REVIEW: Iron Maiden – A Matter of Life and Death (2006 CD/DVD)

Part 39 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

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IRON MAIDEN – A Matter of Life and Death (2006 CD/DVD)

“Majestic” is the best word I can think of to describe A Matter of Life and Death, the 14th studio album by Iron Maiden (and 3rd of the “reunion era). That, and “classic”! This truly is classic Maiden: Most songs running between 7 and 9 minutes long, recorded virtually live off the floor, raw and epic. I truly believe that this represents the absolute peak of Maiden’s creativity. While not a concept album like Seventh Son, it does indeed follow themes: war, religion, humanity.

Anybody who thought Dance of Death sounded tired had better get ready to be blown away by a revitalized band. This is the best album of the reunion era, my favourite from the sextet period, and a shining moment in the Maiden canon.  10 songs, over an hour of music.  If you’re not a fan of long-winded Maiden, then perhaps this one’s not for you.

While “Different World” starts the show in a fast and furious way, similar to “Wildest Dreams” from Dance of Death, this is no re-tread. This time, melody is at the forefront, especially when Bruce lets rip in the chorus.  To boot, there’s a great dual guitar solo before Adrian (the master of melody) takes one of his own.  This one was written by Steve Harris and Adrian Smith, which almost always proves to be a ferocious, melodious combination.  But it is also the shortest number on the album, and not in any way indicative of the challenging songs to come!

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As if the opening was not good enough, “These Colours Don’t Run” is next.  Going through multiple tempos, from that slow-burn Maiden opening that they’d become known for, to a pounding march, this is another winner.  It is a seven minute epic with many changes, never getting dull, dueling guitars and complex rhythms, always sounding like Iron Maiden.  Producer Kevin Shirley says that Bruce laid down all his vocals live off the floor.  If that’s the case, it explains why there is so much magic in his voice.  This is incredible.  The lyrics reflect an older, wiser Maiden.  No longer satisfied with simple war epics, there is a sadness here now.

Far away from the land of our birth
We fly a flag in some foreign earth
We sailed away like our fathers before
These colours don’t run from cold bloody war

“These Colours”, and the next song, “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” were written by the triumvirate of Bruce, Steve and Adrian, which has produced so many Maiden classics in the past.  The lyrics for “Thousand Suns” reflects religion, war and the atomic bomb.  I’m a big fan of Bruce’s lyrics.  There is even a subtle reference to Robert Oppenheimer:

Whatever would Robert have said to his God?
About how he made war with the sun
E equals MC squared, you can’t relate
How we made God with our hands

This song is not as immediate as the first two, and the chorus still has that repetition that had plagued previous albums, but its melodic quality and epic solos allow it to rise above.  It’s 9 minutes long, probably could have been shorter, but aside from a couple repeated lines of chorus, I don’t know what I would cut.  I like it all.

A shorter one (but still over 5 minutes), “The Pilgrim”, was written by Steve and Janick.  Religion and war are the themes here, seen through the eyes of Steve.  Musically it starts with a stomp, similar to a section of “Afraid to Shoot Strangers”, but then they release the brake and accelerate, culminating into another melodic chorus.  Short songs like this help balance the longer material, although the previous songs are superior.

“The Longest Day” begins ominously, like a landing craft gliding quietly through the water.  Once again, Steve, Adrian and Bruce have written a war classic.  Something about Bruce’s lyrics, they’re never simple.  They always have layers to them, and “The Longest Day” is like that.  He spits the words out like a rifle, and the song is spellbinding for its entire 8 minute length, guitar harmonies intertwining with Nicko’s relentless war march.  And that ends side one.

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“Out of the Shadows” begins side two on a somewhat mellow note, acoustic guitars mixed with electrics, and a slower tempo.  Bruce wrote this one with Steve, a rare pairing.  It is probably a good thing to sequence a slow song somewhere in here, as the relentless pounding of the previous five may well have left your brain nothing but mush.  Fortunately there is an epic chorus here to keep us firmly in Maiden-land.

