Review Summary: Unfortunately let down by a couple of good but not classic songs, this remains an awesome album, maintaining song quality but adding a poilitcal edge to their songs.
Iron Maiden have been oft referred to me as a one note band. And indeed, their trademark gallops, twin guitar attacks and Bruce's air horn vocals may give the band a potentially boring and repetetive sound. However, whilst their sound may be distinctive to say the least, the band are far from a one note band, as showcased by this, their latest release.
Alright, the music may not be a huge departure. Twin Guitars and Bruces vocals remain intact, and even the gallop reappears on Lord of Light after being left behind on Dance of Death. However, it doesn't remain static where Dance of Death left off. The epics are longer and more ambitious, the rockier songs are more anthematic and songs are darker. However, the real departure is in the message delivered.
Maiden haven't really been a politically out spoken band. Indeed, the only song I can really think from their back catalogue whch aspires to comment on the state of the world is Childhoods End. However, this changes on A Matter of Life and Death, with almost all of the canon being a comment on society, technology and war.
This takes them dangerously close to Spinal Tap like ludicrousness. However, they stay just on side, and they do it in style. Opener 'Different Worlds' is superb, with Bruces vocals dead on and the chorus' being one of the best they have delivered. Though they should be running out of twin guitar refrains, they get a cracker for this song, and why it wasn't the first single still confuses me. These Colours Don't Run is even better. Whether the title is a reference to the osbourne incident or whether Bruce's famous tirade came from the title, I know not, but either way, this song is as rousing as any, with a chorus that will make your hair stand on end and a subtlely heavy riff.
The next two songs, whilst still both very strong, let the quality slip a bit. Brighter than a Thousand Suns is extreemly ambitious and the message is hard hitting, but it just doesn't click. the Pilgrim meanwhile is something of a Filler track as far as I can tell. Despite being a strong song, it doesn't stand out and there is little of note here.
The Longest Day however brings it right back up, with some real venom in the vocals and a brilliantly built up verse. The chorus achieves the near impossible feat of showing hope in the midst of the D Day landings, not a small achievement, and still manages to be a great diatribe against the mechanical nature of the army.
One of the amazing things about this album is it feels like an album, rather than a collection of songs. This is best illustrated by The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg. As a single, I was a little dissapointed with it. It didn't seem right. Put in the midst of the rest of the album though, and it works a treat. becoming a near classic. This sense of a complete album means that even with less amazing tracks such as Out of the Shadow, they still seem worth listening to, and is a great departure from the 'write a single and ten fillers' philosophy contaminating the music scene at the moment.
The last three are all good, but one of them stands above all of the other songs on this album. For the Greater Good of God manages to be both the best epic Harris has committed to audio and the most thought provking song by an 80's metal band. The instrumental section is the strongest of the album, harking back to the monumental mid section of Dance of Death (the song), whilst the second chorus must surely be one of the greatest out of all genres, let alone the metal scene. That the last two don't quite top this quality isn't too surprising, but they are by no means let downs. The Legacy in particular is an interesting song in which Janeck Gers gets to show off his songwriting skills.
A Matter of Life and Death is not the perfect album. However, it is an album filled with classic songs, and manages to comment on issues such as opinion, war, technology, militarisation and religion whilst remaining creditable. The solos might not be as iconic as previous albums, but they enhance the songs, and performances from the players are what you'd expect from professionals who have been playing together for almost 30 years. Iron Maiden were never a one note band, but the addition of political comment to their arsenal gives them one extra dimension to their output, which was already among the best in the world.
For anyone interested, benjamin Breeg was actually an insane artist, orphaned as a baby, who's birth date is unknown and who went missing in 1973. Presumed dead. He suffered from syphillis and 'drew what he saw in his head.' Anyone wanting to know what this might be can look inside the Benjamin Breeg single sleeve. Cheers.