Iron Maiden - A Matter of Life and Death
Bruce Dickinson's voice is shot to hell.
That was the first thing I thought the second I heard "The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg" on the radio. The Infamous "Air Raid Siren" had gone down to kids whistle, but honestly, can you blame him? Ol' Bruce-Bruce is pushing into his 50's and he is, without question, one of the greatest forces in heavy metal. The man is a god-damn workhorse and sings the same songs night after night after night for over 15 years, the last 5 being the big return. But, in an odd way, the voice may be shot, but it is far from dead!
The guys in Iron Maiden have said over and over again how happy they are they didn't go out and get it "polished", leaving a more "raw" sound. That had me incredibly excited, but the result is a deeply-flawed mix. You can hear the guitar feedback at times during songs, and at times, it seems that Dickinson's vocals were recorded without him even hearing the song, most evident on "Brighter Than a Thousand Suns". I constantly felt as if an old audio clip from the 50's, namely a famous sound bite that said those exact words, would pop-up.
But that's not to say this isn't a good album. I always say that it's hard to critiquie new albums by old bands because there are two reviews and points of view that effect it; The album in and of itself, and the album in terms of the overall discography of a band. There is always a need, I think, on the reviewer of the album to give a new album by an old act the respect either the band deserves or the album deserves. If someone were to say, for example, that the latest Vader album was horrible (I don't know, I haven't heard it), they would be deemed "un-tr00" by the metal elitests and it would be hard for anyone to respect him ever again.
That is why it's hard for me to be honest as I want to about this album. I may have made it seem to this point that this album is horrible, but it is, without question, an actually decent album. It's something very different from this band, and it shows, and I'm sure Steve Harris is going to kill me for this, but it shows the band aging and growing more mature. It may not be as heavy as Dance of Death, but the overall feel is simply that of a band getting ready to hit it's twilight years and actually enjoying it by putting out decent albums.
Iron Maiden has had 3 guitarists since 2000, but this is the first time that they have used them all to create interesting dynamics. I noticed that immediatly on "Different World", the album opener. Behind the vocals of 'ol Bruce-Bruce, you can hear an angelic 3-guitar harmony, and a guitar tone that has become the bands signature for the new millenium. The song is brief at only a little over 4 minutes, and is one of the most dynamic songs on the album. In all honesty, this should have been the radio single, not "The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg". On "These Colours Don't Run", the guitars are used to a very good effect, reminding me of a mix of Dance of Death meets Seventh Son. Incredibly patriotic and a song of having pride, not only in your country, but also the causes you may live and die for. Nicko's drumming is still top-notch, folks!
For all that I said about it, "Brighter than a Thousand Suns" is actually quite incredible! This one may become a permanet piece in the live shows, if we're lucky to see them for a godo 2-hours every night. It is the stand-out track of the album. If any of these songs live on as a must-have, I would have to say this is it. I don't like the vocal mix at times, but it is something that grows on you. It is incredibly well orchastrated, and it has more of a feeling of classical music than metal. A ton of work, thought, and effort went into it and you can tell. This song examples everything great about the band in it's new form; the use of all three guitarists to create incredible dynamics, Nicko's drums working to complement them, Steve's bass working in harmony with the rest... and Bruce doing his damnest. I'm sorry, but Bruce's vocals are just plain shot and it's painful at times to try and find good in it.
If I was to tell Bruce anything, it would be to use the voice he has now to create a new sound for himself instead of trying to act as if he still was 25. It's deeper now and that could create an even more dynamic sound if utialized right. "The Pilgrim" does just that and it works great for it! Short and sweet, this and "Out of the Shadows" demonstrates that the band isn't too old to create hard-rockers from here to there. The dynamic tracks work to great effect with "The Longest Day" building to a decent track with an incredible chorus. It simply works because this is exactly what Bruce should have done on "Brighter than a Thousand Suns", and that is work with the voice he has. It just fits perfectly in here!
"For the Greater Good of God" does seem like "Dance of Death II", but not even an ounce as boring. Where Dance would simply wallow, this sond gallops and demands to know "Well tell me now what war is/ Again tell me what life is"! How all of the harships of war are for "The Greater Good of God". It's equal to "Brighter Than a Thousand Suns" for being THE song to keep, mainly because the vocals are greater and the harmony is brilliant. Again, orchastration wins out and the song shines for it. Oh, and those little bits where the guitars and drums hit at the exact same moment... simply brilliant!
"The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg" and "Lord of Light" have things working for them, but they simply fall flat in the whole of the song and the album, resulting in a feelig of more filler tracks or attempts at trying to go back to their older songs. It's a shame, really.
But it is the album's closer that creates the feeling I said before, that of a band getting ready for old age and growing more mature. I can't help but see Bruce getting ready to sit into a rocking chair to sing a song for me. The guitars swell nicely, the band working in a very nice harmony. I think this song could be a pre-courser for the next album, a glimpse in the direction the band is getting ready to go to. The guitars and drums work in synch at times, and the guitars galloping with the drums are a very nice touch, with a very nice guitar solo in the middle. The ending of the song is very peaceful and, although it's over 9 minutes long, you'd swear it was much shorter.
I see a more dynamic Iron Maiden forming, one mixing all that they have learned in the last 25+ years into a force to be reckoned with, the likes of which we have not seen in nearly 15 years. This album is something that you will appreciate on the 2nd listen, and one you'll love with some time. This album is like wine and a good cheese; it taste's better with some aging, which is true of Iron Maiden.
This is a 4.2 out of 5 disc, and one that should be in your collection.
BUY THIS ALBUM!