And oh-my-God, if you happened to sleep through “Out of the Shadows”, then Benjamin Breeg has arrived to wake you from your slumber!  I’ll say it again:  the rare occasions that Dave Murray writes a song, it usually produces gold.  “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg” is a monstrous epic, and even though it starts slow, that riff will make the dead rise from their graves.  “Benjamin Breeg” is certainly one of the most immediate songs on the album, no mean feat for a song that is 7 1/2 minutes long!  That time goes by in a blur so quickly, you’ll want to hit the back button on your player of choice and see what you may have missed.  Awesome song, and a very brave choice as first single.  There is no question:  This one would make any Iron Maiden mix tape that I put together, hands down.

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And as if that wasn’t enough, almost 10 minutes of “For the Greater Good of God” follows.  Another condemnation of the combination of religion and war, “For the Greater Good of God” is the only song written solely by Steve.  That too is a rare thing, as in the past he usually provides half an album on his own.  A Matter of Life and Death truly is a collaborative effort.   Twisting and turning through many sections, light and shade, this song too would fight for space on any Maiden mix CD that I make.  I have heard criticism that its flaw is Steve trying to cram too many syllables into one line during the choruses.  After a few listens, you don’t really notice anymore.

If you still have any life left in you after that pummeling, then prepare to meet the “Lord of Light”.  Yet another Smith/Dickinson/Harris composition, it too exceeds 7 minutes.  Starting quietly, it soon turns into a relentless pummeling, the three guitars behaving as one, Bruce soaring overtop.  Nicko and Steve drive the whole Beast forward, this is probably the heaviest song in many respects, with a great chorus and many changes in tempo.

And finally, “The Legacy”.  Almost 10 minutes long, “The Legacy” is very different for Maiden.  It is a Steve/Janick composition, mellow, and lyrically devastating.

Sent off to war to play little games
And on their return, can’t name no names
Some strange yellow gas
Has played with their minds
Has reddened their eyes, removed all the lies

As if the acoustic “Journeyman” from the last album injected a new dose of courage into the band, “The Legacy” is a daring way to end an album this heavy.  It begins acoustically and takes a little while to start cooking.   When it does kick into gear, it is a relentless rhythm, and a total triumph.  One of Maiden’s more challenging but rewarding epics.

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The sound of this album is the perfect mix of heavy and raw with just enough polish. The sound straight from the mix was so hot, the band and Kevin Shirley chose not to master this album.  The CD on the shelves is straight from the mixing desk, an unusual choice in mainstream music.  I can’t name another album that wasn’t mastered!  But the sound is perfect, I can’t fault this choice.  It has an immediate, lively, vital sound.  Certainly Bruce’s vocals are a highlight, and if they were live off the floor then more power to him.

(Hey, what happens when they eventually remaster the Maiden catalogue?  What will they call this album?  Just “mastered”?)

As far as the direction goes, the tempos are more “march” and less “gallop”, and that’s fine.  It’s not about repeating the past, it’s about making a great heavy metal album, and Maiden have done that.  Did I miss “the gallop” on this album?  No more than I did on previous Maiden platters like Brave New World.  The album is riff laden, complex, and layered.  You can’t “get” it in just a couple listens. A Matter of Life and Death demands that you devote a great deal of time to it, but when you do, it will pay you back a hundred fold.

Even the cover art is a vast improvement over Dance of Death. Even though Eddie is in the background this time, it’s a great piece of art, by Tim Bradstreet with Grant Goleash.  It is evocative of the music and lyrics, and just a great picture to look at.

iTunes offered a bonus track, a live version of “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, but it is available on some of the singles that we’ll talk about later.  Stay tuned and we’ll discuss all the bonus tracks and B-sides.  There is also a bonus DVD, a documentary on the making of the album.  Included is the “Benjamin Breeg” video, a photo gallery, and an in-studio performance of “Different World”.

In summation, I believe that A Matter of Life and Death is the greatest album of reunion era Maiden.  I also believe it to be their best album since Seventh Son, perhaps even surpassing that lofty masterpiece in some respects.

5/5 stars

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21 comments

  1. Totally agree with the 5/5 rating,this I would say is the best Maiden album since 7th Son also but is it better,mmmmm no,not for me ,but this one is a classic for sure.
    Pretty ballsy of them playing this whole thing front to back live ,why not right?
    There is actually a youtube clip of about 15 seconds or so of a sign being sent up through the crowd at a NYC show with the words I believe written on it saying Play the Classics.
    Bruce has this look and shreds the sign…..hahahahaha….don’t piss off the Air Raid Siren!
    Check it out fellas…..

