored here. These are probably some of the most deeply thought out lyrics ever penned by Steve Harris. They present a questioning view of the world, life, love, God and war. The band navigates the minefield of potential controversy with the precision of a laser guided smart bomb. The music is as powerful as the lyrics are. This is the longest and one of the most symphonic tracks on the album. Wear your headphones for the solos starting six minutes into the song.
Lord of Light
Subdued guitar picking and vocals belie what awaits the listener once this number explodes. The idea of Maiden’s new style being songs like mini-symphonies is a brought to full effect here. Multiple movements form, each unique unto itself, each similar yet within the same theme, none greater than the sum of its parts and all coming together to form, grand passages of song that challenge the listener to listen and think, while still air guitaring and head banging in abandon.
Legacy
Merely one second shorter than the disc’s longest track, “Legacy” closes the war-torn album with some of the darkest lyrical imagery yet, including chemical warfare and Armageddon. These are easily some of the most disturbing lyrics Iron Maiden has ever committed to song. To read more into them here is a disservice to the reader. Buy the album, listen, read the liner notes and dare to stop and think as Iron Maiden have invited you to do.
 
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