Iron Maiden - A Matter Of Life And Death
Heavy Metal
10 songs (72'04)
Release year: 2006
Iron Maiden, EMI
Reviewed by Marty
Major event
For the first time in the history of this legendary metal band, egos were checked at the door to the pre-production sessions and the whole process of bringing in rough ideas and sketches for proposed new songs took on a previously unheard of sense of co-operation by everyone in the band. Besides Nicko McBrain, all of the band members contributed to the writing process and there's even a collaboration between Bruce Dickinson and Steve Harris that doesn't also include Adrian Smith. There hasn't been a Dickinson/Harris composition on an Iron Maiden album in over 16 years since the No Prayer For The Dying album from 1990. The whole process of pre-production, demoing the songs and actually getting them on tape in the studio took an unprecedented 2 months of work, a full 2 months less than is normal for the band. As was the case with their last album Dance Of Death, Kevin Shirley once again took the production helm and the recording sessions were basically done in a "live" situation with everyone playing together to get a bed track down on tape. Vocal overdubs and some of the solos were added in later but there were no tempo and pitch "fixes" using Pro Tools. In another bold move, Steve Harris decided after listening to the tapes of the sessions that they wouldn't bother mastering the album; a process that can alter the volumes of certain instruments to fix an uneven mix and also give a sense of polish to the final product. The result is a very "organic" sounding Iron Maiden that really has more of a "live" feel to it. As far as the songs on this new album, Iron Maiden has taken the epic storytelling of such previous material as To Tame A Land, The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, Sign Of The Cross and more recently Paschendale and Montsegeur to new heights with an album full of expansive epics that cover the full realm of typical Iron Maiden material from quiet, building intros, galloping rhythms, sudden tempo changes, expressive soloing and lots of guitar harmonies all backed with the famous wail from one of the best front man ever to grace any metal band. Lyrically, Iron Maiden gets political this time with themes that offer their insight into some of the global conflicts that exist today with a couple of tracks taking on the first person perspective of the soldiers that are being sent into harms way. The result is an album that takes quite a while to get into and ventures further into the realm of progressive metal than they've ever been before.

The first track, Different World is a very "typical" album opener and shows similarities to Wildest Dreams and The Wicker Man, the opening tracks from their last two albums. It's a spirited and catchy track with a cool main riff but there's an unusual melodic sense to the chorus section. Bruce just wails on this one and an Adrian Smith solo tops things off quite nicely. With These Colours Don't Run, we now get into the "meat" of the album. A phrase that was shouted out by Bruce Dickinson onstage at last year's Ozz Fest in reference to the British soldier uniform that he was wearing during The Trooper as they were being egged by bunch of Sharon Osbourne's flunkies, has been brilliantly transformed into an epic soldier's tale about life on the front and away from home. After a quiet intro, this one transforms into a technical Iron Maiden outing that is both expansive and atmospheric with light keyboard layering over the riffs for added effect. Bruce sounds amazing on this one as well with a soaring chorus section on a track that covers all the bases for what makes a great Iron Maiden song. Brighter Than a Thousand Suns has a slower atmospheric quality and sounds more like material from Bruce's solo albums with it's dreamy vocal styles. However, the repetitive chorus, great slicing guitar riffs and sudden speedy interlude quickly remind you that this is a track from a Maiden album and not one of Bruce's. The Pilgrim begins with a rollicking celtic style guitar riff before charging into a great driving tempo with solid energy. Bruce's voice once again soars with the very clever lyrical style of Steve Harris. The Longest Day, a track about the D-Day invasion of Normandy by allied forces in 1944 during WWII is destined to become a future Maiden classic. With building atmosphere, the stark and gruesome lyrics paint a musical picture much like the opening scene in the movie Saving Private Ryan. The eerie heaviness, the solid technical riff breaks, brilliant lead guitar overdubs and amazing use of Thin Lizzy styled guitar harmonies all accompanied by Bruce's wailing of "How long.....on this longest day" result in one of the best tracks to come from this band in many, many years. Out Of The Shadows borrows a bit from Revelations from Peace Of Mind as well as a bit of Children Of The Damned as far as the clean guitar opening segment but the arrangement and melodic sense is almost a carbon copy of Bruce's Tears Of The Dragon from his Balls To Picasso solo album. Although a strong power ballad, there's a feeling of familiarity to this one.

