by
Scott "Dr. Music" Itter
 
 

A while ago, a "patient" of mine had a thought. He suggested that we both write separate reviews for the new Iron Maiden album, "A Matter Of Life And Death," and see how our views and opinions might compare and contrast. As my brilliant "patient" Johan Copermans in Belgium finished his take on the disc, he sent it to me as a Word document, as to not tarnish any original thoughts I had of my own. As I finished up my summarization of the album, only then did I open the file.

Here are the results.....




 
Track listing
Disc 1
1.
  Different World
2.
  These Colours
Don't Run
3.
  Brighter Than a
Thousand Suns
4.
  Pilgrim
5.
  Longest Day
6.
  Out of the Shadows
7.
  Reincarnation of
Benjamin Breeg
8.
  For the Greater
Good of God
9.
Lord of Light
10.
Legacy
Disc 2
Interviews and two
in-studio performances

Label:
Sanctuary Records
Release Date:
September 5, 2006

Patient's review:
Iron Maiden – A Matter Of Life And Death
by Johan Copermans

Ask 10 fans for their favorite three Iron Maiden albums and chances are that you’ll get ten different answers. Sure, “The Number Of The Beast” will feature in all lists; but, next to that classic album some will opt for the short and sharp albums from the early years with Paul Di’Anno as a singer, while others will go for the futuristic themed “Somewhere In Time,” or choose the recent returns to form such as “Brave New World”. The new album “A Matter Of Life And Death” differentiates itself from the rest as being clearly the most epic one, with the majority of songs passing the seven minutes mark. It’s also tempting to view it as Maiden's most political work. The cover art as well as almost every lyric seem to be a reflection on warfare, and on the uselessness of it.

Is “A Matter Of Life And Death” a good album? Well, it certainly is an album that asks for several spins; only then can it be properly explored. I gotta admit that with Maiden's last two albums, this wasn’t the case. Within only one or two spins you had the songs nailed and there was nothing new to be discovered. Due to the epic structure of the new songs, this isn’t the case now. That’s the good part. The bad part is that some of these epic songs just don’t work. Let me prove my point by taking you through each and every song, beginning with weakest ones.

“The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg” is a song that is done far too much ‘by the book’ to deserve its lengthy structure. It drags itself past the seven minutes, while Dickinson has some difficulties reaching the highest notes of the song. As well in the lower regions of my personal chart is “These Colours Don’t Run”. It suffers from the same weaknesses: the chorus just doesn’t gel with the verses. These songs seem like a patchwork of different tempos, as if the musicians had some good ideas for riffs and quickly decided to cut and paste them together into a XL-version of a song.

We’ve had the two weakest tracks, now let’s move forward. First, with “For The Greater Good Of God,” being only slightly better. It’s an overtly political statement, kicked of by a tight, strong build-up. But is it just me who has trouble with what is eventually, after four minutes, the chorus? Dickinson belting out “For the greater good”, follow by the childish chant “…of God” – it annoys me every time I hear it. The uninspired “Lord of Light” is not much better, although it starts off with a remarkable moody intro (that is repeated later on in the song) and has a great instrumental part, including some great drumming from Nicko McBrain. The two tracks in which Maiden returns to an ‘old school’, more compact form, I leave in the middle of my chart. “Different World” clearly aims for the status as lead-off ‘single’, harboring a catchy chorus and a pretty straightforward structure. “The Pilgrim” is a dark, typical Middle Aged themed, of which the verses are somehow reminiscent of “Run To The Hills.” “Longest Day” could have easily made it into my personal top three. The song has a menacing intro, from a vocal point of view, it’s arguably Dickinson’s strongest effort and it has a great great great instrumental break, with fantastic chord changes and of course the trademark dueling guitar parts. No one beats Maiden at this game. Alas, the song still is somewhat hampered by the previously mentioned ‘cut and paste’ strategy. Once the chorus sets in, much to my frustration the song shifts to a lower gear. It’s a structure which doesn’t do the song justice.

This leaves, maybe surprising for all you hardcore Maiden fans out there, “Out of the shadows” to enter in my personal top three. It has an intro that time after time reminds me of Schenker’s guitar play in The Scorpions, it sounds almost ‘nineties nu-metal’ in its verses and makes a remarkable instrumental U-turn near the end. Maiden in the mainstream? Sure, but I can’t help but liking it. However, without any competition and with no room for discussion, my two favorite tracks are “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” and “The Legacy”. The latter kicks off as an almost Marillion-like medieval children’s tale; a lengthy intro in which Dickinson presents his most subtle voice, only to give way to a “Kashmir” type of riff after three minutes. Here you hear an inspired group talking chances, exploring new roads. The song also provides a welcome antidote for the forced types of ‘cut and paste’ songwriting that had such a negative effect on the aforementioned epic songs of the album. Listen to the most impressive instrumental part of “The Legacy” kicking off at 5:30 with some galloping guitars, and hear the way this part evolves, in the most natural way, back into the last verse of the song. No hasty work here, but sheer brilliance. “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” is equally lengthy, but a whole different type of song. It’s, by far, the most ferocious piece of work of the album. The song starts, strange but true, with a riff that bears the echo of AC/DC’s “Hells Bells.” Dickinson is singing with a knife between the teeth and, especially near the end, the band is living proof that they are in no way suffering from any type of midlife crisis – strong stuff.

Which leaves me to the conclusion that “A Matter of Life and Death” – although it falls short of being one of the best Maiden albums of all time – still manages to be the most interesting one in a long, long time. I’m curious as hell to read what Dr. Music and my fellow weekly visitors of his excellent website have to say about it.

