Review Summary: They've come so far...Iron Maiden Discography - 5/15
We all love and miss the old days, filled with cheesy tales of fighter planes, historical figures, and satanic rituals. But we, the listeners, knew not to take it too seriously. (Well, most of us anyway.) But, this album is different. There's no happy-sounding, sing-a-long battle anthems such as “Run to the Hills” or “The Trooper”. Most songs here involve the topic of war, but they don't attempt to re-live a certain battle way back in the past. Instead, Steve Harris passionately writes about his resentment toward war. The music matches the lyrics' dark, epic atmosphere. The songs here are heavier, darker, and above all, more musically and lyrically challenging than anything the band has ever done. Alongside the intricate, winding melodies, Bruce sings about the evils of the current-day world. A Matter of Life and Death is Iron Maiden's most moving and thought-provoking album to date.
The musical talents of the band members have a strong showing on the record, but what did you expect? Every member plays their instrument to the best of their ability, and hardly a moment goes by without some kind of cool riff, solo, melody, bassline, drum section, etc. The three guitarist's complex interplay is always interesting and keeps some variety: sometimes it's soft and slow, sometimes it's loud and heavy, sometimes it's anywhere in between. Bruce Dickinson, once again, does not fail to impress with his voice. His vocal range is still exquisite up to this point in time; hitting the low notes, and those hard to reach high notes, often in different parts of the same song, such as “Brighter Than a Thousand Suns.” The orchestral keyboards enhance the album, adding that extra degree of power to songs such as “The Longest Day” and “The Legacy”. The entire band is very confident; they know the record's purpose, and don't stray from it at any point. Each song can stand on its own, but when combined in one record, function as building blocks in the masterfully constructed, dark, atmospheric journey that A Matter of Life and Death is.
The main style of the album is progressive metal. Most songs are long and complex, with an abundance of interludes and bridges, but not forgetting to be catchy. “Brighter Than a Thousand Suns.” is an 8-minute, riff-monster, bursting with fear and rage regarding the creation of nuclear weapons. In a similar vein, the 9-and-a-half-long “For the Greater Good of God” defines the word epic; it alternates between slow and heavy sections, yet always staying consistent. “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg” and “The Legacy” are extremely dark and haunting; the kind of songs that legitimately scare you when you're lying alone in bed in a dark room at midnight listening to them. War epic, “The Longest Day” falls into this category as well, and is one of the very best on the album. After the best intro buildup on Maiden's history, second only to “Face in the Sand”, we hear Bruce singing in a very low, creepy-sounding voice. After more of this, the track slowly starts coming alive, until the song hits you full-force with a chorus that manages to be uplifting in the darkest of songs.
Long, drawn-out progressive songs aren't the only thing you'll find here though. The opening track “Different World” contradicts this style, being a short, rather straight-forward hard rocker. This doesn't mean it's less inspired thought; it has a great riff, and is incredibly catchy. In fact, I have the song stuck in my head as I type this. “The Pilgrim” is similar, being a heavy rock song, but this time, with a strong Middle-Eastern vibe. Pretend a certain “nomad” managed to stumble on some lady in the desert that he didn't immediately kill, and instead made a baby with her, who grew up to be a pilgrim and travel on his own somewhere. Hehe, yeah... Finally, the last standout track is “Out of the Shadows”, a moving ballad about hope in the midst of all the mess that is the world that is sure to strike an emotional chord with the listeners.
The lyrics play an important part in the album. As mentioned earlier, they were a departure from the more light-hearted topics of old, and are now darker and more serious, dealing with controversial topics such as war and religion. Some don't discuss these topics really, such as Different World, and the ambiguous “Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg”. However, most of the songs do involve some type of war. The lyrics on A Matter of Life and Death are like a gateway to Steve Harris' mind, exploring his ideals and thirst for world peace. Needless to say, the lyrics are all very well-written, although there is one song in particular I feel I must address. That song is “For the Greater Good of God”, which is in all honesty worth nothing less than a Nobel Peace Prize. Never before has a song touched my heart in such a powerful way. For those who don't know, the song is about the Holy Wars, and how men use religion as a tool to fight each other, instead of loving each other as their religion commands them to. This is a topic very close to my heart, so I've always had a connection to this song. In particular, the last verse stands out to me as some of the best lyrics ever written:
“He gave his life for us
He fell upon the Cross
To die for all of those
Who never mourn His loss
It wasn’t meant for us
To feel the pain again
Tell me why, tell me why”
Even though Steve Harris and I have different beliefs regarding the existence of a God, it shows that whether or not He truly exists, people shouldn't go around killing each other for because of Him. Between the lyrics and the music, this song is gorgeous, and is the best song on the album hands down.
It's unfortunate that I have to be a downer now, but the album does still contain some debilitating flaws. It's length is one of the big ones. “HOW LONG IS THIS LONGEST ALBUM, TILL WE FINALLY MAKE IT THROOOUGH?” Sorry, I had to do that. But at some points, that's what I think when I listen to it. I start getting tired of the album after “For the Greater Good of God”, and by the time “The Legacy” finally comes, I'm not able to enjoy the song as much as I would have been able to, had it been first. Long track times are an inherent problem with progressive metal, and a lot of people will not be able to listen to it in one sitting. Thus, this album will need time to grow on you. Length isn't a bad thing at all, but there is quite a degree of repetition in this album; sections that get repeated too many times and become stale. One of the biggest problems is the repetitive chorus, which has been plaguing the band since “Caught Somewhere in Time”. If a song only needs 1 chorus, Steve puts 2. If a song needs 2 choruses, Steve puts 4 choruses. If a song needs 4, Steve puts 8. Hearing a chorus being repeated so much is annoying, and I'm glad Steve's starting to pull out of that habit. My last complaint with the album is that two songs, “These Colours Don't Run” and “Lord of Light” are good, but don't live up to the standards of the other tracks.
A Matter of Life and Death is not for listeners with short attention spans. If you can't be bothered to spend your time listening to this over and over again to discover its true power and beauty, then find something else to listen to. However, if you sit down, and really focus on the music, you'll be taken on a dark, epic journey by six men who are confident of the “Legacy” that this record will leave.