Reviewed: October 2006
Released: 2006, EMI/Sanctuary
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com Staff
Lord of the Wastland
Many Iron Maiden purists will take offense to the following statement but the proof is in the pudding: the last great album the seminal U.K. metal band released was 1988’s SEVENTH SON OF A SEVENTH SON. With the exception of the two wretched albums helmed by Blaze Bayley in the late nineties, each successive Iron Maiden album has had a few bright spots but certainly nowhere near the timeless influence boasted by THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST, PIECE OF MIND and POWERSLAVE. The nineties were not kind to any metal band but even the faithful Maiden followers were left scratching their heads after hearing 1998’s dismal VIRTUAL XI. The reunion with Bruce Dickinson for 2000’s BRAVE NEW WORLD was a glimmer of hope but 2003’s DANCE OF DEATH was an uninspired follow-up. A steady diet of touring (and a landmark run on 2005’s Ozzfest) cemented Iron Maiden’s place in the hall of the metal gods however the grim reality of the band’s future is glaringly obvious on their latest album, A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH.
Clocking in at a bloated 72 minutes, the reliance on meandering, epic-length songs (only one track is under five minutes) and tired riffs finds the band going through the motions and frantically hoping fans will think they are more than a nostalgia act. Thin, narrow production hampers what could have (and should have) been a big middle finger to the critics of DANCE OF DEATH but, while all the elements are here for a “true” Maiden album, it is apparent that after a quarter-century, Iron Maiden’s days are numbered as a viable recording band.
“Different World,” with its anthemic chorus and classic galloping pace is a sure-fire addition to the band’s live set. Likewise, “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” is an engaging epic featuring Dickinson’s best vocal performance on the album. The riffs of Smith/Murray/Gers are immediately stamped to memory and a killer guitar solo is on hand, as well. “Out of The Shadows” is a slower track with a great chorus and Dickinson is once again allowed to shine.
What initially bogs down A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH is the abundance of mid-tempo, plodding songs. Averaging over seven minutes apiece, the songs are long to begin with but with nearly each one opening with a similarly muted guitar passage and never really igniting, the listener is left feeling like something is missing. Steve Harris’ history-as-metal-song approach is all over the album. War and political statements seem to be Harris’ exclusive lyrical muse here, which some may see as the band heading down a more mature, socially-minded road with age but it also has created a dark, unpleasant album (and who the hell is Benjamin Breeg?!?). I know…at least it isn’t “Bring Your Daughter…To The Slaughter” but after hearing Dickinson crank on for over an hour about the world’s various plights, it left me wishing for some more light-hearted less-depressing fare. Also, Dickinson tends to really over-sing in spots, the most obvious example being the chorus of the exhaustingly-long “For The Greater Good of God.” Like “No More Lies” from DANCE OF DEATH, Dickinson’s overwrought ham-handedness takes away any emotion that was intended because he sounds like he is straining his voice to hit a range that even the might Air Raid Siren can no longer reach.
Witnessing Iron Maiden hold twenty-thousand people in the palm of Eddie’s hand at Ozzfest was an amazing sight. For four decades, the band has brought people in droves to their live shows and after seeing the BRAVE NEW WORLD tour, it was painful to see so many blank stares as Dickinson & Co. struggled for fans’ attention during the post-eighties songs. If A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH is all Iron Maiden has to offer fans at this stage of the game, it may prudent to follow the path taken by KISS and go on an endless tour, cranking out the songs people want to hear rather than punishing fans to sit through eight minute exercises in boredom.
A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH may be a prophetic album title indeed…
KILLER KUTS: “Different World,” “These Colors Don’t Run,” “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns,” “Out of The Shadows”
Undoubtedly, one of the most anticipated metal albums to come out this year has been – no surprise,folks! – Iron Maiden´s new album titled A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH. This caused a lot of fuss amongst the metal loving community many months before its release. Many advance reviews about the new album of Eddie´s favorite group talked about the brilliance of the songs, seeing and giving it lots of credit as the band´s finest work in many years. My own curiosity level was naturally raised by all this hype, and considering all this and the fact Iron Maiden has always remained a sort of ´larger-than-life´ thing, nothing could have stopped me form checking out their new album.
Now, some weeks later, when I have been giving serious spinning to A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, and devoted a lot of my time to listening to it only, I need wholeheartedly to shake my head in full confession and acceptance that since Bruce Dickinson rejoined the band in 1999, everything has been going to a better direction for Iron Maiden. Every Maiden album has more or less been about Bruce´s very strong vocal performance that made a Maiden album to sound like a Maiden album – at least for most of us Maiden -fans. A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH doesn´t make exception to this rule either.
There´s over 72 minutes of music making up 10 new lengthy songs of that classic Maiden sound on A.M.O.L.A.D. None of them lack anything. I mean, if you have ever liked epic, bombastic and epos-like songs that Maiden has always been very good at, then nothing should stop you liking this new Maiden record. Yes, I said nothing… A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH is just all that what we, the Maiden fans, have been craving and expecting to get from the Maiden camp. It’s full of tiny musical details that truly rewards its listeners in the end. It´s a timeless record that will stand the test of time. Just wait for another 10 years and you´ll see and realize it yourself…
Iron Maiden albums are like jolly good weekends; you are always eagerly waiting for them to come, and they hardly disappoint you unless you don´t know how to relax and how to have a bit of fun. And I can tell you there´s lots of pleasingly relaxing moments on A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH. Now go and sink your teeth into it… and get relaxed! ;o)
The release of a new Iron Maiden album is a time that much of the metal community yearns for with bated breath. After all, it was this band that spawned a thousand others, whose influence has been felt and can still be heard in just about every sub-genre of metal in some form or another. In the early 80’s this band were well into reshaping much of metal as we know it. Yes we collectively owe a lot to Iron Maiden and they are indeed one of the bands we deservedly call metal gods, and a band that I still call one of my favorites. With a legacy like this, there is a lot to live up to, so much so that’s it near impossible to compete with a past like this. Should we give the band a break? After all, reinventing the wheel once, is more than most bands even dream of. The chance of them doing it again isn’t likely. I’m on two minds on this, on the one hand I’m just glad that Maiden are still together and still releasing good new material. On the other hand, when did “good” become “good enough” when it comes to this band? I do like A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH and I’m sure I’ll be giving it plenty of listens but once the dust settles most of us will be painfully aware that Maiden will ever top such monumental releases as POWERSLAVE, PIECE OF MIND, or NUMBER OF THE BEAST. So although I do enjoy much of the album, I do have to give this a lower score because of who Maiden were and should still be. My problem with A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH is that many of the songs on here sound like rehashed ideas of X-FACTOR meets DANCE OF DEATH. Every other song starts with a boring long dragged out intro with clean guitars. There are times on the album when you can even sing parts of other songs (like the chorus of “The Wicker Man”). Also, their three guitar player thing is a waste. There is hardly no indication that there are three guitarists in the band. Yes, they are all great players, but they are not taking advantage of having three of them in one band. We could use much more harmonies for starters. And how many times will they play the same old tiring progressions of E-C-D? Bruce even sounds like he’s straining in some songs, most obviously in “These Colors Don’t Run”…and yeah, on most of the album he sounds brilliant, I agree, but if you look to Maiden’s 80’s albums, you will not find any vocals to complain about. So again, we see “good” being accepted as “good enough” mainly because we’ve become so enamored with Iron Maiden that it’s become near blasphemy to say anything negative about them. So I’ll end with this comment – I still love Maiden, and LIKE their new album but I’ve reached a point where I am no longer willing to accept just OK material from a band that at one point consistently did so much more.
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