Iron Maiden ‘A Matter of Life and Death’

From Record Collector, summer 2006.

In theory, Iron Maiden in 2006 should be an anachronism. Transcending the emergence of thrash, grunge and nu-metal, Iron Maiden should well be six feet under. A Matter Of Life And Death is indicative of the adage that what ever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Like previous album openers such as Be Quick Or Be Dead or Tailgunner, the opening track Different World is a rollicking statement of intent powered with a dynamite hook that creates one of the band’s most immediately accessible moments to date. Whereas the aforementioned songs would be catchy but lacking the sophistication that Maiden could hit upon elsewhere, some fluid solos offset by Bruce Dickinson’s artful phrasing ensure Different World is something special.

Elsewhere, the band ensue their more hook-laden tendencies in favour of an expansive, prog-infused attack. But vitally, as much as Maiden’s musicianship is overwhelmingly impressive, there’s a playful looseness present here that hasn’t been seen since the punk-tinged Paul Di’anno era. The importance of this is that weaker material such as Brighter Than A Thousand Suns and Out Of The Shadows possesses a thunderous urgency that masks their otherwise workmanlike quality.

In many ways Iron Maiden seem almost reinvigorated throughout A Matter Of Life And Death – no small feat for a band with a thirty year history whose current line-up has been solid for the past seven years.

The individual performances are, as such a progressive approach dictates, remarkable. Steve Harris takes a less prominent role as an instrumentalist that he has done on previous releases but when his bass does rise for the fore – as on The Pilgrim for example – it creates a visceral rush as impressive as his more economical contributions elsewhere. With a succession of atmospheric introductions, drummer Nicko McBrain is never required to nail anything as fierce as, say The Trooper, but his pummelling blasts through The Longest Day and Lord Of Light are as tight as anything from the back catalogue. Guitar triumvirate Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers particularly impress by uniting to devastating effect, whether on the simplistic main riff of the single The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg or the sprawling epic structure of For The Greater Good Of God.

With that riff reminiscent of many of traditional metal’s more commercially successful singles, The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg is an impressive showcase for the album; Dickinson’s emotive enunciations and an eerie, ghostly outro prove to be a suitable calling card. It is, however, a challenging choice for a first single. Certainly Different World or the punchy acceleration of These Colours Don’t Run would’ve represented far safer choices.

The album closes with The Legacy, a remarkable surprise from this most stereotyped of bands. A baroque style acoustic introduction finds Dickinson acting as a court jester; a style at odds with the horrific tale of a mustard gas attack that accompanies it. As it explodes into a vitriolic cocktail of classic Maiden riffing and complex prog-metal aggression, it represents a fitting end to an ambitious work – an epic to bookend a collection of epics.

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