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Iron Maiden – A Matter of Life and Death

Label: Sanctuary records
Format: CD/DVD
Released: 2006
Reviewed By: Rich Catino


Before I begin my rant let it be known I have been listening to Maiden since day one and own every 12" single released on vinyl from 1980 – 2000. So I know what I’m talking about here.

 

If you look back on Maiden’s lengthy 25 years of making music, after every two or three albums they progress and/or changed either in sound, composition or lineup. The 1980 self titled debut and "Killers" were raw and aggressive, the early stages of what was to become (‘Prowler’, ‘Wrathchild’, ‘Phantom of the Opera’, ‘Murders In The Rue Morgue’). With the addition of Bruce Dickinson on vocals, "The Number of the Beast" and "Piece of Mind" saw their sound and trademark galloping rhythms take shape (‘The Trooper’, ‘The Number of the Beast’, ‘Run to the Hills’).

The title track to "Powerslave" and ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ started with the lengthy epics while their style solidified (‘Aces High’). Followed by "Somewhere In Time" and "Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son", both saw Maiden using guitar synthesizers which took off the edge giving the music a graceful polished sound within more theatrical arrangements. Both albums are just awesome and epic! By 1990, "No Prayer for the Dying" and "Fear of the Dark" sustained the loss of Adrian Smith on guitars/songwriting and brought them in a sense back to basics with focus back on the guitars. Even the artwork with a more ferocious Eddie reflected the change.

1995’s "The X Factor" and "Virtual XI" were without Bruce Dickinson, replaced by Blaze Bailey’s very similar vocal tone, and many songs now opened with acoustic/bass guitar (even to this day) that built momentum with longer repetitive chorus’.

In 2000, Bruce and Adrian returned for "Brave New World" joining current mate Janick Gers to make for the three guitar team. With the straight ahead guitar attack of ‘Wicker Man’ to the epic title track it was a great culmination of everything Maiden had done up to this point and spawned some catchy songs (see what happens when Adrian returns). 2003’s "Dance Of Death" (with its bland artwork) in several aspects was a do it by numbers effort. Granted, the music was more progressive and they incorporated a real orchestra which brought out the essence to songs like ‘Paschendale’, but still it took a while for the album to grow on me and even to this day I don’t find the songs as memorable as "Brave New World".

"A Matter Of Life And Death" again starts a new cycle as I hear another change with the guitars a bit heavier and more up front in the production which I instantly noticed from the first single ‘The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg’. I am also happy to note that guitarist Dave Murray co-wrote this one (with Harris) and his solo is o so graceful, just love his playing. Once ‘Reincarnation’ kicks in (yeah they really have to ease up on these mellow intros), the riff and drum beat is simpler than the usual Maiden song and refreshing as I really wasn’t expecting this type of delivery. I think that was my main complaint with "Dance Of Death" that I wasn’t hearing anything really different.

While "A Matter of Life and Death" is nothing ground breaking for Maiden, like I said before there are still too many acoustic/clean guitar & bass beginnings. The riffs do come across heavier on ‘Brighter Than A Thousand Suns’ and check out the change after the guitar solo and tell me that arrangement doesn’t sound like its somewhere off "Killers"? I even hear "Piece of Mind" in the last solo.

Opener ‘Different World’ (written by Adrian Smith/Steve Harris) is your standard up beat energetic Maiden rocker with a catchy chorus, twin guitar harmonies and very reminiscent of ‘Wildest Dreams’ off "Dance of Death". ‘These Colours Don’t Run’ has a familiarity in the chorus to ‘Ghost of the Navigator’ while the solo section also goes back to older Maiden. Those guitar harmonies are just unmistakable.

Janick with Steve Harris wrote ‘The Pilgrim’ and from the opening guitar leads you can tell its their composition, both write in very classic Maiden fashion. This one also has a Middle Eastern feel to the leads. I like what is happening with ‘The Longest Day’ as it takes a turn to a heavier area mid way, just another moment unexpected. ‘Out of the Shadows’ is a ballad similar to ‘Wasting Love’ off "Fear of the Dark" while this one also changes a bit with acoustic guitars toward the end.

Bruce’s vocals soar for the line “Please tell me now what life is, please tell me now what love is” and the chorus to ‘For the Greater Good of God’, and one of the strongest on the album while the reflective guitar leads are so important to its impact on the listener. It has become one of my favorites. ‘Lord of Light’ has a moody mid section and also another arrangement that’s not typical for Maiden with album closer ‘The Legacy’ based in acoustic guitars and very Zepplinish in its essence.

Overall when comparing this to Maiden’s catalogue and what they have done since 2000, "A Matter of Life and Death" I feel may be their strongest collection beginning to end. It’s obvious enough while including a few new ideas which prevents the guys from repeating themselves too much. Unfortunately they do lack the hunger and power from the earlier days, pre 1986, where the riffs were memorable and opened many songs. The mellow intros post "Fear of the Dark" have over-stayed their welcome.

Limited edition includes a DVD with a Making Of, the video for ‘Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg’, studio performance footage of ‘Different World’, and a photo gallery.

 
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