Thursday, 6 October 2011

CD Review: A Matter Of Life And Death, by Iron Maiden (2006)

Iron Maiden complete the transition to a progressive metal band, delivering a set of ten tracks that, rather than triggering joyous abandonment, demands academic study. A Matter Of Life And Death is dense, hard work, requiring several listens to digest, at the end of which the music earns admiration. The applause is more for the undeniable effort and complexity than the accessibility of the music.

Seven of the tracks are six minutes or longer; and three clock in at over eight minutes. Most of the songs are mini odysseys about war and death, featuring a multitude of chapters, dramatic changes in signatures, Bruce Dickinson varying his vocals from whisper to siren while passing through menacing. The pace is generally mid-tempo, the guitar work subdued and supportive rather than showy.

For The Greater Good Of God is the longest track, and also the best thing on the album. Dickinson builds to the power-packed yet resigned one-line chorus "For the greater good -- of God", riding on an eastern riff straight out of a one-eyed Sultan's desert tent, before the band takes over on a long instrumental segment that travels over the barren landscape on a magic carpet.

Just as impressive is the closing track The Legacy, over 9 minutes dripping with anti-war sentiment. The intro is longer than most songs, the main theme kicking in at 3:10 with a train chugging not to Yuma but to the conscience of war profiteers. Iron Maiden then let loose with another long instrumental segment, creating their own battlefield, with strafing guitars until Dickinson rejoins and returns fire with unconventional machine gun staccato vocals.

There are no weak tracks on A Matter Of Life And Death, just degrees of digestibility. Compared to the best two tracks, These Colours Don't Run and The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg don't require any less effort to swallow, but the level of self-absorption is higher and the payoff lower, if still good. Opener Different World is the closest thing on the album to a traditional Maiden track, but even then it is more brawny than the welcoming tracks on most other Maiden albums.

A Matter Of Life And Death imposes an exercise regimen of dedicated effort to reveal its secrets. When it finally decides to make friends it proves to be loyal, but never gregarious.


Bruce Dickinson - Vocals
Dave Murray - Guitars
Adrian Smith - Guitars
Janick Gers - Guitars
Steve Harris - Bass
Nicko McBrain - Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Different World - 8
2. These Colours Don't Run - 8
3. Brighter Than A Thousand Suns - 7
4. The Pilgrim - 7
5. The Longest Day - 7
6. Out Of The Shadows - 7
7. The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg - 8
8. For The Greater Good Of God - 9
9. Lord Of Light - 7
10. The Legacy - 9

Average: 7.70

Produced and Mixed by Kevin Shirley.
Engineered by Kevin Shirley and Drew Griffiths.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

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