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    1. Hey Deke I wasn’t able to find that video but if you find it by all means come back and post the link. I wanna see it!

      Don’t piss off the Air Raid Siren!!

      I’m glad you liked this one as much as I did. I still play this album all the time!

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  2. Totally agree with your review. Great album! Definitely the best of the post 7th Son releases. I love Brighter Than a Thousand Sons especially. That may be one of my Top 10 Maiden tracks. Love it!

    They really went for the more tricky timings on this album. The were always known for the proggy epics but this was a real move towards the more challenging musicianship of their heroes like Genesis and Tull.

    I was really worried that Maiden wouldn’t be able to follow Bruce’s Tyranny of Souls but they really pulled it off. Admittedly there is more of a touch of Bruce’s solo material in the Maiden stuff here.

    I read an interview at the time with Steve Harris and (if I remember right, I’ll have to dig it out) he confessed to be losing interest in riff writing and preferred writing lyrics and basic song structures now. Leaving the riffs and fiddly bits to the others. I think on the evidence of this album that’s maybe a good thing…

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    1. Having heard the British Lion album, I wouldn’t be surprised at all. Adrian’s plenty good at writing riffs in Maiden, anyway….

      Again, glad you liked this album as much as I did. The proggy epic bits reached an, err, epic proportion this time.

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  3. Mike just enter on youtube…Bruce Dickinson rips up sign at Iron Maiden concert..it should come up….I would post it here but I have no idea how to…hahahaha….

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  4. Somehow I missed this one, and now I am behind in this Maiden series, so let’s give ‘er.

    Different World kicks things off (is Nicko asking for Eddie?) with a great rocker. Everything has its place, and while it’s mid-3/4 tempo for these guys, it has all the right elements and just sounds bloody great. These Colours Don’t Run slowly builds. Hey, has Bruce brought back the growl vocals a little? Cool! Neat tempo-switch at the chorus, and the instrumental middle section is creative and engaging. Are Bruce’s vocals a bit low in this mix? Could just be my ears. Brighter Than A Thousand Suns, by the time it builds, has this absolutely heavy riff wedged into the guitar line. Damn! In my headphones, the bottom just dropped right out for thse sections. Loved it! Another soaring Bruce chorus. Great guitar solos here. Yeesh, I just looked, this song is almost 9 minutes long! And it’s busy the whole time!

    The Pilgrim is another in the same vein, a cool song that only Maiden can do. There is still that note, though, and this song has it. You know the one. Bruce always goes for it in the choruses and somehow he never quite gets there. It’s better than I could do, but the ear wants it and doesn’t quite get it. He actually sounded like he strained a bit with the vocals here, but that could just be me. The Longest Day makes me think that this entire album will be the same sort of thing. Sure, there’s lots of changes, but the main tempos are about the same. Not a whole lot of gallop, just mostly this mid-3/4 speed. It’s good. But it’s a lot of it, so I’m glad they try within the songs to shake things up. If this was all 4 minutes songs, it’d all sound the same.

    That’s another thing. I’m looking at my iTunes playlist, and a lot of these songs exceed 7 minutes. Credit to the band for being so ambitious!

    Out Of The Shadows finally shakes it up a bit, bringing things down to almost ballad (for Maiden) speed. Acoustic guitars! Cool. This one bashes away on a steady course and is a decent enough track. The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg is an oddly-titled song, but it has most of the building blocks of those Maiden epics of old (whether it achieves that stature or not, I don’t know), with wicked soloing over a dirty, chugging and slinky guitar line.

    For The Greater Good Of God suffers until Bruce lets the vocals wail. Some clunky lyrics in the intro. This track’s alright, but to me it was a bloody long 9 and a half minutes. I don’t go for overt religious tracks like that. I know I am not in the majority on this point, so it is what it is. Lord Of Light takes a long time to get going, but (finally!) we have a song that has sections that take off! One could be forgiven for thinking that this record wasn’t going to have a song like this on it. Overall, a well-done track. And finally, The Legacy has a pretty, acoustic intro. When it breaks loose, all I could think was: Dio could have rocked the vocals on this one! Don’t ask me why, it’s just what I thought. The song stomps along until well into its minutes, when it winds up and lets rip again, never relenting until the final 30-second acoustic outro, which could have been left off. Not every song needs to be bookended, if you ask me. But you didn’t ask me, so there you go.

