"Nothing is gonna come
between us and our fans, and it will be death before dishonour - this is
Iron Fucking Maiden!" That was Bruce Dickinson, speaking out under a
hail of eggs and detritus at last years's Ozzfest isn San Bernardino,
California, during one of the most controversial and infamous incidents
in recent rock history. That, my friends, is a frontman.
Maiden have respectfully distanced themselves from the alleged sabotage
of their set that night, they have remained in combative mood ever
since. If you thought new music from these veteran standard-bearers of
British Metal might see them cooling down in any respect, 'A Matter Of
Life And Death' will answer as Maiden know best - loudly, aggressively
and memorably. Although not a concept album, war and the missuse of
religion to justify conflict is a near constant, from artwork to lyrics
to all-out musical attack. War is a theme Maiden have tackled many times
before, but never with such purpose, such tenacious realism and, yes,
thoughtfulness, as they do here.
Forget wildly inappropriate
single 'The Reincarnation oF Bejamin Breeg' - this album is about tracks
like 'The Longest Day' and 'These Colours Don't Run', the latter a sly
reference to another of Bruce's comments on that fateful evening in San
Bernardino. The former develops gradually into a chorus fit for arena
chanting and fist-pumping, one that is succeeded by a martial battering
of drums and an evolving six-string showdown.
'For The Greater
Good Of God' bleeds into another big hook, unfurling its banner amid
epic orchestration. Time changes and three-part guitar solos hurtle from
ear to ear, and vary in speed, tone and intensity. It's another Maiden
classic that does not compromise heaviness in achieving its nine-minute
span. 'The Pilgrim' and opener 'Different World' are immediate if
relatively standardised rockers, while the balladic 'Out Of The Shadows'
draws yet another untouchable vocal performance from Dickinson,
redolent of his solo hit 'Tears Of The Dragon'.
Maiden fans will
revel in the gallop and surge of 'Brighter Than A Thousand Suns', Steve
Harris' bass twanging high in the mix, while closer 'The Legacy' -
concluding the theme of war breeding more war - features a call-to-arms
fanfare of electric guitars blaring intermittently through movie
soundtrack ambience and acoustics.
Although 'A Matter Of Life
And Death' perhaps may be too ambitious for some palates, this album
keeps everything longtime fans loved about Iron Maiden alive. The
bristling heaviness, the time changes, the astonishing musicalilty, the
filmic grandeur. Hoist your flag high."