OVERALL RATING: 7


Doctor's review:
Iron Maiden – A Matter Of Life And Death
by Scott "Dr. Music" Itter

Okay, let’s see a show of hands…..How many want to see Maiden change their style and do something completely different and groundbreaking? Ah, there's one….you in the back…..take your Coldplay and your Radiohead collections and get the hell out of my world. This is Iron Maiden, ladies and gentlemen. This is a band that has always refused to cave in to the pressures of the current musical trends, and has persistently pursued their trademark sound with each and every release. The galloping bass lines, the numerous time changes, and the shriek of singer Bruce Dickinson are all elements of Iron Maiden music that fans come to expect and adore time and time again. “A Matter Of Life And Death” is typical Iron Maiden music, and it’s a good thing.

Iron Maiden is one of the rare acts that can depend solely on their songwriting talent to carry them. There’s no new flashy image for the band; no big surprises in style to report; these are just new Iron Maiden songs, plain and simple. Let me preface this review by saying that I am a huge fan of this band, but even I have found some material to be less than worthy of the Maiden moniker. For example, like most Maiden fans, I thought the albums made with singer Blaze Bayley, after Dickinson left the band, were pretty inferior and weak. I thought “Fear Of The Dark” was a bit of a step down, and think of “No Prayer For The Dying” and “Dance Of Death” as being no better than average efforts either. But I would also say that all of these lesser albums each have a few wonderful songs on them. Maiden is all about melody and arrangements. They are going to do what they do best, and they don’t need to change their style to make great music. The thing that will determine the quality of the album is going to be the writing and arranging of all their talents. This record is one of their best efforts in a good many years. I thought “Brave New World” was very good, for the most part, and this release is just about the same caliber.

The band returns to the epic format with 7 out of 10 of these songs being over the 6:50 mark. Some work better than others, but most everything here is very well written. “For The Greater Good Of God,” which is the longest track on the disc coming in at 9:24, gets a bit uncomfortable with a repetitive refrain and some awkwardly placed and extensive guitar solos, but it’s still a good song. If it was cut down to six minutes it would be a great song. “Lord Of Light” is another track that seems to run a bit long at 7:23, again because of awkwardly placed solos and a choppy arrangement. Most of the stuff works here, though. “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns,” which rings in at 8:44 is a classic Maiden song with seamless time changes, peaks and valleys of masterful instrumentation, and an overly impressive vocal performance from vocalist Bruce Dickinson. “The Legacy,” another tune weighing in at over nine minutes, is stunning also. Although it takes a while to get going, and it seems to take about two minutes too long to fade out, the song has a regal majesty to it that demands your respect. “Out Of The Shadows” is another song that is filled with hearty amounts of that triumphant spirit. The verses of the song find Dickinson spending an unusual amount of time in his low voice, which is just as impressive as his high tone. The rousing chorus is cloaked in a “raised fist and eyes tightly shut” bravado that can be quite chilling. But let’s talk about the best of the bunch here, shall we? “The Longest Day” brings tears to my eyes when I hear it. Dickinson is one of the best at chewing up a lyric and turning a powerful phrase. He takes these verses and spits them out between clenched teeth, just before he puts every ounce of his heart and soul into the most uplifting chorus on the record. “The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg” is another that has Dickinson turning a phrase or two, but this is a song that is driven by a spectacular riff. The combination of the two is a real thing of beauty. The track that opens the album, “Different World,” is a fast-paced rocker, but has an unusually light and catchy chorus reminiscent of something like the radio pop influence of “Can I Play With Madness” from the band’s “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son” album. “These Colours Don’t Run” is more of the traditional gallop with a slight keyboard presence and a small chant that’s sure to go over splendidly in the live setting. Another of the more traditional gallops here is “The Pilgrim.” Both of these being very typical Maiden songs that lack originality, but they’re good songs regardless.

Besides having the best bass player in the history of metal music, one of the most powerful things about Iron Maiden is their triple guitar attack. Adrian Smith, Dave Murray, and Janick Gers take turns throughout this record delivering complex solo after complex solo. Most times, they play these wickedly enjoyable forays within the boundaries of the songs. Not too many of these guitar parts feel cramped or uncomfortable. There is one member of the band that is not usually talked much about though, and that’s drummer Nicko McBrain. This guy has been laying down some of the most incredible displays imaginable over the years, and his performance on this record surpasses all of them. McBrain is the real hero of this album. His drums are complex, precise, and perfectly arranged within the bellies of all these songs.

Maiden fans, you have reason to rejoice, this is another great Iron Maiden record that any true Maiden fan should enjoy. The casual Iron Maiden fan (if there is such a thing) might find these songs a bit tedious because of their length. If you are a “Run To The Hills” or “Can I Play With Madness” fan, and you know who you are, this one’s a toss up. But I’m a guy that finds songs like “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner,” “Revelations,” and “To Tame A Land” at the top of my list of Maiden favorites. Over time, will any of these become some of my favorite Iron Maiden songs? I wouldn’t think so, but they are all worthy of years of listening enjoyment.

OVERALL RATING: 7


I find it remarkable that these reviews turned out to be so similar in both size and opinion. We set no real boundaries when we discussed this project, other than to go deep into the record and give our views. We were excited to do this together, and we are even more excited to hear your opinions of this disc.

I would like to send extra special thanks to Johan Copermans for his wonderful idea and his intelligent and insightful writing style. You rock, my friend!! – Dr. Music


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