    In sum:

    This is a good record. Definitely ambitious. Reading the track list, one could wonder if Maiden had made a christian rock record. Maybe they did, I wouldn’t know. On first spin, I don’t really listen to the lyrics closely. This band has so much going for it (and so much going on) musically, the lyrics aren’t the focus for me. I could have done without the christianity stuff I did notice, but that’s just me. These are strong songs, and they will sound fine in a live setting. I didn’t hear any songs that are instant Maiden Classics, but maybe time will give them a chance.

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  5. More quality reviews I somehow missed… Sitting here on New Year’s Eve with the family until have to collect our eldest daughter party animals we are LOL. And what better company could one want than a swag of Popoff books and a chunk of Ladano reviews to browse through!?😁

    Great work Mike and agree completely this was a tremendous album. Minimum 4.5 from me although still rate Brave New World slightly above it. This that and Book Of Souls their best since reforming \m/

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  6. Okay, here we go…

    Side 1

    Different World: First thing out off the way. That chorus sounds like, it belongs to a 90’s drama tv show. Other then that, it’s pretty good. Not in my top 5 of Maiden openers, but it’s a bit like Futureal on Virtual XI. Like Futureal however, it’s unfortunately also the shortest song on the album.

    These Colours Don’t Run: Slow intro. Ok, it got something going on, is kinda ruined by some repetition. It doesn’t help, that the first chorus immediately kills the flow. You can say that about the solo too.

    Brighter Than A Thousand Suns: A near 9 minute song. I like long songs. Specifically long songs, that aren’t this one. Too long is this, with lots of repetition. Especially the verse and chorus. I had enough of that, when it was done, and didn’t want it after the solo. A trimming is what this song deserves.

    The Pilgrim: I got excited with this song at first. This song had alot of promise, but it’s still repetitive. For one thing, the chorus. Why do you make the chorus that long? The chorus should not be that long, before the second verse starts. The solo could be better and more interesting, instead of being short and move on to the chorus again.

    The Longest Day: While this song also got some repetition problems, it changes things up, which keeps me interested. I especially dig the solo in this. It’s a fine song.

    To be continued…

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    1. Side 2

      Out of the Shadows: A slow decent song, with (gonna quote Lebrain here) “too much repetition in the chorus”. Is the word, Repetition, repeated enough times?

      The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg: More like the Reincarnation of Boring Song. That’s a better title. It does have some interesting bits, but two-three riffs in a 7 minute song? I’ll pass.

      For the Greater Good of God: 9 minutes. I can’t even. When I saw Maiden live last year, I was pretty excited for the setlist and also surprised by the inclusion of this song. Now, I didn’t see AMOLAD tour, but my father and uncle did (Bless them). So I was loving the show, they play this song, and all I remember is “Wow. 9 minutes for that?” Love the chorus……..the first two times, but after that, it’s repetitive, boring and lackluster (Haven’t used that word yet).

      Lord of Light: First off, fuck that intro. Everything else though is good. While it needs some fat trimming. It works very well, and the solo is awesome, as it also changes things up. Could have been better, but compared to the rest of this album, It’s alright.

      The Legacy: The song to close off this album. Starts with the seventh quiet intro of the seventh quiet intro. But while the intro drags for a good 3 minutes, the song kicks in and it’s very good. It doesn’t feels repetitive (apart from the intro, that is), and fills in those 6 minutes with solid riff work and great solos. Probably the best song on this album.

      Conclusion: I am still baffled by people, who thinks this is a masterpiece. It’s fine, if that’s your opinion, but I strongly disagree. Even with the few decent tracks, they are still plauged by the mind-numbingness repetition. This one is a low for me.

      2/5

      Lebrain, You’re wrong on A Matter of Life and Death.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Whew! Oh my! I don’t know what to say!

        Well, I will say this. You’re not wrong. Repetition is there. I can’t deny it. It’s 100% true. It’s excessive.

        But you did such an awesome job on this, track by track, I gotta respect that. And all valid points.

        Incidentally Meat and I both think this is their best album of the reunion era!

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