The first single from the album was The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg. Different World has "single" written all over it but the band insisted that it be The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg. There was a flurry of internet activity about just who Benjamin Breeg is (or was). A website suddenly appeared ( with a written statement from an apparent relative looking for information about Mr. Breeg. A painting suddenly appeared on the site that was allegedly done by Mr. Breeg about one of the hideous faces that haunted him. Amongst the swirls of colours was the distinctive face of Eddy the Iron Maiden mascot. Have we been had by the band? Many people now realize that Benjamin Breeg is a fictitious character from the mind of Mr. Steve Harris about someone who is stricken by hideous visions and thoughts and many people now feel that the song is about Eddy. They've always wanted to write a song about Eddy and I think this time they might have done just that. Fusing together two tracks, one written by Dave Murray and the other by Steve Harris, the result is another album highlight in The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg. After a quiet intro with a whispery vocal by Bruce, the memorable main riff kicks in and there is lots of tempo and riff changes to satisfy even the most discerning Maiden fan. Despite the lack of galloping riffs, guitar harmonies and other Maiden staples, this one drives home a solid mid tempo style with another amazing vocal by Bruce. For The Greater Good Of God is the only self-penned track by Steve Harris and once again, we have another future Maiden classic in the works. An epic along the lines of Sign Of The Cross with a bit of the styles of Ghost Of The Navigator, this one takes a very political edge with the lyrics and I love the celtic guitar riffing style over the chorus section. Lots of instrumental breaks and tons of guitar harmonies bring a smile to this Maiden fan's face every time I hear this 9 minute opus! The last two tracks Lord Of Light and Legacy although are decent tracks, really fall short of the quality found with the rest of the album. Both tracks begin with quiet interludes with Legacy using some acoustic guitar work. Lord Of Light sounds more like Bruce's solo material with Legacy taking on a more plodding Black Sabbath style complete with a sudden speedy tempo change. Adrian Smith's guitar synthesizer work on this track adds a cool effect but otherwise, there's nothing really memorable about it.

Fans of the epic Iron Maiden will love this album. Besides being a fan of that myself, I'm also a huge progressive rock fan and I've always loved bands that would infuse progressive rock styles with heavy music (Jethro Tull and Rush for instance). That aspect of Iron Maiden has always been more important to me than the fact that they are a metal band. You can hear heavy metal just about anywhere but there is only one Iron Maiden. Clocking in at over 72 minutes I can empathise with those who say that the album is too long. I would've cut it off after For The Greater Good Of God and offered the last two tracks as bonus tracks or B-sides. That aspect would’ve resulted in a much more concise (and shorter) album. I find that when I get to the last two tracks, they just don't interest me as much as the rest of the album. Many will complain about the lack of speedy tempos and driving heavy metal and the fact that almost all the tracks begin with a Fear Of The Dark type quiet intro that has been done to death by these guys. Despite what some would call shortcomings, there's an undeniable quality to the song writing and arrangements that puts this album way over and above both Dance Of Death and Brave New World. Both of those albums had some great songs but overall, A Matter Of Life And Death is better. The production takes a while to get used to but it is far superior to that on Dance of Death. This album is meant to be cranked up loud to get the full effect. With the triumphant return of the beloved guitar harmony thirds that made tracks like Hallowed Be Thy Name and The Trooper so great as well as revisiting some of their most epic and atmospheric songwriting periods that were found on albums like Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son and The X Factor, Iron Maiden has produced an album that although is not without its flaws, contains some of their strongest material in many years.

Killing Songs :
These Colours Don't Run, The Pilgrim, The Longest Day, The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg and For The Greater Good Of God
Marty quoted 86 / 100
Ken quoted 50 / 100
Adam quoted 81 / 100
Other albums by Iron Maiden that we have reviewed:
Iron Maiden - Senjutsu reviewed by Goat and quoted 60 / 100
Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls reviewed by Goat and quoted 73 / 100
Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier reviewed by Goat and quoted 83 / 100
Iron Maiden - Flight 666 DVD reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Iron Maiden - Killers reviewed by Thomas and quoted CLASSIC
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