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Maiden’s ‘Life and Death’ hangs in music purgatory

Kevin McCarthy | Thursday, September 14, 2006

Last week, London-based Iron Maiden unleashed its 14th studio album, ‘A Matter of Life and Death,’ on American soil. This 72-minute epic is the band’s first studio collection of new material since 2003’s ‘Dance of Death.’

Following the infamous “egging” incident of Ozzfest 2005, Maiden – which boasts the powerful lineup of vocalist Bruce Dickinson, bassist and band leader Steve Harris, drummer Nicko McBrain and the guitar-wielding trio of Janick Gers, Dave Murray and Adrian Smith – could have easily avoided the touring circuit for a while. Instead, the band plans to launch a full world tour this fall in support of the album.

‘A Matter of Life and Death’ opens with “Different World,” which starts off with a simple but classic guitar riff that leads into the vocals.

Dickinson’s signature tenor voice, along with the rhythm section of Harris and McBrain, really drives this song, making it one of the catchiest tunes on the album.

“These Colours Don’t Run,” the second track on the album, offers an immediate antithesis to that rocker, with a more subdued, yet ominous introduction.

The song does eventually kick into a strong mid-level tempo, once again driven by the rhythm section. “These Colours Don’t Run” combines powerful patriotism with darker tones and strong guitar work and is the most complete track on the album.

Unfortunately, the album starts to lose focus after the second track. The mighty Maiden almost falls into a bit of a funk in the middle of the album, with songs like “Brighter Than a Thousand Suns” and “The Longest Day.”

Not only are these tracks repetitive within themselves but they also sound similar to each other.

Both of these tracks, along with “Out of the Shadows,” feature too much repetition of the chorus without any verses to build into it. “Out of the Shadows” is actually a very strong ballad for Iron Maiden, who is better known for its heavy-hitting songs, but it suffers from this repetition.

More balance would do the middle of this album well.

The one exception to this rule is the fourth track, entitled “The Pilgrim.” Much like “Different World,” this is an unrelentingly heavy rock track from beginning to end.

Of the album’s last four tracks, only “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg” and “The Legacy” stand out as interesting new Maiden songs. “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg,” the seventh track, as well as the first single off the album, opens with a Zeppelin-esque, almost ethereal introduction, which gives way to more typical Maiden sound.

This song stands out particularly because it harkens back to the band’s history of storytelling, evident on older songs like “Flight of Icarus” and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” “The Legacy,” the album closer, begins almost as a children’s lullaby.

Dickinson, accompanied by acoustic guitars, lulls the listener into a calm before the band unleashes a final aural assault on the listener.

‘A Matter of Life and Death’ features solid contributions on the part of each band member, but parts of the album fall flat due to repetition.

It is questionable whether this album will go down as one of the great classics of Iron Maiden’s discography or if it will fall short of its predecessors.

But, as Dickinson sings in “The Legacy,” only time will tell.